2:40 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. A couple things —
QUESTION: Good afternoon – late afternoon.
MR KIRBY: Well, I had to wait for the Secretary to finish.
QUESTION: Fair enough.
MR KIRBY: It’s 2:40.
QUESTION: Right. I’m so old, I remember when we used to have these briefings at 12:30.
MR KIRBY: Really?
QUESTION: Yeah. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Was that since yesterday, Matt? (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Welcome to the 21st century. (Laughter.) Okay.
A couple things at the top. As you may seen in a media note I just released, the U.S. Department of State will send a small delegation to Havana tomorrow, September 11th – they’re actually leaving today – to participate in the inaugural session of a bilateral commission with the Cuban Government. Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Alex Lee will head the delegation, which will include the Director of the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff, David McKean. Charge d’affaires ad interim Jeffery DeLaurentis will lead the team from the U.S. Embassy down in Havana.
During this first bilateral commission meeting the team will meet with members of the Cuban foreign ministry to discuss next steps in the normalization process and schedule dates for future discussions on shared priorities. The delegation will seek agreement on priority issues for future negotiations and discuss the scope, timing, delegation level, and frequency of engagement on each issue. The delegation does not plan to enter into extensive discussion on each topic during this first meeting. This is largely going to be a logistical meeting of sorts.
In Ecuador, you may have also seen the statement – my statement that we just released – about increasing restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of association in Ecuador, over which we are, obviously, deeply concerned, particularly the Ecuadorian Government’s September 8th decision to initiate legal steps intended to dissolve the free press NGO Fundamedios – sorry. An active civil society and tolerance of dissenting views are vital components of any democracy.
We share international concern over the Ecuadorian Government’s efforts to silence critical voices and deny its citizens access to a diversity of information and ideas. Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, among others, have all spoken out in opposition to the government’s latest action against Fundamedios. We call on the Government of Ecuador to honor its commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights by upholding freedom of expression and association as fundamental democratic rights.
And then lastly, two days ago, Dr. Vaughan Turekian, formerly the Chief International Officer at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was named the fifth Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State. In this capacity, he will advise Secretary Kerry and the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment on international environment, science, technology, and health matters affecting the foreign policy of the United States. And we welcome him to the State Department.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: Thank you. I want to start with refugees. You will probably be aware that a little while ago, over at the White House, your counterpart announced that President Obama has directed his team to scale up the number of refugee – Syrian refugees that the United States accepts and that he’s informed his team he would like them to accept – at least make preparations to accept – at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year.
The first thing is kind of a logistical thing. Ever since this crisis has been getting worse and worse over the course of the past couple of months, every time your counterpart at the White House has been asked about this, he’s referred the questions to the State Department, saying that this is the State Department’s job, this is what they do, and that’s where your questions are best addressed. Did you – isn’t there any angst that once there’s something ostensibly good to announce that the White House comes out and announces it?
MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) No, not at all, Matt.
QUESTION: No? (Laughter.) It doesn’t suggest to you that since from the very beginning this whole refugee admissions process is actually driven by the White House, which it has been since – for years and years and years, and that referring questions over here, based on the fact that they just hadn’t made a decision at the White House, is a little bit disingenuous?
MR KIRBY: No, I don’t think so at all, Matt. And look, this – these are —
QUESTION: This is a presidential decision, right?
MR KIRBY: These are presidential decisions.
QUESTION: Okay. So —
MR KIRBY: I mean – and the President did make this decision.
MR KIRBY: Obviously, Secretary Kerry fully supports this decision. He was just up on Capitol Hill yesterday talking about things that we are considering doing to try to improve our own participation and cooperation with our European allies and friends on this particular issue. So it’s obviously on everybody’s mind. And these are very much interagency discussions. But ultimately the individual that has to make these kinds of difficult decisions, that’s – is the President.
QUESTION: Right. I’m not suggesting that anyone disagrees with it. I’m just wondering if there was any angst or any concern in this building that it took so long for this decision to be made, given the fact that this crisis has been building up for months and months and months. And now that we know – although some of us already did know – that this is actually a White House, a presidential decision, was there any frustration at the State Department that this was taking so long?
MR KIRBY: No. Not at all.
QUESTION: No? All right.
MR KIRBY: I mean, not at all.
QUESTION: So let’s get to the substance of the actual announcement. What is the practical effect of this? There seems to be a lot of confusion, misunderstanding about whether this is, in fact, going to help any of the refugees that we’ve seen fleeing over the course of the past couple weeks.
MR KIRBY: Well, it’ll certainly, we believe, help in the resettlement here to the United States. It’ll certainly help the at least 10,000 Syrian refugees that the U.S. Government will be taking in next fiscal year. Certainly there’s a tangible benefit to those that are admitted. But it also underscores – and I think it’s important to remind that there’s a lot more to dealing with the problem of refugees than just resettlement. We’ve talked about this before, and the United States continues to remain the biggest donor. We don’t expect that to change at all going forward. We talked about this yesterday. There are lots of things that we do around the world, not just in respect to the – what’s going on in Europe, to aid in refugee care, of refugee human rights, and sometimes refugee settlement.
The other things that’s important to continue coming back to is that what really needs to happen here is Syria returning to a place – to being a place where people don’t have to flee the violence, the persecution, and the war. And that’s why Secretary Kerry and the entire U.S. Government is working hard on trying to get to a political transition in Syria so that the people that live there can continue to live there in peace and prosperity.
QUESTION: Is it not the case that there are currently 15,200 – about roughly 15,200 Syrians who have been referred to the United States for resettlement by the UNHCR and who are currently undergoing – going through the vetting acceptance process? And if that is the case, is it not the case that this 10,000 will apply – will come from that number – people, in other words, who fled at least a year – maybe two years ago, or three, depending on how long the vetting takes – that in fact, that that’s the people who this will affect, people who have already been referred to the United States and are current – whose applications are currently in process?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know that the – of the at least 10,000 for next year will all come out of the referrals we’ve received so far. I think the – you got the number about right. I thought it was more like 17,000 total UNHCR referrals.
QUESTION: Right. But 1,500 have been accepted already, and then there’s 300 more by the end of this month.
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: So for the next – so you’re looking at, according to Brad’s math – I hope it’s right; is it?
MR KIRBY: I see what you’re saying. You’re already subtracting —
QUESTION: So the – so subtracting the 1,800 that you expect by the end of this month from the —
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: — 17,000 who have been referred —
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: — that leaves 15,000 —
QUESTION: Two hundred.
QUESTION: — 15,200 who are in process, plus or minus – or minus anyone that has dropped out, decided they didn’t want to continue to their application.
MR KIRBY: Right. I think the referral process is sort of fluid, so I don’t want to get so mathematical about it that saying only of the 15,200 that are left, that that’s all that’s going to be referred by the UNHCR. There could be more in the coming months and over the year.
