Daily Archives: August 29, 2016

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing – August 29, 2016

2:12 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Hi, guys.

QUESTION: Hi.

MR KIRBY: You’re the only one that said hi. Thank you. Thank you. (Laughter.) Okay, a couple of things at the top and then we’ll get right at it. Happy Monday to everybody.

On Yemen, the United States condemns today’s suicide bombing claimed by Daesh in Yemen that left more than 50 people dead and scores more injured. Obviously, we express our condolences to all those affected, to the families of the victims, and everyone else affected. Today’s attack underscores the urgency of a full and comprehensive settlement that will shrink the political and security vacuum that’s been created by the ongoing civil war there. In the absence of a political solution, we remain concerned that Daesh and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula will continue to take advantage of the instability, and innocent people will regrettably continue to suffer.

Last week in Jeddah, I think you all know, the Secretary laid out a path for a full and comprehensive settlement, and we urge parties to seize this opportunity and work constructively with the UN special envoy as he begins his consultations.

On Crimea, as we have said in the past since he was first taken into custody, we are extremely concerned by the detention of Crimean Tatar leader Ilmi Umerov. We understand that his health condition is now critical and that he remains in a forced psychiatric detention. This tactic of detaining dissidents in psychiatric wards is deeply troubling. We join the international community in calling on the Russian Government to release him now.

Then, on the Secretary’s schedule, I think you know he spent the day in Dhaka for his first official visit to Bangladesh. While there he met with the prime minister, expressing his condolences on recent terrible attacks there in Bangladesh and discussing our growing cooperation on a broad range of global and bilateral issues. He also met with the foreign minister to review our partnership on a broad range of issues, including democracy, development, security, and human rights.

Following their meeting, the foreign minister, Minister Ali, hosted a lunch with key government officials to focus on our growing partnership and regional security and in countering violent extremism. And he met with American and Bangladeshi embassy staff to thank them for their hard work and to express his condolences on the recent tragic loss of two of their colleagues.

The Secretary also met with Khaleda Zia, the leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Today, now – or I’m sorry, this evening, he has landed in New Delhi where he will participate in this year’s U.S.-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, and we look forward to providing more details on the dialogue in the next couple of days as events unfold. But it is evening there in New Delhi, so his day starts bright and early tomorrow in that dialogue.

So with that, I’ll take questions. Arshad.

QUESTION: Can we start with Syria? I have seen the tweets that Brett McGurk has put out. What I want to ask you about is the Turkish advance further into Syria and its operating – the Turkish military now operating in areas where Islamic State is not believed to be present. How concerned are you by the deepening operations, one? And two, why is it that the Assad government is not likely to ultimately be the beneficiary here if —

MR KIRBY: Why is Assad not the beneficiary?

QUESTION: Likely to be a beneficiary if the Turkish military is going after – potentially going after your allies, the YPG fighters who have been so effective against Assad’s forces.

MR KIRBY: Well, so the couple – there’s a lot there. Obviously, we’re closely monitoring these reports, the ones that you’ve suggested. And of course, you’ve seen Mr. McGurk’s Twitter activity which confirms all that. So we’re watching this area south of Jarabulus and north of Manbij where ISIL is no longer located, and the clashes yesterday and those today between Turkish armed forces and some opposition groups and Kurdish units that are affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces.

These actions were not coordinated with the United States and we are not providing any support to them. As I think the Pentagon noted yesterday, we’re going to remain closely engaged with Turkey and with the SDF, the Syrian Democratic Forces, and other coalition-supported actors on the ground in Syria to facilitate as best we can de-confliction. We call on all the armed actors on the ground to maintain a focus on Daesh, or ISIL as they’re otherwise known, which remains a lethal and common threat.

So we’re watching this closely. And as we said, as the Pentagon said yesterday, uncoordinated actions like this really aren’t getting us further along the path of defeating Daesh inside Syria.

Now, as for the benefit to the Assad regime, I mean, he has taken full advantage of the vacuum that his lack of leadership and governance has caused, particularly in the northern part of the country. Now, I don’t know if he has a reaction to these recent clashes or not, but we’ve long said that his lack of legitimacy to govern has allowed Daesh to grow and to fester inside Syria, that – and the Secretary has noted that there are if not deliberate, certainly consequential benefits that he has gained from what Daesh has been able to do.

So any effort that is taking away from our ability to defeat Daesh is certainly going – is certainly not helping the international community. It’s not helping the Syrian people. And it could be perceived by some as a potential benefit to Bashar al-Assad. But I mean, I think we’re two days into this. I think it’s a little too soon to sort of try to measure significant benefits to the regime at this point. But obviously, it’s not helping us as a coalition team and effort to do what we’re really designed to do militarily, what all of us are dedicated to doing militarily inside Syria, which is go after Daesh.

QUESTION: Do you have any influence, do you think, over Turkey and its military actions in Syria given that they didn’t even consult you most recently?

MR KIRBY: Well, Turkey is a NATO ally and Turkey is a member of the coalition to counter Daesh. And in the context of those two multilateral relationships as well as our bilateral relationship, we certainly routinely have discussions with Turkey about how efforts can be coordinated to go against Daesh inside Syria. I don’t know the degree to which there was prior consultation to these operations. As I understand it, there wasn’t much in the way of any advance notification, but I would refer you to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: I thought you said there was none. I thought you said these were un —

MR KIRBY: Uncoordinated.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR KIRBY: Right. But you’re asking about – coordination is different than consultation or information.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR KIRBY: As I understand it, and I would refer you to the Pentagon, but as I understand it, there was very little in the way of advanced notification. That’s a difference than saying coordination.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: In any event, we are in – as you might expect, given the events of the last two days, we certainly have been in contact with Turkish officials about these actions and, quite frankly, about the concerns we have in regard to the diminishing of an effect on Daesh and efforts to try to refocus everybody’s activities in that regard.

