Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing – June 19, 2015

2:01 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Happy Friday.

MR KIRBY: I want you to note there’s a clock up there now. (Laughter.) I want you to note that for two reasons. One, I want you to see what time it is – I’m starting on time today – and I will be watching how long you keep me up here. (Laughter.) I also —

QUESTION: You know there’s a clock there. No, no, right in front of you.

STAFF: No, we’re working on that, Matt.

QUESTION: Oh, it’s not there anymore? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: That’s why I’ve been taking my wristwatch off. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Oh, it used to be there..

MR KIRBY: I’ve also been advised that most of you prefer the way you were doing it before, which is we stay on a topic and move to the next, and that I was yesterday perhaps close to a near mutiny. And in a Navy man’s language, mutiny is a bad thing. So we’ll continue to do it that way and rather than jumping around the room. So we’ll just – we’ll do it the way you guys are more comfortable doing it, by staying on topic as we go around.

QUESTION: Change is difficult.

MR KIRBY: For you or me? (Laughter.) It’s definitely difficult for me.

QUESTION: Well, let me just —

MR KIRBY: But so we won’t change the format if that’s what you guys prefer.

QUESTION: The reason that it – I think that a lot of us prefer it that way is simply because when the transcript comes out, it comes in takes.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: And if everything is in one section, it just makes it easier.

MR KIRBY: I’m shocked to find that journalists prefer things that are easier for them —

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR KIRBY: — not necessarily the government. (Laughter.) So with that as preamble, I don’t have any opening statement to make.

QUESTION: I have only one – well, two questions but one topic.

MR KIRBY: Oh, my goodness.

QUESTION: And it’s Yemen.


QUESTION: And then I will be – hopefully you’ll answer them and I’ll be done. You’ve seen, I would assume, that the Yemen peace talks in Geneva broke – well, ended without agreement —


QUESTION: — I guess would be the nice way of saying it. Collapsed – would be maybe perhaps the more accurate – agreement. I’m wondering if you have any comment about that.

MR KIRBY: We do understand that the consultations in Geneva have concluded after several days. We believe that this was a useful start to the process, and I think that’s how we would characterize this. Obviously, this was a UN-led discussion. We continue to support that process by the UN special envoy, and again, we continue to urge all Yemeni participants to prioritize reaching an agreement to end the fighting. But understand that this was, in our view, as, again, a useful start to what will probably be a lengthy process.

QUESTION: Okay. Yesterday – related to this, yesterday in a taken question about this one member of the Yemeni delegation who is on your – the specially designated global terrorist list —

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: — you said that the U.S. was very concerned about his presence in the government delegation and that you would be talking to both them, or had expressed those concerns to them, and as well to the UN because, as you noted, it’s a UN-led thing. Just before coming out here I was looking at a picture, a photograph taken in Geneva of Ban Ki-moon shaking this person’s hand. Is that also a matter of concern for you that the secretary-general of the United Nations is shaking hands with and presumably in discussions with someone who you believe is a terrorist financer?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that I’d make a comment on a specific photograph, Matt, but I would say again that we are still concerned that the Government of Yemen would form a delegation for these kinds of talks and include a known financier of international terrorism. We’ve discussed those concerns, obviously, with the UN. But again, I’d refer you to them for any additional information about that.


QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?


QUESTION: Yemen as well. Yet the UN says that it’s still hopeful that those talks can come back together and that they – the door remains open.


QUESTION: How quickly do you think that needs to happen to continue the momentum of these talks? And are there efforts going on on the side between you and the Saudis and others, as last time, to try to redouble efforts?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any efforts on the sides, Lesley. And as for time, I think we’d be loath here in the United States to put a timeline and a schedule on this. This is a UN process. We obviously are supportive of that process and respectful of that. But I think that the special envoy was very pragmatic in his comments today about the challenges ahead. Again, we find this to be a useful start – just a start – and as I said earlier, I think we have to expect that it could be a lengthy process. But I’m not aware of any efforts on the side of this that we’re doing. We’re trying to respect that it is, in fact, a UN process.


QUESTION: Thank you, sir. As far as this terrorism report is concerned, many people around the globe and including in Washington are demonstrating that asking the U.S. that the U.S. should not support some of the dictatorships or military governments, and despite those countries, some of those countries are supporting terrorism or even working against the U.S. and other U.S. interests. What message do you have or the State Department, this report, for those who are still supporting terrorism and harboring and financing them?

