Daily Press Briefing
July 21, 2015
Index for Today's BriefingIRAN INDIA BURUNDI NIGERIA DEPARTMENT BURUNDI IRAN DPRK TURKEY LIBYA DEPARTMENT SYRIA/ISIL TURKEY/ISIL CUBA JORDAN IRAN
2:07 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. I’ve got a few things at the top and then we’ll get right to it.
It’s been a few days since we had a press briefing, and as you know, there’s been some important developments in our progress towards implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the Iran deal, so just a few updates.
As many of you saw this past Sunday, we delivered the documents to Congress. The 60-day congressional review period began yesterday, Monday, the 20th. The Secretary, as you know, will be making his way up to Capitol Hill this week in some closed briefings tomorrow and then open testimony on Thursday to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He very much looks forward to these engagements and to addressing the concerns that so many members of Congress continue to have about the deal, answering their questions. He continues to believe that this is the right deal for not just U.S. national security interests but the interests of our allies and partners in the region, to include Israel. So he’s looking forward to having these engagements and answering their questions.
We also welcome this week the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which shows that the international community remains united in our shared effort to prevent Iran from acquiring enough fissile material to build a nuclear weapon. Nothing in this resolution will in any way impact on the Congress’s authority and ability to review the deal. And we purposely built in, as you may have noticed, a 90-day waiting period into the resolution to allow precisely for that review. Important to remember that Iran will get no sanction relief until the IAEA verifies that Iran has met its key nuclear steps, period. The passage of the UN Security Council resolution doesn’t change that for U.S. sanctions, for UN sanctions, or otherwise.
And then, finally, I think while we’re on the topic of Iran I think it’s important to note that today marks the one-year anniversary of Jason Rezaian’s unjust detention in Iran. And as I think you heard the Secretary talk about this yesterday in various interviews that he conducted, he never misses a chance on the sidelines – never missed a chance on the sidelines of the nuclear talks to raise Jason’s detention with Iranian officials as well as the detention of Amir Hekmati and Saeed Abedini and of course, never missed a chance to continue to ask for Iran’s help in locating Robert Levinson. And we’ve been very clear that until they’re home, we’re not going to stop in our efforts and pursuit to see that outcome.
Speaking of anniversaries, today is – this past weekend, I’m sorry, marked the 10th anniversary of the Framework of U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Partnership. That joint statement between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Singh paved the way for the unprecedented cooperation between our two countries that we continue to see today. Our cooperation in civil nuclear energy, space exploration, defense technology serves as the core of a growing U.S.-India relationship, as underscored by President Obama’s recent visit to India.
I’m looking around for Goyal. I don’t see him here today. I put that in there today specifically for Goyal, and I don’t see him. (Laughter.)
I also want to just – you saw my statement this morning on the elections in Burundi, but I want to take an opportunity to once again note that the U.S. warns that this presidential election in Burundi cannot be credible because the electoral process there has been tainted by the government’s continued harassment of opposition and civil society members, closing down media outlets, and of course, their intimidation of voters.
We believe that the election today risks unraveling the Arusha Agreement, which states clearly that no Burundi president shall serve more than two terms in office. The Government of Burundi’s decision to deny its citizens the ability to choose their leadership freely forces the United States to review all aspects of our partnership. We strongly urge all parties to recommit themselves to upholding the Arusha Agreement and its power-sharing arrangement, which has been the cornerstone of peace and security over the past decade in Burundi.
And then just two final points. As you saw on the Secretary’s public schedule, he had lunch today with President Buhari of Nigeria and his delegation. Lunch lasted about an hour, just wrapped up around 1 o’clock or so. Very fulsome discussion about a broad range of issues of things that the United States stands willing and able to help President Buhari deal with as he puts together his government and starts his administration. Everything – we talked about everything from economic development to the energy sector to, of course, security. And as you might expect, everybody had the same shared sense of concern about Boko Haram, particularly their attacks in the north.
So it was a good, full-ranging discussion. The Secretary was delighted to host him here at the State Department. And more critically, he made it clear that he would continue, we would continue, to have a dialogue with President Buhari and his government moving forward.
And then lastly on a program note, I got asked a lot last week about the Trafficking in Persons Report. I can tell you now that that will be released on Monday, Monday morning. We’ll roll that out beginning at 10 o’clock. I’ll have more details on that a little bit later in the week, but I know that that was something everybody was interested in, so I wanted to go ahead and get that out there.
With that, Matthew.
QUESTION: Right. Well, quite apart from your suspect use of the word “fulsome,” which we can go into off camera a little later – (laughter) – let me just start with Burundi because I think it’ll be very quick, before I want to go to Iran.