QUESTION: Could I ask about another potential beneficiary of this? The situation where your one ally is fighting the other when they are both supposed to be fighting ISIL and other terrorists, do you think this helps terrorists?

MR KIRBY: Do I think it helps terrorists? As I said to Arshad, I mean, if the terrorists we’re talking about is Daesh, and that’s principally the terrorist group that military efforts by the coalition are aimed at, these clashes that we’ve seen over the last two days are not helping us degrade and destroy Daesh as an entity any faster.

QUESTION: But the U.S. – just a few more, actually, on this topic —

MR KIRBY: I figured there’d be a few more.

QUESTION: On this very topic, yes. But the U.S. supports Turkey’s operations in Syria, doesn’t it?

MR KIRBY: We have certainly supported their efforts to contribute to military activities against Daesh. And with respect to the activities on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey, along that 98-kilometer stretch that we’ve been talking about that we’re talking about here today, yes, with respect to their efforts to try to better secure that border from access to terrorist groups like Daesh. We’ve been supportive of that as the effort.

QUESTION: Of that just – some rebels threatened to advance to Manbij —

MR KIRBY: I would say, though —

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: But before I leave that, because I want to make it clear we also continue to support the Syrian Democratic Forces, who have been brave and courageous fighters. And again, I think the Pentagon spoke to this yesterday, but we continue to support their efforts as well to go after Daesh. And they have been effective against Daesh in that part of Syria.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Some rebels threatened to advance to Manbij. Does the U.S. support that kind of advancement of Turkish-slash-rebel forces?

MR KIRBY: What we support is an effort to go after Daesh inside Syria, and as part of the broader coalition, Turkey’s efforts have in the past and continue to be very productive. As well, we continue to support Syrian Democratic Forces, the SDF, as they put pressure on Daesh. So if we’re talking about efforts on that side of the border and in that area that are designed to better speed the defeat of Daesh, then obviously we’re supportive. These clashes that we’re talking about over the last couple of days weren’t coordinated with the United States. We are not providing support to them, and as I said, we’ve urged all parties in this regard to refrain from fighting each other and focus their efforts instead on Daesh. That’s what we want to see happen.

QUESTION: Yeah. Turkey says it seized 10 villages from Kurdish control in Syria. There are reports of multiple casualties. Are the Syrian Kurds on their own now?

MR KIRBY: As I said, we continue to support the SDF, and that support’s going to continue.

QUESTION: Yes, the U.S. had – as you’re saying, the U.S. had supported Kurdish fighters, fought with them, trained them. Is Washington now doing anything or going to do anything to protect them from Erdogan, who openly states that one of his objectives in going into Syria is to go after Kurdish fighters, whom he considers terrorists?

MR KIRBY: The support to the SDF is going to continue as they continue to press the fight against —

QUESTION: Even protection from Erdogan and Turkey?

MR KIRBY: — as they continue to press the fight against Daesh. I’m not going to speak about military hypotheticals one way or another in terms of rules of engagement. What we want to see is that these clashes between the Turkish forces and SDF forces – we want to see that come to a close because that’s not advancing the overarching goal that everybody should be focused on, which is Daesh.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) to stop Turkey from going after —

MR KIRBY: Again, we’re engaging consistently and regularly with Turkish officials about this situation, as we are with our counterparts in the SDF.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you —

QUESTION: Just one —

MR KIRBY: No, I think I’ll go to him, and then to you, Dave.

QUESTION: The Turkish Government from the highest level, including President Erdogan – they have openly supported FSA’s attacks on the YPG. Erdogan has said the YPG should wait for the worst to happen to them, and the YPG and SDF in general are your effective partner. Do you at least condemn Erdogan’s remarks?

MR KIRBY: This – look, this isn’t about condemnation. This is about a genuine concern that we have that the effort against Daesh is not being assisted, not being helped, not being advanced by these clashes between Turkish forces on one hand and Syrian Democratic Forces on the other when all of us agree that Daesh is and needs to be the real enemy to be challenged and to be defeated. Everybody agrees that this is a group that needs to be stopped, including the Turks, and so we’re going to continue to consult with all sides to urge that the focus be put on Daesh and not one another.

QUESTION: So you’re not condemning what the Turks are saying, encouraging FSA to attack the Syrian Democratic Forces?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to make a habit of getting up here and responding to every bit of rhetoric, as I said, that comes out of Ankara. I’m just not going to do it. We’ve made our position very clear. The United States has been nothing but consistent about the focus that we want, which is on Daesh in Iraq and in Syria. And as a member of the coalition and as a NATO ally, we obviously want to look for continued cooperation by Turkey toward – to that end. And as I said, we also will support – have supported, will continue to support the SDF in their efforts to go after Daesh. These clashes – and look, I’m not – I don’t want to get into the history of the animosity and why it’s there. I think that’s self-evident. But they’re not doing anything – this energy that’s being applied to one another isn’t doing anything to help us as a coalition team and effort go against Daesh.

QUESTION: While the United States is openly telling the Kurdish forces to go to the east of the Euphrates River, otherwise they will not receive U.S. support. That’s what Joe Biden said in Turkey. On the other hand, you’re not willing to even condemn what the Turks are doing or encouraging – the —

MR KIRBY: I appreciate the effort to rephrase the question in another way. I’m not going to answer it any differently than I have in the past.

QUESTION: Do you get a sense that a separate war is starting within the war in Syria, and that by supporting Turkey’s operations in Syria, the U.S. may be – perhaps unintentionally is supporting the beginning of that separate war within a war?

