2:37 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.
MR KIRBY: It took a little while. Yeah, it’s Friday. Come on, man. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Alfred —
MR KIRBY: Work with me. The weekend’s almost here.
QUESTION: Not for all —
QUESTION: Alfred Hitchcock greeting, “Good evening.” (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Oh, is that the problem – that I’m a little late today? Oh. Well, God, guys, because to keep you here late on a Friday, that’s just horrible, I know.
QUESTION: You’re not the one who’s going to be keeping us late here on Friday.
MR KIRBY: Who is? Who is?
QUESTION: Bunch of emails are probably going to do that —
MR KIRBY: All right.
QUESTION: — which I reckon we’ve got about 20 minutes to do this briefing, get it over with.
MR KIRBY: Actually, that is a great segue —
QUESTION: Right. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: — to my opening comments. Thank you.
Later this afternoon at approximately 3:00 p.m., the State Department will make publicly available online more than 7,000 pages of emails from former Secretary Clinton’s email account. This will constitute our largest production to date. Today’s production meets the court’s goal of producing 51 percent of the collection by October 30th. Meeting this goal – and we’ve said this before; we take this very, very seriously – it’s a testament to our commitment to releasing these emails to the public as expeditiously as possible.
Emails in this month’s production were largely sent or received in 2011 and 2012, but this month’s production also includes emails from 2009 and 2010. I would note that subsequent productions will include additional emails from throughout these years.
We’ve previously noted that releases have been roughly chronological. Though in order to meet deadlines for rolling monthly productions, we followed a process designed to get documents out the door as efficiently as possible, and that means that some documents do not require interagency review or additional internal review will be ready for release sooner than those that do.
Like previous releases, this month’s release will contain upgrades. As we did for previous releases, the department reviewed these emails for public release, applying Freedom of Information Act standards. We continue to work diligently on producing the remaining emails and intend to complete production of Secretary Clinton’s emails on or before the court’s deadline of January 29, 2016.
I also want – a programming note on this Monday, the 2nd of November at 10:30: Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller will be at the Stimson Center, where we will be releasing the 2015 edition of To Walk the Earth in Safety, our annual report on U.S. efforts around the world to save lives and help communities recover from war through the U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction Program. The United States is the world’s single largest financial supporter of efforts to address humanitarian hazards from landmines and unexploded ordnance in post-conflict countries and to reduce the availability of excess, loosely secured, or otherwise at-risk weapons and ordnance. The report highlights our enduring commitment to making post-conflict communities safer and setting the stage for their recovery and development.
And with that, we’ll get after it.
QUESTION: All right, thanks. Let’s start with Syria. I’m going to assume – but please correct me if I’m wrong – that you’re going to refer any questions about the Special Operations deployment to the Pentagon and/or the White House and it’s not really a – it would be pretty much a waste of time to ask you about it here. Is that correct?
MR KIRBY: Pretty much, yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. So when you do get questions – because I’m sure you will – can we just make the – make your response quick, because we do have a time constraint here? I just want to ask you one thing on this: Back on the 13th, there was an Amnesty International report that came out about the – that basically accused the YPG – the Kurds up there – of potentially committing war crimes. At the time, Mark said that you guys would look into them. It’s been more than two weeks now. Have you looked into this report and do you have any —
MR KIRBY: We are reviewing the report. I don’t believe that we’ve reached any conclusions on it. That review, as far as I know, is still ongoing.
QUESTION: All right. And then as it relates to something that you might be able to talk a little bit more about, the – have you been briefed on what happened in Vienna today?
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you explain what exactly about this – other than the fact that there was a larger grouper of nations at the table, what is different about what was agreed to today than what was in the Geneva communique three years ago?
MR KIRBY: Well, yeah, I can, Matt, actually. I mean, you’re right, there was a much larger group – 19 participants, as opposed to 10 in 2012. And of note – and I think – I know you didn’t want me to dwell on the participants, but I think it’s important. I mean, participants today included Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Germany, the UAE, Oman, as well as Italy – all nations that were not represented in 2012. So it was a larger group of stakeholders.
There’s no mention in the 2012 Geneva communique about keeping Syrian Government institutions intact through a political transition. That’s something that is new and was agreed upon by the participants. There’s no mention in the 2012 communique about ISIL – Daesh, if you will – and the threat that they pose, because back in June of 2012, as you know, they weren’t a factor yet. But there was uniform – as the Secretary read out, uniform agreement by all 19 participants that Daesh had to not only be dealt with but defeated. That’s not insignificant.
I think also, the Secretary made clear that in today’s statement after the meetings, as opposed to the 2012 Geneva communique, there was a very express desire of a sense of urgency and to accelerate diplomatic efforts. There was no such discussion of accelerating efforts in 2012. Of course, obviously, the situation is different today than it was in 2012 with the millions of Syrian refugees.