You say that this election lacks all credibility. Well, it’s begun. People are voting, such as it is. So what would you have them do? Call it off? Nkurunziza is probably going to win.
MR KIRBY: Not probably.
QUESTION: Well, he is going to win. Right? So --
MR KIRBY: It’s --
QUESTION: What do you want them to do? Do you want him to say, okay, I won, thanks but no thanks, I’m gonna – I’m not gonna --
MR KIRBY: What we wanted and made clear that we wanted --
QUESTION: No, no. But that’s in the past.
MR KIRBY: You mean what we want them to do today?
MR KIRBY: Look, Matt, I mean, I think we understand there’s nothing that we’re going to be able to do to affect an election that is ongoing as we speak. We understand that. But there’s no international observers. There’s routine intimidation of voters. There’s been a sustained effort to silence freedom of speech by media and by opposition members. So this is in no way, shape, or form can this be considered a free, fair, or credible election.
And so what we’re going to do – I mean, we can’t do anything to stop what’s going on in the polls right now. We recognize that. What we can do is review all our aspects of the partnership with Burundi that --
QUESTION: Yeah, but --
MR KIRBY: Those items that even haven’t been suspended.
QUESTION: But what can they do to prevent you from going ahead with your review? Is there anything, or is it too late? I mean, when he wins – which he will – you want him to say, “I’ve been elected but I refuse the honor, I won’t accept a third term.” Would that be okay? Is there anything that they can do to stop you from reviewing your cooperation, whatever it is?
MR KIRBY: Short of – short of observing the Arusha Agreement, which they’ve already violated; short of intimidating opposition members and citizens, which they’ve already done; I can see very little outcome here other than we’re going to have to review all aspects of the relationship.
QUESTION: So there’s nothing. All right. Unless anyone has more on Burundi, I just want to briefly on Iran --
QUESTION: Quickly on Burundi?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, sorry. The special envoy is supposed to travel there. Is that still happening? Will he be meeting with anyone from the government?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update for you, but I’ll get you that.
QUESTION: And yeah, that’s it. Thank you.
QUESTION: You mentioned you’re sending the documents for the JCPOA up to the Hill on Sunday.
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding or have you gotten confirmation back from the Hill that they have received all the documents that they need for the review to actually begin?
MR KIRBY: They have received all the documents in our possession to provide them.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that all of the – at least the unclassified parts of what was sent to the Hill are available for members and staff to review?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know if you’re trying to get at something with the word “unclassified,” but let me just go back to what I said. All of the relevant documents in our possession on this deal – and there’s a lot of them – were all provided to the Congress.
QUESTION: All right. And as part of the law that the President signed, the Corker bill that the President signed into law, is that there was, in addition to the actual JCPOA – in addition to the actual deal, the agreement, there were other parts, annexes, separate quite apart from, that were supposed to be sent to the Hill, some of which unclassified --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Which could have then classified annexes to them. This is U.S. documents.
MR KIRBY: So the documents that we sent do include the verification assessment report and the intelligence communique – intelligence community’s classified annex to that report. And everything else that’s in our possession coming out of Vienna has been provided, unclass or class.
QUESTION: And your understanding is, is that the unclassified is available for any – for anyone up there to see?
MR KIRBY: I know of no restrictions that would be placed on unclassified access to the documents.
Okay. We good? More on Iran?
QUESTION: No, different --
MR KIRBY: Different topic?
QUESTION: On Iraq?
MR KIRBY: Well, she had her hand up for – you’re on Iran? All right, go ahead.
QUESTION: All right, thank you.
QUESTION: So Khamenei’s advisor --
MR KIRBY: I’m still getting used to this process that we all do here where we stay on the – go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei’s advisor, Velayati, has told today that the American diplomats are trying to have conversations with Iran regarding Syria.
MR KIRBY: Regarding what?
MR KIRBY: Syria?
QUESTION: On Syria, yeah. Can you confirm that?
MR KIRBY: I missed the --
QUESTION: Yeah, sure. Velayati, Khamenei’s advisor from Iran.
MR KIRBY: How many --
QUESTION: So American diplomats are engaging with Iran regarding Syria.
MR KIRBY: There are no engagements with Tehran on what’s going on in Syria. Just to be crystal clear, the engagements with Iran were on this nuclear deal and only on this nuclear deal. We’ve said from the very beginning and continue to say that there’s no coordination or communication with Tehran on the fight against ISIL, which would include anything going on in Syria. Okay?