MR KIRBY: I think you saw that we released a report today and had a pretty, I think, fulsome briefing on it earlier this morning. I mean, we’ve made it very, very clear our concerns about international terrorism and those states that support that terrorism. Nothing’s changed about that. I think we’ve also made clear that one of the ways you get at this, aside from the kinetic side of it which we all talk about and focus on a lot, is on trying to work with partners in building their capacity to deal with the threat of terrorism inside their borders. I mean, it’s got to be a shared effort by us and our friends and partners around the world.

QUESTION: And so just to follow up quickly, Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, who is the Nobel Peace winner this year, he was at the Lincoln Memorial and also speaking at a number of groups in Washington, and he said that as far as this upcoming report – and I think he met somebody else here in the State Department – as far as trafficking is concerned and child labor and child trafficking, and he’s speaking against all those – as far as trafficking is concerned. What he’s asking the UN and the U.S., that there should be some kind of – in the development agenda for the – against the child labor.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a dossier on all the efforts here at the State Department against child labor, but I know this is obviously an issue that we focus on, human rights writ large on – at the State Department, including those kinds of activities. I didn’t see those comments either, but clearly we would share those kinds of concerns over that. And again, this is something we’re focused on pretty broadly, pretty deeply here.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, Brad.

QUESTION: I was wondering if maybe you did see the comments of Russian President Putin today in St. Petersburg. They were somewhat varied on certain issues, but on Ukraine he had a couple references —

QUESTION: Are we moving to Ukraine or are we —

QUESTION: This is —

QUESTION: Can we stay on the terror report? Are we doing subject by subject or —

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt you, but I thought we had established at the beginning of the briefing we want to stay on subjects.

On the terror report, you saw the numbers. You saw that Ambassador Kaidanow does not challenge the University of Maryland numbers. If you look at those numbers just for the year of 2014 along with the report’s own statement that the seizure of territory by ISIS is unprecedented, and if you look at other metrics such as I introduced in the last briefing, and I’m sure you saw those, it’s not a good snapshot for the counterterrorism effort of this Administration. Show me where we’re gaining ground. Or doesn’t it really appear that terrorism is on the march and we’re losing ground yearly?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I saw that, James, and I saw the ambassador’s reply to you. I don’t know that I can improve upon her expertise on this issue. I think the way I would put this is that there has been progress made against terrorist networks around the world. That doesn’t mean that at any point in time, certainly not today, we’re willing to declare ultimate success against these groups. And there are worrisome trends in that report. That’s why the report’s so important. That’s why we take it so seriously. That’s why we partnered with the University of Maryland on those statistics. We want to have a frank, candid understanding of exactly how deeply challenging this problem is. It also conveys, I think, and should convey to the American people, the sense of urgency that Secretary Kerry as well as the rest of the Administration leaders apply to this particular problem.

Now, we could go through the major groups and walk through sort of the – some of the things that we’ve done. We have had success against ISIL in Iraq and in Syria. Is it over? Nope. And we’ve been honest that it’s going to take about three to five years. This is still a deadly, lethal group that still is intent on holding ground and on improving their own situation. It’s going to take some time.

We’ve made progress against al-Qaida. There’s no question about that, that the senior leadership of that organization has definitely been decreased significantly over time. It doesn’t mean that they’re gone. And what remains a worry – and I think the ambassador talked about this – is that there are splinter groups coming off of a group like al-Qaida. AQAP remains, obviously, very lethal. We’ve seen that. But even just as recently as this past week, James – and you’ve covered this as well – there has been a couple of significant strikes.

So there has been pressure applied to these groups. It will continue to be applied to this group. Nobody – I don’t think anybody anywhere in the world – can say that over the last decade or so the United States hasn’t taken the threat of terrorism very, very seriously and definitely set these groups back.

QUESTION: John, could I just follow up —

MR KIRBY: Sure, absolutely.

QUESTION: — on the military point?


QUESTION: Yeah. Why do you think that while the leadership is being decimated – annihilated, as a matter of fact – the organization itself seems to be thriving? Why is that?

MR KIRBY: These are nimble networks. And we – when we talk about organizations, we think of them as, like, corporations or armed forces. They’re not hierarchical organizations quite like that. Even ISIL, which possesses some military qualities, is not a homogenous organization in that regard. And so they’re networks.

And so the way you get after a network is you attack them at various places and on various levels. You go after financing. You certainly go after their leadership. You go after capabilities. And we’re doing that. But networks are – by virtue of being networks, they find ways to adapt and to try to overcome. And we’ve seen that. We’ve seen it with al-Qaida. We certainly are seeing it with ISIL in Iraq and Syria. That’s what makes this so challenging.

