Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing – November 4, 2016
2:20 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: Okay guys, a few things at the top here. And I’ve got several, so just bear with me.
First, let me say that the United States condemns the indefensible bombing in Diyarbakir. We wish the wounded a speedy recovery and offer our deepest condolences to all the loved ones of those who lost their lives. We again call on the PKK to cease its senseless, brutal attacks, and we continue to stand by our friend and ally Turkey in this fight.
Also on Turkey, the United States is deeply concerned by the Turkish Government’s detentions of opposition members of parliament, including the co-chairs of the HDP, and by government restrictions on internet access today. Deputy Secretary Blinken spoke this morning with Turkish – the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs Under Secretary Yalcin and raised these concerns. He made clear that when democracies pursue legal action against an elected representative, they must do so in a manner that reinforces the public’s confidence in rule of law, and that restricting the internet undermines confidence in Turkey’s democracy and economic prosperity. The deputy secretary and the under secretary also discussed U.S. cooperation, of course, in Syria and Iraq, and next steps in the counter-ISIL campaign.
I think you saw earlier today that the Secretary met with the UN Secretary-General-designate Antonio Guterres at the State Department. The Secretary took the opportunity to use this meeting to congratulate Mr. Guterres on his appointment, of course, and to underscore our desire to work closely with him in his new role. They discussed some of the important global challenges that will continue to require UN leadership, such as ending the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and South Sudan; addressing climate change; implementing sustainable development goals; and responding to global migration and other humanitarian crises.
On the Paris Agreement, in case you missed the anniversary today —
QUESTION: I did not.
MR KIRBY: — actually – what’s that?
QUESTION: I did not.
MR KIRBY: You didn’t. Good. Less than a year after being adopted, the historic Paris Agreement now officially enters into force. I think as you know, the Paris Agreement is the most ambitious and inclusive climate agreement ever achieved. With this momentum now, we head into COP22, which will be in Marrakesh starting next week, with a strong focus on now implementation and action towards actually getting there on all the things that countries need to do.
On Monday we’ll have right here at the podium the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Dr. Jonathan Pershing. He’ll give you a preview of COP22.
And then speaking of COP22, I think you’ll see a travel announcement from us shortly about the Secretary’s upcoming travel. He will leave on Monday, the 7th of November. His first stop will be Antarctica, where he will have a chance to visit with the scientists and researchers both at McMurdo Station as well as the South Pole. He’ll be the first Secretary of State and the most senior U.S. Government official to ever travel to Antarctica, and he’ll be there from the 10th to the 12th of November. Follow-on stops on this trip include Wellington, New Zealand for bilateral discussions on the 12th and 13th; on the 14th he’ll be in Oman; on the 15th, United Arab Emirates. We go to Morocco on the 15th and 16th for COP22, and then he goes on to Peru for the APEC conference on the 17th and 18th before returning home. So it’s a long trip, lots to cover. But we’ll keep you guys posted as the schedule continues to firm up.
QUESTION: Can I just ask very briefly on the trip and Antarctica? I mean, he’s not going directly there, is he? He’s got to stop beforehand, right? In New Zealand?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, several stops.
QUESTION: Well, in New Zealand, though. I mean, he’s – you can’t just fly —
MR KIRBY: I thought you were talking about fueling.
QUESTION: No. No, I’m just saying you can’t just fly from Washington to Antarctica.
MR KIRBY: No, you can’t.
QUESTION: Right. So —
MR KIRBY: That’s impossible.
QUESTION: Right. So —
MR KIRBY: It can’t be done.
QUESTION: — he’s leaving – where —
MR KIRBY: So we are – we’re going to —
QUESTION: He’s going to Christchurch or is he going someplace else?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, so we’ll be stopping in Christchurch, but really the first stop in Christchurch will just be to follow on.
MR KIRBY: We’ll go back to Christchurch for bilateral meetings.
QUESTION: And then what – okay, so he’s going there. What’s he going to – what’s the purpose of going?
MR KIRBY: Of Christchurch?
QUESTION: No, Antarctica.
MR KIRBY: So I think McMurdo Station is the largest research station of the U.S. Antarctic Program, as well as surrounding areas on Ross Island. And he’ll also visit the U.S. Government’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. There he’ll have a chance to meet with scientists and researchers that are studying a wide range of subjects in the extreme south, including, of course, climate change. He’ll also get a chance to see firsthand part of the recently established Ross Sea region marine protected area which we announced a week or so ago, the world’s largest marine protected area, which is 1.5 million square kilometers or about – nearly 600 square miles. So this visit will be hosted by the U.S. National Science Foundation, which manages the U.S. Antarctic Program. So it’s a chance to really see firsthand what’s going on with climate change research.
