Daily Press Briefing: 2015 Strategic Dialogue

2:08 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Happy Tuesday.

MR KIRBY: Indeed. Okay. A couple things at the top, short and sweet.

I want to announce upcoming travel by the Secretary. He will visit London from September 18th to September 20th to meet with UK Foreign Minister Philip Hammond to discuss bilateral and global issues, including the ongoing crisis in Syria and the refugee situation, of course, in Europe. While in London, Secretary Kerry will also meet with the United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed to discuss also a variety of regional and bilateral issues.

Tomorrow – actually this week, the United States welcomes representatives from the Government of South Africa to Washington for the 2015 Strategic Dialogue. Established in 2010, the Dialogue was created to seek common ground on key issues influencing the U.S. and South Africa’s bilateral relationship. This year’s Strategic Dialogue, led by Secretary Kerry and the foreign minister of South Africa, will focus on key bilateral issues such as health cooperation, trade and investment, and peace and security.

Matt.

QUESTION: I understand that Secretary Kerry has been in touch with his Russian counterpart.

MR KIRBY: He did speak by phone with Minister Lavrov today. I don’t have a readout of that call for you. I suspect we’ll be able offer something to you a little bit later.

QUESTION: Can we faithfully assume, though, that it was about Syria or that was a large reason for the phone call?

MR KIRBY: I know that Syria was certainly on the agenda of topics that the Secretary wanted to raise with the foreign minister. But again, I haven’t got a readout of that call yet.

QUESTION: Can you say if you, today, have a better understanding of what it is the Russians are exactly doing there, particularly given President Putin’s comments this morning about – well, basically reiterating earlier comments made by Russian officials that you can’t fight the Islamic State group without helping – or without the help of the Assad regime or without cooperating with them, and again calling on other countries to join Russia in supporting the Assad regime?

MR KIRBY: I would – I think in terms of what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, I’ll let their comments speak for themselves on that. We’ve seen multiple, now, public comments, including by the president this morning. I think we’ll let them stand on what they’ve said in terms of what they’re doing. And I’m not going to get into, as I wouldn’t, characterizing in any more detail what we see about their activities.

But I’d go back to what I’ve been saying. Nothing’s changed about the fact that we don’t want to see the Assad regime getting any support. There can’t be a role of the Assad regime in efforts to stabilize the situation in Syria, much less go against ISIL. And there is an international coalition fighting ISIL, 62 some-odd nations. And as I said yesterday, we’d welcome a constructive role by Russia in those efforts. But it can’t begin and it can’t continue under a condition where the Assad regime continues to get military support.

QUESTION: Well, I guess maybe I’d put it this way. Are you concerned at all that Russia is trying to create its own coalition that is also an anti-ISIL coalition, but is, at the same time, a pro-Assad coalition. In other words, they – are you concerned at all that they could bring in other countries, likeminded countries – and there are several that we know of – and that basically there could be two competing coalitions?

MR KIRBY: I would say, Matt, that what we’re concerned about is any support that bolsters the Assad regime’s ability to continue to have within their means the capabilities of rendering further violence inside the country. So what we’re concerned about is continued support for the Assad regime.

There’s no need for another international coalition against ISIL when 60-plus nations are already aligned and having an effect against ISIL, not just in Syria but also in Iraq. So I’ll let the Russians speak for themselves in terms of what they may be trying to achieve, but I would tell you that there’s already an international coalition dedicated to that. As we’ve said, we would welcome a constructive role by Russia to aid those efforts. But what – but you know who can’t be a part of that coalition is Bashar al-Assad and the regime.

QUESTION: Well, okay. But there is – I mean, a coalition I suppose is more than two members, but there is at least a two-member international coalition that is supporting Assad and fighting ISIL. Right?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that I would call them —

QUESTION: Iran and Russia.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that I’d call Iran and Russia a coalition, but what do they have in common? They – what they have in common is support for the Assad regime.