The other thing that I’d point out to James’s very excellent question is that it can’t just be the United States. And so while we talk about this report – and it’s a United States State Department report, you’re absolutely right about that, and I think it was a very frank assessment – we also have to recognize that the real answer to getting at terrorism is cooperative international efforts across a spectrum. And it can’t just be done by the United States. There’s just simply no way.

So very – and this is a long answer to your question, but —

QUESTION: Good answer.

MR KIRBY: — it’s because they’re networks, and networks behave differently than set-piece organizations, that you have to approach it from a much wider perspective.

Yeah, Carol.

QUESTION: I know the report’s only been out for a few hours, but I was wondering if you’ve gotten any response from Tehran yet on the Iran section and if you have any indications yet when the Secretary may be flying to join the talks.

MR KIRBY: The short answer to both of your questions is no. I’m not aware of any reaction by any nation, including Iran, with respect to that report, and I don’t have any updates on the Secretary’s traveling schedule.


QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran, since we’re on Iran?

MR KIRBY: Yes, we can stay on Iran. You want to —

QUESTION: Different – different subject.

MR KIRBY: Okay. So do we want to move on, or do we want to stay?

QUESTION: Stay in the region?

MR KIRBY: Stay in the region. Okay. I’ll come back.


MR KIRBY: I promise.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. In your briefing two days ago, you stated from the podium that Iran must give the IAEA the access that they need to resolve any possible military dimensions of their program. And I just want to confirm with you that it is the policy of the United States that Iran must resolve those questions, not just address them.

MR KIRBY: We’ve talked about this before, James, that as part of any deal and before there can be a deal, it needs to be determined – and this is something that was agreed to in both November and then in Lausanne in the spring in April – that the IAEA will have the access that they need to resolve their concerns about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, past and present.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Jenny.


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Wait, wait – that they will – so they will get the access before the deal is signed?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that. I said that —


MR KIRBY: I said that in order for there to be a deal, they have to have —

QUESTION: Iran has to —

MR KIRBY: They have to have provided the parameters for the access that IAEA needs.

QUESTION: Right. You – but you realize the problem with that? Iran has made promises, many promises in the past, and not followed through or fulfilled them. So you’re saying that they don’t have to give the access before a deal is done; they just have to say they will give access.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. And I think – first of all, I appreciate the chance to clarify. But you’re right; in Lausanne, they said it was agreed that they would establish a set of parameters to provide that access.

QUESTION: Right. And the – and then – and you’re confident that whatever the Iranians say that they will do, they will do, and that the access that they say they will give will be given, and that —

MR KIRBY: Well —

QUESTION: — the access that you – the only access you will accept is to the relevant military declared and undeclared facilities.

MR KIRBY: It has to be the access IAEA says it needs to be able to resolve concerns about —

QUESTION: Okay. But the —

MR KIRBY: — possible military dimensions. And then this isn’t just about trust. I mean, there’s a significant verification regime —


MR KIRBY: — that’s being worked out by negotiators here.

QUESTION: Right. But you can’t verify if you don’t actually get the access that they say that they are – that they may say that they are going to give.

MR KIRBY: That’s why we’re working our way through that.

QUESTION: Right. So —

QUESTION: Just to clarify the remarks you just made in response to Matt’s question, is it the case that when we have a final deal with Iran, if we reach one, it will contain the parameters for access, as you just stated? Or it will be – it will contain, that deal, the specific terms of access?

MR KIRBY: I’m certainly not going to talk about the issues that are still under negotiation. I’m not prepared here on the 19th of June to tell you what the final deal is going to look like. I would just not be able to do that for you. I think I’ve made it clear, though – they’ve made it clear in Lausanne that the IAEA will need to have the access it needs to resolve the issues of possible military dimensions of Iran’s program. And without the parameters for that sort of access, there’s not going to be a deal. And we’ve said that no deal is better than a bad deal.

QUESTION: But when you say parameters of access, what you’re essentially telling us is that as part of a final deal, those parameters could themselves be subject to further negotiation. And it’s always been understood here that the final deal will have the actual terms of a deal, not further parameters to be worked out, correct?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the details that are being negotiated now. That would just not be the right thing.

QUESTION: John, just to clarify, on the scope and range of this access, this is determined by the IAEA and not during the negotiations between the six plus Iran, is it?

MR KIRBY: What’s been hammered out in Lausanne is that the IAEA will have to have the access it needs.

