Daily Press Briefing: North Korea

1:37 p.m. EST

MR KIRBY: Hi guys.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR KIRBY: Okay. I just – right at the top, I do want to – did you move it? You did. (Laughter.) I thought it was elsewhere in the book.

I do want to lead with some comments about some reporting we’ve seen out there about North Korea and their intentions to conduct a satellite launch.

Like many of you, we understand that they have notified several UN agencies that they intend to launch a satellite in the coming days. This act would violate numerous Security Council resolutions by utilizing proscribed ballistic missile technology. It also comes on the heels, as you know, of the January 6th nuclear test, which is itself an egregious violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

As Ambassador Power said in the hours following that test, “The international community must impose real consequences for the regime’s destabilizing actions and respond with steadily increasing pressure.” The Security Council has a key role to play in holding North Korea accountable by imposing a tough, comprehensive, and credible package of new sanctions and by ensuring rigorous enforcement of the resolutions it has already adopted. This latest announcement further underscores the need for the international community to send the North Koreans a swift, firm message that its disregard – that their disregard for UN Security Council obligations will not be tolerated.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, I had – let me – let’s start with that. I wanted to go – about two bits of housekeeping, but let’s start with North Korea. When you say it must impose – the Security Council must impose real consequences and respond with steadily increasing pressure, how is that going? They don’t seem to have done anything yet in response to the previous – to the nuclear test.

MR KIRBY: Well, what I can tell you is that deliberations are ongoing with respect to the response to the January 6th nuclear test. I don’t have an update for you or I can’t provide necessarily a status, but I do know that those talks are ongoing. And then, as you know, the Secretary —

QUESTION: Well, that was almost a month ago that it happened. Today is February 2nd.

MR KIRBY: And they continue to deliberate and discuss options.

QUESTION: But that doesn’t sound very swift, right?

MR KIRBY: It’s as swift as the international community can make it. I think there’s a lot of effort going on here. Now, look – and then I’d point you back to the Secretary’s trip to Beijing last week, where he had very frank and candid discussions with Chinese leaders about their leadership and their influence in the region. And even they acknowledged that more concerted action has to be taken to deal with the North’s provocative actions.

QUESTION: Well, I know. I mean, I was there too. But I don’t remember them agreeing on new sanctions or anything like that. They —

MR KIRBY: Well, they didn’t agree to specifics. That’s right. But they did agree in principle to the need that more needed to be done.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, so you would like the Security Council to act before or ahead of the missile launch?

MR KIRBY: No, I was —

QUESTION: If it happens?

MR KIRBY: No, no, no. I was speaking to – the swift action we were talking about is the action in relation to the January 6th launch – I’m sorry – the January 6th nuclear test. All we know today is that they’ve announced that they’re going to do this sometime later this month.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: They’ve announced this to two international bodies that they intend to conduct this launch.

QUESTION: Right. I understand that. But you said there needs to be a swift and firm something that their – message that their violations of Security Council resolutions won’t go unnoticed or something like – anyway, whatever it was, you want that to happen —

MR KIRBY: This latest announcement underscores the need for the international community to send them a swift, firm message that its disregard for obligations under the UN Security Council will not be tolerated.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: So —

QUESTION: So you would like the council to act before they shoot up this missile, if they do, in fact —

MR KIRBY: We are not —

QUESTION: — to prevent them —

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is —

QUESTION: — or to dissuade them from firing it?

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is this latest announcement just underscores the need for more concerted action against them and their violation of obligations under the UN. It’s not – we’re not – I’m not asking – we’re not asking for some sort of preemptive resolution here to a launch that hasn’t occurred. But the announcement of it itself is just all the more indication that the international community needs to get behind tougher action against them.

QUESTION: All right, and then just the last one on this. So has the Secretary made a call to the Chinese or their —

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any calls to his counterparts in the region to read out with respect to this announcement. It just came today.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment, given that the Chinese nuclear envoy is in North Korea currently?