MR KIRBY: What we’re – okay, so there’s a lot there. What we’re supporting in terms of Turkey intervention in Syria is efforts to go after Daesh and to help preserve that section of the border – not preserve it, but to secure it, that section of the border up near Manbij, that 98 kilometers – against the flow of foreign fighters and terrorist activity, which has long been a problem. We’ve talked about this many, many times here in this room, and we’ve certainly talked about it with our Turkish counterparts, about the importance of securing that stretch of border, and their intervention in Syria was designed at the outset for that purpose.

And so yes, are we supportive of that purpose and that effort? Absolutely we are. As I said, these clashes over the last two days were not coordinated with us, and we aren’t supporting them in any way. And then – I’m sorry, you had another question there. Was – I missed it.

QUESTION: No, do you get a sense that a separate war is beginning within the bigger war in Syria?

MR KIRBY: Oh, thank you for – yeah. Look, I mean, the effort – there’s two primary efforts that everybody – we believe the international community needs to focus on in Syria. One is the fight against Daesh. We’ve talked about that now over the last 10, 15 minutes of the briefing. The other one is, of course, the diplomatic effort to end the civil war. And as the Secretary has said – we were just in Geneva having a day-long meeting with our Russian counterparts about how to advance towards that goal – but as the Secretary has said himself, there are many conflicts that are happening inside Syria. There is the international fight against Daesh. There has been tensions between Turkey and Russia. There have been – obviously, there’s tensions between Turkey and the Kurds. There’s Shia/Sunni tensions. Not every opposition group espouses all the same objectives. And then you have al-Qaida in Syria, represented by al-Nusrah, that continues to pose a significant challenge to our ability to advance a peaceful solution.

So there are many conflicts inside the broader war inside – in Syria. And we’re as focused as much as we can on working our way through that. And again, militarily, we believe the focus has got to be on Daesh. There’s not going to be a military solution to the civil conflict in Syria, but there can be military solutions applied to that terrorist group. And politically, diplomatically, we’re focused on ending the civil war by finding a political solution that advances a transitional government structure.

That unfortunately can’t be advanced until we can get a meaningful cessation of hostilities applied nationwide, we can get better humanitarian access to more Syrians who are in desperate need. That can’t happen until the siege of Aleppo has been lifted. And again, that’s where the Secretary’s focus has been over the last several days.

QUESTION: With the situation being already complicated, as you described, do you think Turkey’s operations are making it even more complicated?

MR KIRBY: As I said earlier, the – these clashes over the last couple of days are not helping us advance the efforts against Daesh. Okay?

QUESTION: But you continue to —

MR KIRBY: Michel.

QUESTION: — support both sides.

MR KIRBY: Michel.

QUESTION: Is that correct?

QUESTION: Yeah. Most of the headlines in the last two days said that U.S.-backed force in north Syria are fighting each other. Where is the problem here? It looks like the U.S. is backing two parties fighting each other.

MR KIRBY: Michel, the support that we’ve been giving to fighters inside Syria has been in the realm of helping them as they fight Daesh. And so you’re talking about a dynamic here that’s just developed over the last several days. And – but prior to that, were we supporting groups of fighters that were going against Daesh in Syria? Absolutely we were. And we’ve talked about that many, many times. And as I – I think I answered quite a few times here, we were in support of efforts by Turkey to help secure that stretch of the border in Syria. But these clashes that we’ve seen are not helping us as a coalition advance the efforts against Daesh.

QUESTION: And my second question on Syria: After Secretary Kerry and Minister Lavrov meeting on Friday, is there any update on other meetings that happened during the last 48 or 72 hours between the two parties?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t have any – I don’t have any additional updates for you. Those meetings occurred, as you know, all day Friday. I’m not aware that there was any follow-up meetings over the course of the weekend. Our two teams, technical experts are supposed to meet again very soon in Geneva, but I don’t have an update for you.

QUESTION: And on Daraya, the Syrians, or the people of this village have left on Friday. And they’re talking now about al-Waer in Homs, the same scenario will happen in this village. Are you doing anything to prevent the same – the same Daraya scenario?

MR KIRBY: We’re doing everything we can to try to find a political solution to this conflict so that the people of so many Syrians – Syrian towns and villages don’t have to leave their homes, don’t have to abandon their businesses, don’t have to disrupt their lives, and either become victims or refugees. So we’re working very hard on that. Again, the Secretary has been laser-focused on trying to find an end to this civil war to prevent those kinds of conditions for so many millions of Syrians. And look, a big part of that is, in fact, the discussions that we’ve been having with Russia, who is – has been supporting the regime. And that’s why the Secretary was so engaged in Geneva on Friday, and I fully expect you’ll see him continue to stay very, very engaged going forward. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: In the discussions with Russia that have occurred —

MR KIRBY: Who are you?

QUESTION: Trey Yingst with One America News.

MR KIRBY: Okay.

QUESTION: Has there been —

MR KIRBY: Just wondering. I’ve never seen you before. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, sure. Yeah. Nice to meet —

MR KIRBY: I’m John Kirby, nice to meet you.

QUESTION: Nice to meet you as well. Have there been increased discussions about the use of chemical weapons in the civil war in Syria? We’ve seen reports this month of napalm-like substances and chlorine being used that have been —

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: — supported by the Assad regime and the Russians. What sort of conversations have taken place with —

MR KIRBY: We have raised our concerns about the use of chemical material as weapons with Russia routinely, even since we got the vast majority of chemical materials out of the country. We recognize and we know, and I think last week you probably saw OPCW issued a report that confirmed what we’ve been long saying – that we believe that, at least in the case of chlorine, an industrial agent that has peaceful purposes, the regime has used as a weapon of war, which is obviously a violation.