QUESTION: I just want to go back to – if it’s still on Iran, I want to go back to the Hill issue, not the documents.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: On the Secretary going up there.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: You said the Secretary very much looks forward to these engagements on the Hill. Does he really?
MR KIRBY: He does actually.
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: Does he think that he’s actually going to be able to change anyone’s mind?
MR KIRBY: He certainly hopes so.
QUESTION: He does?
MR KIRBY: He certainly hopes so, and I wasn’t exaggerating that. I mean, he is looking forward to this.
QUESTION: So he’s --
MR KIRBY: He believes that this is the right deal, that it’s solid, that it achieves the objectives that we sought out to achieve, in fact, in some cases exceeds some of our expectations, and that if you look at it logically and you examine all of it, really read it and try to understand it, he’s convinced that he can convince others as well. That’s certainly his hope and expectation.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I guess that remains to be seen. But I mean, he’s raring for a fight obviously. You said in some cases this exceeds our expectations. In which cases would that be?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I was afraid when I said that that you were going to ask me that follow-up. Let me get you an answer right after as I don’t have the Lausanne agreement right in front of me. But we’ll get back to you on that.
QUESTION: Can you think of one instance in which what you ended up with is better than what you were seeking?
MR KIRBY: Well, I think – remember the – on the arms embargo and the missile program sanctions, under the UN Security Council resolutions which put those sanctions in place and drove Iran to the negotiating table, it was always understood that all of those sanctions would be lifted at once when Iran complied with their requirements under Lausanne. We held out for more. I mean, interesting that some of the criticism on this deal is, well, some – the arms embargo goes out to five and then it’s lifted and the missiles out to eight and then gets lifted. That was actually extra measures put in place by the negotiators at the table, certainly led by Secretary Kerry, because at least two members of the P5+1 wanted the intent of the resolutions to be met --
MR KIRBY: -- in word, which was “immediate.”
QUESTION: But it was never the position of the Administration that the arms embargo and the ballistic missile sanctions should remain regardless of whether there was a deal? I mean --
MR KIRBY: Well, that wasn’t the – our sanctions will remain in place. But the UN --
QUESTION: No, I’m talking about the UN.
MR KIRBY: -- Security Council resolutions, which put those sanctions on, did so with the intent of driving Iran to the negotiating table specifically over their nuclear program.
MR KIRBY: So it was always understood by all the members, P5+1 members, that as part of – to have a deal. Without the sanctions relief, all of them, there would be no deal.
QUESTION: Right. The problem that exists there is that those UN Security Council resolutions to which you refer, which are now – been superseded by yesterday’s, didn’t – are stronger. They call for Iran to suspend or halt enrichment altogether. So when you say that, well, Russia and China wanted the arms embargo and the ballistic missile stuff to go immediately, they wouldn’t have gone immediately because Iran wasn’t in compliance with the terms of the previous resolutions.
MR KIRBY: They wouldn’t go immediately --
QUESTION: Well, I mean --
MR KIRBY: -- until they had met their requirements with their – with the --
QUESTION: Right. You’re casting this as you – it’s a U.S. victory or something that exceeds your expectations that you kept the arms embargo in place for five years when, in fact, I believe the Administration wanted it in place forever, but maybe I’m wrong on that, and the ballistic missile sanction – ballistic missile stuff for eight years.
So while you might be able to make the argument in your own – the Administration might be able to make the argument that you got five and eight as opposed to zero, why does it not make sense for critics to look at this and say, well, it went from forever or keeping them in place indefinitely to a set time period --
MR KIRBY: Because --
QUESTION: -- which could even be shorter if --
MR KIRBY: Because the only way they stay in effect indefinitely is if Iran never comes to the negotiating table and we never get a deal.
QUESTION: Yeah, but the --
MR KIRBY: The whole reason they were put in place was to drive them to a --
QUESTION: Right, but --
MR KIRBY: -- place where they would negotiate for the relief.
QUESTION: I get that. But the previous Security Council resolutions called for Iran not to have any enrichment at all, and now you’re allowing them enrichment and yet you’re giving them this arms embargo and ballistic missile --
MR KIRBY: Look, I mean, Matt --
QUESTION: All right, I’ll – okay. But you say that those are two things that --
MR KIRBY: I’m saying that that’s --
QUESTION: -- you exceeded your – better than what you --
MR KIRBY: -- better than – yes, that’s one example. And if you need more, I’m happy to --
MR KIRBY: -- I’m happy to provide that for you. (Inaudible) who can help with that.
MR KIRBY: Iraq?