QUESTION: But it’s – climate change and ice?
MR KIRBY: Of course, yeah.
QUESTION: Has he voted?
QUESTION: He will be – he’s leaving on Monday, so he’s not – so he’s —
MR KIRBY: Wait, wait, let’s just – go ahead. Stay on —
QUESTION: Is the scheduling of this designed to keep him out of the country during the election?
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, I remember the last —
MR KIRBY: I mean, will it? Yes. But is there some sort of design to keep him out of the country on Election Day? No. I mean, the Secretary has been wanting to get down there for a long, long time, and frankly, this schedule was very literally driven by the weather. As a matter of fact, as I understand it from the briefings that we got last week from scientists, that we are – that you wait much longer in the year and it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to travel down there.
QUESTION: And then – but so do you know, has he voted?
MR KIRBY: I understand that he has voted.
QUESTION: In Massachusetts?
MR KIRBY: I – assuming it’s still his home state. I can check on that, but I know that he has voted, yeah.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Is he physically going to go from the Amundsen station to the spot, the actual spot of the South Pole? Do you – are you aware of that?
MR KIRBY: Yes. So it’s a – it’s – you go to Christchurch, it’s about a five-hour flight to McMurdo. We’ll spend the night there because of just the time it takes to get there and acclimatizing. And then we’ll get up the next morning and it’s about a three-hour flight from there to the pole. There’s an actual research facility at the pole.
QUESTION: So he’ll go outside and go to that marker for the South Pole?
MR KIRBY: I’m assuming so.
MR KIRBY: I don’t know, but the research – as I understand it, the research facility itself is just a few hundred meters from the actual pole, so we’ll —
QUESTION: Yes. You still have to go outside to get there, though.
MR KIRBY: Yeah. I’m assuming you have to go outside to get there.
MR KIRBY: But the research facility’s right there, so we will be on the South Pole.
QUESTION: Do you know if the foreign minister of New Zealand is going to be going with them, or —
MR KIRBY: He will not be.
QUESTION: So there’s no real like technically diplomatic component to the trip. I understand there’s a climate change —
MR KIRBY: The purpose for the South Pole is to talk to researchers and scientists —
QUESTION: Got you.
MR KIRBY: — largely about climate change research.
QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?
QUESTION: Well, can I just ask about Antarctica?
QUESTION: Just what – I mean, what specifically does he hope to achieve with this visit and how much is it going to cost U.S. taxpayers for him to go look around —
MR KIRBY: I will see if we can get you an estimate. I don’t have that. But I think any basic understanding or attempt to understand climate change, you have to understand what’s going on both in the Arctic and the Antarctic, especially with melting glaciers and ice and the sea level rise that can come from that. And as an individual who has literally championed climate change research and awareness for decades now, the Secretary is and will remain committed to increasing the awareness and education of the public about this. And he himself feels it’s important – particularly in the wake of us entering into force now the Paris Agreement, and in advance of the COP22 discussions which will all be about implementing the agreement, that it’s important for him to see firsthand what we’re learning about the environment down there on the South Pole and what information we can then glean from the research to make better, smarter policy decisions. Because that, in the end, as you’ve heard the Secretary talk about – that’s really the answer here, is energy policy, and he believes it’s important to go down there and see that for himself.
QUESTION: Because there’s some criticism that this trip is basically the Secretary wants to knock Antarctica off his bucket list and he’s doing it sort of on taxpayer expense.
MR KIRBY: Where’s the criticism coming from or – I haven’t seen that. Have you?