And then finally, I think it was notable that the Secretary made clear, as did the UN special envoy, that the process moving forward needs to be Syria-owned and Syria-led. Yes, there’s lots of mention in the 2012 communique about creating a transition that is responsive and is responsible to the Syrian people, but nothing so quite clear-cut as “Syrian-owned and Syrian-led,” and I think that’s a point of distinction that I think is noteworthy. I think everybody recognizes that for this transition to be successful it can’t be pushed on the Syrian people; the Syrian people have to be invested in it and have to own it going forward.
QUESTION: Well, okay. And I’ll stop after this. All of that sounds great, but when you talk about how this can’t be pushed on the Syrian people, I mean they weren’t even there. I know that – I mean, how do you – how do you go back against that saying if this is not being pushed on the Syrian people – either side or whatever side – why weren’t they – why weren’t they there? I don’t see how you can make the argument that this is not being pushed on them from the outside when they weren’t at the table.
MR KIRBY: First of all, there’s still a lot of work to go. The transition hasn’t been defined with great specificity now. So they’re not leaving Vienna with “The plan.” The Secretary made very clear that there’s going to need to be continued discussions.
Number two, Mr. de Mistura I think was very clear that the bringing together of the Syrian sides, whether it’s the Assad regime and the opposition, that will be handled – managed by the UN at a time and a place appropriate that the UN believes we’re at that stage. And even Minister de Mistura said that we weren’t quite there yet but that that had to happen, that had to occur, and it will occur. But it was really important – and I think Secretary Kerry also spoke to this – that to get all those stakeholders in the room – because even the – even many of the Syrian moderate opposition groups have said we’re not ready to have those discussions yet until the international community can kind of come to some sort of consensus about a path forward. And we know – we being the moderate opposition – that there’s international community support for what we want to accomplish. And that’s why today was so important and why the follow-on meetings will be so important. And obviously, as we’ve talked about this week, there will be a time and a place when the opposition groups will be represented and probably the Assad regime as well. We’re just not there yet.
QUESTION: So Geneva was hailed as a big success because it talked about all this stuff. But the first time that you got the Syrian opposition and the government together after Geneva was a complete disaster. Why do you think – I mean, it went nowhere. I was there in Montreux. It went absolutely nowhere. How is that you think that it’s different now?
MR KIRBY: All I can say –
QUESTION: Or will be different?
MR KIRBY: All I can say is that was then; this is now.
MR KIRBY: The situation is different, Matt. You know that. We just talked about many of the differences on the ground in Syria. We have a lot more stakeholders at play here in a sense of momentum, diplomatic momentum, that I don’t think existed back then. And the Secretary firmly believes that it’s important to capitalize on that momentum right now.
QUESTION: One more – one on the diplomacy. And I’m not going to ask you operational stuff about the announcements earlier.
MR KIRBY: Thank you.
QUESTION: But I am very interested in what effect, if any, the Administration believes the deployment of the Special Operations Forces may have on the diplomatic process.
MR KIRBY: The Secretary views the decision today to intensify our efforts against ISIL as part and parcel of the larger political effort inside Syria. Because as I said to Matt, I mean, if you look back to 2012 nobody was talking about ISIL. Well, now they are. ISIL definitely has had an impact on the dynamics inside Syria. And it’s noteworthy that all 19 participants agreed ISIL has to be defeated. And we know that to do that you have to apply many levers. One of them, of course, is the military lever. And that is why to get to – to help build on this political momentum that we see happening, it’s important to also, likewise, moving in tandem, intensify the pressure against ISIL going forward, because ISIL is definitely a factor in creating insecurity and instability in Syria.
QUESTION: So for the folks in Lubbock, what – how does maybe helping rebel forces fight better against ISIL or even take territory back from ISIL – just in simple terms, how does that help you in the diplomacy?
MR KIRBY: If – well, again, I would point you back to what they all agreed today that ISIL has to be defeated. All 19 participants in a diplomatic discussion today agreed ISIL has to be defeated. So our efforts here are very much in keeping with that international community mandate coming out of Vienna today that ISIL has to be dealt with, that ISIL is a key factor in why Syria is so insecure.
QUESTION: What I –
MR KIRBY: So it’s all – it’s part and parcel. I mean, the military efforts against ISIL will – if and when – we know will be successful. When they are successful we will have removed a key factor in insecurity in Syria. And we’ve always said that a political transition to a responsible government is a valuable entity in terms of dealing with the terrorism threat inside Syria. It doesn’t mean that one has to happen before the other can happen. The Secretary believes they need to move in parallel, and they are.
One could argue that if you haven’t quite completed your defeat of ISIL inside Syria but you have a responsible government in Syria, that that’s a good thing because good governance is a key factor in removing the threat of extremism in any country. And we want to see a good government in Syria; one that’s stable and strong and vibrant and can look after the citizens of its country and protect its own borders. So a good, viable, strong government in Syria could be an antidote, or at least one antidote, to ISIL’s growth inside the country. They are interconnected.