MR KIRBY: I would refer you to Chinese authorities to speak to those travel plans. I’m not in a position to confirm that travel. That would be up to them to speak to.

QUESTION: But the Secretary is not speaking with his counterparts about that either?

MR KIRBY: I said I don’t have any calls to read out at this time. This announcement, as you know, just came today. I’m not going to get ahead of conversations that he hasn’t had. But I would remind you again that he had very good, very candid discussions with Chinese leaders last week in Beijing about – not this – not this satellite launch that they’ve just said they’re gong to do today, but about the January 6th nuclear test and about the need for the international community to hold them to account.

If he should speak to counterparts in the region about this particular announcement, I will certainly be able to acknowledge that. But as you and I are speaking right now, I don’t have any conversations to read out.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just following off this news that the Chinese have sent a nuclear delegation to Pyongyang in the last 48 hours. I mean, we were there a week ago talking about this at length. Is there any connection between the Chinese move – I know you’re not confirming that they’ve done this, but it’s pretty widely accepted that they’ve got a delegation in Pyongyang. They also called for multilateral talks rejuvenating with the North Koreans. Is there any connection between this Chinese trip and where we stand in the aftermath of Kerry’s failed attempt to get the Chinese to sign on to sanctions in a UN resolution?

MR KIRBY: Well, there’s a loaded question. First of all, it wasn’t a failed attempt, and I’ll talk about that in a second.

Secondly, I can’t speak to Chinese travel plans and their intentions, so you would have to speak to authorities in Beijing for what this delegation, as you call it, is going to Pyongyang to do.

Clearly, the Chinese – and they’ve said this for themselves – share the concerns about the North’s continued pursuit of a nuclear weapon capability. Now, that’s not news. They’ve talked to that quite frankly and candidly. And as I said to Matt, in the discussions that we had in Beijing, Foreign Minister Wang Yi acknowledged that China did have a role to play, that they do have a measure of influence over Kim Jong-un and the North, and that they agreed that the international community should do more to hold the North to account, and that they would be willing to explore options about doing more.

Now, they didn’t specify exactly what that would be. There wasn’t a laundry list of things that they were willing to do. But to come away from the trip to Beijing and call it a failed attempt to get the Chinese to acknowledge a responsibility that they have to do more is just completely inaccurate and not in keeping with the discussions that I know I sat in on when I was there.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to load a question. I was building off the last time I saw the Secretary here at this very podium, and he used some of the harshest language he ever has about the Chinese, saying that on his first trip there, I think in – was it 2014 – where he said we had all these talks and I agreed to allow the Chinese to do it their way and it just hasn’t worked. That’s not an exact quote for what he said, but he suggested that he would be going with a much more muscular posture on this last trip. So that’s where —

MR KIRBY: And I think, again, I’d point you to his comments after the meetings in Beijing. But he acknowledged there publicly and he certainly made the case privately the same point, that the current approach towards the North hasn’t been working, clearly, because they continue to pursue this program and they had a test on the 6th, and here we have an announcement today that they’re planning a space launch which would, by design and by default, violate other UN Security Council resolutions. So clearly, something’s going to have to change in the international community in the approach to the North, and the Secretary made that case to Chinese leaders while he was there privately, and he certainly reiterated that publicly to all of you before we left Beijing.

Again, the Chinese acknowledged that a different approach would need to be taken towards the North. I wouldn’t speak for them, but I think it was clear that they have frustrations too over where the North is going. Again, they just didn’t specify exactly what was in their mind in terms of moving forward, but I can assure you that it’s very much on their minds as well. And so again, I think from the Secretary’s perspective the trip to Beijing was well worth it, and he came away assured that they also recognize the status quo approach needs to be changed and something tougher needs to be enacted, a set of measures to try to bring the North to account.