QUESTION: Right. And would you put Iraq in that group now, considering that they are not heeding calls to stop Russian use or Iranian use —

MR KIRBY: I would absolutely not include Iraq in that.

QUESTION: So they’re part of your coalition?

MR KIRBY: Iraq is a partner in our coalition against ISIL. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Well, how can they be a partner in your coalition if it’s supporting the Assad regime?

MR KIRBY: They’re not supporting the Assad regime.

QUESTION: Well, they’re enabling support for it.

MR KIRBY: In what way?

QUESTION: Well, they’re allowing these flights to go —

MR KIRBY: Well, look, again, I’m not going to speak to the specific air corridors that may or may not be used. As I said earlier, we’ve asked our friends and partners to pose tough questions to the Russians about – in terms of air logistics.

But Iraq has been a staunch – and let me – I just want to make sure I make this clear: they’ve been a staunch and steadfast member of this coalition, and Prime Minister Abadi has made significant progress in trying to create a government, as he said he would, that is inclusive and representative of all Iraqis to help get at this very significant threat inside his country. And we have, as you know, troops dedicated on the ground to try to improve their battlefield competence. So Iraq is absolutely a valued member of this coalition and has – obviously, has a lot at risk and at stake here.

QUESTION: Can you quantify in any way the degree to which Russia has increased its involvement in Syria? I mean, knowing that the Russians, or the former Soviet Union, was involved militarily in Syria for a very long time – since 1971. How is their current presence different? I mean, they always had teams for training and directing even radar systems and so on. So how is the presence today in terms of quantity different?

MR KIRBY: I actually am not going to be able to answer that question, Said. I think those are questions you should ask Moscow about what’s changed today from last week or two weeks ago. Yes, they have had a long security relationship inside Syria. They have had a long military presence inside Syria, and we have seen over the last several years them resupplying existing assets that they have there and fulfilling what they have said are contractual obligations to the security relationship with Syria.

What we’ve seen in just the last few days, last week or so, has been increased activity that was opaque. Now, we’ve also seen in recent days Russian leaders come out and talk publicly about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. It doesn’t make it any more comfortable. It doesn’t make it any more appropriate, in our view. But in terms of what exactly is on the ground, what they’ve moved, how often they’ve moved it, I’m not going to get into those kinds of assessments.

QUESTION: Outside the reports about Russia’s presence, have you been able to determine or see any, let’s say, reconnaissance flights by Russian fighter jets in Syria’s airspace?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to get into operational assessments.

QUESTION: If I may, I want to follow up with – on Syria. Today, the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had an interview in Arabic with Russia Today, and he basically was saying, “Look, I mean, let’s all fight ISIS together” – he’s talking to the opposition – “and then we will move forward, we’ll move on to a political resolution.” Would that be acceptable to you? Do you feel that there is a sort of backtracking from, let’s say, the heightened rhetoric of six months ago?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen some excerpts of that interview that you’re talking about. Obviously, this is not a man whose word can be taken at face value.

I’m not – nothing has changed about our position with respect to what needs to happen in terms of a political transition away from Assad. There’s absolutely no change in our position there that the future of Syria can’t include Assad. And you need to remember that this is the same man who drops barrel bombs on his own people, so let’s keep it in perspective here when we’re talking about assertions he has made about fighting terrorists. He is the reason that ISIL has been allowed – and not just ISIL but other extremist groups have been allowed to fester and grow and sustain themselves inside Syria.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, John, but I want to press on this point because, you see, you keep saying that there is no military solution to Syria, and on the other hand you have a factor that is the regime and its followers, and in fact, a big portion of the population that adhere to the regime. But you’re saying that they cannot be part of this transitional process. Is that what you’re saying?

