2:02 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: That is a big book. Good afternoon, everybody. A couple of things to kick us off here. As you know, this morning we kicked off the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue and the U.S.-China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange. This follows yesterday’s Strategic Security Dialogue with China hosted by Deputy Secretary Blinken. This morning, as you may have seen, our focus was on cooperation on climate change, which is a high priority in this bilateral relationship. And this afternoon, we’re engaging on a range of other bilateral regional and global issues, including areas that have contributed to some tensions in the relationship, to enhance cooperation in some areas and narrow our differences in others.
In addition, Deputy Secretary Blinken today hosted a special session on development assistance cooperation to expand collaboration in our efforts to combat disease and other threats to global health, promote sustainable development, and safeguard peace and stability.
I’d like to move on to an update on our visa system. The Bureau of Consular Affairs reports that the database responsible for handling biometric clearances has been rebuilt and is being retested – I’m sorry, is being tested. Thirty-three embassies and consulates representing 66 percent of our normal capacity are now online and issuing visas, and we’re looking to restore full biometric data processing worldwide. We issued more than 45,000 visas yesterday. Beijing alone issued nearly 15,000 visas. Significant additional numbers will be issued as the backlog clears, and it’s going to take some time here for the backlog to clear as we continue to work the fix.
Many posts are now rescheduling interviews. In some cases, interviews will be available as soon as the 24th. And then again, we encourage people to check our website, travel.state.gov, for more information, and we’ll keep updating you here as we continue to work the problem.
Today we also want to congratulate the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the opening of its new field office in Seoul, and we thank the Republic of Korea for hosting this office. We are pleased that the new office will continue the excellent documentation work initiated by the UN commissioner of inquiry on the human rights situation in the DPRK. These efforts will lay the groundwork for bringing to account those responsible for atrocities in the DPRK, and we believe this is an important step forward in implementing the UN Commission of Inquiry recommendations.
With that, Brad.
QUESTION: Starting where you started off, on the Strategic and Economic Dialogue —
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: — can you confirm that the OPM hack was raised yet in the discussions?
MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t confirm specifically that the breach at OPM was discussed, but I would point to what I said yesterday, which is that cyber security issues routinely come up. And as I sort of alluded to in my opening statement, we certainly expect that cyber issues will be discussed – have been discussed today and will continue to be discussed throughout the afternoon.
QUESTION: Okay. But you don’t know if this particular –
MR KIRBY: I do not.
QUESTION: — grievous breach was –
MR KIRBY: I do not.
QUESTION: — brought up. Okay.
QUESTION: Can I go back to that – just the issue on the technical – on the visas?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: What exactly does one – do you mean by technical issues? I mean, what kinds of technical issues were these that caused such an outage?
MR KIRBY: Well, I think we talked about this a little bit before, Lesley. It’s a —
QUESTION: We did, but it’s unclear.
MR KIRBY: It’s a hardware problem with the actual – the physical database itself. So we’re not talking about a software glitch, and that’s why we’re sure that this isn’t the result of some kind of cyber security breach. It’s a hardware problem. And there’s a backup database that we wanted to create a second copy of so that – you always want to have one working backup. And so it took a while to recreate the backup system and then to test it. And they were testing it methodically using a single post to see if it – if they could insert the new hardware and that it would work properly, and the early testing – and we talked about this a little bit ago – didn’t always work so well, so they had to go back and work technical fixes to the hardware itself. They’ve done that now, we think, to some degree of success as I pointed out, and visas are now starting to be issued. One of the things that we wanted to do was as we got the system back online and the hardware fixed, was to put it in place at some of the most – some of the busiest posts. So that’s why I specifically mentioned Beijing, because so many visas are processed there at Beijing. And so far, again, it’s going well. But it’s a hardware issue, and related specifically to the file itself, which just needed to be recreated and then tested.
QUESTION: Any idea when you think that all the embassies or more embassies will come online?
MR KIRBY: Well, every day, I think, we’re going to be – we expect to add more and more, and I will continue to update you here from the podium as we learn more. Feel free to check in as well on your own. But I mean, we’re – they’re constantly adding new posts to the effort as the system gets back online. And again, I think tomorrow we’ll hopefully be able to point to some more progress as well.