QUESTION: Just a final small clarification on this. Other than getting the Security Council to pass a resolution that would impose new sanctions, is there anything else that you’re willing to say about what this new post-status-quo approach should involve? Is that it?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think we’ve talked about this. It’s – we believe, again, that it should be an international response. Clearly, the United States isn’t going to take any options off our unilateral table, obviously. But the Secretary firmly believes that it should be – that this approach should be international in scope and should be focused through the UN and processes there. And as you recall, when we first talked about this in the wake of the January 6th test, we talked about additional measures and we acknowledged that some of those measures – maybe all of them, I don’t know – would probably be in the form of economic sanctions. And again, to my answer to Matt, those discussions and deliberations are still ongoing. I don’t have anything specific to read out. I wouldn’t hypothesize beyond that, though, in terms of what options may be available to the international community or —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t. I don’t have any additional detail to provide to that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: But to come back to a couple of your points, first, you just said that the reaction should be international in scope. Does that mean that the Administration is ruling out unilateral sanctions against Pyongyang?

MR KIRBY: No. I think I just said we’re not going to rule out or take off the table any unilateral options at our disposal.

QUESTION: Okay. And then going back to something you said about we’re not asking for a preemptive resolution against Pyongyang, can we talk a little more about that? Is that the kind of thing that could possibly even spur more negative action on Pyongyang’s part if the UN were, for some reason, able to get its act together and pass a resolution quickly in the Security Council? Is that an appropriate way, I guess, of getting North Korea to do what the international community wants it to do?

MR KIRBY: I think the job of trying to predict what Kim Jong-un is going to be would be a very short-lived job indeed, and I don’t think anybody’s willing to try to attempt that.

What I meant was just trying to clear up what apparently I wasn’t clear in my opening remarks, that what we’re not looking at here – with respect to this announcement today, nobody’s talking about some – enacting, trying to get a new resolution enacted preemptively on this. There are existing – and that’s what I was really trying to focus on at the outset – there are existing UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit exactly this kind of behavior and conduct. There’s no need for a preemptive resolution or action by the UN here.

And as to if we – again, this is hypothetical. If we were to do that, how would they react? I couldn’t begin to tell you. I don’t think anybody knows exactly how the mind of that young man works.

QUESTION: Is there any sense, based on the Secretary’s conversations with his Chinese counterparts or with the South Koreans, on what might be happening internally in North Korea that would be leading to this step-up in military activity – the nuclear test, the announcement of this launch, ships sailing off the northeastern coast of the peninsula, making South Korea very nervous? Is there any sense of what’s going on inside North Korea politically that might be leading to these sorts of actions?

MR KIRBY: The North, as you know, is a very opaque environment and it’s exceedingly difficult to know with any great detail the motivation and the intention behind decisions that they make, particularly the decisions of Kim Jong-un. So I don’t know, and I dare say that the North Korean people don’t know for themselves what’s in the mind of their leader and why he’s doing what he’s doing. So I couldn’t tell you.

That – what has been constant though – again, I can’t speak to motivation or trend, but certainly what has been constant is a series of provocative and destabilizing activities on the peninsula that continue to raise the concerns of everybody in the region, to include the Chinese. And it’s that behavior we want to see stop. And as I said before with respect to the nuclear test, we believe, and Ambassador Power said it too, that the best approach, the approach that we want to pursue the most aggressively, is through the UN and through an international consensus about tougher actions.

QUESTION: Has there been any intimation from Pyongyang that perhaps it’s looking for any sort of economic aid, any sort of food aid or medical aid? We saw this in the past few years where they did these sorts of things and that created an opening for more international humanitarian assistance. Has there been any intimation on their part that something of this might be wanted or desired?

MR KIRBY: None that I’m aware of, and I would say that if – if – they’re interested in food aid or assistance or a greater ability to feed their own people, they could do that for themselves by ceasing these destabilizing activities and devoting precious resources to military capabilities that, again, do nothing to help put food on the table of the North Korean people and to stabilize the peninsula. They have it within their power to do a better job to feed their own people and to look after the concerns of their own citizens, rather than spending resources, money, and time on the development of a nuclear weapons capability or, in this case, ballistic missile technology.