MR KIRBY: I’m saying that Bashar al-Assad can’t be a member of a coalition that’s fighting ISIL inside Iraq and inside Syria. He’s the reason why we are where we are with ISIL, point one. Point two, there are military solutions to going after ISIL, and we’ve been doing that quite effectively. And what we’ve said is what has to happen in the long run to defeat an enemy like this is good governance: good governance in Iraq, and I just talked about some of the steps that Prime Minister Abadi has been and continues to take in that regard; and good governance in Syria, which means a political transition away from Bashar al-Assad. Eventually, a political transition inside Syria away from Assad could be a factor – I think – we believe will be when its effected, assuming ISIL remains a threat, will be a factor in eventually degrading and defeating ISIL. I mean, again, because good governance matters here for a long-term, sustainable defeat.

QUESTION: Still on Syria. The Guardian ran an interview with the former Finnish president, who said that in 2012 the Russians basically offered to help negotiate a political exit for Bashar al-Assad and that the U.S. and the UK, among others, basically ignored the offer from Russians. Is that true?

MR KIRBY: I have nothing on that. I’ve seen those reports, but I have nothing to confirm that one way or the other. I think history speaks for itself in terms of who’s supporting Assad and who has historically – before 2012 and after 2012 – supported Assad and who’s doing it today as we speak. And I think those actions speak much louder than any words in terms of what may or may not have been debated over Assad’s future.

QUESTION: The former Finnish president also told The Guardian that as best as he could tell, the assumption at the time was that Assad was perhaps in the final few weeks of his presidency and that it basically wasn’t going to be worth trying to have any sort of organized negotiation. I know this predates your time at this podium, but are you aware – have others in this building said whether or not that judgment was made that it was basically a matter of waiting out Assad’s imminent departure at that time?

MR KIRBY: I know of no policy or decision to say that we were simply going to wait him out, no. I don’t know of any – I have seen no indications of that whatsoever. And again, there’s been a lot of energy applied internationally to try to get at a political transition.

To Said’s question, obviously there’s a military component to going after ISIL, but the commander-in-chief has been crystal clear for a long time that there’s not going to be a military solution to the – overall, the larger effort in – the larger conflict in Syria. This regards the regime. There has to be a political transition, and there has been a lot of energy applied to that and will continue to be, as I’ve said before.

QUESTION: And then a housekeeping question on the Secretary’s phone call to Mr. Lavrov. Did the Secretary initiate the call or did Mr. Lavrov call him?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary initiated it.

Yes.

QUESTION: Another follow-up. Thank you. Andrei Sitov, from Tass. Why was Assad a legitimate partner for the chemical weapons and he is not a legitimate partner for fighting ISIL?

MR KIRBY: Well, a couple of things. First, we’re not – we weren’t – you’re talking about getting the chemical material out?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: That wasn’t chemical weapons. It was chemical material —

QUESTION: Okay. Chemical material —

MR KIRBY: — and it was declared stockpiles. And I don’t remember anybody calling him a legitimate partner. The international community worked to get those declared stockpiles out. So I don’t remember anybody calling him a partner.

QUESTION: Chemical stockpiles were moved out, and he was praised by the efforts in general. And all participants, including himself, were praised by a United Nations resolution. So he was, for all practical purposes, he was a partner there. Why can’t he be a partner now?

MR KIRBY: He can’t be a partner in the coalition to go after ISIL because he’s a major reason they’re there. And if your contention is that, well, he allowed for the declared stockpiles to leave his country – yes, he did. And yes, that was an international success getting those materials out of his country, out of his hands, and neutralized. But we still don’t know what undeclared assets he might have at his disposal, and we still see the man dropping barrel bombs on his own people. So there’s why he can’t be a member of the coalition.

QUESTION: Still now they are using chemical weapons?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to speculate about allegations of specific chemical weapons. We have seen reports that he certainly has – or seen reports that he’s used chlorine as a weapon, which is a violation. But frankly, if you’re being barrel bombed, the fact that you’re being barrel bombed alone is enough.

QUESTION: I’m not a military person. I don’t know what a barrel bomb mean – means. The assertion —

MR KIRBY: Well, maybe you should ask some Syrians about that.

