Daily Press Briefing
Daily Press Briefing
June 20, 2016
Index for Today's Briefing
MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS
2:11 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy belated Father's Day for all the dads out there. Got a couple of things at the top, and then we'll get right at it.
As you know, today is World Refugee Day, a day when we pause to reflect upon the indomitable courage and resilience of millions of refugees from across the world. I think you've seen the Secretary's statement, and in honor of World Refugee Day, he'll be attending an interfaith Iftar reception this evening at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center in Sterling, Virginia, where he's looking forward to meeting with refugee families and the communities that have so generously welcomed them to the United States. He'll be joined in making remarks and meeting with community leaders by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy Angelina Jolie Pitt, a tireless advocate on behalf of refugees.
This morning, as I think you know, the Secretary spoke with a group of college students who are visiting the department to participate in our Diplomacy Center's diplomatic simulation on refugees and forced displacement. And this afternoon, before going to the Iftar dinner this evening, the Secretary and Special Envoy Jolie Pitt will meet with a group of State Department employees who are themselves former refugees or the sons and daughters of refugees.
The United States has been a world leader in sheltering refugees from persecution and danger, welcoming since 1975 more than 3.2 million vulnerable people to our shores. As the President and the Secretary have repeatedly made clear, the United States will continue to safely welcome refugees who want only the peace and security of a life without persecution and physical danger.
Also, on a scheduling note, I do want to let you know that the Secretary will provide closing remarks tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. at the 2016 SelectUSA Summit. I think you know President Obama provided opening remarks earlier today. SelectUSA is the U.S. Government-wide program to promote and facilitate business investments in the United States. This year, nearly 2,400 participants from 65 markets will participate in this summit. Twenty-two chiefs of mission are also leading delegations from their host countries. This year's theme, "The Innovation Advantage", highlights American leadership in research and development, entrepreneurship, advanced manufacturing, and other areas.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: Yeah, just before going to something – can I just ask you about that refugee statistic that you gave? You said 3.2 million admitted since '75. Why does the count start at '75?
MR KIRBY: You know what, I don't know the exact reason for that. That may have been the point at which they started keeping more accurate records, but it's a great question. I'll find out. I don't know why it started in 1975.
QUESTION: I mean, there were refugees before 1975 to the United States --
MR KIRBY: There were, indeed. I do not know the origin of the date.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I'd just be interested to know, is why that's the starting point.
MR KIRBY: Well, now I'd be interested to know myself, so I'll ask the question.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, then, let me know when you find out.
MR KIRBY: I will, as soon as I find out.
QUESTION: All right, let's start with Syria. Earlier today, in one of the events that you just mentioned, the Secretary told our colleague Abigail that he had read the dissent channel memo --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- and that he – that it looked good to him, or he said something like, "It's good," and that he would --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- he was going to meet them. Can you elaborate at all?
MR KIRBY: Well, I don't know how much more I can --
QUESTION: Well, what does he mean when he said it's good?
MR KIRBY: I think – I think --
QUESTION: I mean, does that mean he agrees?
MR KIRBY: Well, I'm – again, I'm limited in what I can talk about in terms of the content of a dissent channel message. I think what the Secretary was referring to was the – that he did read it and that I – that he found it to be a well-written argument. But I'm not going to talk about the content. And as for meeting with the authors, he has expressed an interest in meeting with at least some of them. I mean, there's a lot of them, so I don't know that we'll be able to pull off a single meeting with each and every one of them there, but he has expressed an interest in talking to them, and we'll do that in due course.
QUESTION: So when you say it was a – what did you say, it was a well-presented argument?
MR KIRBY: What I – what I --
QUESTION: Well-written argument?
MR KIRBY: What I think the Secretary was referring to was that he read the paper and thought that it was – thought that it was well written, that it was good in that regard. I won't talk to the content or his views of the content.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, without talking about what the actual content was, when you say it was well written or the argument is a good one, does that mean that he is prepared to – whatever it says, I'm not asking you about content – that he is prepared to make the case for those – for the positions that are articulated in this cable --
MR KIRBY: Well, two – two thoughts there. First --
QUESTION: -- within the Administration?