And we’ve been very clear in our conversations with our Russian counterparts about how unacceptable that is and have urged them to use the influence that we know they have on Assad to get those kinds of attacks to cease. Sadly, that hasn’t happened. Now why? I couldn’t tell you that, but we – nothing has changed about our deep concern about this and nothing is going to change about our deep concern or our efforts to try to get it to stop.

More critically – and I’m not saying – I’m not at all diminishing the terrible effect that these chemicals can have on people, obviously. But more critically, we’ve got to get a cessation of hostilities in place around the country so that the Assad regime can’t fly those kinds of missions against innocent civilians and drop barrels of chlorine on their own people, but it’s – it goes even beyond that. We want to see all attacks by the regime on the innocent people of Syria and, frankly, on groups that are party to the cessation of hostilities to stop. Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Iraq?

MR KIRBY: Iraq. Stunned. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay. Today a high-level KRG delegation, led by the Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, visited Baghdad and met with the Iraqi prime minister.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: What is the U.S. view on this? And did the U.S. play any role in trying to solve the problems between Erbil and Baghdad?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re in routine discussions, as you know, with the leaders from both Erbil and Baghdad. The Secretary was in Iraq not long ago. He met with leaders from both sides, as you have rightly asked me about in the past. Certainly, Brett McGurk, whenever he’s in the region, makes it a point to talk to both sides.

We strongly encourage dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad to try to work out these internal Iraqi issues, and so we’re aware of this particular meeting and we’re very supportive of them having that kind of a discussion and that kind of conversation to try to work this out between them. Did we set it up? No. Are we supportive of the fact that they did meet? Absolutely, we are.

QUESTION: Did you get any advance notice about it? Did they tell you they were going to have this meeting?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware. We can take that question for you and see if our embassy had any advance knowledge of it. I’m not aware that we did. But look, I mean, frankly, I’m not so sure that that’s all that important anyway. This – these issues are Iraqi issues. And sometimes I think we forget, because American forces were in Iraq for so long, that Iraq is a sovereign country and they should be working these issues out between them, themselves. And so, again, we – we’re pleased that this discussion happened. We’d like to see more and more of these kinds of conversations happening to try to resolve some of these differences, and we’re supportive of that. Whether we knew about it or not, again, I don’t know. Again, I also – not really sure how critically important that is that we did.

QUESTION: The prime minister met the ambassador as well – U.S. ambassador. Do you have a readout of his meeting?

MR KIRBY: I don’t. I don’t.

QUESTION: On the Syrian refugees, the White House has announced today that he fulfilled his promise on bringing 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. —

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — by this afternoon. Does that mean that in the months that it rests in the – before the end of the fiscal year, will you be able —

MR KIRBY: We got one month before the end of the fiscal year, my friend.

QUESTION: Yeah, I know.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: That’s what I’m saying.

MR KIRBY: You said “the months.” I think there’s one.

QUESTION: One month.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Are you able to bring more Syrian refugees to —

MR KIRBY: I suspect you’ll see what we think will be a continuation of the pace that we have set thus far. So I would fully anticipate that we will exceed – I mean, you’re right. We met the – we will meet the 10,000 figure today, and I would fully expect that you’ll see additional Syrian refugees admitted into the United States between now and the end of the fiscal year. How many I couldn’t predict, but it will be roughly on the same pace that we have achieved over the course of the late spring and summer, which has been about 2,000 per month. But again, I couldn’t give you an exact figure.

QUESTION: And when is the decision made on whether to continue that pace until the end of the Administration? Is that like a new – does the same pace remain in place until there’s a presidential decree?

MR KIRBY: Well, the President has set – he’s already set a goal of 85,000 total by the end of this fiscal year. We believe that we’re going to be on track to meet that. He has set a goal for Fiscal Year ’17 of 100,000 total, but he has not set a specific goal for next fiscal year of Syrian-specific refugees, and I certainly wouldn’t get ahead of any decisions he may or may not be making. But we —

QUESTION: But does he have to make a decision on that, or is it – does the current pace stay if no other order is made?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, our – the charge has been to bring in 10,000 in this fiscal year. We’re going to do that. As part of the larger effort to bring in 100,000 – the goal of 100,000 in Fiscal Year ’17, I think you can reasonably assume that some Syrians will be part of that, but I’m not – actually, I’m not – it’s not that I’m not aware. I know the President hasn’t made a decision about exactly how many Syrians will make up that 100,000. But I think, if I understand your question correctly, post October 1st —

QUESTION: Well, because I know that he makes a ruling once a year —

MR KIRBY: — do you – do we anticipate bringing in additional Syrians? I think yes, as a part of the 100,000 goal that the Secretary – I’m sorry, that the President set for Fiscal Year ’17. I just couldn’t tell you what – whether there’ll be a goal specifically set for that. That’s really a decision for the President to make, and I certainly wouldn’t get ahead of that.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. Government proud of its record in resettling Syrian refugees in the United States since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011?

MR KIRBY: I think the short answer to that question is yes, absolutely. But I’m not sure in what way you’re sort of referring to that effort.

QUESTION: Well, it’s – the numbers taken in, and I don’t remember them now – I know I had them at one point – but were quite low for a long time.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: And the —

MR KIRBY: You mean in terms of getting to the 10,000.

QUESTION: In terms of – well, in terms of just bringing Syrian refugees in, period.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: And I’m quite cognizant of the effort reached a month early now to bring in the 10,000, but there were a number of years where the U.S. was not resettling a whole lot of Syrian refugees despite the numbers of refugees that have gone to other countries. Obviously, neighboring countries is where they logically go.

MR KIRBY: It’s a little different situation there in Europe.