There’s – but look, I don’t want to be overly rosy here. We’ve got the fix in place. Things seem to be working. There is a big backlog. I mean, on average we process about 50,000 a day across the world, so there’s a lot of – there’s a big backlog. It’s going to take a while to clear that.
QUESTION: How big is that backlog? Do you —
MR KIRBY: I don’t have a good estimate because it’s – again, we only estimate how many thousands per day. It varies from, as you imagine, Brad, day to day. But it’s significant. So things are looking good. Progress is being made. Technicians are still hard at work. And I will stress that it is a 24/7 process here that they’re applying to the fixes. It’s just going to take a while.
QUESTION: How old is this equipment? And does the age of the equipment and the need to have so many repairs to the hardware mean that this equipment should have been replaced? Is this a funding issue at the base of it?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know the nature of the exact – the hardware problem. I don’t believe it has to do with age, but I don’t have a – I’m not a technical expert. I don’t know exactly what the glitch was. But again, they’ve worked a fix and things are looking good. We’ll continue to keep you updated.
QUESTION: One more. Do you know whether this is equipment that was acquired directly by the State Department, or was this acquired through a third-party contractor? Because a lot of them do these sorts of services for the federal government.
MR KIRBY: I don’t know. In terms of the original equipment, I don’t know. But as I said a couple days ago, we are employing the skills of both public and private sector technicians and experts to help us fix it.
Are we going to – are we done with the visa issue?
MR KIRBY: No? We are done. Yeah, go ahead, Nicolas.
QUESTION: Visas or —
QUESTION: No, I’m done on visas.
QUESTION: Okay. I just would like to go back to China for a minute.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Could you tell us whether the human rights issues have been discussed this morning? And if yes, with what level of specificity? Or was this dialogue not the appropriate format for human rights (inaudible)?
MR KIRBY: This morning’s focus was on climate, and I think you saw some of the comments made in the sessions that we had this morning. This afternoon is really more about other global strategic issues. I don’t know specifically if, as we stand here after 2 o’clock, whether human rights has been specifically addressed. But as I said yesterday, we certainly expect over the course of these two days that issues of human rights, which is an issue that we don’t always agree with China, will certainly be discussed. But I don’t have a readout for you this afternoon of the talks.
QUESTION: Can we go to Iran talks?
MR KIRBY: Huh?
QUESTION: Iran talks?
MR KIRBY: Sure, Iran. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Our colleague, Guy Taylor, wrote in The Washington Times that the Administration is under a lot of pressure from its allies to extend the date. Could you comment on this? And I know this may be a White House – better addressed to the White House. But do you have any information that there is pressure, let’s say, from France or England or Germany?
MR KIRBY: I – the way I’d answer it is that we’re still focused on June 30th. And I’m not aware of any external pressure being applied to us or anybody else to extend. We’re still focused on June 30th.
QUESTION: So has the topic come up, let’s say, by your allies to say perhaps we should consider extending?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about diplomatic discussions in the context of the negotiations. But look, I think – and I talked about this a little bit yesterday – getting the right deal is better than the deadline itself. Deadlines are good forcing functions. We still are driving towards June 30th, and that’s what everybody’s, I think, focused on. But I’m not going to talk about who inside the room is espousing different views.
QUESTION: And my last one on this. Foreign Minister Zarif said yesterday that a good deal is better than the deadline, but today said that we might even be able to reach one even before the deadline. Could you comment on that?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to speculate about what’s going on inside the negotiating room. But I think that’s not a position that’s incongruent with what we’ve been saying, which is that we’re still focused on getting the right deal, and that the right deal is more important than the deadline. Right now, the focus that we’re all applying in terms of timing is towards the end of this month.
QUESTION: So the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, said yesterday that the President should walk away – step away from the talks unless it secures anytime, anywhere access. And about two weeks ago, Jack Lew spoke to the annual conference of the Jerusalem Post and he said, “Any deal must ensure comprehensive and robust monitoring and inspection anywhere and everywhere the IAEA has reason to go.” So can you respond to Bob Corker and say, in fact, that is our standard; we reflect the same standard?