MR KIRBY: Two thoughts there. First, as you know, the policy planning staff will be preparing a response, as is required. That response is not yet finished, and we don't publicize – any more than we publicize the contents of dissent channel messages, we don't publicize the response. But the response is being prepared. As for any espousal of the ideas before, during or after the fact of them being proffered in a dissent channel message, the Secretary very much keeps private his advice and counsel to the President on policy matters, and we're going to – obviously, we're going to respect that.
QUESTION: Well, since this became public last week, you will have noticed numerous articles, numerous – or numerous reports saying outright and suggesting strongly that, in fact, the Secretary agrees with many if not all of the points made in this cable. Are you not – are his comments today not indicative of that?
MR KIRBY: His comments today – I would not characterize his comments today as being indicative of a full-throated endorsement of the views in this particular dissent channel message. Again, I can't speak to content. What I can tell you is a couple of things. One, obviously, whatever views, advice and counsel he presents to the President need to remain private, and they will. And so I won't get into that. But then also, as I said Friday, he has made no bones about the fact that he is not content with the status quo in Syria. We are not content with the status quo in Syria. Too many people are dying, too many people are being denied basic life-sustaining material – food, water, medicine – and there's been too little progress on the political track.
QUESTION: Yeah, but --
MR KIRBY: But if you also look – but if you also look at what else he said this morning – I mean, I know that Abigail shouted out a question, but if you look at the transcript of what else he had to say to those college students, he talked about how important it is that we continue to work through a transitional governing process in Syria, and that that is the best way forward – a political solution is still the preferred path forward.
QUESTION: Right, but when you talk about how no one – you're not, he's not, no one is satisfied with the status quo – this is a bit of what is actually going on on the ground in Syria – clearly, no one is. But this isn't a question about the status quo on the situation in Syria. This is a question about the status quo of the policy. So are you not in a position to be able to say that the Secretary is not – that he doesn't like the status quo, the policy status quo, the U.S. policy status quo?
MR KIRBY: Nobody's happy with the status quo of events on the ground, and that is why --
QUESTION: Yeah, but what about the policy?
MR KIRBY: -- but – I'm getting there.
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: That is why, as – and I mentioned this Friday – that is why we do consider – we are considering, we are discussing other alternatives, other options that may be applied, mindful that we are, that the current approach is, without question, struggling. But as the President said himself, none of those other options – be they military or not in nature – are better than – in terms of the long-term outcome, are going to be better than the political solution we're trying to pursue.
QUESTION: Okay. This will be my last one. I – because I'm just a – the – so you – you're – what you're saying is that his comment, "It's good," refers --
QUESTION: Very good.
QUESTION: Very good.
QUESTION: It's very good – sorry, it's very good – that refers to how it was put together, like the grammar and the sentence structure, and not the actual content? Because that strikes me as being a bit --
MR KIRBY: No, I'm not saying he was talking about punctuation. I mean, I --
QUESTION: Oh, okay, so --
MR KIRBY: Obviously – obviously, he read the memo and found it to be a well-crafted argument, well enough that he feels it's worth meeting with the authors. Now, what exactly did he find in Abigail's shouted-out – quote, "Very good," I don't know. I haven't spoken to him about every element of it. And again, I'm not going to talk about the content of it from here.
QUESTION: Well, so you can't – you're not in a position to say that the "It's very good" means that he is prepared to make those same arguments within the – as the Administration deliberates?
MR KIRBY: No, I'm not prepared to – I'm not prepared to say that.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: The government has stripped of his nationality the spiritual leader of the Shiite-majority population of Bahrain. You have expressed concern about Bahrain's human rights record in the past, but you've also failed to produce a report that I believe was due of 20 weeks ago.
So, reaction to the latest, and will that be included in the report when you finally --
MR KIRBY: Well, I think, hopefully, we'll put out a statement --
QUESTION: It's out.
MR KIRBY: -- out pretty soon. We're obviously alarmed by today's decision to revoke the citizenship of Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim. We are unaware of any credible evidence to support this action and that assessment is further supported by the fact that he did not appear to even have the opportunity to challenge the charges against him before the decision was made. So we're going to be following this, obviously, very closely. We're concerned that it'll divert the various parties from the path of reconciliation and dialogue that we believe is necessary for reforms to bring about the kind of peaceful change that's responsive to the aspirations of all the people of Bahrain.