QUESTION: No, I know. I know. But – and I’m just wondering how, looking back over the last five years, the U.S. Government feels it’s done in terms of addressing this problem.

MR KIRBY: So it’s a great question, Arshad. I – absolutely, we’re proud of the efforts that we have – that we have expended towards the resettlement issue, particularly with Syrian refugees. And we’ve been able to do this while preserving a very stringent, strict vetting process. In fact, as I said before many times, the Syrian refugees are vetted more stringently than any other refugee to the United States.

Just as critically – and this is a really important point – resettlement is one option, but it is not the ideal option. It’s not the best option. And we focused our efforts on these 10,000 on the most vulnerable, the ones who are in most need of refuge. And again, the President set a pretty high bar with the 10,000, and again, we’re proud that we brought them in. But we’re equally as dedicated to our efforts to end the civil war in Syria so that people don’t have to flee, so that when this over they’ll have a home to go back to, whether it’s returning to Syria from the United States or from any other country that they’ve sought refuge in. That’s the goal here, because many of these people want to do that. They want to be able to pick up their lives. They just can’t right now.

Secondly, we remain the single largest donor to humanitarian assistance for refugees specifically in the region. And it wasn’t long ago that the Secretary announced even more funds for that effort. So we are – and part of the reason that’s important is because it’s designed to help care for them close to home so that, again, the expectation is that when you can find a peaceful end to the war in Syria, they can go home.

Okay. Thanks, everybody. Look, we’ve got one more. Go ahead.

QUESTION: All right, real quickly. On Russia and Iran, there are reports that Iran has deployed the S-300 advanced missile batteries outside the Fordow nuclear plant. I was just curious if you were aware of that and had any comment. And did the topic of these advanced weapons sales from Russia to Iran come up in the Secretary’s discussions with the foreign minister last week?

MR KIRBY: The focus on the meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov and his team yesterday was obviously on Syria. They did discuss other issues in the Middle East – Libya, Yemen. They certainly —

QUESTION: Ukraine?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I was going to get there. Thanks. (Laughter.) Obviously, they discussed Ukraine. I’m not aware that this particular issue came up on Friday. That said, it is an issue that the Secretary has been very clear with Foreign Minister Lavrov about in the past on numerous occasions that we’re concerned about the provision of sale to Iran of sophisticated defense capabilities such as this S-300.

Now, we’ve seen the reports of this deployment. Obviously, that’s of concern to us because we have long objected to the sale of Iran – of these kinds of capabilities. So as we get more information, obviously, we’re going to stay in close consultation with partners going forward.

Okay —

QUESTION: May I ask one refugee follow-up?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: So I’ve just checked the statistics, and unless I’ve got them wrong, which maybe I do, in FY13 the U.S. Government admitted 36 Syrian refugees; in FY14 it admitted just over 100; and in FY15 it admitted 1,682. And then obviously for FY – for the current fiscal year it’s going to be a big jump. I just want to make sure that you’re proud of that record.

MR KIRBY: We’re proud of the efforts that we have undertaken to try to bring an end to the war in Syria so that there doesn’t have to be refugees. The President noted himself when he set the 10,000 goal that, obviously, we can’t slam the door in the face of these desperate people. I wasn’t suggesting that in any of the given years that we couldn’t do more; and, in fact, we realized we could do more, which is why the President set that goal and why we met it, as you noted yourself, a full month early. And I fully expect we’ll exceed that goal before October 1st.

But what we remain dedicated to, and I believe the Secretary is proud of, is the larger, more comprehensive effort that the American people and this government has expended on trying to end the war in Syria, trying to degrade and defeat ISIL in Syria, and trying to provide the kind of humanitarian assistance – more than any other country – that can provide for the basic needs of those refugees who are in the region, who are very vulnerable because they’re still in the region but also close to home in the hope that they’ll have a home to go back to where they can live safely and securely.

Okay? Thank you.

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

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The South Coast Brekkie Wrap | Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Good morning here’s your headlines from around regional Australia and beyond. Scroll down and refresh for weather, road reports and more.

8.30am: That’s a wrap for this morning. Remember to check in on your local paper’s website for breaking news throughout the day.

8.27am: This little dog’s been on quite an adventure. 

Muggsy, the rare blue Chihuahua missing from a house in Lake Conjola, has been found safe and well in Queensland. 

In early August, Bronwyn Higgins, 35, of Berkeley lent Muggsy to a family friend to stud with their dog. However, when Bronwyn and her 12-year-old daughter, Ella visited the house they were told Muggsy was missing. Read all about it.

8.25am: The bushfire danger period (BFDP) in the Shoalhaven LGA starts on September 1. Find out more.

8.22am: Here’s a bit of simple fun.

8.16am: Shellharbour’s new look food precinct came another step closer to being complete on Monday with the opening of a new Grill’d restaurant near The Coffee Club and Max Brenner.  Read all about it.

Grill'd Shellharbour's Lube Markovski and Rob Gorgievski prepare for the big first day at the city's newest restaurant. Pic: Sylvia Liber.

Grill’d Shellharbour’s Lube Markovski and Rob Gorgievski prepare for the big first day at the city’s newest restaurant. Pic: Sylvia Liber.

7.57am: RESIDENTS of the Kiama municipality will head to the polls on September 10 for the local government elections.

n the lead-up, we’ll be asking a member of each of the six teams running questions related to their policies and the municipality overall. Find out more.

The Greens Party team. (Back row) Patrick McDonald, Andrew Sloan and Warren Holder. (Front row) Jodi Keast, Kathy Rice and Beth Woodstone.

The Greens Party team. (Back row) Patrick McDonald, Andrew Sloan and Warren Holder. (Front row) Jodi Keast, Kathy Rice and Beth Woodstone.