MR KIRBY: I think I would say the same thing that we’ve been saying to the American people throughout this process, and that is that any deal must provide the access that IAEA inspectors need to verify Iran’s compliance with the ultimate deal that’s reached. We are still – we are still in the negotiating phase on what that final deal is going to look like. I’m not going to speculate about the details therein. But everybody, including the Iranian delegation back in Lausanne, agreed that the IAEA will and must have the access it needs to verify compliance.
QUESTION: And they also agreed in Lausanne, and I’m also quoting, that all past UN Security Council resolutions on the nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneously with the completion by Iran of all these issues, including PMD and transparency. So between these two things, the bill that just passed through the Iranian parliament explicitly rejects those two provisions. Do you not have a comment on that bill?
MR KIRBY: Well, we – I did, and we commented on this yesterday. These are – we’re aware that the Iranian parliament approved a bill concerning the nuclear talks and any final deal. Our understanding is that this bill now would still need the final approval from the Guardian Council. We’re going to let the Iranians manage and speak to their own legislative process. For us, nothing’s changed about what’s necessary for a final deal, which includes access and transparency that will meet our bottom lines.
QUESTION: Do you discourage —
MR KIRBY: Nothing’s changed about that.
QUESTION: Do you discourage the Guardian Council from passing it? And I will also note that in the past, when Congress has been reviewing legislation, the Iranians did not hold back from commenting on our legislative process.
MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, we’re going to let the Iranians manage their own process. It’s been very clear what our expectations are – (cell phone rings) – and that is a great ringtone. Whose – is that yours, Justin?
QUESTION: Yes, sorry.
MR KIRBY: Terrific.
QUESTION: I just want to make my presence known here.
MR KIRBY: Actually, well timed for the completion of my answer. With that, I’ll give the next one to you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Just – still on Iran?
QUESTION: Yeah – no, I wasn’t going to —
QUESTION: Just one on – still on Iran. Your colleague at the White House today said that there will be ongoing differences of opinion after – if you get a final deal. Doesn’t that call into question the whole notion of a final agreement? Shouldn’t that be a shared text and there should be no dispute on what is in the deal when you have one?
MR KIRBY: Well, look, we’ve always said that there’s going to – there have been many voices in this process to – up to now, and there will continue to be many voices in the process, even when a deal is reached. And again, we’re focused right now, Brad, on that final deal and getting that inked. And it’s got to be the right deal. It’s got to be a good deal for our national security interests, and that’s where our focus is right now.
QUESTION: Doesn’t a good and a right deal imply that it is an —
MR KIRBY: It certainly would imply that all parties —
QUESTION: — undisputed – undisputed deal?
MR KIRBY: It certainly would imply, obviously – not just imply, it would mean that all parties actually are in agreement on the essential elements of the deal. But that doesn’t mean that voices of dissent are going to stop, and we understand that. But we’re focused on getting the right deal here.
QUESTION: Just one more on this. Do you expect from the U.S. side or, really, from any of the parties at the table, that implementation would begin – theoretically, if a deal was reached by June 30th – before Congress weighs in as is mandated by the (inaudible)?
MR KIRBY: I’m just not going to get ahead on timelines and specifics right now. Again, we’ve got a team negotiating on this right now, and I don’t want to – I don’t think it’s helpful or productive for us to get in the middle of that right now.
Okay. That’s it for Iran? We’re moving on.
QUESTION: Can I just very quickly – is it conceivable to sign a multistate deal, or does it have to be all at once?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to hypothesize.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MR KIRBY: Next.
QUESTION: Thank you, Admiral, if we can still call you that. So I want to go to the hostage review. Have we talked – did we talk about that already? I was a little late.
MR KIRBY: That’s right. You were late, so you wouldn’t know.
QUESTION: I was. Yeah, well —
MR KIRBY: I think, yes, we covered it in a fulsome manner, and I think we’re just going to move on to the next issue now.
QUESTION: Is – did you really cover it?
MR KIRBY: No, go ahead. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: All right, sorry, okay. So my question is: If families from now on are going to be negotiating with hostage-takers, with terrorists with some form of U.S. assistance, would that not represent a significant shift in policy for the United States?
MR KIRBY: Justin, I’m simply not going to get ahead of an announcement that the President hasn’t made yet. I mean, you’ve heard my colleague at the White House speak to this today. This is – this was an important review process that we all believe will help the interagency coordinate and communicate better, as well as communicate with the families and taking their concerns into consideration. But I’m simply not going to get ahead of policy decisions that haven’t been announced yet.