QUESTION: I still don’t get it. And maybe I’m obtuse, but is what you’re trying to say that if you strengthen the rebels to take over more territory from ISIL and eventually defeat them – right? – that then it will be easier to achieve a political resolution, political agreement, entente, between the government and the rebels?
MR KIRBY: Everybody recognizes that one of the obstacles to peace and security in Syria – and there are many – is ISIL. And everybody agreed, as you saw the Secretary say today, that ISIL needs to be defeated and that the defeat of ISIL – whether it’s done before a transition is effected, or during, or after, the defeat of ISIL is only to the good for Syria, and only to the benefit of the Syrian people, and only to the potential benefit of a strong, viable government in Syria that can look after the security of its own citizens.
I mean, it is a significant terrorism threat not just in Syria, but in the region. And so I don’t think it’s insignificant at all that all 19 participants noted that and agreed that ISIL needs to be defeated. Is it the end-all of the diplomatic process? No, and I don’t think anybody said that coming out of here today. There’s an awful lot of other factors causing insecurity and instability in Syria that need to be dealt with, not to mention Bashar al-Assad, who we have said clearly is a factor in ISIL’s potential growth and development in Syria, and by his own barrel bombing and his own violence that he visits upon his own people has made it more attractive for extremists and jihadis to go to Syria.
So you have to do both. You have to do both. And they are related.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. You said “intact” on the institutions, that they all agreed to keep all these government institutions intact. Right? Is that what you said?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. That includes —
MR KIRBY: That’s not what I said; that’s what Secretary Kerry said when he came out of the meetings.
QUESTION: Ah, that’s what – all right. And your understanding is that includes the Syrian army, which will not be subject to something akin to de-Baathification in Iraq? There will not be de-Baathification?
MR KIRBY: I don’t think they discussed in any great detail how each —
MR KIRBY: — institution of government would be handled or managed. I don’t think the discussions went that far today. But when we talk about the institutions of a government, clearly we mean the security institutions as well as the economic and other civic institutions.
QUESTION: But the one institution that basically now is holding whatever remains of Syria together is the army. So that would be maintained as is, correct?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made about specific institutions. I think I would challenge a little bit your assertion that the Syrian army is the one thing holding Syria together. I don’t think I would agree with that.
QUESTION: No, the Syria that is under the —
QUESTION: — regime’s control. I mean, along with the intelligence services. I have a quick follow-up on the special forces. Is that a mission creep? Do you see this evolving, perhaps? Because —
MR KIRBY: Well, I promised —
QUESTION: — they talk about attacking —
MR KIRBY: I promised Matt that I wouldn’t talk about operations.
MR KIRBY: But let me just have —
QUESTION: No, no, no. You can do it, I just –
MR KIRBY: Let me just make this point. Mission creep occurs when the mission changes, when the mission expands, when the mission becomes something that it wasn’t at the outset. And Said, there is nothing new and nothing different about the mission that our troops, U.S. troops are performing in Iraq or in Syria with these new decisions. It is an intensification of certain efforts, but it is all in keeping with the kinds of tasks that U.S. military members have been asked to perform in Iraq and Syria. There are essentially two major components of the military mission. There is the air operations, obviously, which have continued now for more than a year, to the completion of some 7,300 airstrikes. And then there is train, advise, and assist mission, which we had been performing in Iraq for more than six, eight months, I think, and we’re trying to do with the Syrian moderate opposition. Now it’s – that focus has been changed. But the focus may change; the mission itself hasn’t changed. So no, I would absolutely disagree with anybody who claims that we’re talking about mission creep here.
QUESTION: Very quickly. I will not ask about special forces announcement, but —
MR KIRBY: Thank you.
QUESTION: — broadly speaking, do you see that as a shift or as a change of strategy from the U.S. with respect to the conflict in Syria?
MR KIRBY: No, there’s no change to the strategy.
QUESTION: But you used to not have boots on the ground, and now you’re going to have boots on the ground. Correct?
MR KIRBY: That’s not true either, Arshad. I mean, in terms of —
QUESTION: You have boots on the ground there now?
MR KIRBY: In terms of Syria, this is an attempt to —
QUESTION: You have boots on the ground in Syria now?
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: No. And you’re going to have boots on the ground in the future. Correct?
MR KIRBY: You’re talking about Syria. Let’s not talk about boots on the ground writ large.
QUESTION: No, no, I’m just —
MR KIRBY: There have been many boots on the ground against ISIL for many months.
QUESTION: I’m talking about – we’re talking about Syria, though.