QUESTION: Right, but they decide what kind of access they want, correct – the IAEA?

MR KIRBY: The IAEA will determine the access that it needs, and that’s part – and that’s got to be part of the deal.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Can I do a follow-up? I’m a little confused that that was hammered out in Lausanne, because, one, Iran is a member of the IAEA, so it should already be subject to the IAEA’s overview; two, those are already enshrined in UN Security Council resolutions. So why did you need 18 months or however many months of negotiations to merely say what they are already required to do and haven’t been doing all along?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – all I can tell you is what was agreed to in Lausanne. And we talked about this the other day, that that was one of the foundational agreements coming out – foundational documents was what was agreed to in April in Lausanne about the IAEA getting the access – being able to get the access it needs. And again, I’m just not going to go beyond that right now. There are still issues that are being negotiated in Europe, and it would just be completely inappropriate for me to talk about negotiating details here from this podium.

QUESTION: Well, given that the PMD issue was supposed to be resolved in a deal, and now that it’s – that resolution process would continue past a deal if a deal is reached – does lack of access or lack of resolution require the breaking of the deal? Or would that be a deal-breaker even after a deal is already signed?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into hypotheticals, Brad. I’m just not.

QUESTION: Well, no, I’m just asking if this – since it’s a resolution process we’re describing —

MR KIRBY: I understand your question.

QUESTION: — does the failure of the process break the deal?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about hypotheticals. We’re working with negotiating teams right now.


QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Kirby. On anthrax issues, North Korea announced that North Korea will bring the anthrax issue into UN Security Council against the United States because of U.S. sending this anthrax to Osan Air Base in South Korea. What is your comment, please?

MR KIRBY: I don’t even know how to respond to something like that. It’s a ludicrous claim. I can’t speak for what the North may or may not do with the UN. That’s for them to talk to. But the claim itself is – merits – doesn’t deserve any kind of —

QUESTION: So what is the status of investigation about this anthrax – now still ongoing investigation about the anthrax issues?

MR KIRBY: I would refer you to my colleagues at the Pentagon for that. That’s their issue, not here.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Yeah.

QUESTION: Did that feel (inaudible)? Being able to – (laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.

QUESTION: Do you have any information about the report about a shooting incident in the West Bank today?

MR KIRBY: We have scant information. I want to say a couple of things right off the bat. First of all, our condolences go out to the family of what we understand to be at least one of those individuals who was killed in this deadly shooting. Certainly, our thoughts and prayers go out to them. And the second thing I’d say is, as always, we condemn any violence against civilians there, completely unacceptable. And then our understanding is it’s under investigation and we’ll certainly look to see what they find in there. But again, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: We’ll go to —

QUESTION: Can we go to Russia?


QUESTION: I wanted to ask – I’ll pick up from where Brad was starting off on the – Putin’s speech today in St. Petersburg in which he made a number of comments, one of which was that Russia is cooperating with the West and that the situation in Russia is stable, we have a stable budget, our financial and banking systems have adapted to the new conditions. Do you have any rebuffs to that, given the fact that Russia is under this – these sanctions at the moment?

MR KIRBY: We – no. And you heard the President speak to this recently, that the deferred economic reform, low oil prices and the international sanctions, including Russia’s own counter-sanctions, we know that they’ve made Russia’s economy vulnerable, and it continues to – and it does suffer under the weight of these sanctions. And again, we talked about this yesterday, the EU considering continuing sanctions and the possibility of future sanctions, that there will continue to be costs for Russia’s violations of international law.

Now I – yes, I had seen President Putin’s remarks. Again, what I’d say is we know otherwise. We know that the costs have remained high on him and his economy and that they will continue to do so.

QUESTION: So is he delusional in his – what he says?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that. I just said we have a different view of the costs that his country continues to pay as a result of their violation of international law and Ukraine’s territory.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about one other thing he said. And that was: Once an attempt is made to solve the problem by political means – he’s talking about Ukraine – those weapons will be gone. And he was referring specifically to the accusations that Russia is providing weapons. Do you find that in any sense heartening that maybe Russia could be stepping back here and would be willing to do a drawdown if, in its opinion, there is some sort of genuine political process here, a reconciliation?

MR KIRBY: I think what we would find heartening, Brad, is Russia’s compliance with Minsk, which calls already for the removal of heavy weapons out of Ukrainian territory.

QUESTION: Do you think – I mean, you would challenge the notion that there hasn’t been a political process at this point, that there hasn’t been a political attempt to solve this peacefully?