QUESTION: No, I understand that. But there’s no way that those people are going – anyone referred now is not going to be able to complete the vetting process within the next fiscal year. I mean, within —
MR KIRBY: Well, the fiscal year’s almost over. And we will get to —
QUESTION: No, no, no. I mean the next one. The one that begins October 1st.
MR KIRBY: I don’t know that I’d say that. I don’t know that I would say that.
QUESTION: So you’re saying that you think you can speed up the vetting process so that —
MR KIRBY: I think we got to – we have to approach this in a balanced way. And one of the things that we’ve talked about, particularly with taking in refugees from this part of the world, is there’s a – there is a significant national security concern that must be met. The American people expect us to do this safely and securely, and we will. So I’m not arguing that we’re going to cut corners here, but the President has laid out his decision and the target he wants to achieve for next fiscal year with respect to Syrian refugees, and we’re going to work very hard to do that.
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: But you’re right; we’re going to do it through the UNHCR and using the referral system that is already in place. How that’s going to play out going forward I don’t know.
QUESTION: Okay, last one.
MR KIRBY: We do expect – but let me just finish; I want to get one point in. We do expect – I know the fiscal year’s ending here in a couple of weeks, and we do expect to meet, to within single digits, the 70,000 total goal that we had set for this fiscal year.
QUESTION: Okay, last – my last one. On the – next year the number 70,000 is probably going to rise to about 75- or some modest increase of that. Of the current 70,000, 33,000 are set to come from South Asia and the Mideast, the region that includes Syria. Does this new announcement today, the 10,000, mean that the allotment for South Asia and the Middle East is going to increase from 33- to 43,000?
MR KIRBY: Not necessarily. So as you know, the Secretary was up on the Hill yesterday talking about the annual resettlement program for next year. And in his discussions, he did – his – in our proposal that we consulted the members of Congress on yesterday, we did propose an increase in the number over higher than the 70,000 for Fiscal Year ’14. I’m not going to estimate for you right now what that number could be. I think that it’s still very much a moving target. But it will most likely be higher than the 70,000 that we admitted in Fiscal ’14. How that apportions out by region also I don’t believe has been set. So I don’t know that I could tell you definitively that the 33,000 that we – that were accepted from that region this year, that that number stays the same next year. Again, the whole – the total top line is going to change. It’s going to go north of 70. And how it breaks down inside of that I think they’re still working out.
What I can tell you is that based on the President’s decision and direction that at least whatever the number is coming from South and Central Asia and the Middle East, whatever that number ends up being, at least 10,000 of them will be accepted from Syria.
QUESTION: But does it not depend on how many – if the situation worsens, which it appears that it is because of several new factors, including the buildup from Russia and, of course, barrel bombs and so on on civilians – does this figure not also depend on – the need to give more flexibility depend on a worsening situation in Syria? And if the – I mean, you’re not basically saying just 10,000. Is there flexibility in that?
MR KIRBY: There is. As I think my colleague at the White House said, the President’s decision was for the admission of at least 10,000. So I think there’s a measure of flexibility here in terms of where the number might end up going. Obviously, nobody wants to see the situation in Syria get worse. Nobody wants to see more, hundreds of thousands more Syrian families have to flee the region. That’s not the goal here. But we are mindful that it is a very dynamic situation and we’re certainly mindful that under Bashar al-Assad’s leadership Syria is absolutely not any safer or more secure for the people who live there.
So I think that’s why the way it was couched – at least 10,000 – to add a measure of flexibility in there. What it could end up actually being we’re just going to have to see.
QUESTION: Could I have just a quick follow-up on that?
QUESTION: Just a clarification on the figures. This 10,000 Syrian, they will come on the top of the 1,500 who already resettled in the U.S., or —
MR KIRBY: Yeah. The – at least 10,000 of the whatever the final top line for – so let’s break it down. Every fiscal year you’ve a number that we consult with Congress on, right? So in Fiscal Year ’14, that number was 70,000, and that’s from around the world. That’s from around the world. That top line – that 70,000, that number – I do expect – we do expect that that number will be higher for Fiscal Year ’15.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, ’16, thank you. Sorry. For Fiscal Year ’16, it will go higher. I don’t know how much higher. Therefore, as I told Matt, I don’t know inside that number how many are going to be allocated to come from the Middle East and South Central Asia. At least 10,000 inside whatever the top line’s going to be – at least 10,000 more from Syria will be admitted here into the United States.
This fiscal year is almost over, and as I said, we are going to – by the end of this month, we will be at – within single digits, so – that I’ve been told. We will be within single digits of having met the 70,000 goal for this fiscal year.
QUESTION: All the 10,000 will come out of —
MR KIRBY: And that includes – wait a minute. And that includes what will be about 1,600 total for – from Syria.
QUESTION: Just a clarification: They all have to be referred through UNHCR, correct? I mean, you – yeah.
MR KIRBY: We work through the United Nations on this particular program.
QUESTION: Yeah. You will not accept refugees that can go, let’s say, to this mission or that embassy and so on?
MR KIRBY: We work through the UN.
MR KIRBY: We – the people that are resettled in the United States from wherever we’re talking about, they’re resettled through referrals we get from the UN.
QUESTION: And another clarification: What will their status be? Will they be like refugees, or will they be given green cards and a pathway to citizenship, let’s say, like Germany and —
MR KIRBY: Well, they’re accepted as refugees.
MR KIRBY: I don’t know – this is not intended for – it’s not intended as a —
MR KIRBY: — as an immigration program. It’s a resettlement program for refugees. And as I said before, the goal here is eventually to – so that they can go home. And these are people who most of them want to go back home. This is not an immigration program.
QUESTION: So they will not be given permanent status?
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: They will not be given permanent status?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any permanent statuses granted.
QUESTION: I thought resettlement was permanent status and you have immediate residency and you’re on the path to immediate citizenship. It’s a resettlement for permanent relocation as opposed to —
QUESTION: Or you can opt out.
QUESTION: — as opposed to temporary asylum or some other process.
QUESTION: Temporary protected status.
QUESTION: Yeah. I think – I thought resettlement previously had permanent (inaudible).
MR KIRBY: Let me double-check on that. I’m not an expert on the program. Let me double-check on that.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Also on this refugee thing, considering that Germany took 800,000 and the United States was taking 1,500 and now you’re saying that this number can go to 10,000, and considering the size of the United States – the wealth and its humanitarian obligation to the crisis of refugees – do you believe that the review itself is – actually has been late in assessing the situation, considering that Syria is one of the worst humanitarian crises in 21st century? And I just wanted to ask you why. Is it because – is it impact by the immigration debate in the United States, or is it because of the proximity of Europe to the Syrian refugees? Or is it because of fear of infiltration by jihadist groups, or all these factors?