QUESTION: Can you say what, as you understand it, the problems were that needed fixing within this review?
MR KIRBY: Well, I think we’ve talked broadly about this when the review was announced – that everybody realizes that, first of all, the taking of hostages is a problem that continues, and in some cases has increased, particularly when you’re dealing now with a group like ISIL, which in and of itself would naturally call for the U.S. Government to take a look at our own procedures, and to the degree to which we’re always trying to improve, the degree to which perhaps we can improve interagency coordination, as well as taking into account some of the concerns expressed by families over the last several years.
QUESTION: Unless someone else has something on this, I wanted to ask just one last one about the emails that were released by the committee earlier this week and wondering – yesterday, you said that some of them were repeated, some of the Blumenthal emails were emails you had already provided to the committee. Were there any emails in there that you hadn’t provided to the committee that in retrospect you feel you ought to have provided, given the parameters that were outlined —
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: — from Trey Gowdy originally?
MR KIRBY: We’re still going through those emails, specifically the ones that Mr. Blumenthal provided to the committee. As I said yesterday, we do believe that some of them were already provided by the State Department, having been provided by former Secretary Clinton to us. So we know that there is some overlap, but we’re still going through them, and I don’t have an update on how many that it would – that it would —
QUESTION: It wasn’t that many emails. It was maybe 60 or so. I mean, how long does it take this building – I went through them pretty fast. Maybe I’m faster than the entire State Department? Is that what you’re suggesting, that —
MR KIRBY: I’m suggesting that —
QUESTION: — every reporter in this town can go through them faster —
MR KIRBY: I’m not suggesting, actually. I’m saying we’re still —
QUESTION: — than the entire weight of this department?
MR KIRBY: — we’re still going through them.
QUESTION: To do what?
MR KIRBY: We’re still going through the emails to see if there were some that we didn’t have originally before sending over to the select committee. And I’d also remind you, Brad, I mean, what we provided was specifically to meet the request of Benghazi-related material. We’re still going through them.
QUESTION: And you feel still that you met that request, right? You see no indication from these emails that you did not in every way meet that request?
MR KIRBY: That’s correct.
Next. Yeah, the back there.
QUESTION: I’ve got two questions. One, as far as this U.S-China Strategic Dialogue is concerned, if I may go back, last – recently, you also had a dialogue with the U.S. and Pakistan, and the foreign secretary was here. My question is that – have you discussed, as far as the nuclear issues and $46 billion deal with – between China and Pakistan is because this is not in the interest of U.S. interest or U.S. jobs creation?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of that particular issue arising today, Goyal, to be honest with you. Look, again, the talks are just beginning. They just started today, and I think at the end there’ll be a press conference and I think we’ll be able to have a more fulsome readout of all the items that were discussed.
QUESTION: Second, as far as India-Pakistan is concerned, tensions are on the rise and not going down. My question is here that yesterday at the Atlantic Council Brigadier Arun Sahgal was speaking and he said that there is a proxy war going on between the two counties, especially by – by Pakistan into India as far as Kashmir issue is concerned. But of course, Pakistan is blaming India the war is against Pakistan in Balochistan and all that. My question: Number of terrorists are still there wanted by India in the Mumbai attack and all; they’re openly giving statements, including last week in Musharraf – General Musharraf also said that with the other terrorist groups that they will use nuclear weapons against India. My question is: Do you feel that Pakistan’s nuclear program is safe and out of the terrorists’ hands?
MR KIRBY: Let me tackle this a couple of ways. First, you heard Secretary Kerry talk to this very issue when he – when we piped him into the briefing room about his concerns about tensions between India and Pakistan right now and our continued belief that both sides need to work these issues out peaceably and on their own. And I’m not – I’m certainly not going to talk about intelligence issues here at the podium, but our expectation continues to be that Pakistan will be a responsible stakeholder on security issues, in particular the nuclear issue.