QUESTION: Just to put a fine point on this, it is the vehicle with which they are going to launch – they say they’re going to launch this satellite on that you object to, not the satellite itself, right? The United States does not oppose North Korea having satellites in orbit, presuming someone else launches them for them – launches the satellite for them?

MR KIRBY: It is the – yeah, whether —

QUESTION: So if —

MR KIRBY: First of all, they claim it’s a satellite and —

QUESTION: I know, but —

MR KIRBY: If they were to – this isn’t about having satellites, Matt. It’s about having the ballistic missile technology —

QUESTION: Well, they say it is.

MR KIRBY: It’s about having the ballistic missile technology that can propel a satellite.

QUESTION: But if someone else, say the Chinese or someone, were to launch it for them, you would not object, correct?

MR KIRBY: The objections by the international community and the UN are about the ballistic missile technology.

QUESTION: I’m asking you specifically about the United States. Does the United States think that North Korea has the right to have a satellite in orbit around the Earth?

MR KIRBY: What we – this is about objecting to the ballistic missile technology.

QUESTION: So you don’t have an issue with the satellite?

MR KIRBY: It’s not about satellites. In fact, I can’t even tell you —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: I can’t even tell you with any certainty – and you know this very well – that that’s exactly what they intend to do.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I don’t know. This —

MR KIRBY: I mean, they claim they’re launching a satellite.

QUESTION: Well, exactly.

MR KIRBY: This is about the ballistic missile technology that you have to have to put it up, to put something in orbit, and it’s about the ballistic missile technology that we object.

QUESTION: John, one more on China. As you said, China has acknowledged that a different approach is needed with North Korea without specifying what that should be. But as one of the North’s strongest trading partners – if not the – what would the United States ultimately like to see from China in terms of using its leverage on North Korea?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to go into great detail here about options that are before the Chinese in terms of using economic leverage. You’re right; they get almost all economic material or assistance or benefits through China, and so there are things that the Chinese could do using that economic leverage. Again, I won’t speculate about any specific measures that the Chinese could employ, but I can assure you that it was that sort of pressure, it was that sort of influence, that the Secretary discussed with Chinese leaders in general while we were there.

We have seen sanctions, obviously, applied in the past against the North. We have also seen an uneven application or enforcement of those sanctions in the past. And so what we want to see going forward is holding them to account with tougher measures, but we also need to see, want to see, an even and full-throated application and enforcement of whatever sanctions are put in place.

Yeah.

QUESTION: While we’re in the region, do you have any update on the case of the American student, Otto Warmbier, who was detained in North Korea? Have the Swedes had access to him?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any updates on the reports of that particular case. I’m afraid I don’t have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: One more on North Korea?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: There have been some reports that the launch could include a booster developed with Iran. How would that change your response?

MR KIRBY: Nothing’s going to change about the response here. This is about the potential use here – assuming they go forward with this – of ballistic missile technology, which it’s quite clear is a violation of UN Security Council resolutions. So nothing’s going to change about the way we react to this should it occur. It’s still a violation of Security Council resolutions and it still must be dealt with.

They have obligations. They have international obligations and commitments that once again, clearly, they are showing a willingness to ignore. And the international community is going to have to keep dealing with that.

Okay? This could be the shortest briefing ever.

QUESTION: No, no, no. No, no, I’ve got two —

MR KIRBY: No, I’m fine. Up and down in 30 minutes.

QUESTION: I’ve got like two little housekeeping – well, housekeeping items to get through. Yesterday, we were talking about the – in the email issue, emails that then-Senator Kerry sent to former Secretary Clinton.

I don’t know if this is complete, but I did a – I just did a search on the last tranche that were released, and found three that Secretary – Senator Kerry had sent to the Secretary or to her aides. And the question yesterday was whether or not he had sent these from a private email account or just from – two of them were sent from his iPad – or they say at the bottom, “sent from my iPad.” But the email – his email address on these is blacked out. And so I’m – do – have you come to a conclusion about whether the two that were sent by iPad or the third were sent from a private account, or were they sent from his Senate account?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know about all three. I can tell you that the one that we talked about being upgraded to secret was sent from a nonofficial account. And the account from which it was sent is no longer active.