7.52am: A Bega woman who pleaded guilty to a shopping centre stabbing that left a woman fighting for life has been sentenced to more than five years jail. More details.

7.47am: Hollywood actor Gene Wilder, beloved star of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory along with countless other comedy classics, has died at the age of 83. Full story.

Gene Wilder as one of his most beloved creations - Willy Wonka.

Gene Wilder as one of his most beloved creations – Willy Wonka.

7.44am: Look what’s back. The movies will return to Batemans Bay when Perry Street Cinemas opens on Thursday.

The new cinema will occupy the same premises as Bay City Cinemas, which closed its doors in July. Find out more.

7.41am: A South Coast prisoner who escaped from Corrective Services custody last Monday by climbing out a bathroom window at Shoalhaven District Hospital has been recaptured in the Illawarra. Full story.

South Coast weather

Cloudy. Areas of morning fog. Winds N 15 to 20 km/h becoming light in the middle of the day then becoming N/NE 15 to 20 km/h in the early afternoon. Daytime maximum temperatures between 17 and 21.

Roads and rail

There are no issues to report on our roads yet. The trains are offering good service.

State of the nation

Need a national news snapshot first thing? Well, we have you covered. 

VICTORIA: Dairy farmers are being advised by researchers to adapt to predicted climate changes. The weather will only get drier, hotter and more variable which will affect dairy production, according to Dairy Australia. WestVic Dairy’s Land, Water and Carbon consultant Graeme Ward said climate change would gradually bring warmer weather, making dairy “less profitable”. Read more.

ORANGE, NSW: An 80-year-old woman dependent on her walking frame has asked for the thief who stole it from her shed to return it and a host of other valuables after suffering two break-ins in recent weeks. Read more.

 REDLANDS, QLD: The mother of a teenager addicted to ice has spoken about her desperate struggle and called on parents to educate themselves about drugs. The woman, who is not being named for her protection, said she “spied” on her son after she discovered his drug use. “I was shocked at how much ice was in this area,” she said. Read more.

► CASTLEMAINE, VIC: Castlemaine and Chewton residents could be spared the lingering smell of smoke that often accompanies the controlled burn period, after coming up with alternatives to reduce bushfire risk. Read more.

► BATHURST, NSW: A modern-day prospector believes he has found a billion-dollar seam of gold and copper just a few kilometres from the original Gold Rush fields at Hill End, north of Bathurst. Grasmont Exploration and Mining director Ian Morwood has taken out an exploration licences covering around 150 square kilometres of unexplored territory known as the Western Flank near Hill End. Read more.

LAUNCESTON, TAS: TasWater’s decision to reduce payments to the City of Launceston will cost the council $1 million a year. Northern councils earned $7.9 million from TasWater in 2015. Just over 50 per cent of the revenue was earned by Launceston, who has a 14 per cent share in TasWater with more than $4 million. This was a $548,000 jump on income the year before. Read more.

National news

► Dumped Northern Territory chief minister Adam Giles has left the door open to joining the Turnbull government, while rounding on Liberal predecessor Shane Stone. Mr Stone, who served as chief minister of the NT from 1995 to 1999, on Monday vowed to block any move to install Mr Giles in the federal Parliament following the Country Liberal Party’s electoral thumping on Saturday. It is not yet clear if Mr Giles will retain his Alice Springs-based seat, but the CLP has been wiped out in the landslide poll that installed Labor’s Michael Gunner as the new chief minister. Read more.

► Australia is building too many poor-quality high-rise apartment towers that are alienating to live in and have low environmental performance, one of the nation’s most widely respected residential architects has warned. Read more.

► Senate powerbroker Nick Xenophon has delivered a potentially fatal blow to the Turnbull government’s plan to hold a public vote on same-sex marriage. The South Australian independent and his newly elected team announced on Monday the party would not support a plebiscite, days after the Greens said they would vote to block enabling legislation in the Senate. Read more.

National weather radar

International news

► What does New Zealand have in common with Iceland? Both outrank Australia in the latest survey on global innovation. In fact, Australia lags well behind the likes of Japan, Canada and Finland. But all lag well behind the top three – Switzerland, Sweden and the UK – with even Ireland ranked well within the top ten. Read more.

► Czarlette Menzagopian was on her honeymoon in Miami last year when the credit card she shares with her husband was skimmed. The 28-year-old conference-and-events manager doesn’t know how it happened, but she knew something was wrong when she could not use her card to pay a hotel bill. Many retailers in the US still take signatures as the US is yet to fully transition to chip technology and PINs. Read more.

On this day

August 30, 1972: Happy birthday to this popular actress! Cameron Diaz turns 44 today. She’s known for a range of roles including in Charlie’s Angels, There’s Something About Mary and My Sister’s Keeper. She also voiced the character of Princess Fiona in the Shrek movies! Diaz is also a producr and former fashion model. On top of that, she’s released a book – find out more here: 

The faces of Australia: Kazz Tokek

Kazz Tokek almost lost her life to Lyme disease and now she is ready to grasp her second chance at life.

The Maitland woman spent six years suffering from a long list of ailments that started in 2006 after a series of tick bites in bush land in Queensland.

The disease wrecked havoc with her immune system and transformed the fit and energetic biologist – who could easily spend three days felling trees, chainsawing and chipping trees – into a frail woman who struggled to get out of bed and could only manage simple computer games and jigsaw puzzles.

Doctors continually dismissed her symptoms as anxiety, twelfth rib syndrome and anemia – or said there was nothing wrong with her – until a Lyme Literate Medical Doctor diagnosed her with the disease and the common co-infection Babesia in 2012. At that point she was frail and very ill.

A chance encounter with a Sydney chronic illness specialist saved her life through three years of intensive treatment.

But it was not cheap.