QUESTION: I – I’ll send you some, yeah. I mean, it’s —
QUESTION: It just —
MR KIRBY: I don’t know how there can be criticism of this when we haven’t even announced the trip, but —
QUESTION: Well, you just did. The criticism obviously came in the last 10 minutes. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: It must have come in the last five minutes. But nevertheless, Nick – nevertheless, you’ve traveled with the Secretary. I think you know how packed his schedule is, and he wouldn’t be making this trip – or any other trip, for that matter – if he didn’t think it was important to advancing issues that are important to our national security and our foreign policy. And climate change is – and it’s not just the State Department that said that; the Pentagon has said it’s a national security imperative. And that was a study two, three years ago. So given all the stakes for the planet, particularly for sea level rise, but – by melting ice, the Secretary believes this is an important trip to make and it’s some – and it’s a place that he’s been wanting to go for a while now. It is largely weather-dependent and that has restricted our – somewhat our ability to be able to get down there, plus you want to get down there when there’s research going on that is the most relevant to what we’re trying to learn, and this is a good time to go.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Turkey on your statement?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: I realize that you said that Deputy Secretary Blinken spoke to a senior Turkish foreign ministry official. Is that the only contact that you’re expecting today on the arrests of these pro-Kurdish MPs and —
MR KIRBY: Is that the only —
QUESTION: Is that the only contact that you’re expecting or is the Secretary planning to call the foreign minister? Is the President planning to – or (inaudible)?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have any other contact to speak to now, Matt, but I certainly wouldn’t rule other discussions out. He talks quite a bit with —
MR KIRBY: — Foreign Minister Cavusoglu.
QUESTION: You said you’re deeply concerned, but, I mean, why? Just because the fact of the arrests or do you see this as part of the broader crackdown on media and opposition that you’ve been talking about —
MR KIRBY: Well —
QUESTION: — for months and as a sign that things are actually getting worse rather than better?
MR KIRBY: I’d say both. I mean, the arrests themselves concern us, but certainly – and I’ve talked about this before. We have seen a continuing trend of very stringent limits on freedom of expression, freedom of the press, certainly shutting down access to the internet also is not conducive to the free expression that’s, again, enshrined in the Turkish constitution. So it is another act in what we have continued to see as a worrisome trend. So it’s both. I mean, on the face of it, we felt strong enough to raise it, but it is – you have to take it in context of everything else we’re seeing.
QUESTION: Right, but, I mean, is this the kind of behavior that you think is worthy of a NATO ally?
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, the fact that they’re a NATO ally has nothing to – we don’t judge this just based on the fact that they’re a NATO ally. They’re also a democracy, and they’re a democracy and a country that we care about.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) so forget about the NATO —
MR KIRBY: But obviously —
QUESTION: Then how about —
MR KIRBY: Obviously, we care about —
QUESTION: — democracy?
MR KIRBY: We care about the health of Turkey’s democracy and we care about the future of Turkey and that’s why we raise these problems, but we’re not pinning this to their membership in the alliance.
QUESTION: All right. Well, what is the – what do you think, how would you describe the health of the – of Turkish democracy?
MR KIRBY: It is obviously still – we still believe it to be a democracy and we have said repeatedly, certainly since the coup, that we continue to support the democratically elected institutions and Government of Turkey. We recognize that in the wake of what was a absolutely serious coup attempt in July that they have every right and should have every right and responsibility to try to get to the bottom of it and to deal with it.
At the same time, we have been very honest about expressing our concerns about some of the manners and methods in which they have gone about doing that. So if you’re asking me, are they still a democracy, of course they are.
QUESTION: No, no —
MR KIRBY: And it’s because we believe them to be and we believe them to be serious about that that we’re able to have these discussions.
QUESTION: I asked you what you thought the state of the health of the —
MR KIRBY: I’m not —
QUESTION: — Turkey’s democracy was and you answered that —
MR KIRBY: I’m not —
QUESTION: — it is a democracy. So —
MR KIRBY: I’m not —
QUESTION: — you obviously think it still has a pulse if you think that it’s – but is it sick? Is it not healthy?
MR KIRBY: I’m not qualified to characterize it or give them a letter grade here. I mean, it’s a discussion that we routinely and will continue to have with them, and we’re not – again, not bashful about expressing our concerns when we have them. That’s what allies and friends do.
QUESTION: On Turkey, first of all, a year ago —
MR KIRBY: Are you sure you want to ask a Turkey question?
QUESTION: Yes, I got a couple questions. Thank you. The November election last year was not classified as fair and free elections by the OSCE report. So you keep referring Turkish – Turkey as democratically elected government, whereas this Administration, also the OSCE, did not classify it as fair and free elections. How do you view —
MR KIRBY: Well, as I – look, as I said to Matt, I’m not going to give them a letter grade here, and I don’t have the OSCE report in front of me to —
QUESTION: We discussed it.