QUESTION: One more quickly, sir. As far as trafficking is concerned and human trafficking and child labor and child trafficking in India and also many countries around the globe including South Asia and China, Mr. Kailash Satyarthi was speaking last week at the Lincoln Memorial and he spoke at the number of occasions and he mentioned Washington and met number of lawmakers on the Hill. Question is that as far as child labor, child trafficking is concerned, if Secretary or U.S. Department of State has any question that or talking to those governments that using little children to make the big things selling around the globe.
MR KIRBY: Well, we – I think we talked about this last week and I don’t think my answer today is going to be any different. Obviously, this is a concern that we have around the world – the issue of child labor and certainly human trafficking, and it’s something that we are constantly talking to our friends and partners about. It’s a significant concern. Look, we’re seeing migration issues in the Mediterranean coming from North Africa up to Southern Europe. I mean, it’s out in the Asia Pacific. I mean, these are not insignificant problems. Our positions, our stance on them have not changed, and we’re going to continue to work this just as hard as we can. But I don’t have anything specifically on that.
Let’s go to something else.
QUESTION: North Korea?
MR KIRBY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Is there a U.S. reaction to the North Korean Government’s decision to sentence two South Korean men who were allegedly Christian missionaries to a lifetime sentence of hard labor?
MR KIRBY: Ros, I haven’t seen that report, so before I make a statement about it, let me go take a look at that before we issue a statement about that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on South Korea establish of the North Korean human rights office in South Korea yesterday and for the improvement of North Korean human rights. And regarding this, North Korea politically provocated against the South Korea. Can you comment on this?
MR KIRBY: Yeah. I mean, we’ve seen the threatening comments made by North Korean officials regarding this field office that’s being stood up. And obviously, we certainly have deep concerns about those comments and would just reiterate that they do nothing to help the security and stability on the Korean peninsula. So I mean, we’ve seen them. Obviously, we take deep issue with that reaction to this. This office is all about trying to help – potentially down the road help hold those accountable, those who are responsible for human rights violations in the North. That’s a good thing. Again, we welcome the standup of this office, and it’s in nobody’s interest to do anything to interfere with that work – certainly not the interests of the North Korean people.
QUESTION: Can we go to the war against ISIS?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Today the advisor to the supreme leader in Tehran, Ali Akbar Velayati, after meeting with the Syrian interior minister, said that there’s going to be meetings in Baghdad between Iraq, Iran, and Syria to consolidate efforts against ISIS. Would you object to including the Syrian Government in this process?
MR KIRBY: I think I would put this in the same area that we talked about when we talked about Prime Minister Abadi traveling to Tehran. It is understandable. And it’s not the first time, by the way, that Iraqi leaders have met – excuse me – with Assad regime leaders. But it – we understand. This is a sovereign country; we have to keep reminding ourselves, I find, to remind everybody that Iraq is sovereign. Prime Minister Abadi is the prime minister of a sovereign nation and we should expect that he’s going to have discussions and meetings and outreach with neighbors in the Middle East, particularly immediate neighbors. And so that’s the rubric under which we understand this meeting is occurring.
QUESTION: So you don’t object, let’s say, to cooperation between Syria, Iraq, and Tehran in fighting the same enemy that you are fighting?
MR KIRBY: We have – our position hasn’t changed. The Assad regime has lost legitimacy, has to go. And I think it’s important to remember in the context of this or any other meeting that it’s largely because of Assad that ISIL has been able to flourish and grow and operate and sustain itself inside Syria. And so I think it’s important to remember that. Nothing’s changed about our view on that. But we also understand that Prime Minister Abadi has obligations – security obligations – that he himself and the Iraqi people hold to be important. And if he’s having meetings with neighboring nations, the leaders of neighboring nations, in concert with that, well, that’s certainly his prerogative.
QUESTION: But, may I? If you’re saying that Assad is the source of all this terrorism, then I mean – or the main cause or continues to be a source of this terrorism, I mean, how are you really going to go after ISIS without a strategy to get rid of Assad?
MR KIRBY: Well, I didn’t say that Assad is the main reason why ISIL exists.
QUESTION: Well, this Administration has basically put it at his feet that ISIS was able to flourish and you just said that —
MR KIRBY: I did. Yes.
QUESTION: — ISIS was able to flourish because of —
MR KIRBY: Absolutely. It’s been able to – one of the reasons it has been able to flourish inside Syria is that the Assad regime has lost all legitimacy. They are – they are not – they’ve – large swaths of ungoverned space inside Syria that ISIL has been able to take advantage of and to exploit.