MR KIRBY: Well, let me – there’s a lot in there. Let me challenge the implication that we’ve not been focused on this or we haven’t been aware of it. We have been very focused on the issues inside Syria in particular for —
QUESTION: Yeah, but with the refugees – sorry, John, that does not translate into taking any number. I mean, if you’re talking – in four years you have taken 1,500. How could that – you’ve been alerted to the situation and you will be in (inaudible)?
MR KIRBY: Because resettlement – we’ve talked about this. Resettlement is not the only answer, and sometimes it’s not the best answer. We’ve been the strongest donor for —
QUESTION: Right, I know that.
MR KIRBY: — for financial contributions to the refugee problem in the region. And as I said the other day, that’s where you want to apply your energy, because most of these people want to go back home. Syria is their home. That’s where they want to be. And so – and most of them have – as they’ve left, have stayed close by, Jordan and Turkey to be two good examples. And so very much – a lot of our contributions to this have been in helping the Jordanians and the Turkish Government deal with the millions of Syrians that they have, that they’re taking care of inside the country. And that’s where you want to focus it on, because again, these people – many of them want to go back home. That’s why we’re also focused on trying to urgently get to a political transition inside Syria. That’s why the coalition has taken the fight to ISIL inside Syria.
So the idea that we’ve sort of not been paying attention to this I just don’t think is fair and it’s borne out by the facts. And you talked about resettlement numbers. As I said, the President’s well aware that we can do more, and so he’s announced new numbers for next year, and we’ll continue to do more. But resettlement is only one factor here. It’s not the factor. And oftentimes in the minds of these individuals it’s not the one that they really want anyway.
You mentioned countries in Europe agreeing to take in this flood of refugees, and we welcome that. We’re encouraged that so many individual countries in Europe are willing to take in more of these refugees, and we’re glad to see the EU take a leadership role in trying to approach this from a comprehensive manner. And even the EU has acknowledged that resettlement – again, while it may be an acute need now – isn’t the long-term answer here. All of us agree the long-term answer is a better situation in Syria, and that’s going to take some time.
QUESTION: Well, that may very well be true, probably is true, but I think the point of the question was why did it take the White House, the President, so long to come up with this number? Is there any reason why you couldn’t have come up with this 10,000, at least 10,000 in the next fiscal year, two months ago or a month ago?
MR KIRBY: No, nobody was dragging —
MR KIRBY: Nobody was dragging their feet on this.
QUESTION: I’m not saying —
MR KIRBY: No, no, no. Nobody’s dragging their feet on this. Look, I mean, obviously —
QUESTION: I know traditionally this – these figures are announced shortly before the start of the new fiscal year, but there’s nothing to prevent them from coming out earlier. I mean, you could have taken the initiative, led by example for the European countries, and announced your – an increase far earlier in this after it became clear what a severe problem – crisis this is.
MR KIRBY: I think the United States record of leadership and example on the issue of refugee resettlement and refugee programs and support for this around the world is pretty well established, Matt. I actually – I —
QUESTION: Let me try Nadia’s question another way. A couple of weeks ago you said that for Fiscal Year 2016 the Administration was looking at accepting between 5- and 8,000 Syrian refugees, and today we’re talking about an apparent increase of 2,000. It’s such a paltry number when you consider that the U.S., as Nadia said, has the world’s largest economy, much more territory, many more communities that are prepared and equipped to help resettle people who may not be able to go home for years even though that’s what they ultimately want to do. Is it a process? Is the U.S. Government incapable of processing so many tens of thousands of people all at once? It seemed to have been after the fall of Saigon in 1974, and that’s how we have Orange County and large parts of Houston today.
MR KIRBY: No other country —
QUESTION: I was a child. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: No other country admits more refugees from around the world than the United States. So you talk about paltry numbers; I absolutely challenge that assertion. No other country is more generous about accepting refugees for resettlement than this one. No other country donates more financially to trying to take care of them where they are. I know when I say $4 billion it sounds kind of cold, but think about what that money does for them. It provides them some safety and security for the camps in which they’re living, fresh water, medical care, food, shelter.
No other country is more generous than the United States in this regard, and no other country, I don’t think, is more cognizant of the need to try to have – to create the conditions where people can live at peace at home, which is where they want to live – most of them. And that’s why no other country is capable of leading the way the United States is when it comes to this coalition against ISIL inside Iraq and inside Syria, and why Secretary Kerry has taken the lead with trilateral talks between the Russians and the Saudis to try to get at a political transition which includes the opposition groups inside Syria.
So I absolutely take issue with this idea that our contributions are paltry or insignificant in any way. It’s absolutely not borne out by the facts. We talked about Germany and 800,000. That’s over 10 years. It’s not 800,000 today. And we’re grateful for Germany’s leadership, but let’s keep this in perspective.
QUESTION: But that’s still 80,000 per year for Germany versus 10,000 that the U.S. is going to process over the course of one year. It’s a ratio of one to eight.
MR KIRBY: At least 10,000, and it could go up. As I mentioned to Lesley, this is a fluid situation. We’re paying a lot of attention to this. And to Matt’s question, which I probably didn’t answer as well – well, why did it take so long – it didn’t take very long. And you have to – this is – the issue of resettlement isn’t just – this is not a small issue to deal with. It’s not a small decision to make, because there is a national security balance you have to achieve, and the American people expect us to do this carefully and methodically.
QUESTION: Actually —
QUESTION: The balance is built into the process —
QUESTION: I’m saying that if people —
MR KIRBY: It is built into the process, but part of that process is determining the number here.
QUESTION: So in fact, one person is making this decision, right, ultimately? It’s the President.
MR KIRBY: Well, it’s the President’s decision.
QUESTION: I mean, he can do it at the snap of a finger.
MR KIRBY: It’s the President’s decision, obviously. But there’s a lot that goes into that.
QUESTION: Just to go back to the waiting time, I think this building says it’s an 18 to 24 month process for relocation, but I’ve heard a 1,000 day mentioned by various aid groups who track this as well.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: So it would be – and I think at the White House they’ve said, just like you, that there will be no corners cut. So it would be very hard to imagine anybody applying now and coming in the next year or even two years – maybe in two years.
So these are all people, as I understand it, who are already waiting in the pipeline for resettlement to the U.S. So the only decision, as I understand it – and correct me if I’m wrong – is that you are allotting more to the Syrians than to others from that region. Is that correct?
MR KIRBY: Not necessarily, because as I said, the total number for Fiscal Year ’16 from around the world hasn’t been set yet.