MR KIRBY: Difficult to have a political solution when you’ve still got thousands of combined Russian separatist forces inside Ukraine fomenting violence and instability and violating the agreement that they signed up to pursue.

QUESTION: I have one more on Russia —

QUESTION: On Russia —

QUESTION: — if that’s okay.


QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the freeze of some of the state – Russian state companies in Belgium which happened yesterday, and I believe there could be moves possibly to – which are linked to Yukos that there could be moves – similar moves to do that in the United States. Is that something you’ve heard of?

MR KIRBY: You’re going to have to let me take that question, Jo.


MR KIRBY: Yeah. I’m just not prepared to answer that one today.


QUESTION: John, could you comment on Mr. Putin’s meeting with the Saudi defense minister? They have agreed on a – apparently on an arms deal of like 90 T – whatever they’re called – T tanks and many other – a number of T-90 tanks and so on and 400 SS missiles and all this. Do you have a comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen the details of —


MR KIRBY: — a deal between President Putin and the Saudis on weapons. But look, more broadly, now is not the time for business as usual with Russia.


MR KIRBY: We’ve been pretty clear about that. Many of our partners are clear about that. So I think I’d leave it there.

QUESTION: And just to follow up very quickly, yesterday I think marked the 36th anniversary of the SALT II treaty, and the day before, the secretary of the Air Force was saying that this is not really an arms race. So – and we have – Russia is producing more weapon – nuclear weapons, and the United States is deploying F-22s, if it is, on Russia’s borders. Isn’t this really accelerating the arms race?

MR KIRBY: No, I wouldn’t characterize what’s going on as an arms race. I mean, let’s take – walk back a couple of steps here, and what’s really happening is a violation of Ukrainian territory. To the degree that tensions on the continent are being escalated, they’re being escalated by Russia and President Putin’s actions. And what we’ve done and I – and we will continue to do is reinforce our commitments to our allies and partners on the continent of Europe, particularly to stress, again, our – the seriousness with which we take our Article V commitments. And so you’ve seen over many months now us meet those commitments, whether it’s through additional training exercises or contributing to the Baltic Air Policing mission or freedom of navigation operations by the United States Navy in the Black Sea, these are important commitments we continue to take very seriously.

That’s what’s going on here. And that activity, important though it is on any other given day, is made even more important by what Russia is continues to do inside Ukraine. It’s not an arms race.

QUESTION: In your response to the question about the Saudi – reported deals with the Saudis, you said now – reiterate now is not the time for business as usual with Russia. But —

MR KIRBY: With Russia.

QUESTION: With Russia. In the past, that has referred mainly to selling things to Russia, not buying things from Russia, with exception of, perhaps, the S-300 missiles to Iran, which long – your opposition long predates the Ukraine situation. Are you saying that people should not buy products of any kind from Russia now, because that’s business as usual?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t think – I don’t think I’m —

QUESTION: You cannot —

MR KIRBY: — making that sweeping —


MR KIRBY: But what we are saying, Matt, is that we’ve been clear that now is not the time for business as usual with Russia. I’m not, and it shouldn’t be read into that, that I’m making a particular indictment here against this particular arrangement.

QUESTION: This – that particular language has been used in the past with regard to the Mistrals – the French sale of Mistrals to Russia, saying now is not the time for business as usual —


QUESTION: — with Russia and in terms of visits, high-level visits to —


QUESTION: It has not to my knowledge been used for the purchase of Russian materiel, whether it be arms or anything else. Does it now include purchasing Russian products?

MR KIRBY: I think the best way I could answer that is business is a two-way street.

QUESTION: So we should stop buying Russian vodka and caviar and stuff like that?

MR KIRBY: Didn’t say that. Just that now is not —

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I’m trying to find out is when you say it’s not time for business as usual with Russia, you’re encouraging people to stop buying Russian products, not just weapons.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that we’re encouraging all business to stop. What I’m – and look, there are issues not economic related necessarily, but there are issues we continue to talk with Russia for ourselves – common security interests. I’m not making a broad, sweeping statement here other than to say we’ve been clear about our concerns that business as usual with Russia should not continue, given their continued violation of international law in Ukraine.


QUESTION: Yes, the issue is not buying weapons from the Russians. The issue, it seems, from the visit from the deputy crown price, is that the Saudis are following the Egyptians and strengthening relations with the Russians, and – but the king of Saudi Arabia is expected to visit Moscow in the future. What do you react – how – what’s your reaction to this?