As for the question on the report, I can tell you we're still working very, very hard at it. As I am given to understand, we are nearing the end stages here, but I don't have an update for you on when it's going to be submitted. I can tell you, Dave, obviously, we're mindful that we're late here, but we're working real hard on it. And I think – not to sound flippant, but it's more important for us to make sure that it's right and that we're comfortable with the text than it is to have it in on a certain date. Although, again, we're very respectful of the deadline, we understand that, we're mindful, and we know we're late and we're working hard to get it there.
QUESTION: Sorry, it's very late.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: But how, why? Like, I mean, was this because of – it was a hard report to do or because – and there's internal organizational issues, or was it – I just – was there any politics behind why it's taken so long to finish?
MR KIRBY: It's late because we're working hard to make sure that it – that it reflects the best assessments here at the State Department and these things take time and they sometimes take longer than we'd like them to. Again, we recognize that we're way behind schedule here on this, but I can assure you – because I checked on it myself this morning – that work continues, we believe we're getting near the endgame here in terms of completion, and when we have something that we're ready to submit, we will.
I don't know, day by day, for each day that it was late, what was being done on it. I can just tell you that everybody's very mindful that we're delinquent on this and we're working hard to make it up.
QUESTION: Will it reflect the situation in Bahrain 20 weeks ago or will it have a chapter involving what happened today?
MR KIRBY: I don't know and I don't know that I would want to speak to content right now before it's done anyway.
MR KIRBY: Yeah. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: On North Korea, Ambassador Sung Kim is traveling to Beijing for the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue and the North Koreans are sending their representative, which means that all six countries from the Six-Party Talks will be represented. Do you anticipate any meetings with the North Korean counterparts?
MR KIRBY: There will be no plans to meet with North Korean counterparts.?
QUESTION: At all?
MR KIRBY: No, no plans.
QUESTION: Not even in a Six-Party format?
MR KIRBY: No, no.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Don't think I can make it more clear than that.
QUESTION: Can we go back just to Bahrain so we can get it off really quick?
MR KIRBY: You really want to know why we're late?
QUESTION: I do – no, no, no, I've got a particular interest just in drilling into the issue at hand. I mean, there's been this whole theme for years now of different events that stoke tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and our policy in the region is between those two powers. And I'm wondering whether there's concern in the department here that this move against this cleric is going to stoke those tensions in a way. Are we worried about that? Do we have anything to say about it?
MR KIRBY: We're certainly worried about any action in the region that potentially stokes sectarian tensions. Obviously, the – we certainly don't want to see that. Mainly, the concern is about – it's for – the concern that I expressed just a minute ago in my statement is really about Bahrain's success and about Bahrain being able to continue to deliver on the kinds of reforms that are necessary for the Bahraini people. And our concern is that actions like this could potentially set those reforms back, which we don't think is in the best interest of the – of Bahrain or the Bahraini people, okay?
QUESTION: There was a very positive reaction to this move by the government in Bahrain from Riyadh. The Saudi Government applauded it. That seems to be a little bit of a different message from --
MR KIRBY: I can't speak for the Saudis and how they want to interpret this. I can only speak for our government, and as I said, I think I've laid out exactly our views on this particular action.
QUESTION: Well, actually, hold on – while there was a positive reaction from Riyadh, there was a very negative reaction from Iran.
MR KIRBY: Yeah. Yeah, I saw that too.
QUESTION: So, I mean, isn't this odd you should find yourself agreeing with the Iranians over the Saudis?
MR KIRBY: It wasn't for us --
QUESTION: Or is this now – is this part of the new U.S.-Iranian relationship?
MR KIRBY: There is no new U.S.-Iranian relationship on larger matters, Matt. I mean, obviously, we worked here hard to get the Iran deal implemented. And as we've said all along, if that leads to better behavior by Iran and openings for other opportunities, certainly we're going to stay open to that idea, just like we have with respect to Syria and Iran as a member of the ISSG.