MR KIRBY: Iran? We’re still on Iran.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: So John, after the deal, how do you define your relationship with Iran? Is Iran an enemy or what is the status of your relation with them?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know that we’re going to put them in a nice little neat rhetorical box for you, but there’s no diplomatic relations with Iran. Iran continues to fund, and participate, encourage, and incite destabilizing activities in the region. Nobody is turning a blind eye to that. Would we call Iran a friend? No, I don’t think we would. But look, we focused on removing this one very key, very important destabilizing activity, which was their pursuit of nuclear weapons capability. That was the focus. We achieved that through this deal. And now dealing with an Iran that doesn’t have that capability is going to be easier – not easy, but easier – than dealing with an Iran or pushing back on an Iran which either is on the threshold of that capability or in possession of it.
QUESTION: But you didn’t answer my question. Like, is it --
MR KIRBY: I know I didn’t answer your question because I’m not going to.
QUESTION: I mean, it’s an enemy or --
MR KIRBY: I mean, I --
QUESTION: It’s not a friends but is it an enemy?
MR KIRBY: I’m not – I’ve told you, I’ve described the relationship with Iran, and while you might like a nice little neat box for us to put this in, I’m not going to do that.
QUESTION: John, just to follow up on that point. I mean, sure it’s not a friend, you don’t have diplomatic relations with it, but two of your closest allies – France and Britain – are sending their top diplomats, some with businessmen and so on. Isn’t that sort of paving the road to bringing Iran into sort of the friendly camp, so to speak? I mean, these are your closest allies, right?
MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for --
MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for what our allies may be doing or thinking about in terms of a new relationship with Iran. I can just point you to what Secretary Kerry has said from the time he got back from Vienna, and actually before then, was that our focus is on this deal, achieving this outcome, and not necessarily through this deal trying to drive some change in Iran’s behavior. Now, if it leads to that – to a more constructive, productive set of behaviors out of Iran in the region – well, that’s all to the better. But that wasn’t the goal here.
QUESTION: Do you believe --
MR KIRBY: And because it wasn’t the goal here, we’re not going to turn a blind eye and we’re not going to stop using the tools at our disposal, unilaterally and multilaterally in the region, if need be, to deal with Iran’s destabilizing activities.
QUESTION: But the fact that both of these top diplomats from England and France are going there, does that make the case or does that make the argument for Secretary Kerry better on the Hill when he makes that argument as to why this is a good deal?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know that their travel to the region necessarily enhances the quality of the deal. I mean, and I don’t know that he would speak to his counterparts’ travel there. I think the Secretary – my answer to Matt, that the Secretary is very comfortable with the details of the deal and the product itself and looks forward to explaining it.
QUESTION: Iran’s representative at the United Nations had some harsh words to say yesterday about the United States of America. He said that you should not be giving lessons on interference and so on, the fact that you invaded two countries, as he put it, and so on, you should be the last to do such a thing. Is that the kind of language that you did expect the Iranian ambassador to be saying at the UN?
MR KIRBY: I don’t think anybody here was necessarily surprised --
QUESTION: Surprised, okay.
MR KIRBY: -- by his comments and the anti-American rhetoric that we see from government officials over there. Look, this isn’t about lecturing.
MR KIRBY: This isn’t the United States getting up and lecturing Iran or lecturing anybody. I think we’re pretty good at leading by example and proving the power of our example around the world. And I think we’re very comfortable standing on our reputation in that regard. This, again, we’ve got to – it’s really important that everybody kind of draw back into what this was. This was about achieving one outcome, and that was stopping their ability to get – cutting off their pathways to get a nuclear bomb. This deal does it. And that alone helps make the region safer, because it’s a huge – one less, but a huge problem less, that we would have to deal with long-term.
MR KIRBY: Well, wait, are we going to – we’re off Iran?
MR KIRBY: So go ahead, Janne.
QUESTION: North Korea. Today North Korea has said different on Iran and North Korea nuclear negotiations. And North Korea announced would not have any dialogue or give up their nuclear programs. What is your comment on their --
MR KIRBY: Say that last part again.
QUESTION: North Korea announced that would not have any dialogue or give up their nuclear program.
MR KIRBY: North Korea said there’s no dialogue about their --
QUESTION: Yes. Future programs and --
MR KIRBY: Well, I think that’s true. There isn’t. I mean, I think I would agree with that assessment. And what we’ve said before, Janne, is that we’re open to dialogue with the North that would lead to authentic and credible negotiations that get at the entirety of the North’s nuclear program and result in – and this is not a small point – concrete and irreversible steps towards denuclearization. But the onus is on North Korea and they haven’t picked up that ball.