MR KIRBY: I’m not disputing that you’ve read it. I’m just saying that those findings nevertheless, they are still – it’s still a democracy and there are principles enshrined in their constitution, many of which we’ve talked about here a lot, that we continue to want to see observed.
QUESTION: The first week of June, President Obama was in Poland, and he was talking about the NATO membership and he was saying that universal values and democratic institutions are the core at the NATO alliance. So you, I think, just said that this has nothing to do with NATO membership. Isn’t that the democratic values is the part of the membership?
MR KIRBY: No, you’re over-simplifying my answer back to Matt, which was do these arrests – how do you feel about these arrests in light of the fact that they’re a NATO ally? And I – what I was trying to do was say we’re not drawing a connection between these arrests and their membership in the alliance. And yes, the alliance is – one of the guiding principles of it is a devotion to democratic ideals. And Turkey is still a democracy and Turkey is still a member of the alliance.
QUESTION: A week ago, Human Rights Watch issued a report regarding the torture in the Turkish jails. This report followed Amnesty reports which had similar findings. You did not have a statement last week. I was wondering if you have anything today.
MR KIRBY: I would say what we’ve said before about this: Any allegations of torture and mistreatment are, of course, concerning to us.
QUESTION: Could I follow up on that? The UN Human Rights Office —
MR KIRBY: I didn’t even finish yet.
QUESTION: Oh, sorry, my apologies. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: My good stuff here.
MR KIRBY: Look, we urge – obviously, we urge the Turkish authorities to ensure a prompt and thorough investigation of any alleged incidents of abuse perpetrated by government officials. So we take this seriously. And now you can go.
QUESTION: A final question, my final question. In 2009, President Obama did his first overseas bilateral visit to Turkey, and Turkey was applauded as the model partner and the model democracy or inspiring democracy. Now, at the end of the Obama Administration, we are talking about the health of the democracy and whether Turkey is still a democracy. Do you have —
MR KIRBY: You are talking about that.
QUESTION: No, everybody is talking about that.
MR KIRBY: You are the ones raising that question every day. And —
QUESTION: And everybody does.
QUESTION: Well, to be fair, it’s not just him that’s raising it every day.
MR KIRBY: And to your —
QUESTION: It’s a lot of people. And it’s a lot of people in Europe, it’s a lot of people here.
MR KIRBY: I got it, I got it. Were – are you ask – again are you – go ahead.
QUESTION: My question was: Do you think this Administration has any blame for its Turkish ally going through this downward spiral on human rights issues as well as democratic issues, whether you think that you took enough – your policies handled Turkey well on these regards?
MR KIRBY: The question is: Is it the United States fault that —
QUESTION: Whether you take any blame on this. Do you think your policies have been consistent and good enough to —
MR KIRBY: Yes, our policies have been consistent about our relationship with Turkey, absolutely. And this is a country, I think it’s important to remember, that just a few months ago, had members of their own military shelling and dropping bombs in their capital. Now, can you imagine what that would feel like and be like in our country if it happened? How seriously the democratically elected government, whether you like him or not, democratically elected, how they would – the responsibilities they would have to respond to that? A lot’s happened. You cited comments made back when – Poland? Right?
QUESTION: Two months, three months ago, yes.
MR KIRBY: To now?
QUESTION: About NATO. It was about NATO.
MR KIRBY: Before the coup?
MR KIRBY: Yeah. A lot’s happened since early summer and —
QUESTION: Are you sure you want to be talking about the prospect of a coup in the United States?
MR KIRBY: I’m just saying, imagine what the reaction would – here would be if that were to happen. Obviously, it’s not going to.
QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is – wait a second, guys, just hang on. I take great exception to this – to a notion or even the suggestion that the United States is somehow to blame for what’s happening inside Turkey, as if our policy determined the events of – since summer. Look, they suffered a nearly successful coup attempt and —
QUESTION: Did they – did they —
MR KIRBY: And they’re reacting to it. And in the reacting to it, we have been firm and consistent, as recently as today with the deputy secretary’s meeting – or sorry, discussion – we’ve been clear and consistent about our concerns about how Turkey is dealing in the – with the aftermath of the coup. But they’re an ally. They’re a friend. They’re a partner. And we’re going to keep the dialogue close, we’re going to keep the relationship strong, and we’re going to keep working at this. But a suggestion of laying it at the feet of the United States Government and United States policy is not only wrong-headed, but it’s well oversimplified that any one nation’s policy about any other one nation is going to determine the entire direction it moves with respect to its democratic institutions.