QUESTION: Okay. But there’s – there is another one that was classified as confidential which does not say “sent by my iPad,” but the address is also – that’s from February 4th, 2012 —

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — at 6:35 a.m.

MR KIRBY: Oh, that one.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, you have it memorized, the whole – the headers? Anyway, this one is redacted in its – in full, except for the —

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — heading, the subject, which is “Oman.” And I just —

MR KIRBY: I can’t say definitively.-

QUESTION: Do you know, did that one also come from the iPad?

MR KIRBY: I can’t say definitively. I’ll try to see if I can get you an answer to that. But I do know the one we talked about yesterday was sent from a nonofficial account —

QUESTION: This is the one —

MR KIRBY: — that is no longer active.

QUESTION: This is the one from May 19th, 2011, about “Omitted thoughts in Memo”?

MR KIRBY: The one that we upgraded.

QUESTION: The one that is upgraded to secret, not confidential.

MR KIRBY: That one was sent from a nonofficial account. I can’t speak for the others.

QUESTION: All right. And that doesn’t exist anymore, that account?

MR KIRBY: That account does not exist anymore.

QUESTION: Do you know – I mean, was it – has the Secretary said anything about whether this was a mistake to do this, or was the – did he not consider or not think that the information that he was sending was classified —

MR KIRBY: I have not —

QUESTION: — at the time or should have been or —

MR KIRBY: I have not spoken to the Secretary about his reaction to that email being out there.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: And then the second little bit is – there was some reporting yesterday, it started with comments from the Iranians, saying that $100 billion in formerly frozen assets were now freed up, which led to some reporting saying, well, this means that the White House was or the Administration was not telling the truth when it pushed back on that 100 billion figure by saying it would only be 50 billion. Can you explain this discrepancy and tell us why your, the Administration’s calculation is correct and the Iranians’ calculation is incorrect?

MR KIRBY: In general – well, we still believe – and Secretary Lew has said this, Secretary Kerry said this – that in actuality, the amount of money – which is their money – that they would now have access to is just a little bit more than 50 billion. Because the rest of it – more – nearly half of the entire freed-up assets – so this is where the 100 comes in, because that’s the total – but it – but we believe that half of that – so roughly 50 billion – is already tied up in debts to the Chinese or in other international commitments, not to mention will be consumed by their own infrastructure requirements that lay before them. So while the number total may be that their assets that has been unfrozen, it is not – it is – that is not the number that they will have access to. They will have access to, as we’ve said all along, just more than $50 billion.

QUESTION: Okay, but that – I mean, if they’re going to use half of this money to pay back existing debt, I don’t understand how that doesn’t – I mean, they still have access to it. This is like if I owe you $50, you give me $100, and I give you 50 back, my net benefit is still $100; it’s not 50. I’ve managed to pay off a debt, an obligation that I owed to you. So I don’t understand why you can say that they are only going to get $50 billion when they get the benefit of the full 100, even if it is that they – that the benefit is they’re getting out of debt or paying down debt.

MR KIRBY: Again —

QUESTION: I mean, the money – they are getting – and granted, it is their money, as you said, but they have access now to $100 billion. What they choose to do with it is up to them. So if they decide that they want to pay back the Chinese, then they can, but that’s still a benefit, right? So they still get the benefit of that other 50 billion.

MR KIRBY: It’s their money that’s now been unfrozen. It’s our assessment – and not just our assessment, but the Treasury Department assessment – that much of that is already spoken for, that they’ll never get to see it because of —

QUESTION: But they’ll never get to see it because they’re paying down a debt that they owe and they would’ve owed otherwise, so they still get the benefit of the money. So I don’t get why – how —

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s their money. I’m not – nobody’s arguing that they won’t get it returned to them. What we’re – what the argument has been – the argument has been that this is a cash windfall —

QUESTION: Well, $50 billion —

MR KIRBY: — that they’re going to just use to fund terrorism. We’ve said we cannot rule out the fact that some of the money may be used to fund their support for terrorism, but the idea that there are going to – that they are going to be able to spend $100 billion right off the bat just simply isn’t – doesn’t comport with the facts. They’ve got roughly half of it already tied up and committed to.