QUESTION: Do you think the United States acknowledges North Korea is nuclear state? Because they are ambitious to – and proud of having nuclear weapons. Right now they wanted the U.S. acknowledge to they’re a nuclear state.
MR KIRBY: What I would say is we acknowledge their continued pursuits in that regard and continue to warn about the threats and the dangers that those pursuits cause to the Korean Peninsula.
QUESTION: When you say acknowledge, you’re not suggesting that you accept it, though. You’re just acknowledging the fact that they are doing it.
MR KIRBY: Acknowledging the fact that. Yes, thank you, Matt.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. have --
MR KIRBY: I did not mean to say that we were accepting it.
QUESTION: Yeah, but do you – does the U.S. have or plan to bilateral talks with North Korea for a nuclear --
MR KIRBY: There’s no such plans.
QUESTION: No such plan, yeah?
MR KIRBY: We have long said that resumption of the Six-Party Talks we would support, but the onus is on North Korea.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Turkey.
QUESTION: Thank you. There was an explosion in Turkey earlier this week --
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: -- killing as many as 50 people. Do you have anything to tell --
MR KIRBY: We put out a statement about that right after.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, yesterday. I’m happy to repeat our deepest condolences to the victims, to the families of the victims, to those who were injured. And I’ll reiterate once again, regardless of responsibility, this is just more evidence of the common terrorist threats that we face – we and our allies. And then the third thing I’d say is that this – it’s a very grim but it is a reminder of the seriousness of this challenge and the degree to which we’re going to continue to stand with Turkey as Turkey continues to confront it.
QUESTION: Has any U.S. official talked to the Turks after the explosion about that?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any specific conversations out of here. We – of course, our representatives in Ankara of course conveyed our condolences and thoughts to the Turks at the time.
QUESTION: Because there’s a fear that this attack in Turkey, which is the first bloodiest attack since – in a few years in Turkey is – comes at a time when Turkey has taken a more assertive position against the Islamic State. Do you think Turkey might become a major target for ISIS because of it has taken apparently a bolder stance against ISIS?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know what is in the ISIL playbook with respect to Turkey. What I do know is they remain a lethal, deadly enemy that we all, as a coalition, need to stay focused on defeating.
QUESTION: John, technically, ISIL didn’t claim this attack. What is your understanding about the responsibility? Are – is there any reason that you don’t believe that it’s – it wasn’t anybody else?
MR KIRBY: No, it’s not about believing or not believing. I just – we’re not in a position to call it right now. I mean, we’ve seen the claims of responsibility. Is this something that they’re capable of? Absolutely. I mean, we’ve seen brutal violence from this group before in all manner of ways. But the Turkish Government’s investigating it. I think we want to let that investigation move forward, and I wouldn’t want to say anything one way or the other that would prejudice the outcome. It’s a – as I said, a grim reminder of the counterterrorism threats that we face regardless of whether ISIL’s responsible or not.
QUESTION: Are you cooperating on this investigation with the Turkish officials?
MR KIRBY: As always, we’ve – we certainly offer assistance if it’s needed. I’m not aware of any specific thing that we’re doing with respect to this.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) about the use of Incirlik Air Base (inaudible).
MR KIRBY: I’m having a hard time hearing you.
QUESTION: There was an agreement to be announced soon on this use of Incirlik Air Base for the anti-ISIL attacks with the Turks.
MR KIRBY: Says who?
QUESTION: According to some sources in this building and also according to the Turkish officials. How this incident will affect this upcoming agreement?
MR KIRBY: Okay. Well, let’s – I’m not going to speak to – I have nothing to announce today and I’m certainly not going to speak to decisions that may or may not have been made yet with respect to the cooperation with Turkey. And this attack, deadly as it was, again, it only reinforces our commitment to working with the Turks to deal with counterterrorism challenges. And how that’s going to manifest itself – it’s just too soon to say right now.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: What’s your reaction to reports that the EU may sanction individuals such as General Hiftar, who they consider like opposing the political process – threatening the political process?
MR KIRBY: Well, I’d say we share the EU’s concern about the threatening statements and actions by some Libyans that are meant to undermine peace and stability. We continue to strongly support the UN Special Representative Bernardino Leon, as his efforts – in his efforts to achieve an inclusive political agreement in Libya. We also think that all of Libya’s partners should use all of the tools at their disposal to help him achieve this balanced and comprehensive political agreement. For our part, the U.S. will consider – continue to consider, I should say – targeted sanctions under the UN Security Council resolution against those engaging in or providing support for acts that threaten Libya’s peace and stability.