But I wouldn't read into this particular incident some sort of new refashioned relationship between the United States and Iran, and we didn't come down where we did on this to align ourselves with one or another party. Certainly didn't come down on our views on this decision based on sectarian preferences, of which we have none. We came down on this because we believed that Bahran – Bahrain, excuse me, has an obligation for --
QUESTION: Well, some people think it might be "Bahran."
MR KIRBY: Bahrain has an obligation internationally to due process and rule of law and --
QUESTION: Well – no, but – right.
MR KIRBY: -- and not revoking someone's citizenship, thereby making them stateless without even talking to them about the charges.
QUESTION: Regardless of where – why you came down on the side – the fact of the matter is you've come down on the same side as the Iranians on this, and there is nothing per se --
MR KIRBY: No, we came down on the side – no, we came down on the side of --
QUESTION: Well, the same side – you came down on the same side – the negative side – on this as the Iranians did. Now, there may be many, many, many, many reasons why that is the case, but it is also the case that you're coming down with – on the same side as them in an atmosphere where you've got the nuclear deal, in an atmosphere where the Secretary seems to be meeting with Foreign Minister Zarif, like, every other week and talking now about – as they said in Oslo, as was said there, about things other than the Iranian nuclear deal.
So you're saying, "Nothing to see here"?
MR KIRBY: That's what I'm saying.
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: Nothing to see here.
QUESTION: Sorry, back to --
MR KIRBY: Except that – obviously, except our genuine, very real concerns about this decision and the – our concerns about what it could portend for the kinds of reforms that we believe Bahrain needs to continue to make. I mean, the – we didn't come down on any other side except for the side of due process and international obligations and the kinds of political reforms that we believe are important in Bahrain. And I would point you to – I mean, I don't know what every statement out of Iran was, but there was a couple that I read that were pretty vituperative, which we absolutely would not subscribe to.
So whether Iran agrees that – in their concerns about this action with us or not to some degree is irrelevant when you consider some of the very vitriolic rhetoric that they use to describe their displeasure, which you didn't see in our statement.
QUESTION: No, no – not true. That may be the first time "vituperative" has been used from the podium, so I --
MR KIRBY: I think it was done appropriately.
QUESTION: Well, I'm not saying it was inappropriate.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: I'm just saying it was unprecedented perhaps.
MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) I'm glad to be breaking down barriers every day.
Yep, go ahead.
QUESTION: Back to the meeting in Beijing. The fact – do you have any reaction to the fact that the North Koreans are sending a representative?
MR KIRBY: No. I mean, that's for the regime to speak to. He's traveling there for these meetings primarily with Chinese officials and to attack – and to attend what's known as the Track 1.5 Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue. It's a well-established forum and U.S. Government officials have participated regularly over the years. There would be no reason for us not to go to this. In fact, we have every reason to want to go to it. And I'll let the DPRK speak to the degree – their reasons for sending a representative.
QUESTION: And obviously, I mean, North Korea is going to be a major topic. Is Ambassador Sung Kim going to speaking to the Chinese about what the U.S. wants to see from North Korea given the fact that they will also be attending?
MR KIRBY: He's going to meet with the Chinese Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs and other Chinese officials. He's also going to meet with the Japanese Director General for Asian and Oceanian – I think that's the way you say that – affairs. And obviously there's going to be plenty of discussion about the situation on the peninsula, as you would expect that they would.
QUESTION: NSG and India. You may have noticed that the Chinese Government has said that the admission of India to NSG is not even on the agenda at the Seoul plenary. How do you respond to that?
MR KIRBY: Well, as you know, during Prime Minister Modi's visit, the President welcomed – he welcomed India's application to join the NSG and reaffirmed that India is ready for membership. We continue to call – and nothing's changed about our position. We continue to call on the participating governments of the NSG to support India's application at the plenary session this week in Seoul.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up? Other than the public call that you've made, have you had any opportunity to take this up with the Chinese officials at any of your conversations?
MR KIRBY: This is something that we have – India's application is something we have routinely talked to other NSG participating members. This is not a new topic of discussion that we've had privately with the members.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Okinawa. On Sunday tens of the thousand of people gathered in Okinawa in one of the biggest demonstration in (inaudible) against U.S. military base in (inaudible) the arrest of (inaudible) American suspect of the murdering local women, so mass Okinawa demonstrations to demand the Marine leave the Okinawa Island and also drop the plan to move the Futenma to Henoko. So do you have any comment? And also, how does the United States in response their demand?