MR KIRBY: This is an intensification of an effort against ISIL, particularly ISIL in Syria. I don’t see that as a change in strategy. Strategy – you know what? And we talked about this before. I mean, that word gets, I think, misused and abused. The strategy is to defeat ISIL, to degrade and defeat them over time through multiple lines of effort, not all of them military. In the military line of effort, I just explained to Said there’s two core missions: train, advise, and assist, because you need indigenous forces that are capable of fighting this enemy. In Iraq we’ve got Iraq Security Forces. We have healthy institutions there to at least start with, and that work continues. In Syria we’ve long been honest about the fact that creating capable indigenous forces is more difficult. It’s more complicated because of the civil war ongoing in Syria and because of what – the Syrian army obviously is not a capable partner against ISIL as it’s protecting the Assad regime. So you’re finding counter-ISIL fighters that you can work with.
Now, that has proved to be a difficult task, but that is the mission. So the train, advise, and assist mission, exactly the same; the idea behind it, exactly the same. The difference is we’re going to intensify that effort inside Syria with a limited number, a very small number, of Special Operation Forces that are doing and will be doing a task that they are routinely capable of doing around the world and have proven very capable of. In fact, if I may say so, I don’t think any military in the world is as capable as the U.S. military when it comes to train, advise, and assist missions, particularly using Special Operations Forces.
QUESTION: Would you acknowledge it as a change in policy if not of strategy?
MR KIRBY: A change in policy?
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: Your – so your – but your previous policy did not encompass putting boots on the ground in Syria – wait a minute. Your current strategy as outlined by the White House does include putting boots on the ground in Syria. But there’s no change in policy there?
MR KIRBY: The policy was that we weren’t going to engage in large ground combat operations, large-scale offensive ground operations against ISIL. And that is still not going to occur.
QUESTION: But the policy was that you didn’t have boots on the ground. That was a policy decision. The President could have put boots on the ground. He didn’t.
MR KIRBY: I don’t know that he ever ruled it out. The policy was —
QUESTION: Just because you don’t rule something out doesn’t mean that it’s a policy.
MR KIRBY: Well, look, I’m – I’ll defer to my colleagues at the White House to speak to presidential policy here. I’m not aware that there was a policy about putting U.S. boots on the ground in Syria in any capacity whatsoever. You adapt in war. You have to adapt in war. No strategy – and the strategy hasn’t changed. But if you don’t adapt the way you execute and implement your strategy, then you’re pretty much – unless you are – can see the future with perfect clarity, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
QUESTION: I get that you need to adapt in a war. What I don’t get is that you cannot acknowledge that when you undertake to do something that you previously did not do and made clear you weren’t going to do, that it’s not a change in policy – not strategy, policy.
MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not aware that there was a policy decision in that regard. But let’s take that question off the table. The worst way to win a conflict, an armed conflict, is to never change your mind, to never adapt, to never change. I mean —
QUESTION: So you changed your mind here, just not your policy or your strategy?
MR KIRBY: Arshad, I’m not going to debate this issue of policy with you. I’m just simply not going to do it. There was no prohibition that I’m aware of of any boots on the ground in Syria. And I think we all need to keep in mind and keep this in perspective that what we’re talking about is a very narrowly focused mission with a very small number of troops that are perfectly designed to conduct this mission. And if in the execution of combat, of a campaign effort against an enemy, if you’re not willing to adjust as needed to focus on what works and be willing and be brave enough, frankly be courageous enough, to say, “Well, that’s not going to work so we’re not going to do that as much anymore,” well, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. I don’t think anybody wants to see us set ourselves up for failure in Iraq or in Syria.
QUESTION: The problem is, though – and I know – I don’t want to extend this at all, but —
MR KIRBY: But you are.
QUESTION: Well, the problem is you keep saying that there was no blanket prohibition or there was no policy made not to put – well, I’ve just been watching video clips of the President in a news conference saying, “I will not put boots on the ground in Syria.” I mean, I don’t know how much more clear you can be about stating a policy or a position.
MR KIRBY: I am not – look, I don’t have —
QUESTION: And no is saying that this is necessarily wrong. It’s just that I don’t understand the Administration’s refusal, reluctance or refusal, to acknowledge when it – when something has changed.
MR KIRBY: I just did acknowledge that something has changed, and a lot of things have changed.
QUESTION: But not the policy and not the strategy and not the tactic —
MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on the policy coming out on this, and so I’m not —
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) You acknowledged that.
MR KIRBY: Let’s – for argument’s sake, because I actually take issue with the line of questioning here – let’s just say for argument’s sake that you’re right. I haven’t seen every quote that was issued about this. My point to you would be: So what? So what? So what if there was a policy that we weren’t going to put boots on the ground in Syria and now there’s going to be a very narrowly focused, small number of Special Operations Forces going into Syria to help defeat ISIL? So what?
QUESTION: I think that’s exactly the question. So what?
MR KIRBY: That is exactly what you do in war.