QUESTION: Yeah, but they can spend $50 billion off the bat, and they wouldn’t be able to spend any of it if the assets weren’t unfrozen. So —

MR KIRBY: And they’d still be – and if they weren’t unfrozen, we wouldn’t have a nuke deal and they’d still be pursuing a nuclear weapons capability.

QUESTION: Right, right, right. No, I understand that, but it’s an interesting calculation that – I mean, if you claim that the people – the critics of the deal who say that, oh, the White House, the Administration was lying about this or being disingenuous – willfully misrepresenting it – that the same argument can be made to the Administration by saying that Iran isn’t going to get the benefit of the full 100 billion, because it is. It’s getting rid of $50 billion – so you say – getting rid of $50 billion in debt that it otherwise would not have been able to get rid of, and then it gets a – on top of paying off the Chinese, they’ve got $50 billion to do whatever they want with.

MR KIRBY: Well —

QUESTION: Which is a windfall – still a pretty big windfall, right?

MR KIRBY: I just – I wouldn’t characterize it as a windfall.

QUESTION: $50 billion?

MR KIRBY: It is their money that – and it was the sanctions that led them to the table. I mean, let’s not forget the big picture here, that what they’re not going to be able to do is pursue a nuclear weapons capability, and that was the whole purpose for the deal itself. We estimate that roughly half of that $100 billion or so is tied up and will not be able – they won’t be able to freely access it and use it because of prior obligations. Around 50-55 billion, yes —

QUESTION: Right. I get it, but —

MR KIRBY: — they will have – they will be able to use – they will get to choose. Let me put it that way. They will get to choose what they do with that, and obviously we don’t want to see them choose to use it for nefarious or malevolent actions in the region. But as the Secretary said, we can’t rule that out. And we have, just to remind – we have tools at our disposal unilaterally and multilaterally to deal with any violations and continued state sponsorship of terrorism.

QUESTION: I understand. But they’re still being able to get rid of the – they’re still being able to pay off $50 billion in debt that they otherwise would still have had to owe. So that’s why I don’t —

MR KIRBY: No question, but that money is not – it’s not – it’s already obligated.

QUESTION: But is there some binding parameter of the nuclear accord that says that it’s already obligated? How are you so certain that that’s what it’s going to be spent on?

MR KIRBY: I would —

QUESTION: Is our release of it contingent upon their agreement to —

MR KIRBY: Our Treasury Department has done the analysis and has determined that —

QUESTION: So it’s just an analysis that we did. I mean —

MR KIRBY: It’s an analysis that the Treasury Department has put together that they’ve done that basically makes clear that —

QUESTION: But there’s nothing binding.

MR KIRBY: — that roughly half of the unfrozen assets are already spoken for and will be unavailable to them to use in manners in which they would choose in a discretionary way.

QUESTION: Their treasury department may have done an analysis of their own and determined that they’re going to spend the money however they want. And who’s to say that ours is more legitimate?

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for their treasury department. I don’t even speak for our Treasury Department. I’m telling you what the analysis is. But you’re missing the larger point here. I think —

QUESTION: No, I see the larger point. I’m just pointing out to you that there’s nothing contingent. There’s nothing that says they have to spend that money that way.

MR KIRBY: We believe it’s already obligated. The point is —

QUESTION: But there’s no legal – there’s no binding part of the nuclear accord that says we will not release this money unless you agree —

MR KIRBY: The Iran deal wasn’t about apportioning the unfrozen assets.

QUESTION: So there you go. That’s all —

MR KIRBY: It wasn’t about apportioning the unfrozen assets. But you’re missing the larger point. What they won’t be able to do is develop a nuclear bomb, and if they continue to be a state sponsor of terrorism, there are and will remain unilateral capabilities of the United States to deal with that.