QUESTION: Yes, right. The assertion that you are making that he’s the reason for ISIL is also disputed. Many people in my part of the world believe that the reason for the ISIL existence is the policy of regime change that is pursued by the U.S. and the American allies. What is your response to that?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to dignify that with an answer.

Next question. Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you. On North Korea —

QUESTION: Well, wait. Can I just – I just want one more briefly on this. And this is the curious and the – well, I don’t know about curious, but the use all of a sudden of the word “double down” by everyone in the – from the President on down, doubling down on, the Russians doubling down on Assad and the fact that this is a strategy doomed to failure and that it’s – the White – your colleague at the White House said today doubling down on Assad is a losing bet.

But isn’t it at the same time true that the United States has doubled down on this idea that the – Assad’s days are numbered? And I’m just wondering, if you were a betting man, whether it’s smart to continue to double down on the idea that his days are numbered when he’s been in there for so long since you said – since the Administration came out and said that? Why do you think that your bet is a better bet than the Russians?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not a betting man, and I don’t believe anybody has said that by virtue of what we’ve been saying the last week or so with respect to this activity, or even in the last several months, that we are doubling down. Our policy, our pursuit of a stable, secure Syria has been pretty consistent, and what we’ve said is it can’t include Bashar al-Assad. I’m not aware of any efforts to double down necessarily.

QUESTION: Well – well, I mean, President Putin and other Russian officials before him have said look, other countries should join us – Russia – in supporting Assad. And by absolutely refusing to do that, I think you can make the case that that’s doubling down on the policy that his days are numbered and he’s —

MR KIRBY: No, I think it’s not doubling down, Matt. I’d say it’s consistent. We have been consistently in favor of a political transition away from Assad.

Yes.

QUESTION: Another on Syria. The French prime minister has said that France will decide alone of its targets when conducting airstrikes in Syria to fight the Islamic State group, which seems to indicate they are deciding their own targets and perhaps acting unilaterally. Is this something that’s concerning to you?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those reports, and I would point you to the Pentagon to speak to the air campaign and how that’s coordinated. That’s not something we would speak to at the State Department.

Yes.

QUESTION: Today, Ambassador Brett McGurk tweeted two pictures of two Kurdish leaders – one from Syria and one from Iraq – meeting. And he said this is for joint efforts against ISIL. Are there any joint efforts between Iraqi Kurds and Syrian Kurds now against ISIL?

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen – I mean, there has been – in Kobani there was some.

QUESTION: Recently?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to get into operational assessments. Ambassador McGurk is there on the ground, and I would let his communications speak for themselves. I don’t have an operational assessment for you on who’s working together tactically. I’d point you to the Pentagon for that, but we’ve seen that kind of cooperation in the past.

More critically, we’ve seen continued cooperation between the Iraqi Government in Baghdad and the regional government in Erbil, and there’s a new joint command and control coordination center, I think it’s called, which will be manned by coalition members as well as KRG and Government of Iraq personnel. So there continues to be a strong level of cooperation up there in the north, and we encourage that.

QUESTION: Can you tell us the status of Ambassador Ratney? What is he doing now? Where is he?

MR KIRBY: He is traveling in the region. I’m – I don’t have an exact itinerary for him here today, but he is traveling in the region.

QUESTION: So may I finish my line of questions? I just wanted maybe to ask a couple more. The first one is: Are you saying that Assad is basically responsible for all the turmoil in the region that is now – that we can see in Iraq, in Libya, in Mali, and elsewhere?

MR KIRBY: I never said that. He is responsible for the turmoil inside Syria.

QUESTION: So the – even if we take Syria out of that equation, other countries that have gone through regime changes with your help and with your encouragement – are they better off now?