QUESTION: I have a question about – there was a statement made recently by a U.S. district court judge, Rudolph Contreras, at a status conference continuing a Judicial Watch FOIA lawsuit for State Department records. And this federal judge said, “If documents are destroyed” – and he’s talking about Secretary of State Clinton emails – “if documents are destroyed between now and August 17th, the government will have to answer for that. And if they don’t want to do anything out of the ordinary to preserve those records, they’ll have to answer for that.” My question is solely: Do you have a reaction to that, (a)? And (b) are you doing something out of the ordinary to make sure these are preserved? Are his concerns unwarranted? Where is all this coming from?
MR KIRBY: Well, you’re getting me a little unawares, because I hadn’t seen the statement. So I’d ask you to let me go take a look at this before I go into any great detail. But just to remind on process and sort of where we are, that former Secretary Clinton turned over some 55,000 pages – in paper – of documents, comprising that email traffic that she believed represented her work here as secretary of state. We’ve taken pains to properly secure that material and to scan it in electronically so there’s an electronic record of it. And then we’re going through it, as you know, every month and releasing those emails under – using a Freedom of Information Act standard.
I’m aware of no destruction of this material; far from it. In fact, we’re, as I said, making strides to go through every single document to make it publicly available and to have a record of it that will be for the American people to see. So I know of no effort or designs or desire to destroy any of this. Again, quite the contrary. But I’ll tell you what, let me – because I haven’t seen this statement, let me take that question and get back to you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: I don’t know if you have seen the op-ed by the PYD’s co-chair, Salih Muslim, on Huffington Post. He was sort of showing the appreciation for the United States support and the coalition for the support the YPG fighters in fight against ISIS in Kobani and Tal Abyad and other areas. But he was asking for like a broader cooperation for humanitarian assistance and also rebuilding Kobani. Is there anything like you want to take into consideration helping those areas liberated from ISIS? Like you do it in Iraq, you have a working group there, but in Syria you don’t have such a thing.
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any plans to create such a group. As I’ve said before, we continue to try to assist them on the ground, mostly through the use of airstrikes, and that support will continue as needed. But I’m not aware of any additional efforts with respect to that.
QUESTION: What prevents you not to do it, to do so, like in Syria? Those areas you take credit for the liberation and also for defeating ISIS, so these --
MR KIRBY: I don’t think we were taking credit for liberation. I think we’re pretty good at giving credit where it’s due, and some of that credit does go to U.S. air power and coalition air power as well. This is a – and you’re getting me into military matters that I’m not comfortable speaking to.
QUESTION: No, I’m talking about --
MR KIRBY: But just – but I’m going to let you get me into it for just a second. The execution of any strategy --
QUESTION: Slippery slope. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Thanks for the reminder. The execution of any strategy is something that you’re always looking at every day. So I’m not ruling anything in or out at this point. I’m just saying – I’m just telling you where we are now, and that the support for those fighters, counter-ISIL fighters inside Syria right now, predominantly exists through the use of coalition air power. And again, strategy is something you look at day in and day out. I just don’t have anything to tell you in terms of announcements or anything for it.
QUESTION: Like, the question was about – you know this area have been destroyed as a result of the fight.
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: And there are people returning from Turkey, and you always encourage the people that can live inside their own country instead of going to the second country or like creating a humanitarian crisis. So these people, they need assistance and they are looking at you as one of the partners part of the coalition. So what is the problem? Is there anything like that you cannot do the same thing that you do it for humanitarian support for the Iraqi?
MR KIRBY: You’re getting me to stake a claim now, and as I told you, strategy is something we’re constantly executing. I have nothing more to say about the support that they’re getting militarily than what I’ve talked about. And again, I’d point you to DOD for more details on that.
QUESTION: John, when it comes to the strategy, this, I mean, supposed allegedly ISIS attack in Turkey is the second attack over the last month. It was – it happened just before the elections in Turkey as well in June, and this is that second time that they hit Turkey. Do you – what is your understanding about this kind of bombings in Turkey? Is there any strategy change in ISIS vis-a-vis Turkey? Because before, the organization was very cautious to Turkey, so do you sense any strategy change in ISIS vis-a-vis Turkey?
MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on ISIL strategy or what they’re trying to achieve in any particular attack other than fear, intimidation, and brutality. So I’m not – again, I’m not going to speak for what their strategy is or, if they’re responsible for this latest one, what that portends for the way they’re thinking. What I can tell you is our strategy remains sound. We continue to execute it. And it’s a multilateral strategy, 60 some-odd countries. And it’s not just military. There’s a financial component to it, there’s a diplomatic component, there’s a law enforcement component to it, and we’re going to keep chipping away at this.