QUESTION: So why won’t you or your colleague at the White House come out and say this is a change, this is a shift —
MR KIRBY: Well, look, I just don’t have —
QUESTION: I know. I didn’t say —
MR KIRBY: — in front of me a litany of every statement that was —
QUESTION: You’re putting it on us saying, “So what?” If it’s not that big a deal, then it shouldn’t be something that’s difficult —
MR KIRBY: I’m not saying it’s not a big deal. I mean, anytime you’re dealing with an enemy like this, I mean, this is – obviously, it’s a significant decision. But it’s what you do – it’s – in executing a strategy, certainly a strategy that we have seen progress, we have seen make success, that obviously has proven to have an effect on ISIL, that it’s what you do. You adapt it. You change it. You modify it as you need in execution. It doesn’t mean the strategy itself changes.
And I mean, I think – and I love the gotcha aspect here. Well, you said this and now you’re doing that. That’s what you do if you want to win. So again, I’m not going to get into a debate about what is or what isn’t policy. That’s not my place from this podium.
QUESTION: You’re assuming, though, that it’s a gotcha question. It’s not. It’s just wondering —
MR KIRBY: No, I think it was.
QUESTION: No, it’s wondering why the Administration is insisting that it’s not doing something different.
MR KIRBY: I don’t know that I agree.
QUESTION: John, why did the Secretary say that he had no idea about the timing of this announcement, given that your colleagues at the White House have said that the President talked to the Saudis, he talked to the Qataris, all of that?
MR KIRBY: The Secretary knew that he – the Secretary was in on the discussions to get to this decision, and the Secretary is very much in favor of this decision to increase our – the capabilities of counter-ISIL fighters in Syria. He’s very much in favor of it. I think he was just referring to the specific timing today. I mean, he obviously knew the decision had been made, he knew the decision was coming, but I —
QUESTION: This week?
MR KIRBY: Yes, but I don’t think he knew —
QUESTION: But it’s another week.
MR KIRBY: But I wasn’t – I’m not in Vienna, Margaret, but I think he was referring to the exact hour of the day here that the decision was coming.
QUESTION: It —
MR KIRBY: I think what he was trying to do, the point he was trying to make, Margaret, was that there should be no – no one should construe that the decision itself was timed for an announcement to go along with the discussions they were having in Vienna, that this wasn’t a – it wasn’t part and parcel of the efforts in Vienna. It was coincidental to.
QUESTION: But why is that even material? I mean, if the point is that this is two-pronged – you’ve got military pressure against a common enemy in ISIS, and you’ve got a diplomatic track to change a war zone vacuum that has become a ground for ISIS to grow in – why is that a point to be made?
MR KIRBY: Why is what a point to be made?
QUESTION: What was he trying to say by saying, “I didn’t know anything about the timing, this was not intentional, this was” —
MR KIRBY: The question he got was —
QUESTION: Was specific to that.
MR KIRBY: — was specific to – the question was – as I remember hearing it, the premise of it was, wasn’t this decision about trainers designed to be announced today while you’re here in Vienna doing diplomatic discussions to put pressure on one or another participants —
QUESTION: As a negotiating tactic.
MR KIRBY: Exactly, as some sort of lever. And the Secretary’s point in saying, “Look, I wasn’t tracking the exact time of the announcement” was to say – to reinforce the point that it wasn’t, that it wasn’t meant to be some additional leverage to be used by the United States with respect to the diplomatic track.
QUESTION: Is this going to stay at the Secretary’s level? And they said reconvene within two weeks or so. Does that mean he is going to be reconvening?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know exactly. I don’t have anything with respect to the Secretary’s future travel or meetings on this. That said, Margaret, I can assure you that he will stay very personally involved in this, and I can guarantee that you will see him attend future meetings when they’re dealing with this particular diplomatic process. I have absolutely no doubt that the Secretary is going to stay personally involved, but when and where the next meeting is going to be and all the participants I think has yet to be worked out.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Are you going to notify the Syrian Government that you will be sending troops to Syria? Because when they – before the coalition started its airstrikes in Syria, Ambassador Samantha Power notified the Syrian ambassador at the UN.
MR KIRBY: I would refer you to the Defense Department. I don’t have any details in terms of specific notifications. Obviously, the decision has already been made and announced, so if there was any doubt by anybody in Damascus about what the President has decided, I think that doubt has been removed. I’m not aware that there was any diplomatic outreach to advise them of this.
And Samir, again, I want to stress: It’s important to keep it in perspective here. It’s not an insignificant decision, obviously, but you need to keep in perspective what this is and what it isn’t. It is simply an extension of and intensification of a train, advise, and assist mission with a small number of Special Operations Forces that are trained, equipped, and ready for that particular mission.
QUESTION: A follow-up on this. Is this deployment coordinated with Russia, with Iran, with Turkey, who have forces in the area? And who will protect these 50 special —
MR KIRBY: Those are —
QUESTION: — special forces?