MR KIRBY: So it doesn’t necessarily mean that – let’s say it stops at 10,000 – I think the President said at least 10,000. But let’s just for argument’s sake say it was 10,000. That doesn’t mean that that eats away at some other part of the world that we would take refugees in. I do think the whole number’s going to go up, and how the 10,000 relates to the total from the region I don’t know. How that 10,000 relates to the total top line, I don’t know. We’re still working our way through that.
QUESTION: Just two related questions about Syria. I’m sorry, I have to go. But the one that you talked yesterday – I’m trying to find the exact quote – but today Lavrov said that this military assistance to the Syrian regime, it’s – is kind of normal in terms of this relationship that they have of supplying them all the time with military equipment that they need. So what is exactly your concern? He – I mean – and otherwise, why you making a big deal to the degree that the Secretary calls him twice and complain about that? What exactly that you’re worried about that the Russians are supplying the Syrian with that they haven’t done in the past that will affect the military balance?
MR KIRBY: Well, as I said yesterday, I’m going to let the Russians speak for what they are doing. I’ve saw – I’ve seen Foreign Minister Lavrov’s comments. We would continue to be – we continue to have concerns about their activities from a military perspective inside Syria, and we continue to monitor this closely. There is a degree of uncertainty about their intentions that continue to concern us.
QUESTION: But, I mean, surely the Secretary’s not going to call him twice in a period of four days without you guys having some certain concern about what you have seen on the ground. You’re not relying on journalists’ reports. Obviously he had something substantial that you worried him that he called – your concern – he was concerned about it.
MR KIRBY: What concerned him to call yesterday is the same thing that concerned him to call over the weekend, that the activities that we’re seeing – the intent —
QUESTION: So what do you see – what you seeing?
MR KIRBY: — the intent for which is unclear, and that’s what we’re trying to drive at. So yes, he’s going to – and I suspect he’ll continue to talk to Foreign Minister Lavrov about this.
QUESTION: I’m just – sorry, I’m trying to get the bottom of that, because Reuters were reporting yesterday that Lebanese sources have spotted Russian troops inside Syria, indicating that they going to fight with the Syrian regime. I just want you to confirm that. Have you seen anything apart from what you saw in general that something that concerns you? And you don’t know the intention of it. What is it?
MR KIRBY: As we’ve said before, we have seen activities on a military – in a – as a military – as part of military functions that are concerning to us, that the intent for which is unclear. And it is that that we continue to raise with our Russian counterparts, but I also said yesterday I’m not going to make it a habit of speaking for the Russian military.
MR KIRBY: Some of these questions are better put the Russians about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.
QUESTION: But were you satisfied with the answer at least that Lavrov gave to the Secretary?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the details of the private conversation that the Secretary had with Foreign Minister Lavrov. I think it is a fact that he called him over the weekend, and it is a fact that he called him yesterday. I think that should tell you the degree to which there are still questions that we would like better answers to.
QUESTION: Any other steps you might take, apart from just being concerned and phoning him?
MR KIRBY: What do you mean?
QUESTION: Other steps that United States is taking with the Russians?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate about future steps or options. What it’s important to us is that a political transition moves forward in Syria. And while in general I think we’d welcome constructive Russian contributions to counter ISIL, we oppose any actions in Syria that would empower the regime to escalate the conflict.
QUESTION: And will this complicate a political solution?
MR KIRBY: Will it complicate a political solution? Again, it – this depends on what exactly Russian intentions are. What we continue to want to see – there’s not going to be a military solution to the conflict in Syria. We’ve said that. What has to happen is a political transition. We’d like to see that move forward urgently. That’s why Secretary Kerry has led efforts between Russia and Saudi Arabia and the United States to try to work towards some solutions here, and so we’re going to continue to do that.
Will this complicate it? I don’t know, and frankly, it’s the intention part of this that we’re still trying to grapple with.
QUESTION: If Russia is proven to have provided the kind of military assistance to Assad that concerns you, since you are not focused on removing Assad from power, what can you do to counter that? You are focused now on removing – on fighting ISIS, not removing Assad from power. If Assad – if Russia supports Assad, what can you do to counter Russia’s increased involvement?
MR KIRBY: It’s not about – what we’re trying to achieve in Syria is a political transition away from Assad, and we believe that there’s still room for dialogue and discussion with the Russians about moving forward towards that political transition. We don’t believe – and I’ve said this before – that helping arm the Assad regime or support the Assad regime is constructive to going after the problems inside Syria, whether it’s towards that political transition, obviously, or towards fighting ISIL, because Assad’s a factor in ISIL’s growth inside his own country.
So we’ve been very clear about what we think would be – and I said this the other day – the most productive path here is for countries like Russia and Iran to stop supporting and abetting the Assad regime. And we’re going to continue to make that case. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still room to talk, and we are talking to the Russians about a political transition.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can we – sorry.
QUESTION: Yeah, sorry. I just have to go. We’ve got a report out today about chemical weapons in Syria and I just wanted to ask you one or two questions off the back of that. Is the United States testing samples from sites of alleged Islamic State attacks using mustard gas? And either way, how close are you to concluding or how convinced are you that ISIS or Islamic State is using mustard gas?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any testing done on those sites. I would refer you to DOD for that. I’m not aware of that. However, we obviously remain concerned about any potential and certainly any claim or allegation that chemical weapons are being used inside Syria, be it by the regime or by ISIL. I mean, obviously, that’s something we’re deeply concerned about, but I’m not aware or privy to any knowledge about specific testing.
QUESTION: And if —
MR KIRBY: So I don’t know that – as far as I know, it’s not been proven conclusively that ISIL has been in possession of and/or used chemical agents.
QUESTION: Is there a concern that the use of chemical weapons might spread if, in fact, Islamic State is using them? Because of course, it’s operating out of – in more places than Syria and you got American —
MR KIRBY: Certainly, that’s a —
QUESTION: — you got American soldiers in Iraq and they might —
MR KIRBY: Absolutely that’s a concern, sure. That’s why we take this so seriously. Again, I haven’t seen any evidence or indication of that, and I’d point you to DOD for more specifics. But I think we can all agree that this group is the last group on Earth that you’d like to see have in their hands any kind of weapon of mass destruction.
QUESTION: John, just to clarify what you just said a little while ago, are you saying now that in order for transition talks to take place, Assad has to be gone before these talks begin?
MR KIRBY: Said, nothing’s changed.
QUESTION: No, I want to understand, because – during the transition, is it acceptable to you that Bashar al-Assad will be part of the process or out of the process for these talks to begin?
MR KIRBY: Nothing has changed about our policy —
QUESTION: So what is your position?
MR KIRBY: — on the fact that we want to see a political transition in Syria away from Assad. Assad – we don’t believe Assad has any future in Syria, and we’re working with the Saudis and the Russians in particular to try to work through options for how that political transition can look and how it can include the opposition groups who are, as you know, not monolithic; they all have different agendas. And so we believe there’s room here to talk to the opposition groups and to sort of work towards that, and that’s what the Secretary’s focused on.