We’ve also said that this is a group that – and we’ve seen this over the course of the last year and a half, quite frankly – this is a group that continues to modify. They’re agile, they’re nimble, they’re still well-funded. They’re still attractive to a whole population of young, disaffected men for whatever reasons. And we’re not blind to the kinds of activities that they continue to want to pursue, and we’re going to continue to adapt our strategy as needed. But the core of it – multilateralism, good governance, which is really the – what has to happen to defeat – long-term, sustainable defeat of ISIL, all that remains in place.
As for what they’re thinking on any given day, I’d have to point you to them and their propaganda to try to help you out with that. What we’re focused on is taking them off the battlefield, trying to limit their ability to sustain themselves financially or through human resources, and eventually helping defeat their narrative through political gains on the ground in Iraq and eventually, hopefully, in Syria.
QUESTION: John, might they try to prevent Turkey to be more active in anti-ISIL coalition with these kind of attacks? This is the comments coming from the experts in (inaudible).
MR KIRBY: Yeah, look, I mean, you could come up with all kinds of conspiracy theories here. I’m not in a position to do that. This most recent attack is still under investigation. I’m not going to get ahead of that. And whatever outcome it might have for Turkey is for the Turkish Government to speak to. I know you’d love for me to talk about what the Turks are willing to do or what they’re not going to do, and I’m just not going to do that.
Every member of the coalition brings to this fight what they can, when they can, where they can, and we’re grateful for that support, including Turkey, which is not just a coalition member but a NATO ally. But as for what these attacks might do to change any calculus in Turkish thinking, I think you’d have to talk to Ankara about that.
QUESTION: Are you satisfied --
QUESTION: Can I just make the follow-up question? Are you satisfied with the degree or level of support that the Turks have offered you in the fight against ISIS?
MR KIRBY: We are grateful for every contribution that every coalition member is making.
QUESTION: Is it enough?
MR KIRBY: It’s a coalition of the willing, which means every member has to be willing to contribute what they can, where they can. And we’re grateful for that.
QUESTION: John, a follow-up on this? Just to follow up very quickly on the strategy --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. By all accounts, ISIS runs its territory like a state. They collect taxes. They issue stamps. They control traffic and so on. They are functioning like a state. Doesn’t that call for a change in your strategy or the coalition’s strategy to attack them?
MR KIRBY: I think they want to function as a state. Just calling yourself one doesn’t make you one. And look, one of the things that we’ve said from the very beginning, Said, is that what makes this group a little different is that they do have aspirations of state-like functions and their tactics on the ground aren’t just common terror tactics such as bombings, if they were responsible for this one, but almost in some ways – now, they haven’t done this in a while but at the outset were operating their – their forces almost sort of paramilitary-like in terms of the formations, the way they were moving and maneuvering and some of their tactics on the ground. Now, that’s changed because of all the pressure that’s been put on them by the coalition. But, I mean, this is an evolving group. But just calling yourself a caliphate or a state doesn’t make you any one, any more than it makes me an alligator. So we’re just – we’re going to keep the pressure on them and it’s, as I said at the outset, a multilateral approach along multiple lines of effort, not just military.
Governance – it’s funny you should ask this question, because it’s governance, good governance, that’s really going to be the long-term answer here. I keep saying it and I know it may sound like the same old saw with you guys, but it’s true. But good governance takes time, and it’s hard. In Iraq, things are moving in the right direction. In Syria, in terms of good governance, it’s not. And so what they think or what they’re telling people they’re doing is providing an element of governance. But I think all you have to do is look at the way they’re behaving and seeing how most of the resources they get are from theft and corruption and extortion. That’s not governance. That’s theft. That’s corruption. That’s extortion. And their tactics are brutal and violent, and it’s terrorism.
QUESTION: John, actually, a follow on Turkey. As a result of these recent attacks, like my colleagues also they asked maybe Turkey became a target for ISIS attacks, but do you increase any security measure for your diplomats in Ankara or in Turkey in general, or you’re taking --
MR KIRBY: We never talk about security precautions that we take around the world, and I think you can understand why we don’t do that. The safety and security of our facilities overseas and our people is paramount. It’s the number one concern for Secretary Kerry wherever he has diplomats. But we never talk about the details of that.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Now that we’re building relations, has there been a discussion about the pro-democracy programs in Cuba? Does the U.S. – are you going to plan any changes, increased or decreased activities?