The mission against ISIL – the coalition mission is against ISIL. Separate and distinct from that, nothing has changed about our longstanding belief that the Assad regime’s lost legitimacy and needs to go. We’ve also said repeatedly and consistently that there’s not going to be a military solution to that issue, that what needs to happen is a negotiated political settlement.
QUESTION: Is there any movement on that?
MR KIRBY: Well, it’s – we talked about this the other day, Elise. We continue to work at this. This is a tough problem in a very complicated area. Everybody understands that. But that’s what really needs to happen here. It’s not going to be solved militarily.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on Elise’s point, I mean, you’re – the argument this of Administration, all along it’s been that Assad is a magnet to terrorists, and so I don’t understand the logic behind this. If he’s the magnet of terrorists, should we allow the terrorists to take over and him to leave? Is that the logic behind saying that? I mean, so if he must go so it’s – whatever – this magnet analogy —
MR KIRBY: Are you saying that what we’re saying by the fact that —
QUESTION: I’m saying that by virtue of being there, he attracts terrorists. So they go in because he’s there. If he was no longer there, they would not go in. Is that the logic?
MR KIRBY: I don’t – no, I wouldn’t subscribe to that. What I’m saying is nobody’s turning a blind eye to ISIL’s use of Syrian territory to further its own ambitions. Not at all. And nobody’s turning a blind eye to the atrocities the Assad regime continues to propagate against its own people. But the answer to ISIL is – we believe continues to be a coalition effort supported by the U.S. military, but also the militaries of other nations, and for other lines of efforts, which include trying to help get a moderate opposition trained and equipped to go in the field against ISIL on the ground in Syria.
The solution against – please, let me finish – the solution against Assad, we continue to believe, is not going to be done militarily or through that same kind of effort, but rather one over –through political settlement. It’s tough. Nobody’s said that this is going to be solved overnight. It’s going to take some time. But that’s the policy that we continue to espouse and the policy we continue to try to implement.
QUESTION: But can you have a political dialogue with the Assad regime without it changing the military balance on the ground?
MR KIRBY: Again, the change in regime we want to see done through other than military means. We don’t believe there’s a military solution to the Assad regime. And we – I – we’ve said this repeatedly. The issue militarily in Syria, at least for the United States – and I’m not going to speak for the Defense Department, but it is through – is about going after ISIL.
QUESTION: Right. But Secretary Kerry, I think one of the first things he said when he came into office was that you needed to change Assad’s calculus in order for him to want to come to the table. Is that still that position? Because the military efforts really on the ground right now have nothing to do with changing his calculus. Or do you see losses that he’s having on the ground, which incidentally have nothing to do with you, as possibly his calculus changing?
MR KIRBY: I think we still – obviously, yes, we believe that his calculus has to change. There’s no question about that. And his regime is coming under more and more attack. And we have seen signs of the weakening of his grip. But again, the answer here is a political one, not a military one.
QUESTION: Can we move to Israel?
QUESTION: On this, please. You said that there is no military solution, and at the same time there is no political solution on the horizon. Then what’s the solution to this situation?
MR KIRBY: Look, you want me to solve the whole Syria crisis —
QUESTION: No (inaudible) —
MR KIRBY: — right up here, and I’m not going to do that.
QUESTION: — it’s been there for four years or five years.
MR KIRBY: What I’m going – I’m – what I’m trying to tell you is there’s a lot of energy applied to this. Secretary Kerry talks to, particularly, Foreign Minister Lavrov about this all the time. I think everybody understands there needs to be a political settlement to this. That is not going to be achieved, and rarely ever is in human history, easily or quickly. It’s – but it’s not something that – to convey that we’ve taken our eye off of it or that we’re not focused on it would be false. It’s just going to take some time. And I’m not going to be able to solve it for you here in the 45 minutes – 25 minutes that I have left.
QUESTION: Could I just —
QUESTION: Regarding to this issue, last week Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu said that Turkey has intelligence suggesting ISIS and Syrian regime representatives met in (inaudible) last month and coordinating operations against FSA. Do you think there is any cooperation between ISIS and the Assad regime?