MR KIRBY: Is Iraq better off without Saddam Hussein and with a democracy?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR KIRBY: Yes, they are. And I think if you talk to many Iraqis, they would share the same opinion. I’m not going to dignify your claim, though —

QUESTION: Is Libya better off?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to go through this with you.

QUESTION: Is Libya better off than —

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to go through this with you.

QUESTION: — when it was —

MR KIRBY: I am not going to dignify the line of your questioning or the false claims that you’re making. I’m not going to answer any more questions on this from you.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: John, one more on Russia, Syria. Today, President Putin also said that people are fleeing the terrorists in Syria because of arms being delivered from abroad, and obviously he’s talking about U.S. arms making their way into the hands of extremists, and that’s exacerbating the refugee crisis. Does he have a point when we think about, as we’ve talked about in Pentagon briefings, airdrops? We see M-16s – radicals holding American-made M-16s on video, and the Syrian training program that is having a tough time starting, there may be some defections there. So what do you think of his comment? Does he have a valid point?

MR KIRBY: People are leaving Syria for lots of reasons, I suppose. It’s a dangerous, unstable, insecure place. That’s because ISIL continues to hold sway over certain areas inside Syria. It’s also because the Assad regime has allowed groups like ISIL to fester and grow inside the country, and the Assad regime itself has perpetrated violence on its own people. To make the argument that they’re leaving because U.S. arms and material assistance to pro-coalition fighters or anti-ISIL fighters I think is a huge stretch. They’re leaving because they’re being barrel bombed and because this regime has allowed terrorism to fester and grow.

And frankly, I find it incredible that today I’m – there are lines of questions being posed to me that would implicate that people actually think Bashar al-Assad is good for Syria and that his continued tenure in the country is a healthy thing. I mean, and that’s where some of these questions are coming from, and I find that absolutely astounding, given what this man has done to his own people and how many other countries – not just the United States, but how many other countries – are engaged in a lengthy, dangerous, complicated fight against an enemy inside his country that he has allowed to come in and to grow there.

QUESTION: So doesn’t the strategy, even if – separate from that, our strategy for countering ISIL – do you think he has a point that these arms are making their ways into the hands of extremists? Separate from what you believe about Assad —

MR KIRBY: We’ve talked about this before. I mean, we’re very careful about who we give arms to and how they’re trained to use them and how they use them. Can it be perfectly guaranteed that they’re never going to fall into the arms – to the hands of people that we don’t want to have them? No, and you don’t have to look any further than – excuse me – a year and four months ago when Mosul fell and ISIL’s driving around in American-made Humvees. I get it. But we do the best we can. So I can’t sit here and guarantee you that no rifle or no piece of military equipment that has been given to and has been trained on by an opposition member, for instance, in this train and equip program is going to – isn’t going to find its way into somebody’s hands. But to say that that is the reason why —

QUESTION: I think —

MR KIRBY: — millions of Syrians have left the country in the last two and a half years is ludicrous.

QUESTION: But the idea that it contributes, that it’s a contributing factor – not the only reason, but —

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I just – as I said, I don’t believe we would share that view. We – I think it’s pretty obvious that Bashar al-Assad is the reason Syria is in the mess it is right now, and therefore is the reason why, on so many levels, support – the tacit support to ISIL as well as his own violence on so many levels is the reason why people are fleeing that country.

QUESTION: Regarding the future of Bashar al-Assad, the – the Russian foreign minister said earlier today that perhaps it’s time for the U.S. President and for the Russian president to talk about how to get him out of power. Can you find out whether that came up during the Secretary’s conversation with Mr. Lavrov?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, when we have a readout to share with you about the call, we’ll read it out. And I don’t know what’s going to be in that readout because I have not talked to the Secretary since the call happened. It happened very recently, so —

QUESTION: Just in terms of your observation about the line of questioning, I can’t speak for everyone who’s asking these questions, but I just want to point out that these questions are about your policy of considering and still considering Assad to be illegitimate and whether or not you could agree or accept the idea that the Russians have raised that, in fact, cooperating with the regime would be one way to defeat ISIL quicker. They’re not about – they’re about U.S. policy; they’re not about saying that Assad is better or that – or at least mine, and I think some others, are not about trying to suggest that Assad should somehow – is good for the country.