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going to comment on every bilateral relationship that Russia has. And of course, Saudi Arabia is a key friend and partner in the Middle East for the United States. I think we’ve just said that our view is now is not the time for business as usual with Russia.

Yeah, in the back there.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. On Korea and Japan. Next week marks —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) one last question on Russia and Ukraine?



MR KIRBY: I’ll do it, but in the future, please don’t interrupt. Once we’ve gone to a new question, then – I’d just prefer to keep the interruptions to a minimum. But go ahead.

QUESTION: There could be no way to arrest that movement of it, perhaps, without a polite interruption of some kind, just for the record.

MR KIRBY: Just for the record, try to keep the interruptions to a minimum.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on Brad’s question, when you hear President Putin saying that once an attempt is made to solve the problem by political means, quote, “Those weapons will be gone,” unquote, does this department construe those words as an acknowledgment by President Putin, notwithstanding many previous denials, that the Russian Federation is indeed introducing these heavy weapons into the Ukrainian conflict?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that we’re looking for a confirmation or denial from President Putin. We know that those weapons have been introduced into Ukraine.

QUESTION: I’m just asking how you construe the statement.

MR KIRBY: I think I answered the question with Brad. I mean, we – what needs to happen here, separate and distinct from the president’s comments today, is Russia’s compliance with Minsk, which means those weapons and those forces need to be taken out of Ukraine.

QUESTION: I didn’t ask for an answer separate and apart and distinct from the comments. I’m asking about his comments. Do you construe them as an acknowledgement of complicity in the introduction of those weapons?

MR KIRBY: President Putin’s comments speak for themselves. I mean, I think if he said that they would be removed, one has to conclude that he’s acknowledging they’re there. But that’s his words, not mine.

Yes, in the back there.

QUESTION: Yes. So next week marks the 50th anniversary of normalization of relations between South Korea and Japan. It’s been reported that neither Prime Minister Abe nor President Park are going to be attending the ceremonies to commemorate that. Is that a concern to you? Do you have any ideas about how to push for improved relations?

MR KIRBY: I’m not – again, I wouldn’t speak for the travel activities of those leaders. We have long said that stronger cooperation is welcome and that there’s so many security issues in the region that bear teamwork and cooperation; that certainly we look for opportunities and we welcome opportunities where that cooperation and dialogue can continue.

QUESTION: Do you think if President Park had been here as originally scheduled, that would’ve been an issue that you would’ve addressed?

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t – that’s a great hypothetical. The visit didn’t happen, so – huh?

QUESTION: Will you be looking to discuss Korean-Japanese relations, like, in the future with her when she does come or with —

MR KIRBY: We always when we talk to our South Korean counterparts talk about opportunities for trilateral cooperation, even bilateral cooperation, with Japan. I mean, that’s a topic of frequent discussion, so I would fully expect that it would come up as it comes up nearly every day with our diplomats out there.

QUESTION: Do you think, though, that their failure to attend these ceremonies is an indication that the relations are worsening?

MR KIRBY: I’ll let them speak for their travel agendas.


QUESTION: Can I change topics?


QUESTION: Okay, thanks. There’s a lot of international responses coming in to the shooting in South Carolina, many of them expressing some dismay and befuddlement at the fact that this could keep happening in the United States. The President in a statement made the point that the U.S. is the only advanced nation where this does happen with a frequency. I’m wondering if there’s any concern in this building that the inability of the U.S. Government to meaningfully address this issue somehow adversely affects the standing of the U.S. in the international community.

MR KIRBY: That’s an interesting way to insert a question about the shooting in Charleston here at the State Department. But since you did, Secretary Kerry certainly extends his condolences and thoughts and prayers to the families who were so deeply, tragically affected by this shooting. It’s not our place to speak to what is essentially a law enforcement issue here in the United States. And as for our standing around the world, I think the Secretary has been very clear and emphatic about the need for continued American leadership in the world on so many issues in so many areas, and that that leadership is wanted and needed out there. There’s no question about that.

QUESTION: I guess I wasn’t – I mean, to – it wasn’t – I don’t think it’s an off-the-wall question. This morning, Ambassador Kaidanow made the point that you guys often raise the issue with the Chinese, for instance, of needing to address their domestic terrorism concerns in a way that promotes more inclusivity and human rights concerns. It’s easy to imagine the Chinese responding by saying, “Well, is the U.S. making these kinds of arrangements with its black citizens, with communities that are disenfranchised here in the United States?”