MR KIRBY: Your second question is great for the Defense Department. I am not going to speak to military matters up here. I’ve already done a little bit more than that than I probably should have. But obviously, this is a decision made by the Commander-in-Chief regarding U.S. Special Operations Forces, and the proper notifications were made.
QUESTION: John, you just said —
QUESTION: One minute. Did – sorry. Did you say that they are aware of the deployment?
MR KIRBY: I’m going – I’ll let you speak to the Defense Department, but as I understand it, proper notifications were made inside the coalition of this decision.
QUESTION: On the diplomatic front, you’ve defended having Iran in the talks. With the talks having wrapped, was it worth it? Were they a valuable and constructive partner in these talks?
MR KIRBY: I think I’ll let the Secretary’s comments speak for themselves since he was there and I wasn’t, and he made it very clear in the press conference afterward that he found the participation by all of the countries and institutions that were represented there to be constructive.
QUESTION: One —
QUESTION: If I could continue on the Iran theme here. Can you confirm the arrest and detention of Iranian American Siamak Namazi? And what’s your response if you’re able to confirm this?
MR KIRBY: We’ve seen those reports. I’m not in a position to comment on them at this time.
QUESTION: House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce has called on Secretary Kerry not only to raise the issue of the now four detained Americans and Robert Levinson, but to demand their releases. Secretary Kerry met with Foreign Minister Zarif today. Did he demand releases? Will the State Department demand their releases?
MR KIRBY: We raise – we routinely raise the issue of detained Americans and the whereabouts of Mr. Levinson with Iranian officials every opportunity that we can. And at every discussion we have with them, the Secretary raises it.
QUESTION: I just had two more – maybe two more question on the deployment. There’s a political dimension to it, just – a similar question to what Samir asked. The Turks have not – if I put it simply – have not liked much of your support for the YPG Kurds so far. Did you talk to them, to the political leaders in Turkey about this decision? And were they okay with the United States sending Special Operations Forces to Syria to help them, or you did it despite their objection?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about the details of diplomatic discussions. As I said, this was a decision made by the Commander-in-Chief, by President Obama, to conduct a very narrowly focused U.S. train, advise, and assist mission inside Syria. And I won’t speak to the diplomatic discussions, but there were – there were proper discussions about this inside the coalition.
As for Turkey’s concerns, they’re longstanding and well known, and it’s a matter that we routinely talk to Turkey about. I would also hasten to remind you that Turkey’s a member of this coalition, a valuable member. And as part of these decisions, you will have seen my colleague at the White House talk to the fact that there will be additional U.S. aircraft flying out of Incirlik and we’re grateful for the continued support we get from Turkey in that regard.
QUESTION: As you made this decision, PYD continues to publish alleged report that they came under attack from the Turkish forces. Aren’t you concerned about that, that the Kurdish that you were helping and defending are allegedly coming under Turkish attacks?
MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the reports but I’m not in a position to confirm them one way or the other.
QUESTION: John —
QUESTION: Can I ask one small one on this? I know you don’t want to talk about the details of the diplomatic discussions, and I know you said that you’re grateful for the ability to fly additional aircraft out of Incirlik. Can you – and I know you said that you talk about the Turkish concerns about the PYD with them all the time. Can you – without getting into the details, can you just say that, yes, you did talk to the Turks about the announcements that were made today regarding the Special Operations Forces or not?
MR KIRBY: I’ve answered the question. I’m not going to talk about details of diplomatic discussions.
QUESTION: That’s not a detail. That’s just whether you talked to them. It’s not the details of what you said.
MR KIRBY: It’s – I’m considering it a detail and I’m not going to answer it beyond what I’ve already said.
QUESTION: Iran and Russia are not in the coalition. Were they aware of the deployment?
MR KIRBY: They’re – folks, I’m not going to go through every list of every country in the world and tell you whether they were called about this or not.
QUESTION: This was my main question.
MR KIRBY: Listen, I’m telling you the proper notifications were made. This is primarily a military matter. If you have more specific questions about it, I encourage you to talk to the Defense Department. I’m not going to go through the list of every country in the world and tell you who or who was not consulted on this. But it is important to remember that this was a decision made by the Commander-in-Chief, by President Obama, regarding U.S. Special Operations Forces and the job that they will continue to do, as they have done in Iraq, and now they will continue to do in a limited number in Syria.
QUESTION: I have two questions, thank you. How much do you believe General Musharraf – he keeps making statements sometime like threatening India with nuclear weapons and now then again about training the terrorists. And now, he, after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington, he became the WikiLeaks of Pakistan now – when in a televised interview, when he said that Usama bin Ladin was – is hero and he was Pakistan’s hero and he’s the hero for the whole Pakistanis and we know and – best and everybody should know about this.