QUESTION: I’m not – not trying to go there. I’m thinking about arguments that the Iranian president and his immediate circle can make heading into parliamentary elections in Iran next month about what they’re going to —

MR KIRBY: They —

QUESTION: — be able to do with this windfall of cash.

MR KIRBY: They can say what they —

QUESTION: It has nothing to do with developing a nuclear weapon.

MR KIRBY: They can say what they want for domestic purposes. Our Treasury Department has already made an analysis of what will be available to them and what won’t be.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Did the Chinese put a lien on the money to make sure that they got their share?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. You’d have to talk to Beijing.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Switch the topic? Let me go to the refugee issue. We are now about a third of the way through the fiscal year. The U.S. has resettled about 800 refugees out of the 10,000 that they’re hoping to. I know you’ve spoken in the past about efforts that the U.S. is undertaking to increase the rate of refugee resettlement, but it doesn’t look at this point like the pace is picking up. Are you concerned at all that the U.S. isn’t going to be able to meet its commitment?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re just into the year. And I can tell you we’re looking at this very, very hard. I’m not going to prognosticate now on the 2nd of February about success or failure with respect to the number. The President’s been very clear about what his objective and goal is, and we’re going to work very, very hard to meet it.

That said, we have a concomitant responsibility to make sure that, as we do, that we take the safety and security of the American people foremost in mind, and we are. That is why refugees from Syria in particular are put to more scrutiny than refugees from other parts in the world, and it’s why – and we’ve talked about this before – that it takes between 18 and 24 months for an individual who is referred to us by the UN and fully vetted to actually work their way through that process. So it does take a while. But I can tell you in general we’re very committed to the goal and we’re going to work very hard to meet it.

You’ll hear more from the Secretary about this in the next day or so. He’s going to London for a donors conference on Syria, and I suspect he’ll have more to say about that.

QUESTION: I recognize that it’s only early February, but the fiscal year started in October. So we are a third of the way through. I mean, at what point are we going to start to see some of that pick up?

MR KIRBY: I can appreciate that you want a report card right now; I’m not able to give you one, except to say that we’re working on this very hard. We very clearly understand the President’s objective and goal, and we’re going to work hard to achieve it. And it’s not just the State Department. I mean, it’s an interagency effort, as you understand, so it’s not something that only we can speak to. But for our piece of it, we’re very committed to meeting that goal, and we’re going to keep working at it.

QUESTION: But given some of the obstacles you, yourself, cited a minute ago, is it even a realistic goal?

MR KIRBY: We believe it is. We believe it is. Yeah.

Abby.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on Russia’s decision to add five Americans to their travel ban list in retaliation for the recent U.S. decision under the Magnitsky Act?

MR KIRBY: No. I’ve seen the reports on that. I’d refer you to the Russians to speak to that.

QUESTION: What if you were one of them?

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) I would hope that if I was one of them, I’d know. Nobody has told me that I’m one of them. But I would point you to the Russians to speak to what they did and why.

Pam.

QUESTION: The Secretary, earlier today in his remarks with the Italian prime minister, indicated that he discussed a ceasefire with Foreign Minister Lavrov within the past few days —

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: — and he said that Lavrov said Russia is prepared to do so. What kind of a timeframe did Kerry receive from Lavrov in terms of implementing a ceasefire?

MR KIRBY: It’s not about getting a timeframe from the Russians. It’s in the Security Council resolution. And the Secretary said this – I counted at least three times as I read his remarks; it may have been more – that the resolution’s clear that it has to happen immediately and that we want – that, obviously, we want a ceasefire in place now. We want one in place yesterday, if we could’ve gotten it. So it’s not about Lavrov negotiating with the Secretary over “Well, here’s when I’m going to stop.” And the UNSCR makes it clear that a ceasefire should be pursued immediately as talks are pursued. And the Secretary said that many times today, that that’s our expectation, that we can get to a ceasefire immediately, and certainly if not right now, very, very soon. That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s one of the reasons why it’s important to continue the political track.