MR KIRBY: I disagree, Matt. No, no, I disagree. I think – look, I think fair questions and hard questions about policy is – are absolutely right. But I do think there is an implication in some of these questions that – because some people think a future for Syria which includes Assad or that support for Assad or a change in our attitude about support for Assad would be helpful does indicate that there’s at least, I think, an implication in some of the questions that there should be support for this man. And obviously, that’s not how we feel, have not ever felt, and have no intention of changing.

QUESTION: So then coming at it from the opposite end – again, about U.S. policy – if that’s the way you feel, why haven’t you moved to take him out? You had chances over and over and over again.

MR KIRBY: What chances?

QUESTION: To get rid of him. The – with the chemical weapons and the military and the airstrikes that McCain were talking – and obviously, you weren’t going to target him for assassination, but the opposite argument, if you want to make the argument, there are – there are plenty of people up on the Hill right now who say that the Administration has not done enough to act on its decision that Assad is illegitimate in its view.

MR KIRBY: We are working very hard towards the same goal, which is a political transition away from Assad.

Yes.

QUESTION: Apologies if this came up already, but does the State Department have a response to the Guardian report that the Russians made an offer for Assad to step down in 2012?

MR KIRBY: Yep. It came up; already answered it.

Yeah, Goyal.

QUESTION: India. Quick question. One, where do you put now as far as the U.S.-India relations are concerned before next week strategic dialogue starts between the two countries? And what are we expecting from this dialogue?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think we’ll have more to say about the dialogue next week. We’ll have more, I think, towards the end of this week to talk about it. We’re very much looking forward to the discussions. There are – as you know, Goyal – a spade of issues that we want to continue to work on with India. It’s a strong relationship; we want to find ways to make it stronger, whether that’s the economic through development programs, and just increase cooperation on the security front. So there’s lots to talk about. We’re very much looking forward to it. I’ll have a little bit better sense for you as we get closer to the end of the week.

QUESTION: What I was asking was really that India – India’s Prime Minister Modi last year when he was here at the U.S., in the U.S. and also at the United Nations, he was asking that India should be part of the UN general – Security Council or expansion of the UN Security Council. Do you think this time to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the United Nations he’s going to put again this question, including maybe the delegation here including the foreign minister?

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t speak for Prime Minister Modi or what he’s going to propose at the General Assembly coming up, and I certainly wouldn’t speak for the UN in this regard.

Yeah.

QUESTION: A quick one on Iraq?

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Syria? Two questions. So White House and Department of State say that United States would welcome Russian constructive role in fighting ISIL. So can you clarify what does it mean exactly? On the ground maybe, or some different ways?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any more detail to flesh that out with. A constructive role can mean a lot of things, and it doesn’t just have to be military. It can’t mean, as I’ve said before, support for the Assad regime. And as I’ve said before, the most constructive thing they can do is to stop aiding and abetting and supporting the Assad regime.

QUESTION: On Iraq?

QUESTION: May I ask second question?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead. Yeah, it’s just one more?

QUESTION: One more question. And yesterday White House said that if Russia continues to support Assad, it would lead to isolation of Russia. So what does it mean? It means new sanctions against Russia or something else?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to speculate. I think the comment stands for – speaks for itself. I mean, it very well could mean increased isolation for Russia. The kind of isolation that they are experiencing with respect to what they’ve done inside Ukraine. The international community is aligned against Russia’s actions inside Ukraine, remains against that – remains aligned against that, and it could very well lead – these actions inside Syria could very well lead to further isolation for Russia.

QUESTION: So —

MR KIRBY: But I’m not going to speculate about —

QUESTION: New sanctions.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate about future sanctions. We have a variety of tools at our disposal, but I’ve got nothing to announce or speak to today.