MR KIRBY: How do we what?
QUESTION: How does U.S. Government respond --
MR KIRBY: Respond to the --
QUESTION: -- their demand?
MR KIRBY: -- demonstrations?
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, for request.
MR KIRBY: Well, we certainly have seen the reports of the demonstrations over the weekend. So a couple of things: One, we reiterate, as we did when it happened, our sincere condolences and deepest regret about this tragedy. As you may have seen, the Defense Secretary and Japanese defense minister announced earlier this month we're working with the Government of Japan to develop comprehensive measures aimed at strengthening the implementation of the Status of Forces Agreement, otherwise known as SOFA. DOD would have more details on this.
And then broadly speaking – well, a couple of more points: One, obviously, we're going to continue to work with local authorities as they investigate and continue to investigate this. And then number two, we are going to continue to work with the Government of Japan to move forward with the Futenma replacement facility. Nothing's changed about our policies or our approach on that.
QUESTION: Sir, as a follow-up to that, this is one of the largest demonstrations, as my colleague mentioned, and the organizers have said that the approximate figures of – are around 65,000. That's comparable to the demonstrations in 1995. Do you feel that relations have sort of reached the crisis point as they have in 1995?
MR KIRBY: Look, we understand the range of emotion here that has gripped so many people there in the wake of this unspeakable crime. At the time, we said we were outraged by it, and we are, and we still are. So we certainly understand the strong feelings that this crime has brought out. And as we do everywhere else around the world, we respect the right of citizens to peacefully gather and to assemble and to protest. And they have – they certainly have that right to do that and they were able to do it in this case, and we take those concerns very seriously.
Now, to answer your question about do I think we're at a tipping point, I don't know. And it wouldn't be my place to speculate one way or another whether we are or not. What I can tell you is what I said earlier: We're going to continue to work with local authorities as they investigate this, and we're going to support them in whatever ways possible. The Defense Department is already reviewing now with the defense Ministry the Status of Forces Agreement and we'll let that process wear on.
And number three, nothing's going to change about our strong commitment to the Japanese people, to our alliance, to our responsibilities and our security commitments inside that alliance, and to continuing to move forward on the Futenma replacement facility. But if you're asking me do we understand or regard the passions that have arisen out of this murder, absolutely we do, and we respect the right for – whatever the number is – for Japanese citizens to gather and to express their concerns.
QUESTION: I guess at what point do you see the tensions becoming so exacerbated that you'd have to reconsider the FRF?
MR KIRBY: I can't possibly answer that. It's a great hypothetical that I'm not going to engage in. We are committed to moving forward on the FRF, to our alliance commitments to Japan, and to doing whatever we can to support the investigation of this terrible crime. And as I said, the Defense Department is obviously taking this very seriously by sitting down and being willing to take a look at the Status of Forces Agreement and to see if there needs to be changes in that. I mean, that's a – that is not an insincere gesture. It is – it's a serious commitment, and we – let that process go, but I think that speaks volumes of how seriously we're taking this.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, Said.
QUESTION: Sorry for being late. I wonder if you covered the Bahrain issue. Did you cover --
MR KIRBY: I did.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. Then with that behind us, could I move on to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: I have couple – a couple quick questions. Today the EU ministers have approved the French proposal. I wonder if you have any comment on that.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think I do, but you're going to have to give me a second to find it. We are aware of the EU Foreign Affairs Council welcoming the communique that was issued at the June 3rd ministerial. I would just reiterate that we continue to work closely with key stakeholders in the international community to try and advance our shared goal of a negotiated two-state solution. We're not making any decisions or commitments at this time regarding future efforts, including future efforts undertaken as part of the French initiative. We remain focused on encouraging all sides to take the steps that will allow for meaningful progress.
QUESTION: Now, the Israeli press is reporting – or some sources in the Israeli press are saying that Secretary Kerry will be meeting Prime Minister Netanyahu sometime soon – I mean, so this week – to discuss other ways or alternatives, basically, to the French proposal. Can you confirm that? Can you give us more information on this?
MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that the Secretary and the prime minister are in discussions about a meeting, but I don't have anything on the schedule to announce today.
QUESTION: So are we likely to see such a meeting happen before the end of the week?
MR KIRBY: I don't know. I don't have any meetings or travel in that regard to announce and obviously, if and when we do, we'll certainly make it known.
QUESTION: And lastly, on the same issue, there was a meeting between Yitzhak Herzog, the head of the Labor Party, and PA President Abbas where apparently they agreed on like an outline. I don't know how that fits into whatever discussions that are taking place. I wonder if you have any comment on that – whether you could incorporate whatever they have agreed upon to include in any meeting between the Secretary and Mr. Netanyahu, let's say.
MR KIRBY: On the first part of the question, I don't have any details on that. I mean, I've seen the reports about it as well, this meeting between Mr. Abbas and Mr. Herzog. You'd have to talk to them and their staffs to confirm the veracity of those reports and what was discussed. I'm just not in a position to speculate.
QUESTION: Let me just take this – the last issue a bit further. Some say that neither Abbas nor Herzog are really that consequential to the whole process. Do you agree with that assessment?
MR KIRBY: I'm not going to characterize individual relevance here. I mean, President Abbas is the president of the Palestinian Authority. So we continue to have discussions with him, and I suspect those discussions will continue.
Look, the main thing is, speaking on behalf of the Secretary, we're still committed to trying to get to a negotiated two-state solution. We still believe that it's possible, and you're going to see – as I've said you're going to see, you're going to see him continue to work at this for as long as he's Secretary of State. And as he said back in Paris, he's going to keep an open mind and he's going to be willing to listen to all sides. And if there are better ideas out there and things that we can pursue that'll get us closer to that goal, then you're going to see him want to see those things pursued.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Okay?
QUESTION: Did you guys have any reaction to this additional – the supplementary funding that was approved for the West Bank settlements for – over the weekend, yesterday?
MR KIRBY: Yeah. I actually put a statement out.
QUESTION: You did?
MR KIRBY: I did --
QUESTION: I missed it.
MR KIRBY: -- yesterday. I can't believe you're not sitting around --
QUESTION: Yeah, Sunday --
MR KIRBY: -- waiting for my statements.
QUESTION: Sunday afternoon, Kirby, I'm just sitting there looking – staring at my phone --
MR KIRBY: Well, if you had been --
QUESTION: -- waiting for your emails.
MR KIRBY: -- then you wouldn't have had to ask that question.
QUESTION: If you've already put something out, then --
MR KIRBY: Okay. I'll let the statement stand. Seems like everybody else got a chance to read it.
QUESTION: We like to hear it directly from you, though.
MR KIRBY: But you did hear it directly from me. I signed it.
QUESTION: You know what I mean, with your own voice. It sort of gives it an added --
MR KIRBY: We're aware of the funding package. We're looking into further details. Our position on settlement activity remains clear and consistent: We strongly oppose all settlement activity, which is corrosive to the cause of peace. We continue to look to both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to a two-state solution, and actions such as these we believe does exactly the opposite.
QUESTION: Well, wait, wait, but this isn't for settlement activity, per se. This was not to expand or build new homes.
MR KIRBY: It's approving more than like $18 million for settlements. It's approving funding for --
QUESTION: But not for building them. This is for, like, helping businesses and security.
MR KIRBY: But it still runs counter to our view about settlement activity, period.
QUESTION: So securing – adding security to settlements is the same as settlement activity?
MR KIRBY: As I said, we're still – we are still – we're aware of this funding package and we're still looking into it for details. But settlement activity, as we've said – there's nothing – nothing has changed about our concerns about that.
QUESTION: So any money that goes into anything in a West Bank settlement is bad according to you guys?
MR KIRBY: I didn't say that. I said we are aware of this funding package and we're looking into the details.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. Okay.
MR KIRBY: Well, the worry here by the Palestinians is that these kind of steps make annexation of the West Bank all but a foregone conclusion, and they say that some of this money is basically geared to encourage, let's say, tourism and to expand tourist projects and so on in the occupied West Bank, in the settlements and so on. What do you say to that?