MR KIRBY: I have seen no evidence of cooperation between ISIL and the Assad regime. I’ve seen no indication of that.
QUESTION: To Israel. Yesterday you said that you were just in receipt of the UN Gaza report. Have you gotten a chance to take a look at it?
MR KIRBY: I think we talked about this yesterday as well. Were you here yesterday?
QUESTION: I was not —
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: — but I read the transcript and you said you hadn’t —
MR KIRBY: Well, right. We just got it yesterday. Certainly we’re reading it. But as I also said yesterday, we challenge the very mechanism which created it. And so we’re not going to have a readout of this. We’re not going to have a rebuttal to it. We’re certainly going to read it, as we read all UN reports. But we challenge the very foundation upon which this report was written, and we don’t believe that there’s a call or a need for any further Security Council work on this.
QUESTION: In that case —
QUESTION: But —
QUESTION: You have —
QUESTION: Let me just —
QUESTION: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: In that case, I take it that you reject using this report in any referral to the International Criminal Court.
MR KIRBY: We do not support any further UN work on this report.
QUESTION: You just welcomed a similar effort for Korea. You just welcomed a UN human rights inquiry efforts for Korea. Why would you sort of reject something for Gaza?
MR KIRBY: Because we’ve long said – and you know that we reject the basis under which this particular commission of inquiry was established because of the very clear bias against Israel in it.
QUESTION: Well, it’s —
QUESTION: Do you approve of Israel investigating itself? Do you approve that Israel should conduct (inaudible) —
MR KIRBY: It’s not our place to approve or disapprove.
QUESTION: Would you conduct your own —
MR KIRBY: We – the United States investigates itself all the time on all kinds of things.
QUESTION: Do you trust Israel’s mechanism to investigate itself?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to make a comment about a specific investigation.
QUESTION: You said that this report has an obvious bias and the committee that set it up has an obvious bias against Israel. But the findings cited both potential war crimes by both Israel and Hamas. So are you saying that you just reject the ones against Israel and not – and kind of approve of the ones against Hamas?
MR KIRBY: I’m saying that we object to the report —
QUESTION: Entire report?
MR KIRBY: — to the foundation upon which the commission was established, and therefore the product that resulted from that work.
MR KIRBY: Because we object to the foundation itself, we’re not going to take it apart and do a point-by-point rebuttal or support for the report.
QUESTION: So you reject the report out of hand, including the criticisms against Hamas —
MR KIRBY: We’re not going to do —
QUESTION: — which you basically said that —
MR KIRBY: We’re not going to do an analysis of the report and we don’t believe that any further action in the UN is required on it.
QUESTION: Can I just ask – the conclusion was rather squirmy of this report in that it didn’t say with certitude that war crimes were committed by either side. Do you disagree with the notion that Israel may have committed war crimes?
MR KIRBY: We’ve – and I said this yesterday – we certainly made known at the time our concerns about the use of force in that particular conflict and urged restraint on both sides, and that’s where I’d leave it.
QUESTION: You also welcomed Israeli investigations into their own conduct after the conflict. If you didn’t think that there was anything that at least warranted looking into, why would you have supported that investigation?
MR KIRBY: We said that we had concerns about the use of force on both sides. And for one party to say, “We’re going to go take a look at that,” I think – I don’t know why we wouldn’t welcome that.
QUESTION: So are your – have all of your concerns then now been alleviated or dismissed?
MR KIRBY: I’m not – I don’t have a particular comment on that right now, Brad. Again, I would just say we made known our position at the time.
QUESTION: Here’s my problem, is that you had these concerns at the time. The Israelis have looked into it and they have found nothing that they did wrong. You haven’t said whether you agree with that or disagree with that. And now you have a UN report that you don’t like the foundation, but it essentially says what you were thinking several months ago, that Israel may have done something wrong, it may not have done something wrong; yet you’re opposed to that. And I don’t know what’s happened in between that leads you now to say – well, I don’t even – you’re not even saying that your concerns have been alleviated, so where are you? You just forgot about them or what?
MR KIRBY: Well, your sarcastic tone notwithstanding —
QUESTION: It’s not sarcastic.