QUESTION: That’s the U.S. expectation, but with Russia being one of Syria’s strongest supporters, what is Russia saying about meeting that timeframe?

MR KIRBY: Well, you’d have to talk to authorities in Moscow for what their intentions are. We’ve been very clear about what our expectations are. The international community has been clear about what the expectations should be. And I would remind you that the Russians signed up to this. They voted for that resolution; they were in Vienna; they signed up to the two communiques that came out of Vienna. And they’re very much part and parcel of the International Syria Support Group. So they have just as much invested in trying to get to a ceasefire as anybody else in the international community.

Yeah.

QUESTION: It’s on Japan. On Sunday, the Government of Japan submitted a report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, stating that there were no documents supporting a claim that comfort women were forcibly recruited by the Japanese Government. This, in turn, drew criticism from the South Korean Government. Given the U.S. support for the agreement between the two countries on this issue last month, do you think this statement by the Japanese Government goes against that agreement?

MR KIRBY: I don’t believe that I’ve seen that statement. You’re going to have to let me get back to you on that. I mean, all I would say is we welcome the language that was adopted by both sides some time ago and we were glad to see that they were able to work through that issue and to put it in its proper perspective and, of course, promise to move forward in a positive and constructive way. I don’t have anything specific on this language.

Okay.

QUESTION: No, no. I just want to revisit one more thing from yesterday. And that is: Have you guys decided whether or not you’re in favor of Senator Cotton’s bill that would rescind the Commerce Department rules on labeling of goods for —

MR KIRBY: No, as I said yesterday, we’re not going to comment on proposed legislation. But I can assure you that we will, obviously, continue to consult with members of Congress, including Senator Cotton, about going forward.

QUESTION: All right. And then just the other thing – because this is related, but it has to do with the discussion with Ban Ki-moon, his criticism of Israel and the settlements – and I just want to get something clear. What is the U.S. position on whether or not the Palestinians have the right to resist Israeli occupation? While you condemn attacks and terrorism – I understand that – does the U.S. have a view as to whether or not the Palestinians should be allowed to protest or to contest the Israeli policy?

MR KIRBY: Well, a couple of thoughts. What – there are and always should be the ability for groups, whoever they are, to have an avenue to express their concerns or to peacefully protest. We talk about this all the time and the Palestinians are no different. I mean, that’s why the Secretary’s made so many trips out there, to try to help foster the kind of dialogue – the peaceful, diplomatic dialogue – between both sides to try to work through these issues. So if you’re asking me, do we think that they have a right to protest whatever action they find either offensive or dangerous or counterproductive to moving towards a two-state solution, absolutely they have that right and that ability to offer their views.

What we have also said, though, in the same breath, is that it’s not okay for innocent people to be hurt in the process and for rhetoric to be spewed by any side that would inflame those passions and encourage that kind of violence. And so what we’ve said all along is we actually – we want there to be a dialogue and a chance to peacefully discuss this. That’s difficult to do when there’s still so much violence. And so what we want to see is the rhetoric to come down, we want to see the violence obviously stop, so that there are vehicles through which a peaceful dialogue can be had.

QUESTION: Right. So that applies to civilians, innocent civilians. What – does that also apply to Israeli security forces as well?

MR KIRBY: We’ve said equally we want —

QUESTION: I guess this question has been asked here by some of my colleagues before. It is a question of whether or not the Palestinians have a right to defend themselves or to – in the face of whatever it is that the Israelis are doing. And I think that what you’re saying is that they have a right to peacefully protest, but they don’t necessarily have a right to go after – or they don’t have a right to attack Israeli forces.

MR KIRBY: It’s not about – a question – it’s not a question of right. It’s a question of – or privilege. It’s a question of – that the violence that’s being visited is not – on both sides – is not contributing to what we want to see, which is positive, affirmative steps to get to a two-state solution, to get to some sort of peaceful dialogue. That’s where we want to see this track go.

Okay. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:19 p.m.)