MR KIRBY: As I said in my statement and just a few minutes ago, we're looking into what this funding package really means. And I think I'm going to leave it at there to – for right now.
QUESTION: Can I ask you a couple brief ones on Iran?
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: You've seen this report this morning about these particles, uranium that was found at Parchin?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: What do you make of that? And does it give you any pause about whether or not the question of WMD – I mean the PM – sorry – the question of PMDs was, in fact, really resolved by the IAEA?
MR KIRBY: Well, there's a lot there, so let me parcel this out as best I can. We fully support the December report by the agency on Iran's past nuclear activities, which echoed our own longstanding assessment about Iran's pre-2003 weaponization work, and assessed that weaponization activities took place. So there's nothing new here. I mean, we already had made our determination about past work. And the – in that report back in December, it says right in a quote from it: "The results identified two particles that appear to be chemically man-modified" – pardon me – "particles of natural uranium. The small number of particles with such elemental composition and morphology is not sufficient to indicate a connection with the use of nuclear material."
So while the particles appear to be manmade, as the director general reported, their own analysis could not conclusively establish this as fact, thus the nature of their report precludes treating them as technical evidence. We support that IAEA conclusion then and we still do. The existence of these particles would be consistent with our understanding of what we believed about Iran's past weapons program but by themselves don't definitively prove anything.
QUESTION: Right. But that's what you believed, not what the IAEA believes, right? So – and the argument has been made that the discovery of this, while it may not prove, as you said, some kind of nefarious activity, wouldn't it make sense to go back and – wouldn't it be cause for doing some more checking to see what exactly was going on there, if you are truly interested in finding out what the extent of the program was?
MR KIRBY: But we had already – but we had already made our conclusions about what had been going on there.
QUESTION: But what your conclusion – and --
MR KIRBY: I mean, you can maybe address that question to the agency, and maybe they would want --
QUESTION: No, I'm talking about for the U.S. Government.
MR KIRBY: -- to take that on, but we are comfortable --
QUESTION: So the U.S. Government doesn't – isn't curious, or wasn't curious at the time, about what these – what the discovery of these particles actually meant?
MR KIRBY: We believe that the existence of them, as I said, are consistent with what our own understanding was of what we believed to be Iran's past weapons program. I mean, they reaffirm what we had already said we believe we thought was going on.
QUESTION: Okay. And so there was no interest in going beyond that to find out exactly what was going on there?
MR KIRBY: In terms of the United States?
MR KIRBY: Again, we're --
QUESTION: I understand in terms of the IAEA, they closed it.
MR KIRBY: They closed it.
QUESTION: But they did it because – yeah, but they did it because you basically – you essentially allowed them to, you and the other --
MR KIRBY: I don't know that --
QUESTION: -- the other members of the P5+1.
MR KIRBY: I don't know that I would characterize it as "allowing" them to do that, Matt. But we're comfortable --
QUESTION: Well --
MR KIRBY: -- that the existence of these particles, again, reaffirms what we already believed to be the case.
QUESTION: All right. But you don't find it to be any – alarming? You don't find it to be of more concern than the non-concern that you apparently had in December, because it comported with what you had thought was going on?
MR KIRBY: No. No. As a matter of fact, I mean, more important than the two articles was the agency's thorough discussion in the report of technology and structures uncovered by the investigation which appear relevant to a former nuclear weapons program, and in some cases appear relevant to little else. So the report reaffirmed our view that the agency is a highly skilled professional institution and is well positioned to carry out its monitoring and verification responsibilities.
QUESTION: Well, yeah. But you still don't know exactly what was going on there.
MR KIRBY: We believe we know --
QUESTION: Exactly what was going on.
MR KIRBY: We believe we had – we've already made our statement and our case about --
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: -- the past military program.
QUESTION: Secondly, has there been any – have – as you know – well, I was gone last week, so I don't know. This Boeing sale, have you had anything to say about that, or do you have anything more now that it looks like it's for 100 planes?
MR KIRBY: I'm not at liberty to talk about it in any great detail. Last week I just addressed that --
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: -- this was something that Boeing needed to speak to.