Do you believe him, what he said, all these things, and right after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit?
MR KIRBY: I’ll let him speak for himself and his comments, Goyal. I mean, I think our position on al-Qaida and al-Qaida’s leadership is obviously well known, and we continue to do what we can as a country and in partnership with many other nations to defeat extremism in the region. I would note that al-Qaida’s leadership has largely been – top leadership been largely decimated over more than a decade of efforts by not just our military but militaries and brave soldiers fighting for countries in the region. So I’m not going to stoop to try to put context on a statement like that.
QUESTION: Second on India: Just recently yesterday, the two sides – India and U.S. – concluded a number of issues including investment, trade, and energy and other issues. Any comment on that? And India and – U.S.-India Business Council and others have applauded this decision (inaudible).
MR KIRBY: All I would say is, as we’ve said before, I mean, it’s an important relationship, and India’s an important partner, an important country in the region, and we’re – we continue to look for ways to deepen that partnership. And the economic side of it is as important as ever, if not more so today, and there are many different – many different economic connections between us and India that I know Secretary Kerry’s committed to strengthening.
MR KIRBY: You came back.
QUESTION: I had to respond to an urgent email.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: I apologize.
MR KIRBY: No, that’s fine. I just —
QUESTION: I wasn’t walking out in protest or anything.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: I don’t know that I would hardly blame you for doing so.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Good.
QUESTION: The thought crossed your mind, though.
QUESTION: No, no.
QUESTION: De Mistura said there was a win from today’s talks – no one left the room.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Iraq, as you are well aware yesterday, the Secretary put a statement out about it, about Camp Liberty – the attack on Camp Liberty. I’m wondering if you have anything more to say about that today, and also if you are aware of any contacts that there have been between the embassy or people here and the Iraqi Government about the attack. Has anyone from the embassy gone out to look at the camp since what happened?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update for you outside of what the Secretary said, and I’m – I mean, I’m confident that Ambassador Jones, I’m sure, has been discussing this with his counterparts. But I don’t have the details of those discussions. And obviously, the Secretary felt strongly enough about it to issue the statement in his own name, and I think that says a lot about where his head is on this.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, let’s remember that the next time a statement comes out not in his name. Be careful, that’s a slippery slope that you’re just going — let me ask you: Despite that there are some allegations being made by the MEK, people who are there, that the Iraqi Government was behind this attack, do you have any indication that that’s true, or —
MR KIRBY: No. I’ve seen those accusations, and I’m not – I don’t have any information that would confirm that one way or the other. Obviously, if it’s true, that would be deeply concerning, but I’ve seen nothing to indicate the veracity of those claims.
QUESTION: John —
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to go through any more countries.
QUESTION: No, no, no.
QUESTION: On the – on Camp Liberty, how do you see this issue being resolved? Because they have been in limbo for so many years – I mean, I remember Camp Ashraf, and now Camp Liberty and so on. The Europeans don’t want to take them. Nobody seems to want to take the MEK, but somehow Iraq has to deal with them. How do you see this issue resolved?
MR KIRBY: I think – pretty sure the Secretary addressed this in his statement. I mean, we’ve repeatedly pressed the Government of Iraq at various levels to take all possible measures to ensure the safety and security of the residents, and we’ve actively supported and will continue to do so the many efforts of the UN as it has worked to encourage Government of Iraq officials to make security improvements to the camp. So it’s no secret that the security situation in Iraq continues to be dangerous, continues to be challenging, and no amount of physical security measures, we know, are going to guarantee the safety and security of all residents. We understand that. Only the permanent relocation of the residents of the camp outside of Iraq is going to be able to assure their safety, and we continue to make that case, Said.
QUESTION: So you encourage European countries to take their own citizens, for instance.
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that, but as we’ve said, the only sure antidote to the security challenges with respect to the residents is to find a place for them to live peaceably outside the country.
QUESTION: John, Secretary Kerry has met with – two times with the Iranian foreign minister. Can you confirm that they never discussed Syria during these two meetings?
MR KIRBY: I think the travel team will be issuing – I think they will be issuing a readout. I know they met bilaterally twice, and my understanding is that the discussion was about JCPOA implementation. And, of course, the Secretary used the opportunity, as he always does, to raise the issue of detained Americans. The discussions with Iran over Syria and what’s going on in Syria took place inside the multilateral setting.
QUESTION: Not during these bilateral —
MR KIRBY: I just told you that the meetings bilaterally were primarily about JCPOA implementation and about the Secretary raising concerns over our detained Americans.
QUESTION: John, on the Secretary Clinton emails, you said there would be some that would be upgraded. Do you guys have any kind of a number on —
MR KIRBY: My understanding is that it will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 2- to 300, about on par with last month’s upgrades.
QUESTION: And can you still confidently say that they were all upgraded, nothing was classified at origination?