Yeah.

QUESTION: I have a question on China. Based on your discussions in the lead up to the visit, is there any evidence that Beijing is willing to have kind of a frank and candid conversation about OPM breach or reports that they’re using data to target American spies?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t have anything with respect to the OPM breach to talk about. As you know, that’s still being investigated, so I won’t comment on that. That said, I think you can expect that cyber security will certainly come up as an agenda topic during the visit as it almost always does. I mean, I don’t think there’s an engagement that we have with Chinese officials that we don’t raise the issue of cyber security. This is an area that we don’t always see eye to eye and don’t always agree, and we want to continue to have very frank and candid exchanges about it.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Is The Washington Post report correct, that the Administration has made a decision not to impose any cyber-related sanctions prior to the visit?

MR KIRBY: I have nothing – I have nothing to speak to with respect to sanctions.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thanks, John. On North Korea, North Korea has announced today that it has reactivated Yongbyon nuclear facilities. As you know already, we – previously that the North Korea has destroyed their nuclear facility long ago. Why can it pick and running now this?

MR KIRBY: We’re aware of the state media reports regarding a readjustment in operation of the – those nuclear facilities, including the five-megawatt plutonium production reactor and the uranium enrichment facility there at Yongbyon. I don’t have any additional comments on intelligence matters. You know I won’t do that from the podium. And we continue to call on North Korea to refrain from irresponsible provocations that aggravate regional tensions, and instead focus on fulfilling its international obligations and commitments.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on Six-Party Talk or Representative Mr. Hwang Joon-guk visit to United States?

MR KIRBY: Do I have anything on —

QUESTION: South Korean Six-Party representative —

MR KIRBY: I don’t. No.

QUESTION: You don’t have any?

MR KIRBY: I don’t.

QUESTION: One more —

QUESTION: Is there any contemplation of taking the matter before the Security Council?

MR KIRBY: What matter?

QUESTION: The restarting of the nuclear facilities.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on that in terms of the agenda.

QUESTION: Yesterday, did – I had to leave the briefing early. Did you talk about the satellite? They – the North Koreans talked about launching satellites to —

MR KIRBY: I did.

QUESTION: Oh, you did talk about that yesterday?

MR KIRBY: I did address that yesterday. Yes, I did.

QUESTION: Sir?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that. Have you exchanged any information about the situation in North Korea with China, Korea, or Japan?

MR KIRBY: Have we shared anything about this —

QUESTION: This situation.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any diplomatic conversations to read out. Obviously, we routinely talk about the threats and challenges posed by North Korea with our friends and partners in the region. But I don’t have anything with respect to this.

QUESTION: Mr. Kim, the – your representative on North Korea called his Russian counterpart today to discuss Six-Party Talks, as the Russians reported. Do you have a readout about that?

MR KIRBY: Do I have any what?

QUESTION: Any readout about the conversation?

MR KIRBY: I do not, no.

Yes.

QUESTION: John, there was a delegation of Shabak religious community leaders to Washington and they met with State Department leaders. I was wondering whether you have a readout of that.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, there are some meetings today, actually. So as part of an effort to strengthen our partnership with Iraq and to engage communities across Iraq, including those who have joined the fight against ISIL, the State Department welcomed the visit of a group of leaders from Iraq’s Shabak community Washington. The group is meeting today with Population, Refugees, and Migration Bureau Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Larry Bartlett and had a working-level meeting with representatives from the Department’s Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and Near East Asia Affairs Bureaus last week. So there were meetings last week; there are meetings today.

In these meetings, State Department officials expressed our condolences for the suffering that minorities, including the Shabak community, have endured at the hands of ISIL; discussed how to enhance cooperation in the fight against ISIL; and described our contributions to meeting the desperate humanitarian needs of refugees and those displaced by the conflict in Iraq and Syria.