QUESTION: The reason I asked is because yesterday, the British Foreign Secretary Hammond said that Assad should be part of the transitional talks. So I was wondering if they – if you are parting ways with your ally, the British.
MR KIRBY: I – again, I talked about this exact question yesterday; I think it was to you. You brought this up —
QUESTION: Yes, I asked.
MR KIRBY: — and I said nothing has changed – nothing has changed about our position about the future for Assad in Syria and the fact that we need to get to a political transition away from him.
QUESTION: John, I’m trying to figure out how – why is it such a mystery or why does it remain such a mystery to the Administration what the Russians’ intentions are in Syria? You told – said they should stop supporting and abetting the Assad regime. Isn’t it pretty obvious by their actions and their words that their intention is to support the Assad regime?
MR KIRBY: Well, certainly they’ve got a military presence in Syria. We have seen historically their support for the Assad regime. I think what we’re talking about here is this latest activity —
QUESTION: But isn’t it obvious that that’s just more of the same? I mean, it would seem to be pretty clear —
MR KIRBY: If it was so obvious and clear, Matt, the Secretary wouldn’t have devoted so much time over the last several days to talking to Foreign Minister Lavrov.
QUESTION: On the phone – and so when – and I’m not asking you for the Lavrov side of the conversation or even the Secretary’s, but does he – did he say, “Hey Sergey, what are you guys doing in Syria?” Did he say, “Hey, what are your intentions in Syria?”
MR KIRBY: I don’t know that he used those exact words, Matt, but he certainly – I mean —
QUESTION: But that’s what – but those are the —
QUESTION: But those are the – that’s the flavor of why he was calling?
MR KIRBY: Certainly, yes.
QUESTION: But I just don’t – I don’t understand, if you’ve seen historically and currently the Russians sending all sorts of equipment, potentially soldiers too, in. I don’t understand why it’s a mystery to the Administration what they’re doing.
MR KIRBY: Because some of the activities could relate to the kinds of capabilities that we haven’t historically seen them deploy inside Russia. And trying to understand exactly what those capabilities are and why those capabilities might be needed I think are fair questions for us to be asking.
QUESTION: But John —
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that, because why is it so – again, if you want a political transition, building up your military in a foreign country next door doesn’t show that they look like to – that they want to have a political sort of solution to this. Is there anything that the Russians have said that makes you believe that they want a political solution?
MR KIRBY: Well, as we talked about following the meeting in Doha, it was apparent that in the meetings with Foreign Minister Lavrov and Foreign Minister al-Jubeir Secretary Kerry came away feeling that it had been a constructive conversation and that – and if you go back, and I think I issued a readout of that meeting, that they agreed that a political transition needed to take place and that it needed to include the opposition groups.
So we do think, as I said earlier, that there’s ground for that kind of dialogue. And it’s what makes the reports of this additional military activity so troubling.
QUESTION: But at that time there wasn’t a buildup as you – as we see now.
MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know that I would call it a buildup. It’s unclear exactly what some of these military activities are all about. I don’t know that we’re ready, at this point, to call it a buildup necessarily.
QUESTION: It’s – have the Russians – has – again, has Secretary Kerry not asked why the Russians – why there is this buildup?
MR KIRBY: The Secretary has expressed our concerns about what we are seeing and he’s talked to Foreign Minister Lavrov about those concerns. I’m not going to speak for the Russians and how they’re characterizing it.
QUESTION: Have – are there meetings coming up at the UN over the next two weeks during the UNGA? That could be the opportunity to discuss this. And what could be discussed with the – what kinds of issues could be then raised with the Russians?
MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of the UN General Assembly agenda. I think, obviously, issues inside Syria are going to be on the agenda for the General Assembly. There’s no question about that. And we look forward to having those discussions inside that fora and look forward to hearing more from the Russians as well.
I also think you can expect that the Secretary will take advantage of the opportunity at the UN to meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov again as well as Foreign Minister al-Jubeir.
QUESTION: There’s —
QUESTION: One more on refugees. Is the 10,000 figure announced today higher than what had been actively discussed within the State Department or across the Administration? Yes or no?
MR KIRBY: Given that they were estimates only, yes.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on terms of the non-traditional capabilities that you are wondering about. Would that include air activity, the buildup – the possibility of launching airstrikes?
MR KIRBY: I’d rather not get into specific operational or intelligence issues. But again, we’re – the kinds of capabilities that we’re talking about have us concerned.
QUESTION: Can I go to Turkey?
QUESTION: Hold on. Just hold for one —
QUESTION: Don’t your concerns – the mere fact that you have these concerns, that you’ve seen these – this stuff going in – suggest that whatever it was that was the understanding after the meeting in Doha was in fact, not the case, perhaps similar to what the first term administration’s understandings were coming out of the Geneva conference, where you thought the Russians were on board with what you – with your interpretation when, in fact, they had – they were not and had their own interpretation?
MR KIRBY: We certainly hope that they have the same interpretation and we certainly hope to see the continued progress towards some sort of dialogue moving forward on this political transition. Again, it’s the uncertainly surrounding these activities that have led to our concerns and to the questions that we’re asking and to the questions that we’ve asked our allies and partners to ask.
QUESTION: Okay. But that doesn’t translate, though, into the – I mean, doesn’t the mere – yeah, doesn’t the mere fact that you are uncertain about their intentions suggest that you either misread or misunderstood what the Russian —
MR KIRBY: I don’t think we’re ready to make that call right now, Matt, no.
QUESTION: Do you still see this as an opportunity for those political solutions? Because a few months back, you were saying this was an opportunity, specifically with Assad looking more under threat militarily, but he no longer looks that vulnerable. So do you still see this as an opportunity for those —
MR KIRBY: Yes. Yes, we do. And we still believe that the indications are he’s under increasing pressure and vulnerable. And I think you can just – just looking at press coverage alone out of the region, you can see that he, himself, is concerned about the stability of his regime. That said, he remains in power, has found a way to continue to remain in power through brutality. And so we want to exhaust every avenue we can to get at this political transition.
So long answer, but the short of it is yes, we still see this as an opportunity. And I would say we still see this as an opportunity – we still see the opportunity ripe with Russia to have these discussions and this dialogue.
QUESTION: John, on Syria train and equip. Can I ask you a question?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure. What was your – what was yours on?
QUESTION: On both Russia and Syria.
MR KIRBY: Okay. Let me go to you first, and then we’ll go to train and equip. I’ll probably kick it to the DOD, but I’ll be happy to take your question.
QUESTION: I was going to preface that with —
MR KIRBY: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION : Okay. So Russia is starting to find another route to Syria. And they probably are going to use Iran, the north of Iran, Iraq into Syria. Would United States, since they are flying missions over there, have any problem with that?