MR KIRBY: I’m not saying that your question isn’t fair. What I’m saying is that our job here at the Department of State is the execution and implementation of foreign policy, and I would – it would be completely inappropriate for me to speak to domestic policy issues here at home. Again, our thoughts and prayers go out with the families. This is a law enforcement matter. And as for our foreign policy, it continues unabated.

QUESTION: Would it be completely inappropriate, though? I mean, the State Department has taken interest in the ramifications of domestic issues overseas before, leading back to the Jim Crow laws and the effect that that had overseas on the U.S. perception. I don’t think it would be completely inappropriate.

MR KIRBY: It’s inappropriate for me to discuss what is essentially an ongoing law enforcement investigation in Charleston, South Carolina. And I also think it – until that investigation is done, also completely inappropriate to speak to whatever conclusions might be derived from it or the motives behind it, certainly as it relates to American foreign policy.

QUESTION: Sure. I mean, I’m not asking you to comment on the case specifically, more just on the issue of recurrent gun violence and race-driven strife in the United States that doesn’t seem to be addressed by this —

MR KIRBY: I think I’ve addressed it as best I can today.

QUESTION: Can I ask a narrow follow-up? Has any other government reached out to the United States to express concern about what, on its face, appears to have been an act of mass violence of a racial nature?

MR KIRBY: As we stand here today, I know of no such calls or notifications.


QUESTION: Quick topic – change of topic, on the Palestinian-Israeli talks. This weekend French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius will go to Israel and the West Bank to discuss a new plan to restart the talks. Has he shared this – his plan with you guys, or are you aware of it, are – have you discussed it with him and so on? And what is likely to happen?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re certainly aware of Foreign Minister Fabius’s trip. As I think I mentioned yesterday, he and Secretary Kerry did talk on the phone. I would not speak to the foreign minister’s agenda specifically; that’s for him and the French Government to speak to. But I think it’s fair to say that both Foreign Minister Fabius and Secretary Kerry share a sense of importance about the Middle East peace process, and again, from our perspective nothing has changed about our policy of favoring a two-state solution within – and with agreements that are worked out between the two parties.

QUESTION: But the United States insists on face-to-face talks that are not under any kind of international umbrella. What if the plan Mr. Fabius has in his pocket calls for some sort of an international cover at the UN or elsewhere? Would you support that?

MR KIRBY: Terrific hypothetical that could be – should be asked of Foreign Minister Fabius. We’ve made clear what our policy are – is with respect to Middle East peace.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: A follow-up question regarding Ambassador Shannon’s meeting with Venezuelan officials in Haiti. After the meeting, Senator Marco Rubio said he’d urge Secretary Kerry to clarify that – to Venezuela that the U.S. would not renew an exchange of ambassadors until human rights were respected, political prisoners were freed, and elections were scheduled. Do you know if the Secretary or anyone else at State has responded to Rubio’s request?

MR KIRBY: We are aware of the senator’s letter. We’ll answer it in due time, of course. I don’t have any updates for that response. And again, I’d also – as you know, when we respond to members of Congress, we don’t do so in a public fashion. But we do – we are in receipt of the letter and we will work up a response to the senator as expeditiously as possible.

QUESTION: Do you think the concerns raised are justified?

MR KIRBY: Look, we share many of the senator’s concerns. There’s no question about that, but I don’t want to get ahead of correspondence with a member of Congress that hasn’t happened yet. But certainly, we do share some of those concerns.

Yeah, James.

QUESTION: Different subject. Just very briefly on the Clinton emails, has there been any progress in determining where the failure in the chain of custody, if you will, developed such that the Blumenthal emails, some 60 of them, were not turned over to the Benghazi committee? Was that a failing on the part of Secretary Clinton and her team, or this building?

MR KIRBY: The question presupposes a failure, and I don’t know that we’re in a position to make such a declaration today. We are still going through all of the emails that former Secretary Clinton turned over to us, as you know, James, and we’ve already turned over some 300 of them to the Select Committee. We haven’t – the committee has not provided the Department with a copy of the emails it’s received from Mr. Blumensal – I’m sorry, Mr. Blumenthal. So I’m not in a position to address any gaps that there might be in the inventory, if you will, which is what I think you’re getting at.