QUESTION: Yesterday I met with some of them, and they said they had one specific demand for the State Department, which was they want to have their own all-Shabak member security unit, force, to protect them, like the Kurds have, the Sunnis. They’re trying to have one. Is the United States supportive of this kind of force that is – that all of its members are, like, really belong to one community?

MR KIRBY: I’ve not heard that request before. What we are supportive of, and have been very clear about this, is an inclusive, representative Iraq which includes an inclusive, representative Iraqi Security Force that is well-coordinated and integrated across all the sectors of Iraqi society. That’s what Prime Minister Abadi has committed himself to and has instituted policies to effect that, and that’s what we’d like to see continue.

QUESTION: John, can you share with us any of the current status – some say imminence – of the battle for the liberation of Ramadi, where there are some 10,000 Iraqi forces assembled? They have American trainers with them and so on, and in fact, there has been increased reconnaissance flights over the area. Is there anything that you can share with us about this?

MR KIRBY: No, Said. As you know, I really try to stick – stay away from talking about military matters from this podium. I’d really – I’d point you to my colleagues at the Pentagon to speak to something like that.

QUESTION: Because this battle was apparently to take place some weeks back, but now it’s been put off time and time again because the Iraqis were not ready. Is there anything new that may change the situation where this could coincide with the leaders – the world leaders meetings at the UN?

MR KIRBY: Again, I don’t want to talk about military matters, but I do want to walk you away from any notion that operational issues are being scheduled or determined by political meetings in New York or anywhere else. The coalition military leaders know how to schedule, plan, and implement, execute operations, and many of these are Iraqi-led and – Iraqi-planned and led operations. It’s their strategy, their operational plan that we are helping execute.

It can be affected by weather. It can be affected certainly by enemy actions. And it can certainly be affected by issues of readiness, whether it’s materiel readiness or personnel readiness. Any one of those or all three can affect the timing of operations and an operational schedule. Again, I’d point you to my colleagues at the Pentagon for more information about what’s going on right now on the ground.

QUESTION: My last question on this. But you can confirm that American military personnel and trainers are actually with the Iraqi units on the front line, training them?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to speak to military matters, but I do think it’s important to point out that the focus of U.S. military members has been training and helping equip and improving the battlefield competence of Iraqi Security Forces. And they’re doing that on bases designated for that purpose, that American troops are not accompanying Iraqi forces into the field. That’s never been a part of the mission. That hasn’t changed. But I’m already straying more into lanes that I’m not supposed to.

QUESTION: I have two very brief ones on two different subjects. One, have you gotten to the bottom of what happened in Egypt and whether or not there were Americans or green card/legal permanent members injured or – legal permanent residents?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t have anything to add with respect to reports that —

QUESTION: That’s unfortunate.

MR KIRBY: — that an American was involved. And I don’t have anything new on the investigation into the incident.

QUESTION: The Mexicans have just said that eight Mexican citizen have been killed. Can you rule out that any of them was also – were also American citizens?

MR KIRBY: No, as I said yesterday, we’ve seen – we’re aware of reports that an American citizen may have been involved. Our embassy is reaching out and making the appropriate inquiries. I just don’t have anything to add.

QUESTION: Secondly, on Iran. You may have seen that the French hotel chain Accor has signed a branding deal with an Iranian firm to open at least two hotels under the Ibis and Novotel brands? If you haven’t, can you take a look at this and see – is this something that you believe is too early, or is it allowed under the existing sanctions relief that has been – or is this a bad thing and the French company is moving too quickly?

MR KIRBY: I have not seen those reports. Let me get back to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Can you confirm or find out – there are reports that say that Iran’s top space scientist was actually killed – his name’s Ahmad Hatami – died in Mecca. Are you aware of that?

MR KIRBY: You mean in the crane accident?

QUESTION: Yeah, in the crane accident.

MR KIRBY: I have not seen that. No. Sorry.

Thanks everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:48 p.m.)

DPB #156