QUESTION: Kirby, why do you think that U.S. —
QUESTION: Today we —
QUESTION: — that the United States – as you say, you have been public and consistent —
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: — in your concerns both about the manifest reduction in media freedoms and about the incarcerations of large numbers of people, tens of thousands detained, right? Why do you think those arguments do not appear to have found much resonance with your Turkish allies? I get that they suffered a political trauma, but you’ve been making this case – and it doesn’t appear, certainly not on the media freedom side, right, and not really particularly on the roundups of the officer corps and other people like school teachers. It’s very broad and deep. So why do you think your arguments have found so little resonance in the Turkish Government?
MR KIRBY: That’s hard to say, but I would make two points. One is it’s difficult to know exactly what’s inside the minds of Turkish leaders as they make these decisions, but they are making these decisions. President Erdogan is making these decisions as a – the head of government.
The second thing I’d say, Arshad, is it’s – again, it’s this idea that it’s U.S. policy alone here that’s driving the flow of the democratic river through Ankara, and it’s not just about the United States. There are – other nations, many other nations, have had and have expressed similar concerns about the situation in Turkey. Yes, we do it probably more often and certainly more publicly than some nations, but it’s not just the United States that has these concerns or has raised those concerns. So it’s not just about – it’s not just about Turkish leaders, to borrow I think what you’re trying to say, rebuffing U.S. calls. It is – there – other nations also have expressed these concerns. And why we’re still seeing these kinds of decisions get made, it’s just difficult to know.
QUESTION: Follow-up to that —
QUESTION: Following up on the – to – on the question of a while back, today the UN Human Rights Office said that the arrest of the pro-Kurdish politicians combined with the detention and suspension of 110,000 officials goes beyond what is permissible. Would you agree with that statement?
MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that report, and I – look, I’m not going to characterize each and every report that’s made. We have – I think, Steve, you can go back and look at everything we’ve been saying about this and see exactly where our heads are. And I wouldn’t – if it wasn’t important to us in terms of our concerns about what’s going on, I wouldn’t have read out the discussion that the deputy secretary had just today. So I’m not going to, again, give them a letter grade here. That’s not my job.
QUESTION: I’m not asking for a letter grade. Asking for a reaction to the UN Human Rights Office —
MR KIRBY: You’re asking me to – you’re asking me to confirm what another group is saying. I haven’t seen that report. I would just go back to what we’ve said before about our concerns. They’ve been clear and they’ve been consistent.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Are – given the strong criticism from the EU as well as your own and from the UN Human Rights Office, and Arshad’s comment that they haven’t been really responsive so far, are you contemplating further measures, whether the United States alone or in concert with the EU and perhaps through the UN?
MR KIRBY: What we’re focused on is having a continuing dialogue with Turkish leaders about the situation there and about continuing to express our concerns when we have them and as well as our support, which gets lost in this discussion, our support for the democratically elected government of Turkey. So we’re going to focus on the bilateral relationship. And as for next steps or decisions that might or might not be made, I’m not going to speculate.
QUESTION: A follow-up on that. Turkey says this is a legal issue; it’s not a political one. As HDP parliament members detained after failing to answer for an investigation summons. Among the charges facing HDP members are offenses of spreading PKK propaganda, which the group you mentioned in your opening statement carried out an attack this morning, killed nine people and injured hundreds of people. I was wondering what is your comment on that, as well, about Turkey’s (inaudible)?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, I think I would just point you back to what I said at the beginning, which is – which states very clearly what our concerns are. And I’m not going to – I’m not going to characterize or dispute a characterization by the Turkish Government on this. We’ve been on-the-record now, both in a discussion with a representative from their ministry of foreign affairs with our deputy secretary, and with me here at the podium about our concerns about these arrests. I think I’d leave it at that.
QUESTION: HDP co-chairman Demirtas was here last summer and he met some high-level officials in this building, as well. I was wondering – there is an accusation in Turkey, actually, about HDP having a organic link with the terrorist group PKK. I was wondering if this topic came up in discussions —
MR KIRBY: I don’t have a more specific readout of the discussion.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you think that the arrests of the Kurdish parliamentarians puts at even greater risk the Kurdish population, the people of Kurdish origin, in Turkey? As a background, in 1915, how many years ago, the Armenian genocide was launched after the Ottoman Church Government arrested the Armenian parliamentarians of the Ottoman Parliament. And now, the voices of Kurdish people in Ankara, in the Turkish parliament, are being silenced. Do you think that this puts at even greater risk the Kurds of Turkey?