MR KIRBY: I can tell you that no emails were marked classified at the time they were sent or received, from our analysis of this tranche, and that the upgrades you’re going to see are at the lowest level of classification, to confidential, in keeping with our obligation under the Freedom of Information Act to protect certain information. So very low level of upgrade.
QUESTION: No, wait, wait. Israel and Palestinians. One, have you seen or are you aware of the presentation that some Palestinian leaders made today to the International Criminal Court? And if you are, do you have anything to say about it, since —
MR KIRBY: Seen the reports of the meeting. Obviously, I’d refer you to the Palestinians for further detail, but Matt, our position on the issue has not changed. We don’t believe that the Palestinians are eligible to accede to the Rome Statute and to join the ICC.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but do you have an issue with them going to the court and talking with the prosecutor?
MR KIRBY: We’ve also made it very clear that we oppose actions against Israel at the ICC as counterproductive, so again, I’d let you – I would point you to the Palestinians to speak to what they did and the outcome of the meeting, but nothing’s changed about our policy.
QUESTION: Right, but I – but you object to the Palestinians even going to the prosecutor and talking to them?
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that. I said we —
QUESTION: That’s what I’m trying to figure out.
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that. I mean, the meeting is for them to speak to, not for me to characterize whether we object to it or not. What we object to and continue to oppose is any accession to the Rome Statute by Palestinian authorities.
QUESTION: Okay. There were a couple more attacks today. Do you have anything to – in Israel and the West Bank. Palestinians —
MR KIRBY: See, we – certainly we’re aware of more attacks. I think there’s – I – it was just before coming out here; I didn’t have a whole lot more information about them, but we’re aware of them. And obviously, we continue to urge calm and for an end to the violence that’s not serving anybody’s interest.
QUESTION: Are you disappointed at all that the Secretary’s efforts appear not to have produced the kind of calm that you were all hoping?
MR KIRBY: Obviously, we’re all disappointed that there hasn’t been an end to the violence, but I don’t know that I would say the Secretary is disappointed that somehow we have failed here. The Secretary continues to feel that there is the potential for progress. But it’s going to require a continued effort by the leaders on both – on all sides, and that’s what he talked about in Amman last week. He still believes that the installation of security cameras, whose footage will be available to the public 24/7, could be, as he put it, a real game changer.
So, obviously, the Secretary is disappointed that innocent people are still getting hurt and killed. Nobody wants to see that. But he still believes that there is hope for some measure of optimism here based on his meetings last week.
QUESTION: Okay. Are you aware of any progress that’s been made along the – in installing and getting those cameras online?
MR KIRBY: No. I know that the technical teams from Israel and Jordan were supposed to meet. I don’t know what the status is of those (inaudible).
QUESTION: And then the last one. Palestinians have complained or are complaining about road restrictions, road blocks in and around –
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: — the whole area that have led apparently to some ambulances not being able to get through. There was also – I think police went into – Israeli police went into a hospital demanding Palestinian records. Do you guys have anything – health records. Do you have anything on that?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on the issue of health records. As to the impeding of access, again, first I’d like to say we remain concerned about the violence, and we’re following the issues related to checkpoints and closures in East Jerusalem including reports about the impact of security measures on an East Jerusalem hospital. Of course, we support Israel’s right to ensure the security of its residents. Nothing’s changed about that. But we hope that any measures Israel takes will minimize the impact on the vast majority of nonviolent citizens. And again, we remain deeply concerned about the situation and continue to urge all sides to take affirmative actions to restore calm.
QUESTION: John, Israel continues to hold some two dozen bodies of dead Palestinians – young Palestinians, refusing to turn them over to their families. Do you have any comment on that?
MR KIRBY: Said, I don’t have any information to verify that. I don’t know. So I just don’t have anything for you on it.
QUESTION: Okay. And also to just follow up on what you were saying on the excessive use of force, let’s say like in Aida Camp yesterday outside Bethlehem, they basically were telling people, “We’re going to gas you to death.” I mean, some really awful inciting statements and so on. So it seems to be accelerating. Isn’t that – doesn’t that translate into an excessive use of force?
MR KIRBY: I appreciate that you want me to characterize incidents. And as I said before, I’m not going to do that. For every comment or every incident, I’m simply not going to get into characterizing them, Said. I will simply repeat what I’ve said before: We want all sides to take affirmative action and steps to end the violence and to stress and to urge calm. That’s what we really want to see happen here, because you – the ultimate goal here is for people to be able to live in peace, to go about their lives safely and securely. And that’s what the Secretary is focused on, and that’s why he was grateful for the time that he had with leaders last week. That’s why he’s glad that all agreed to the installation of these cameras. And he looks forward to seeing that happen and getting them in use to increase transparency. And that’s what we’re focused on.
Okay, thanks everybody. Have a great weekend.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:24 p.m.)
DPB # 181