MR KIRBY: Yes, it was – we’ve made very clear what our issues were at the time about the use of force and we made very clear to the Israeli Government our concerns about what was happening in that conflict. We have an ongoing dialogue with the Government of Israel on all these sorts of matters; that dialogue continued and continues. I’m not going to be able to declare here from the podium a final resolution one way or the other. What I would tell you is, again, we find and believe in a bias against Israel that established the mechanism for the commission of inquiry into this particular conflict. And because of that, we don’t believe that the resulting report requires any further action, should not go any further in the Security Council.
QUESTION: John, just to follow up on this, though: At the time, yes, you did make your views known. But you also called for Israel to investigate the incidents, and back to Said’s question, surely that suggests that you —
MR KIRBY: I think I’ve dealt with this as best I can. I don’t have a comment on the Israeli investigation.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. There are acknowledgements by the Israelis that at least 15 targets resulting in the death of 216 persons, mainly civilians, had no military value whatsoever. Would that constitute a war crime, in your opinion?
MR KIRBY: I have no comment on that.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
QUESTION: John, quickly (inaudible). India’s Prime Minister Modi will be the first prime minister to visit Israel in the – in 60 years of history. And yesterday on the Capitol Hill, under the leadership of Congressman Ami Bera and Congressman Crowley, they passed a resolution – U.S.-India-Israel cooperation. Any comments on that and what this will do?
MR KIRBY: I don’t – I haven’t seen those reports. I’m afraid I don’t have anything for you.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
QUESTION: Can we change regions, Venezuela? The opposition leaders ended a hunger strike.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any comment on this? Do you still call for his release?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I would say that we do note that Mr. Lopez ended his hunger strike today on its 30th day. We welcome this decision, which Mr. Lopez made following the announcement by Venezuelan electoral authorities setting a December 6th date for the date of legislative elections. Mr. Lopez is a man of physical and moral courage who has chosen a path of civil, nonviolent resistance to pursue his political objectives. He’s an important political leader who can play a significant role in the democratic dialogue necessary to overcome the political disputes that beset Venezuela. We’re glad that he has ended his strike – his hunger strike and urge Venezuelan authorities to permit him access to doctors of his choosing as he recovers from this ordeal.
QUESTION: A question on Yemen.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Today a website in Yemen claimed that Iran smuggled $9 billion – U.S. dollars of counterfeit dollars in to the Houthis to give them, and in fact, they are trading with it. Do you have any comment on that?
MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that exact report, Said. But obviously, we’ve long made known our concerns about Iranian support to the Houthis and once again would continue to stress that our strong support for the UN-led process that is trying to get to a sense of political resolution there, that’s the right answer for the Yemeni people.
QUESTION: That would be a breach of international laws and norms to smuggle in counterfeit money, wouldn’t it?
MR KIRBY: It would —
QUESTION: It would be a major thing.
MR KIRBY: There are Security Council resolutions that prevent support of that kind. But again, I haven’t seen a report so I can’t comment to the veracity of it. You guys have the advantage of your iPhones up here, and I don’t.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: I want to ask a question about the human rights issues again. Secretary Kerry will release annual Human Rights Report on Thursday, next Thursday. Do you know how many country involved that annual report on HR practices?
MR KIRBY: Well, you’re right; we are going to release the Human Rights Report on Thursday. Secretary Kerry will participate in that. I’m not going to get ahead of the announcement.
We have time for just a couple more.
QUESTION: Anything on Ebola, Sierra Leone? There are eight new cases, seven of them in the past week.
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: Any —
MR KIRBY: I’ve not seen those reports.
QUESTION: Do you know whether the U.S. Government is making any plans to renew its efforts to help countries in West Africa, seeing as how this may be becoming a problem again?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any new plans. We’ve stayed engaged with governments down there. Although there’s not the significant military presence that was there before, we certainly have stayed engaged on this issue. I’m not aware of anything new to announce or new plans in that regard.
QUESTION: Can you take the question?
MR KIRBY: I can take the question, sure. But I’m just not aware of anything.
QUESTION: A very quick one on Cuba. Any update on the reopening of the embassies?
MR KIRBY: No, teams continue to talk about this. And again, I think things are moving in a very positive direction, but I don’t have any update on the schedule.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:45 p.m.)
DPB # 110