MR KIRBY: Again, we’ve responded to this arrest. I’d point you back to what I said at the beginning of the briefing on that. Turkey’s own constitution enshrines in it freedom of expression, a free press, freedom of assembly, freedom to protest peacefully, all those terrific democratic principles. And we – what we want to see is Turkey live up to those principles, which means that all Turkish citizens, no matter who they are, have the ability and have a voice and a vote in their country’s future. I’m not going to speculate, I’m not in a position to do that, to determine right here from the podium what these arrests mean for larger issues for the Kurdish people in Turkey. We’ve been very clear about our concerns over some of these decisions and I’d leave it there. Okay.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you about the phrase that you used, which was a nice turn of phrase: the driving the flow of the democratic river through Ankara. Did you just come up with that on your – just now?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Because I wrote that down too. I —
QUESTION: I thought it was quite good. It would have been —
MR KIRBY: I want to see it – I’d like to see it in some of the coverage.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Would’ve been – it would have been better if you could have worked in the Bosporus.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: Like —
MR KIRBY: Well, my geography is a little weak, Matt, but —
QUESTION: Yeah, well —
MR KIRBY: I mean, I was just trying to make a point.
MR KIRBY: And I do want to see it quoted, I thought it was a great line too. (Laughter.) Yeah.
QUESTION: John, you said you are deeply concerned about the recent incidents in Turkey. And we know that the leadership of the HDP were here in the United States and spoke up and raised their concerns about the direction where Turkey has been leading, which is getting worse. What does it take for you to say you condemn it and make a more clear message to the Turkish leadership that this is not, as Human Rights says, not permissible?
MR KIRBY: I think, again, we have been nothing but clear and consistent about our concerns over what’s happening in Turkey. Now, maybe you might want to quibble with the verbs that we’re using up here, but I think any reading of things we’ve said publicly and readouts of meetings that we’ve had privately will show you that we have been nothing but clear and consistent about our concerns. Okay?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can we go to Syria? First of all, could you give us an assessment of the current cessation of hostilities, if you have an assessment of the current cessation of hostilities?
MR KIRBY: Well, no, there isn’t a cessation of hostilities. I mean, and there’s still discussions going on in Geneva to try to get us to one.
QUESTION: I’m saying that it’s – what the Russians announced, that this is – they extended the cessation of hostilities this week.
MR KIRBY: No, no, no, no, no, Said. They said that they were going to extend a humanitarian pause and —
QUESTION: Extend the humanitarian pause.
MR KIRBY: And – yeah, I don’t – I’m not – I don’t have a battlefield update in terms of whether that pause has actually been fully observed or not. We have seen violence in and around Aleppo, but I’m not going to get into a blow-by-blow. What I can tell you, though – remember, though, a humanitarian pause was designed for what? To allow people to leave, but it was also to allow aid to get in. And how much aid has gotten in? None. And so we’re seeing reports now of citizens of Aleppo tying ropes around their abdomens to try to get around the abdominal pain that they’re feeling from starvation. They’re going to contaminated water sources for drinking water, because there isn’t any. What little hospitals there are in Aleppo are now being forced underground into basements, and the medical personnel that are staffing them, we’re seeing reports now, of them having to use non-sanitized equipment to try to tend wounds and to try to make people feel better. They’re not able to sanitize their equipment.
So whether the pause is in effect or not, you’d have to talk to the Russians. But the Syrian people, particularly the citizens of Aleppo, certainly aren’t feeling any benefits from it.
QUESTION: So on the actual bombardment: Are there any ongoing aerial bombardment by the Russians or the Syrians?
MR KIRBY: Again, I don’t have a battlefield update here for you, and I tend to avoid trying to get into that.
QUESTION: But there’s been any increased bombardment from eastern Aleppo to western Aleppo? Are you aware of that?
MR KIRBY: I – Said, I don’t have an operational update for you. What we have seen – again, I don’t know what the situation on the ground is today in terms of bombing. I don’t know. That’s a better question put to those who actually have the influence and the control to do that, and that’s the Russian military. What we’ve seen is these humanitarian pauses stop and start, and when they stop, the bombing starts again. And throughout how many extensions, whether it’s this one or not, how much aid have we actually seen get in, which was the stated purpose of doing it in the first place? The answer is none, and that’s unacceptable. And that’s why we’re going to continue to work in Geneva to try to get a meaningful cessation of hostilities, something that the Syrian people can actually count on, and that can be sustained over a longer period of time.