QUESTION: And then have you guys ever – I mean, two weeks ago or three weeks ago or four weeks ago, five weeks ago, I think, when I first asked about this – have you guys come – have decided yet whether the S-300 sale is sanctionable?
MR KIRBY: I'm not aware that there's been a final determination. And obviously, our position --
QUESTION: Is anyone actually looking at this to make a determination?
MR KIRBY: We have – obviously, we've made concerned – made our concerns known about this potential sale.
QUESTION: Yes, to the Russians. But I'm --
MR KIRBY: And we are still examining what the repercussions would be on our end of that.
QUESTION: How long is --
MR KIRBY: And so the answer is yes, we are actively --
QUESTION: By the time – yeah, but I mean, this thing is going to be up and operational by the – it looks like – by the time you guys ever get around to finding out whether or not it violates U.S. law or not. Right?
MR KIRBY: Well, all I can tell you is we're taking it very seriously and we're continuing to examine what it would mean for us in terms of the sanctions regime.
QUESTION: All right, last one on Iran. You will have seen probably that they announced that they busted up some huge terrorist plot today.
MR KIRBY: I did see reports of that today.
QUESTION: And given the fact that they appear to have linked this plot to Saudi types, are you concerned at all about – much in the same way that the action by Bahrain – that this will inflame – inflame tensions? Or do you suspect that they are correct?
MR KIRBY: Well, it's difficult to know with great certainty right now. We've certainly spoken before about the – how a terrorist group like Daesh is a threat to all nations. Beyond that, I'm going to have to let the Iranian authorities speak to the specifics of the arrests that they've made. But clearly, Daesh is a group of great concern and should be of great concern to all nations. But I'm going to let the Iranian authorities speak to it.
QUESTION: The Indonesian navy intercepted a Chinese fishing boat in disputed waters in South China Sea on Friday and detained its crew, and the Chinese accused the Indonesians of using excessive force and injuring one of its crew members. Do you have any comment on that?
MR KIRBY: I'm going to let the Indonesian authorities speak to their actions in this regard. All I'll say about this is what we've said about other tensions in the South China Sea: We want these issues resolved peaceably and we want them resolved in accordance with international law. But I'm going to let Indonesia speak to its own actions.
QUESTION: Do you condemn the use of force in this case?
MR KIRBY: Again, we want the tensions to be reduced. We're not taking a position on claims. And I know this isn't necessarily a claims issue, but we do take a position on coercion, and we want the tensions reduced and we want them done – that done peacefully in accordance with international law. I'm just not going to wade into this particular incident. Okay?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you clarify the situation for us what's going on in Fallujah? Because the Iraqi Government – I think a spokesman said that it was liberated --
MR KIRBY: That it was what?
QUESTION: It was liberated, suggesting that maybe the whole city or parts of the city or large --
MR KIRBY: Well, I think our own ambassador spoke a little bit about it today in a statement and congratulated the Iraqi Security Forces on the successes that they have had in Fallujah. And I think it's beyond dispute that they have had a measure of success inside Fallujah. As I understand it, there's still some fighting going on. That should come as a surprise to no one, particularly the degree to which Daesh has held Fallujah for so long and have been so entrenched. But they have – as I understand it, they certainly have reached the city center and have retaken some government buildings, which is all – all very, very positive.
QUESTION: And any information that you might share with us on the population? Because there were – last week, people were saying or estimates were suggesting that there is upward of 40-, 50,000 people in the city, still remaining in the city.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: And they were concerned about their fate as Daesh retreats.
MR KIRBY: I don't know – yeah, I don't know how many people are left in the city. As I understand it, tens of thousands, upwards of – as I understand, it's somewhere between 70- and 80,000 people have been able to flee. I don't know what that means in terms of who's left behind. I think estimates of the population of Fallujah was somewhere around 150,000, I think, but that doesn't mean that there's still 70,000 left. I just don't know. But obviously, there are still many innocent Iraqi people that are still in the city. And the Iraqi Security Forces have, with some coalition support, have done a commendable job trying to provide avenues of escape, safe escape, for many people living in Fallujah to give them a way out and then to try to work to take as good care as you can of them once they're out.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Okay. Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:53 p.m.)
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