MR KIRBY: What we have a problem with is the continued material support to the Assad regime. We talked about this yesterday. I will let the Russians speak for their air flight logistics. That’s for them to speak to. As far as the air space over Iraq, it’s Iraqi air space and it’s Iraqi sovereign airspace that is up to the Iraqi Government to coordinate. For our part, the airplanes that we fly in support of coalition operations over Iraq, we coordinate all that through the Iraqi Government.
QUESTION: So it’s up to the Iraqi Government to decide?
MR KIRBY: It’s the Iraqi Government’s airspace. I’m going to let – I’ll let the Iraqis speak for how they manage their airspace. Regardless of what air corridor is being used, we’ve been clear about our concerns about continued material support to the Assad regime. And it’s – it doesn’t matter necessarily – I mean, objectively, what particular air corridor it is or whether it’s by sea, the support to the Assad regime is what concerns us.
QUESTION: Would you try to convince the Iraqis not to allow them, since —
MR KIRBY: Well, we don’t talk about our diplomatic conversations. But as I said yesterday, we’ve asked our friends and partners in the region to ask them – to ask those questions themselves of the Russians about their intent.
QUESTION : I realize it’s a military matter, but here we go. Earlier this week, the Pentagon press secretary indicated that he was concerned about the Syrian train and equip program in terms of their disposition, where they were, whether they were potentially joining ISIS ranks or al-Qaida ranks. And I realize, again, it’s a military, but are you concerned that the Pentagon is concerned about this program? (Laughter.) It’s a key piece of the strategy, training these fighters and —
MR KIRBY: Yes. So —
QUESTION: And they’re having a hard time locating them.
MR KIRBY: Well, I won’t speak to the status of the program. Again, that’s a DOD program. I think Secretary Carter and my colleague at the Pentagon have spoken, I think very candidly and forthrightly, about the challenges that they continue to face with this program, and the fact that they’re taking a hard look at this, as they should. I mean, one of the things that’s great about our military is that we constantly assess our performance and our capabilities and adjust as we need to go. And I think that’s what you’re seeing them do. Secretary Kerry is appreciative of the energy and the effort that’s being applied to the program. He’s supportive of the program, has been since the very beginning of it. And obviously, like Secretary Carter, wants to see it succeed, because he understands the importance of it. But —
QUESTION: Have any of the partners —
MR KIRBY: — the execution of it is, obviously, up to the Pentagon.
QUESTION: Have any of the U.S. partners expressed concern? Have they – hey, John, or Secretary Kerry, where are these guys? Or has anyone —
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of those kinds of discussions that we’ve had inside the building. I would refer you to the Pentagon. They would be in a much better place to speak to coalition members and any concerns they might have about that. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s an important element of the strategy, and obviously, we all want to see it succeed. I think everybody’s been pretty frank about how hard this was going to be, even when it got launched a year or so ago. There’s been nothing but, I think, a candid and forthright approach to how difficult it was going to be to get up and running and to execute. And obviously, they’re going to work through those issues, and we’re confident that they will.
QUESTION: But isn’t the success of the train and equip program key to helping to create the political space for a political resolution to the civil war? Wasn’t that always the reason for train and equip, to help get rid of ISIL and basically free up the political opposition to worry about its main task, which is trying to get a post-Assad government established?
MR KIRBY: I don’t want to talk too specifically about the program, since it’s a DOD program. But —
QUESTION: Right. But it’s an underpinning —
MR KIRBY: To your question —
MR KIRBY: — the goals of it were always threefold: one, to train them to go after ISIL in their country; two, to be able to defend their communities, their neighborhoods, their towns, their villages, their fellow citizens, so a local approach; and then three, eventually – and we always said eventually – when it’s mature enough, the program could potentially provide them the skills and capabilities that they would need to help work towards this political transition inside Syria. But the goal always – the immediate goal was always to get them skilled, militarily skilled, to go after ISIL – and again, on a much more local basis.
QUESTION: One more on Syria?
QUESTION : So the fact that you will receive at least 10,000 from Syria, will that make the Syrians the largest portion of your refugee program? Or in other words, in Fiscal Year 2015 were there any country from which you received at least 10,000?
MR KIRBY: I do not have the breakdown for the current fiscal year. We can get that to you. So – and because we haven’t established the total number for the next fiscal year, I’m not going to get into an estimate of where this 10,000 number would be inside of that. And I would remind you that it’s at least 10,000. And as Lesley and I discussed, there’s some fluidity there, there’s some flexibility, and that number could go north of 10,000. And I don’t think we want to be in a position where we’re pinning it down too specifically. So I just don’t have a good breakdown for you mathematically.
QUESTION: Can you clarify one thing about this year’s numbers? You said earlier in the briefing today that it looks like the total number of Syrians admitted to the United States for resettlement will go to 1,600 by the end of this fiscal year. But earlier there was the number of 1,800 total.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, that’s because since – that’s since the beginning of the conflict in ’11. So I do think that by the end of the fiscal year there will be 1,800 total in the country by the end of this month. But a chunk of those – I think roughly 200 or so – were admitted before this fiscal year. We’ve used the number 1,800 as a total since the beginning of the conflict in ’11. Okay? Does that make sense?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION : On Turkey, I hope today – will not tell me that you’re not aware of the situation in Cizre, the Turkish border city with Iraq that’s being —
MR KIRBY: Yep, that’s what I’m going to tell you.
QUESTION: So —
MR KIRBY: You’ve got your iPhone. I do not.
QUESTION: For nine days it’s been like the martial law has been imposed in the city and the electricity, communications have been cut, and even the Demirtas, the co-chair of the HDP, he was marching to the city and he was blocked by the —
MR KIRBY: Is this the curfew question?
QUESTION: Yeah, the curfew question.
MR KIRBY: Look – go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. That’s the curfew question, but the other thing is that the —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) curfew statement.
QUESTION: Yeah. The —
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Yesterday’s statements on Turkey was also found a little bit problematic that you characterized the way that the attack on HDP and then that happened the following day – the escalation of violence by PKK. It was found like the same justification that the Turkish officials use for attack by the protestors on the Kurdish businesses, HDP offices, and all of the Kurdish-affiliated things. Is that the same thing that you are justifying these violences because PKK is doing that, like attacking Turkish army and then that happened? That was the same way, like, characterized in your statement yesterday.
MR KIRBY: I’m not sure I follow your question.
QUESTION: So that – let me repeat. These events following an escalation in the violence over the strongly condemned PKK terrorist attacks on Sunday that killed these amount of soldiers, like this is followed, like this is how you characterized the attack.
MR KIRBY: Because it did. Because they did. Because the attacks against the offices and buildings and the attack against the Hurriyet Daily happened after recent PKK violence. I was simply noting a historical fact that it happened after that.