QUESTION: Well, it’s clear that there was a gap. In other words, the Department, in attempting to be fully responsive to the select committee, turned over some 300 emails, as you just noted, and yet it’s been made clear this week that from Mr. Blumenthal, the committee received a number of pieces of correspondence – email correspondence between Mr. Blumenthal and Secretary Clinton that directly touched on Benghazi and Libya and that should have been included, by any objective measure, in the original provision but weren’t. So that would, in fact, represent a failure at some point along the line of provision, would it not?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that after receiving the emails from former Secretary Clinton, we went through them all and gave to the select committee those that we felt best met their request, which was for Benghazi-related emails. And out of that process came, I think, 296 emails that this department felt best met that requirement.

But look, James, we continue to go through the thousands and thousands of others, and we will make those public in – through the FOIA process in time. I can’t speak to whether or not there were emails that Mr. Blumenthal provided that we have and just decided not to or were not provided to us. We tried to meet in good faith the select committee’s requirement for Benghazi-related emails, and this department believes strongly that we met that requirement.


MR KIRBY: And again, we continue to go through them.

QUESTION: And in making that good-faith determination for provision, where warranted, we can agree that the mention of the word Benghazi in such email correspondence would, in fact, be sufficient to warrant provision by this department, correct?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know the – all the parameters by which those analyzing them made those determinations, but I mean, clearly Benghazi as a word you would think would be significant in that. But I’m not – I don’t know the exact parameters by which they decided to include or exclude. But I can tell you – and Secretary Kerry was very clear with the staff about this – that he wanted to be as inclusive as possible in meeting the select committee’s requirements. But without having seen exactly what Mr. Blumenthal provided, it’s very difficult to match that up against whether – our inventory or the original source.

QUESTION: Are you asking the committee to see what Mr. Blumenthal provided?

MR KIRBY: No, no. We have our mandate. Our mandate is clear, and that is to take the emails that were provided by former Secretary Clinton and make them public in a responsible, thorough process. And that process continues.

QUESTION: Sorry. I don’t understand this standard that you just gave in your response. What do you mean “best met the request”? Shouldn’t the standard be “meets the request”, not —


QUESTION: — “best met”? I mean, by best met you can say that – you can leave out a whole lot of stuff and still say that you best met the requirement or —

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t read too much into my use of the adverb, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. So you —

MR KIRBY: I mean, obviously we have an obligation to meet the requirements and we are —

QUESTION: So you met the requirements? You didn’t just best meet the requirements?

MR KIRBY: We believe we did.


MR KIRBY: You shouldn’t read into that clever use of an adverb that I was trying to be careful and dancing around inclusiveness here.

QUESTION: Well, right, okay. But just – we’re – we pay attention —

MR KIRBY: I know you pay attention to words —

QUESTION: Diplomacy is often decided in various gradations of words.

MR KIRBY: I take the point. I take the point.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR KIRBY: Yes, Lesley.

QUESTION: Please. The Secretary – is this his first full day back?

MR KIRBY: First day back here in – at the State Department?

QUESTION: At the State Department.

MR KIRBY: No. I mean, he came in a little bit yesterday afternoon. I think for most of today he’s actually working out of his house, out of his home in Washington, D.C.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. I thought I saw a photograph.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, we did. We posted a photograph of him last night at his desk.

QUESTION: Oh, last night. Okay.

MR KIRBY: But I don’t believe he’s come in yet today.


QUESTION: If I can have a quickly if timely – timely quick question please. On Sunday, January 21st is the International Day of Yoga declared by the United Nation under the prime minister of India Mr. Narendra Modi. My question is if the Secretary has any comments or if the State Department supports it.

MR KIRBY: It’s – I don’t think the State Department’s going to take a position on International Yoga Day, but we certainly wish everybody welcome. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Which position would that be? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Downward-facing dodge. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Touche to you, James. (Laughter.) No, we’re not going to take a position.

I’ve got – take time for a couple more, if that’s okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: One question on Iraq. There were some media reports that Asaib al-Haq, which is a pro-Iranian militia, Shia militia in Iraq, has kidnapped 200 Mosul residents who were on their way to get their paychecks in Baghdad. Have you seen those reports, and are you concerned?

MR KIRBY: You guys have the advantage of having your iPhones with you. I don’t have mine. I’ve not seen that report.

QUESTION: It was actually – they’ve been kidnapped for about a week according to —

MR KIRBY: I just haven’t seen it and I’m not prepared to make a comment on it.


QUESTION: John, if the United States released the North Korea as a terrorist country again this time?

MR KIRBY: Did we what?

QUESTION: Did you released the United – United put North Korea as a terrorist country again?



MR KIRBY: No. I mean, we just —

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Have a great weekend.

MR KIRBY: Have a great weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:47 p.m.)

Human Rights