She was too sick to work for four years and had to sell her home, most of her belongings and use all of her savings to try to save her life. 

She has spent more than $450,000 on a disease that the federal government doesn’t believe exists in Australia. Read more.

The story The South Coast Brekkie Wrap | Tuesday, August 30, 2016 first appeared on South Coast Register.

UNODC Executive Director, in Nairobi, highlights need for regional cooperation to promote security, development

UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov met Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, attended the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI), and launched UNODC's new regional programme for Eastern Africa during a four-day visit to Nairobi, which concluded today. Photo: UNODC29 August 2016 – UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov met Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, attended the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI), and launched UNODC’s new regional programme for Eastern Africa during a four-day visit to Nairobi, which concluded today.

In his meeting with the President, Mr. Fedotov thanked President Kenyatta for Kenya’s long-standing partnership with UNODC, including with the development of the new regional programme to support Eastern African countries in promoting the rule of law, and realizing security, justice and health targets under the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Regional cooperation and inclusive approaches to development are essential to confront the challenges of drugs, crime, corruption and terrorism,” said Mr. Fedotov.

He further emphasized that “UNODC remains committed to working with Kenya and the countries of Eastern Africa to build robust criminal justice responses to terrorism, corruption, wildlife and forest crime, maritime crime, human trafficking and migrant smuggling; illicit drug trafficking and all other forms of organized crime.”

During his visit, the UNODC Executive Director also met with other high-level officials from the region, and attended the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) held in Nairobi, where he addressed the session on promoting social stability for shared prosperity.

On Monday, he launched the new UNODC Regional Programme for Eastern Africa at a high-level event focusing on the nexus between terrorism and transnational organized crime in the region.

“The link between terrorism and transnational organized crime has dire consequences for the entire region, undermining the rule of law and sustainable development. By helping countries implement Security Council resolution 2195, which stresses the need for regional coordination to fight cross-border terrorism, the Regional Programme will strengthen the capacity of East African member states to detect, prevent, and suppress these crimes at the national and regional level,” said Mr. Fedotov in his opening remarks.

“Let us work together to protect the people of Eastern Africa, to promote the rule of law and to ensure human security; let us work together to prevent the criminals and terrorists from profiting and plundering; let us work together to bring the new UNODC Regional Programme to life in the interest of the people of Eastern Africa, ” said Kenyan Attorney General Githu Muigai, in a statement delivered on his behalf by the Solicitor General of Kenya, Njee Muturi.

The launch event was attended by Justice Minister of Burundi, Aimée Laurentine Kanyana, Justice Minister of Comoros, Fahmi Said Ibrahim, Foreign Minister of Eritrea, Osman Saleh Mohammed, Justice Minister of Madagascar, Charles Andriamiseza, Justice Minister of Uganda, Kahinda Otafiire, and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs/International Affairs of Uganda, Henry Oryem Okello, as well as the Inspector General of the Kenyan Police, Joseph Boinnet and Mr. Muturi.

Ambassadors from donor countries as well as the representative of the African Union on peace and security, Admore Kambudzi, and the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi, Sahle-Work Zewde, also took part.

A signing ceremony was held at the conclusion of the event, and the resulting Nairobi Declaration was signed and witnessed by the African Union.

The new Regional Programme “Promoting the Rule of Law and Human Security in Eastern Africa (2016-2021)” covers 13 countries in the East African region (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda), the Horn of Africa (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia), and the Indian Ocean islands off the East African coast (Comoros, Seychelles, Madagascar and Mauritius).

It addresses five thematic areas – countering transnational organized crime and trafficking, countering corruption, terrorism prevention, crime prevention and criminal justice, prevention of drug use disorders and HIV and AIDS prevention and care – and builds on the success of the UNODC 2009-2015 Regional Programme for Eastern Africa.

Further information:

Executive Director’s speech at the launch of the Regional Programme for Eastern Africa

UNODC in Eastern Africa

Police drop charge against driver after double shooting

Mohammed Alameddine, left, leaves Bankstown Local Court with his lawyer Elias Tabchouri in April. Photo: Daniel Munoz

Mohammed Alameddine, left, leaves Bankstown Local Court with his lawyer Elias Tabchouri in April. Photo: Daniel Munoz

Police have dropped a charge against a man who drove his brother-in-law to hospital after a gunfight outside the business linked to slain crime figure Walid “Wally” Ahmad.

Mohammed Alameddine, 26, was due to face Bankstown Local Court on Monday to dispute allegations he had not told police all he knew about the fatal confrontation in April.

This is the moment Walid Ahmad is shot dead at Bankstown Central shopping centre.

The shooting on April 9 occurred outside The A Team Body Works in Condell Park. Photo: Supplied

The shooting on April 9 occurred outside The A Team Body Works in Condell Park. Photo: Supplied

However, moments before the three-hour hearing was set down to start, the prosecutor indicated the charge of concealing a serious indictable offence would be withdrawn.

Mr Alameddine, who had pleaded not guilty, was one of three men pressed with that charge following the shooting on Ilma Street in Condell Park.

‘There was blood everywhere’: driver in Condell Park double shooting charged

His brother-in-law, Abdullah El Masri, 25, ended up in a coma after he was shot in the jaw during the confrontation.

Safwan Charbaji, 32, died after being shot in the head.

Mahmoud "Brownie" Ahmad, left, left Australia and traveled to Lebanon after the Condell Park shooting. Photo: Supplied

Mahmoud “Brownie” Ahmad, left, left Australia and traveled to Lebanon after the Condell Park shooting. Photo: Supplied

Mr Alameddine later told police that he got a call on the afternoon of April 9 to come down to Ilma Street, home to The A Team Body Works. The smash repairs was linked to standover man Ahmad.