QUESTION: But what Hurriyet Daily News should have to do with PKK if the HDP is affiliated with PKK, and what the Kurdish also businesses should have to do anything with the PKK? Is that the justification? Because this is the same thing that President Erdogan is saying.
MR KIRBY: I think you should ask the people who perpetrated the attacks what the motivation was. I simply noted the fact that these attacks inside the country against the newspaper and against opposition offices and buildings happened after the PKK attacks.
Look, what really needs to happen here – I mean, we can quibble all you want about what happened first, but what we’ve said and I’ve said – I said yesterday we want to see Turkey live up to its democratic institutions and its own core values, and to respect freedom of speech and freedom of expression. We understand there’s a legitimate concern about terrorism inside the country. We get that, believe me. The United States of America understands that. But as we’ve long said, we want Turkey to respond in a way that protects innocent lives and is acting in accordance with international law.
QUESTION: And also two more things on that same text on Turkey. So you extended condolences to the families of the soldiers and police who were killed, but no condolences for the civilians who were killed also as a result of the conflict that killed by both – maybe PKK and also the protestors.
MR KIRBY: We have repeatedly expressed our concerns over the loss of innocent life inside Turkey, particularly as a result of the activities of the PKK.
QUESTION: How about the curfew? I didn’t get anything about that curfew. Are you aware?
MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the reports of the curfew, but I’d refer you to the Turkish Government for the administration of the curfew. That’s for them to speak to.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Northern Ireland?
MR KIRBY: Nick. Can we – give me a second. I’ll get to you. Go ahead.
QUESTION : A very quick one on the Palestinians. Any comment on the UN General Assembly which is about to vote for the Palestinian flag to be raised at the UN?
MR KIRBY: We’re going to vote against the resolution when it comes to a vote this afternoon.
QUESTION: A follow-up on the Palestinian issue?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, all along since the 31 of July when the burning of the Dawabsheh family home, you indicated that you expect the Israelis to apprehend the perpetrators. Yesterday Israeli authorities said that they know who the perpetrators are, and in fact, the defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, said yes, we know who they are, but we are not going to bring them to trial because that will compromise our intelligence sources. Do you have any comment on that?
MR KIRBY: We’ve seen those reports and again urge Israeli authorities to apprehend the perpetrators of the attack and to bring them to justice. We condemned in the strongest possible terms this vicious terrorist attack. We convey again our profound condolences to the Dawabsheh family and extend our prayers for the recovery —
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry? The recovery of Ahmed after the death of his mother on the eve of her 27th birthday. We urge all sides to maintain calm and avoid escalating tensions in the wake of this tragic accident – incident.
QUESTION: So you find that the comments by the Israeli defense minister unacceptable – or the justification?
MR KIRBY: I’ve stated our reaction.
QUESTION : Can I ask about the developments today in Northern Ireland?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: The first minister, Peter Robinson, a member of the Democratic Unionist Party, he resigned and the region’s power-sharing government is on the brink of collapse over police claims that the IRA still exists. Does State have any comment to make or response to Mr. Robinson’s resignation and the heightened political tensions in Northern Ireland?
MR KIRBY: Well, we’re watching the developments in Northern Ireland very carefully. Secretary Kerry’s personal representative, Gary Hart, remains closely engaged with Northern Ireland parties as well as the UK and Irish Governments to find the best way forward. What we’re doing is urging all of Northern Ireland’s political parties to engage constructively in the current talks and to demonstrate leadership at this difficult time.
QUESTION: Will the Secretary send Senator Hart to Northern Ireland in response to this? Is there a role for an enhanced, greater U.S. diplomatic involvement as a result of this crisis?
MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, Mr. Hart is in constant contact with the – with all the authorities. I’m not going to speculate about future activities. This is something we’re watching very closely, and as – again, as I said, again, we want all the parties and leaders in Northern Ireland to work together constructively here.
QUESTION: John —
QUESTION: John, can we —
MR KIRBY: Yeah, Samir.
QUESTION: Can we go to Azerbaijan real quick?
MR KIRBY: Let me go to Samir and we’ll go back to you. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can you give me a soundbite why the U.S. is going to vote against the Palestinian flag at the UN? (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: While I’m looking for my soundbite, why don’t you go ahead and ask me about Azerbaijan?
QUESTION : Okay. The Armenian installed regime in the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan is holding municipal elections this upcoming Sunday, September 13th, in violation of international law and constitution of Azerbaijan. Many governments already denounced these elections as illegitimate. Do you have a position on these elections?
MR KIRBY: In the context of a comprehensive settlement on the – of the conflict, we recognize the role of the population in Nagorno-Karabakh in deciding their future. However, the United States does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent sovereign state, and we will not accept the results of the so-called elections on the 13th of September as affecting the legal status of the region. We also stress that the so-called elections in no way prejudge the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh or the outcome of the ongoing negotiations to bring a lasting and peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
O n the flag – so our vote against this resolution is not a vote for the status quo or a rejection of Palestinian aspirations for statehood. Our vote is a vote for all interested parties to take the constructive, responsible steps required to achieve a two-state solution and the end – and end the cycle of violence and suffering that has persisted for far too long in the Middle East.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Was that a good enough soundbite?
QUESTION: Excellent. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: That’s excellent, but can I just quickly follow up on it? So this process has been dormant. Nothing is ongoing. Are you guys prepared, perhaps, to sort of reignite this process or inject some life into it, maybe on the sideline of the General Assembly or anything like this?
MR KIRBY: Secretary Kerry remains focused on this issue specifically, Said. I don’t have anything to announce or read out today, but obviously, this is on his mind and has been on his mind, and it will remain so during his tenure in office. And I fully expect that issues in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians will come up in the General Assembly, absolutely, yes.
QUESTION : Turkey? Just to finish up Turkey, yesterday also in your statement you talk about Mr. Demirtas, head of the HDP pro-Kurdish party, and actually you praised his role in terms of his anti-violence and calming rhetoric. On the same day, Turkish courts launch an investigation on him on four different cases and – for inciting violence. So there seems to be stark difference between the U.S. viewing this very —
MR KIRBY: You’re talking about what I said about the prime minister?
QUESTION: About the HDP head of the Kurdish party, Selahattin Demirtas.
MR KIRBY: The chairman, yeah. Look, I’m not going to get into internal – the internal judicial processes inside Turkey. I stand by what we said yesterday.
QUESTION: About the Selahattin Demirtas role and his —
MR KIRBY: What we said was we welcomed their comments denouncing the violence themselves. That’s what we said. I welcome that.