QUESTION: My last question: The Chinese ambassador to Damascus, Qi Qianjin, said that both you and the Russians should work together to bring the Syria crisis to an end, that you should look beyond your own – your strategic interests, both of you, and work toward —
MR KIRBY: Well, we’re grateful for the input, but I think that, again, any reading of recent history will tell you that we’ve tried mightily to work with the Russians, predominantly until of late in a bilateral fashion to do exactly that, and it didn’t get us anywhere, because the Russians weren’t willing to meet their commitments. So now we’re doing it in a multilateral format, something smaller than the ISSG. Those discussions are ongoing. We’ll see where they go.
QUESTION: Are you really grateful for the Chinese input?
MR KIRBY: We’re always grateful for —
QUESTION: It sounded like you might not be.
MR KIRBY: We’re always grateful for good ideas from all around, including from you, Matt. (Laughter.) Absolutely.
QUESTION: Now I know you’re not (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Said.
QUESTION: Can I change topics?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Can I go the Palestinian-Israeli issue?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Very quickly.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: You always make a point – whenever you criticize the settlements and so on, you always make a point that also the Palestinians should stop their incitement and so on. I wanted to ask you something. The Israelis are increasingly besieging refugee camps, more checkpoints – they’re introducing more checkpoints and so on – like yesterday at the Jalazone refugee camp and so on, really causing a great deal of – and – or contributing to raising tensions between Palestinians and Israelis.
MR KIRBY: You’re talking about —
QUESTION: I wonder if that – those acts are not considered incitement by the Israelis.
MR KIRBY: You’re talking – what acts?
QUESTION: I talk about the – increasingly there are more checkpoints —
MR KIRBY: Checkpoints being —
QUESTION: — increasingly there are raids at night, they are arresting people – whole families and so on.
MR KIRBY: Well, look, as I said before, and specifically on checkpoints – or closures of them – that we would hope that any measures that Israel takes will be limited and will minimize the impact on the vast majority of non-violent citizens.
QUESTION: One other question. In my – in fact, in my neighborhood of Abu Dis, the Israelis went in this morning and ordered the mosques not to have the morning prayer for – call for prayer. Isn’t that an incitement? Isn’t that something that is – might incite the population and so on?
MR KIRBY: Look, you know I’m loath to get into characterizing each and every decision made and every comment put forth, but I think you also know, Said, how seriously here in the United States we take the right of freedom of religion. And we want to see people everywhere be able to worship the way they choose to worship. I think I’d leave it at that.
QUESTION: But that is a completely Palestinian town. I mean, there are no settlers in the city – in the town. The closest settlement is —
MR KIRBY: No, I —
QUESTION: They just went in and they enforced this order without giving an explanation.
MR KIRBY: I understand what you’re saying. I can’t confirm the specifics of what you’re saying, but in general, of course we always support the right of people to worship as they deem fit, as they believe.
Okay, thanks everybody. Have a great weekend. Oh, one thing before you go, before you go, before you go – and I meant to do this at the top, but you weren’t here. This is the last briefing that I have with Arshad. I know your last day is not today – it’s next week – but I will be on a trip and I won’t be here to —
MR KIRBY: What’s that?
QUESTION: I’ve already (inaudible).
MR KIRBY: I won’t be here for your last day. So I wanted to, on behalf of everybody that – in the Public Affairs Bureau, certainly on my behalf, thanks for your professionalism, for your dogged pursuit of some tough issues, and trying to get to the bottom, to get to the truth, to get the facts on issues. Anybody that’s stood up at this podium knows that you are no easy questioner, and that’s a credit to you and to the organization that you work for. When your hand goes up and I call on you, I know that I need to know what I’m talking about, because the questions are going to be smart and your expectations of answers – they’re going to be high. So I respect you as a professional. We’re going to miss you here. I know you’re moving – you’re still going to be covering us in a different capacity at Reuters. We wish you well in that endeavor, all the best. It’s a well-deserved move for you. But again, thanks for being such a pro.
And I think a round of applause. (Applause.)
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Have a good weekend.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:57 p.m.)