When he got there, he claimed he found someone leaning over an injured Mr El Masri. He drove his brother-in-law to Bankstown Hospital, where police later arrived.

Mr Alameddine was only identified as the driver two days later when he went to the police station to try to get his white Toyota back.

He described the shooting to police as a “bad scene” with “blood everywhere”, the court had previously heard.

CCTV shows the moment an unidentified killer fatally shot Walid Ahmad at Bankstown Central shopping centre. Photo: Supplied

CCTV shows the moment an unidentified killer fatally shot Walid Ahmad at Bankstown Central shopping centre. Photo: Supplied

However, detectives formed the view there was something lacking in Mr Alameddine’s version and charged him with concealing a serious indictable offence.

The withdrawal of the charge on Monday appeared to support the initial submissions from Mr Alameddine’s lawyer Elias Tabchouri, who questioned what evidence there was that his client had misled police.

“We are very happy with the result,” Mr Tabchouri said outside court on Monday.

The Condell Park shooting was believed to be linked to a dispute over $100,000 between some members of the Elmir and Ahmad families. 

Safwan Charbaji was fatally shot outside The A Team Body Works. Photo: Facebook

Safwan Charbaji was fatally shot outside The A Team Body Works. Photo: Facebook

Two other men, a 22-year-old who cannot be identified and Adam Abboud, are also facing conceal serious indictable offence charges and are due to face a hearing in November.

Crime figure Walid "Wally" Ahmad, who was shot dead at Bankstown Central shopping centre. Photo: Supplied

Crime figure Walid “Wally” Ahmad, who was shot dead at Bankstown Central shopping centre. Photo: Supplied

The pair allegedly drove Mr Charbaji, who is linked to the Elmir family by marriage, to hospital after he was shot.

The leading theory under investigation is whether a bizarre fake kidnapping plot was at the centre of the Condell Park conflict.

It is understood the plot involved Wally Ahmad’s brother, Mahmoud “Brownie” Ahmad, secretly colluding with a relative of the Elmir family to concoct a fanciful kidnapping.

The Elmir relative would pretend to be a hostage, whose release could only be achieved at a cost of $100,000.

However, police believe the Elmirs, instead of handing over the cash, drove over to confront the Ahmad brothers at The A Team Body Works, culminating in the gun fight.

Police believe Fawaz Mohammed Elmir, 48, was at the Condell Park shooting and a warrant for shoot with intent to murder is out for his arrest.

Detectives also want to talk to Brownie Ahmad but he, too, is nowhere to be seen after travelling to Lebanon in the days after the shooting.

Speculation is rife among underworld and police circles that Brownie Ahmad will return to Australia to face the allegations against him. However, it is understood he has claimed that it was Wally who fired the lethal shots on April 9.

Brownie, a figure whose volatile nature is well-known to police and his associates, told Fairfax Media in June he was not running or hiding.

“Tell the cops to get their facts right first,” he said.

Wally was gunned down while sitting at a cafe at Bankstown Central shopping centre three weeks after the Condell Park conflict.

It was a blow to south-west Sydney’s criminal underworld, in which Wally held a feared and long-running reputation.

One obvious motive for Wally’s death was retribution for the shooting of Mr Charbaji, linked to the Elmir family.

Yet detectives haven’t ruled out the possibility someone else with an axe to grind used the Condell Park shooting as cover to carry out their own revenge.

Two separate strike forces led by the Homicide Squad are investigating the shootings.

No one has been charged over either man’s death.

Belt and Road Forum to Give Further Support to Chinese Energy Enterprises

YANTAI, China, Aug. 29, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — Chinese energy enterprises need repositioning themselves for going out and conducting international cooperation on production capacity, Ian He, CEO of Jereh Group said Thursday at the International Energy Investment & Financing Cooperation Forum held in Yantai, China.

Further Support to Chinese Energy Enterprises from Governments and Financial and Institutions.

Photo – http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20160827/401907

The forum is organized by China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Machinery and Electronic Products (CCCME) and Jereh Group. The ambassadors and counselors of embassy in China from more than 10 countries such as UAE, Egypt, Algeria and Ethiopia presented their support of more participation of Chinese private enterprises in local projects. And the management of SINOSURE introduced the financial policy support and challenges for energy investment cooperation.

According to the report by World Bank in June, 2016, the global economic recovery continues but remains weaker than desirable. And the Belt & Road will provide it with a much needed boost. There are many preferential policies to encourage international investment in the countries along the new Silk Road with different models. “They can help companies solve the financing bottlenecks and reduce business transaction costs of transnational business. For example, SINOSURE and Jereh Group have established a comprehensive strategic partnership to support their going out.” said Mr. Chang, the general manager assistant of SINOSURE Shandong Branch.

The Minister Counsellor of Ethiopia Embassy in China, Mr. Asaye Alemayehu, expressed on the speech that the Sino-Ethiopia friendship and win-win partnership will promote more cooperation on energy infrastructure, social infrastructure and manufacturing.

Along the new Silk Road, Jereh has established good presence in the African oil and gas market. It provides integrated solutions across the whole value chain, including drilling, gas treatment, compression, as well as power plant and infrastructure. “We also should have a clear mind that Chinese enterprises including Jereh, should do more when going out, including the ability to do long-term planning, the ability to control the risk and the ability to get identity recognition.” said Ian.

About Jereh

As a global project developer and contractor, we deliver integrated solutions flexibly and efficiently (investment, financing and contracting) across the entire project life cycle. Now we have built advantages in the areas of oil and gas, power, infrastructure and environment: upstream exploration & production, engineering contracting, technology services, operation & maintenance as well as equipment manufacturing and trading.

For more information, welcome visit www.jereh.com.