QUESTION: One final ones. Same Mr. Demirtas also today talk about if the parties, the Turkish Government, and the PKK – if they have not altered their positions, there may be a civil war on the – over the horizon. Are you worried about your ally’s stability and security? What’s your assessment, the current —
MR KIRBY: Turkey remains an important ally and partner. We’ve talked about this. We’re going to continue to work with whatever Turkish Government is in the future. We fully expect to be able to do that. As I’ve also said, obviously, these recent events give us reason for some concern. We want to see Turkey continue to live up to the strong democratic values that it espouses, that’s espoused inside its constitution, and to live up to its very noble core values. But nothing’s going to change about the fact that they’re a strong NATO ally. We appreciate their cooperation and support in the fight against ISIL and their contributions to NATO writ large in missions around the world. And I – we fully expect that that strong partnership will be able to go forward.
But when we see things that concern us, specifically in this case attacks on opposition buildings or on the press, obviously we’re going to speak out about that. And we’re going to do that no matter where we see it and no matter who’s responsible for it because it doesn’t comport with our values as a democracy either.
QU ESTION: Yes. Thank you. So in light of the U.S. announcing that it will be accepting 10,000 – over 10,000 Syrian refugees next fiscal year, and that you’re welcoming European actions to accept more refugees from Syria, meanwhile Japan has accepted only 11 out of 5,000 asylum seekers last year. And yesterday, Japanese officials announced that they’re considering changes in the regulations that would make it even more difficult for refugees to seek asylum. Are you discouraged by such actions, and would you call on Japan to do more rather than less?
MR KIRBY: These are sovereign decisions that every country has to make, and we respect that. So again, we’re talking about a country with which we have a strong alliance, a deep and abiding partnership and friendship, a country for which and in which we take our security commitments very, very seriously. And I’m not familiar with the resettlement policies of Japan. You’d have to talk to the government in Tokyo about the decisions they’re making, but these are sovereign decisions and we respect those sovereign decisions.
What we are concerned about is the decisions we’re making, and that’s what we’re talking about today: this additional – at least 10,000 more for next year, and the full scope of our resettlement program around the world and how seriously we take that. And that’s our concern here today.
QUESTION: But would you welcome, if they were to take actions to increase their —
MR KIRBY: Look, this is – we welcome Japan’s contributions to security and stability around the world in the forms that they take and in the forms that the Japanese people decide and the Japanese Government dictates. And it’s not for us to cast judgment on these sovereign decisions that they’re making. They – that they take people in is noteworthy. And you can quibble all you want about the numbers, but it’s still noteworthy. Japan is a generous nation; there’s no question about that. And again, these are sovereign decisions that each country has to make, and we respect that sovereignty.
QUESTION : A quick one on Ukraine, and I have a follow-up question. On Ukraine, what is State’s reaction to NATO’s plan to open an office in Ukraine? And could this perhaps enhance military cooperation between the U.S. and Ukraine through NATO?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on that, Pam. I mean, I would – I’d point you to NATO on that.
QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to the opening of the office?
MR KIRBY: Again, it’s a NATO office, so I’d point you to NATO to speak to that.
MR KIRBY: Obviously, separate and distinct, I can’t speak for NATO, but obviously the organization and the member nations, as well as the United States, are – take very seriously the situation that’s going on in Ukraine and Russia’s continued actions to back separatists inside Ukraine and to violate Ukrainian sovereignty and territory, and I’ll let NATO speak for what they’re doing in that regard. But obviously, we all take this very seriously.
QUESTION : There was an incident last month at the Armenian consulate in California. An assailant threw a Molotov cocktail that damaged the building, and the State Department had been part of the investigation. Is there anything new on that probe? Or is there any assessment of this attack?
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry. I don’t have anything for you on that today.
QUESTION: Can I go back —
Q UESTION: And then one final one. Guatemalan President Molina has accused the United States of orchestrating the circumstances that have led to his incarceration on graft charges. What’s State’s reaction?
MR KIRBY: The United States didn’t press for either his stepping down or for his prosecution. We have, however, consistently supported the rule of law in Guatemala. And the recent arrests of an array of public and private figures show the Guatemalan Government’s commitment and resolve to identify and root out corruption. It gives us increased confidence in both the government and the CICIG that anticorruption efforts are showing progress.
Q UESTION: I have a follow-up on that – on Ukraine. Do you have any comment or more insight into Russia building a huge military base housing ammunition depots and barracks for thousands of soldiers near the Ukrainian border?
MR KIRBY: We’ve seen those reports. As I understand it, if they’re true, this is a base that’s inside Russia and nations have the right to build and to construct inside their borders. I think what our focus is on is what Russia’s doing on the other side of that border inside Ukraine, continuing to violate Ukrainian sovereignty and Ukrainian territory and put Ukrainian lives at risk. That’s what our focus is on.
QUESTION: So even though this is close to Ukraine?
MR KIRBY: It’s on Russian soil, as I understand it, and I don’t have a lot of detail about the actual construction to tell you definitively that we know it’s a military base or not. But if it’s being built inside Russian territory, it’s for the Russians to speak to. Again, what our concern is is what they’re doing on the other side of that border.
QUESTION : Actually, I have a question about al-Bahrayn regarding the dismantling of the opposition, al-Wefaq opposition. I don’t know if you have a comment about that.
MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those reports. I think we’ve been very clear about what we’d like to see continue in Bahrain in terms of necessary political reforms. As you know, we freed up some additional aid for the ministry of defense because Bahrain has taken steps to improve their human rights record, but I don’t have anything specific on that.
I’ve got time for just one or two more. I’ll go to you and then you in the back.
QUESTION : A quick on Venezuela. Do you have a readout of the conversation Secretary Kerry had with his Venezuelan counterpart on Tuesday or Wednesday?
MR KIRBY: Secretary Kerry did call Foreign Minister Rodriguez yesterday. They discussed the importance of keeping channels of communication open between the United States and Venezuela. The Secretary reiterated our concern with the imprisonment of individuals under political pretenses, including Leopoldo Lopez, as well as the nature of Mr. Lopez’s trial. They also discussed our concern with the situation on Venezuela’s border with Colombia and the need for quick resolution of the dispute in view of the humanitarian situation there.
Yes sir. Last question.
Q UESTION: The takeaway from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was the fact that there were weak institutions and strategies. Is – in the aftermath, nothing has changed. Is the U.S. willing to do anything, sort of advocacy on better strategies health-wise in West Africa?
MR KIRBY: We continue to focus on West Africa with respect to Ebola while we note the significant decrease in the spread of the disease, particularly in Liberia. I can tell you we are – continue to monitor it very, very closely and work with local authorities there. We still have individuals from USAID as well as from nongovernmental organizations in the region. We have not turned away from this issue, and we’re mindful that – again, though the numbers are down, what we want to see is zero, and we’re going to continue to work with local authorities for that – to that goal.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:48 p.m.)