MR KIRBY: Our plan is to continue those programs. We believe they’re important and we believe that the restoration of diplomatic relations and the engagement that our diplomats will now be able to have inside Cuba will help us --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) some of them have raised that in the issue in some reports, complaints about it. So you haven’t had discussions with them yet about addressing some of their issues?
MR KIRBY: We plan to continue these programs, yeah. I think I’d leave it at that.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry on counterterrorism, he said – he mentioned that as a collaboration area. Meanwhile, Congress is pushing legislation to cut off funding to Cuban defense. Do you see Congress hindering collaboration on --
MR KIRBY: Well, we certainly hope not. I mean, we’ve certainly seen some of the threats to do that by members of Congress. Again, Secretary Kerry is willing – remains willing to discuss this new relationship that we’re building with Cuba with members of Congress, but that would be counterproductive to a restoration of diplomatic relations in a place and with a people that we want to work to improve, both the relationship and their quality of life in Cuba. And so standing in the way of this engagement – I think the Secretary said it really well yesterday when he said we’re moving from estrangement to engagement. And that’s true. An engagement offers you the footing to be able to make a difference there, and without that footing, you can’t. And all – what you’re left with then is what we had for 54 years, which clearly didn’t really work.
QUESTION: Do you envision like military-to-military dialogue, establishing relations at that level, too?
MR KIRBY: I don’t want – let’s not put the cart before the horse. I mean, we’re just now starting. There’s a lot – I mean, we’re not – relations are not normalized. That’s going to be a lengthy process. I think we all can understand that, and I have no specifics with respect to what a defense relationship could or would look like in the future. We’re just getting started, and we need to walk before we run.
QUESTION: John, change topic. The Chattanooga shooting and these reports in the last couple of hours and statements by Mohammad Abdulazeez’s lawyer that some of his family members have been detained in Jordan. I was wondering if you could confirm U.S. involvement in that operation and lend a little bit of insight or guidance on what – whether that’s true, that this guy’s family is being taken into custody.
MR KIRBY: No. No. I am afraid I don’t have anything to – I don’t have anything to say about that right now. Again, you guys got your iPhones, I don’t. So I don’t have an update for you on that.
QUESTION: The Jordanian Government said five or six hours ago that --
QUESTION: Right --
QUESTION: But just in the last few minutes there’s some – the lawyers made a statement that --
MR KIRBY: Yeah, understood.
QUESTION: The initial statement is hours old.
MR KIRBY: I have – I don’t have anything for you on that right now.
QUESTION: If such a thing occurred, would there be any U.S. involvement? Would it be law enforcement or would it be like State Department would be involved in any way?
MR KIRBY: I just don’t know, Said. I mean, I --
MR KIRBY: I’m just getting this. I just don’t have anything for you, I’m afraid. I can’t help you on that right now.
QUESTION: Well, I’ve just got one more. Can I – I want to go back to your rather unusual analogy from a few minutes ago. It may be true that you don’t consider ISIS to be a state, but they certainly aspire to be a state and they have some trappings of a state. In other words, they have a flag, they collect taxes – whether you want to call it extortion or whatever, they certainly do steal, but there are governments – there are states that do that as well, North Korea being one example. They have that aspiration. Do you really aspire to be alligator? And the reason that I ask is not to make it --
MR KIRBY: Right now I do. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: -- is not to make a joke, but yes, you can call it anything. So why – I mean, just because you call something something does not make it so, and I want to extrapolate that. Just because you, the Administration, call the Iran deal a good deal does not make it so. Does – do you – does the Administration, the Secretary for whom you speak – I won’t go to the President or Moniz or anyone else like that – do you believe that you’re not just calling this deal a good deal because that’s what you want it to be?
MR KIRBY: Yes. We believe this is not just a good deal, but it is the best deal that could be achieved, which achieves the outcome that we wanted to achieve and will further secure our national interests as well as the national interests of our allies and partners. I think by any measure – and you want to pick apart aspects of the deal, fine, let’s get past that for a second. By any measure, I think it’s just common logic that we can all agree to that an Iran without a nuclear weapon is better for the region than an Iran with a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: You’re saying it’s the best deal that we could have achieved, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good deal. It just means it’s the best that you could have gotten --
MR KIRBY: It can be both, though, Matt.
QUESTION: And you’re --
MR KIRBY: It can be both a good deal and the best deal we achieved, and we believe --
QUESTION: And you get – it’s both.
MR KIRBY: -- it is a good deal, and it is both, yes.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:53 p.m.)
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