Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing – September 17, 2015

1:07 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Your coming-back party. Nice of you to come join us.

MR KIRBY: What’s that?

QUESTION: You come back from (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: I’ve got to keep you on your toes. Okay. I have quite a few announcements today to get through, so bear with me please.

A couple of travel announcements. The first one – and I think you may have seen this – but the Secretary has added a stop onto his trip to Europe this weekend. He will go to Berlin on the 20th – that’s Sunday – to meet with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. They will discuss a range of bilateral and global issues including, of course, refugee and migration issues in Europe.

General Allen traveled from Copenhagen to Brussels on the 16th, yesterday, where yesterday and today he and Ambassador McGurk briefed NATO and European Union representatives on coalition progress and had bilateral meetings with Belgian officials to review our cooperative efforts to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL. Following his meetings in Belgium, the general will return to Washington.

I’m sure you all followed the news last night about the earthquake in Chile. Our thoughts are with the Chilean people, especially those in the region of Coquimbo as they recover from yesterday’s 8.3 Richter scale earthquake. We send our deepest condolences to those who lost loved ones. The strength of Chile’s disaster response and planning has been evident in the hours following the earthquake. And we send our best wishes to Chile, our partner and friend, as they celebrate this, their independence day. Actually, I think it’s tomorrow.

Our Embassy in Santiago issued an emergency message on the 16th, yesterday, to inform all U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Chile of the potential for a tsunami following yesterday’s earthquake. That – and now we haven’t seen evidence that that has occurred, but obviously we wanted people to be aware of it. And our embassy is continuing to work with the Chilean authorities to determine if U.S. citizens were affected by the earthquake. We’re not aware of any cases at this time. Of course, we stand ready to provide assistance to the Government of Chile if requested, and we greatly appreciate the close cooperation of the Chilean authorities.

Moving to Haiti and to Cuba. Today, representatives from the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince hosted a Cuban medical delegation at a USAID-supported medical facility in Haiti. Doctors and staff from the U.S. Agency for Development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort collaborated with Cuban doctors at the USAID-supported St. Luke’s Hospital in Haiti. U.S. and Cuban medical personnel worked alongside one another to provide medical and dental consultations for Haitian patients. Earlier this week, U.S. doctors and staff similarly joined Cuban personnel for a tour of La Renaissance, a Cuban medical facility. The visits are an opportunity to discuss possible future collaboration on these kinds of issues in Haiti.

And then just an announcement for next week’s U.S.-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue. We will host here at the State Department the inaugural U.S.-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue from the 21st of September through the 22nd. Secretary Kerry as well as Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker will be joined by their respective Indian co-chairs, along with members of the U.S. delegation and their Indian counterparts.

The U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue has been the primary form to advance shared objectives in regional security, economic cooperation, defense, trade, and climate challenges since 2009. But as some of you may remember, in January of this year President Obama and Prime Minister Modi elevated the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue to the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, reflecting the United States and India’s shared priorities of generating economic growth, creating jobs, improving the investment climate, and strengthening the middle class in both countries.

So this inaugural S&CD, as we call it, will be an opportunity for the United States and India to further strengthen their partnership to meet the challenges of the coming decades, from climate change to regional security, and of course, to deepen the economic and commercial ties between our two countries. So we’re very much looking forward to that dialogue next week, and I’m sure we’ll have much more to say about it once we get through the weekend and into Monday.

So with that, Matt.

QUESTION: Really? You don’t think that China and the Pope are going to take up – suck up most of the oxygen? Or the – I’m sure the S&CD will be fascinating, but —

MR KIRBY: One thing that I’ve learned about being in Washington as long as I have is that there’s plenty of oxygen to be sucked up.

QUESTION: Gotcha. (Laughter.) I’m sorry that I missed the top of the briefing. Did you talk about Burkina Faso at the top at all?

MR KIRBY: I did not.

QUESTION: Okay. Just —

MR KIRBY: No. But I, as you know, Matt, did issue a statement about it last night, so —

QUESTION: Yeah. I’m just wondering if, very briefly before we go onto other things, if you guys have made a determination about whether this was a coup. Maybe it wasn’t a coup because the government that was toppled – or the president – was not a constitutionally formed one in the first place. But I’m just wondering if you have made such a determination, and if you have, whether it has any implications for any assistance that the Burkinabe Government might get.

MR KIRBY: What I’d tell you, Matt, is that it’s evolving rapidly. It’s a very fluid situation. We’re continuing to evaluate our information about the situation and whatever response might be appropriate as events unfold, which could include and may include foreign assistance implications. We’re not ruling that out. But calling it a coup has legal implications for the United States and it’s not a term that we use lightly. And so again, we’re just continuing to evaluate it.

QUESTION: It’s not a term that you use at all sometimes, even when it’s appropriate, correct?

MR KIRBY: It’s not a term that we use lightly. We’re continuing to evaluate the situation.

QUESTION: Gotcha. I don’t have anything else on that, but I wanted to go to something else.

MR KIRBY: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have anything more – is there anything more to say about the Russian offer for military-to-military talks on the situation in Syria? And the reason I ask this is because Foreign Minister Lavrov basically came out and said the same thing that Secretary Kerry had said yesterday, that they are – would like to have such discussions with you guys.

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t have anything to add to what Secretary Kerry said yesterday. I mean, it – the Russian proposal stands, and as the Secretary indicated yesterday, we’re evaluating that and talking to our colleagues at the Defense Department.

QUESTION: Follow —

QUESTION: This wouldn’t be part of the discussion when the Secretary meets with Ash Carter this afternoon?

MR KIRBY: I can’t rule out that it wouldn’t come up, I mean, especially in light of the – how recent the Russian proposal is. But the purpose for the meeting today is another continuation in a series of meetings that Secretary Kerry and Secretary Carter have continued to have and will continue to have about counter-ISIL efforts. That’s the focus. I certainly would expect that this could come up in the discussion, but the specific goal is really about counter-ISIL efforts.

QUESTION: Some analysts have said that if the U.S. were to resume military-to-military contacts with the Russians, that while it might be advisable in order to try to get some sort of handle on the situation with ISIL, that it would also perhaps let Russia off the hook for what it’s been doing inside Ukraine. Has that concern been raised, as far as you know, within this building?

MR KIRBY: There’s no intention to, as you put it, let Russia off the hook with respect to what they’re doing in Ukraine, nor is there any concern about slackening off what we’ve indicated our position is about ongoing support to the Assad regime. The Russian proposal was for some level – and I repeat, some level. That doesn’t – I don’t know at what level that would occur, even if were to happen – but some level of military-to-military communications in terms of de-conflicting issues inside Syria. And that’s the limit of it; that’s what the proposal was and that’s what’s being explored. But there’s not going to be any slackening of our concern about ongoing support to Assad, and certainly no change in our policy position or firmness with respect to the continued violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

QUESTION: Well, of course, as you recall, the reason why that contact was suspended was because of what was going on inside Ukraine. And so what analysts have been saying to us is that we – the U.S. should not want to do anything that would inadvertently allow Russia to feel as if, all right, it’s achieving what it wants within its regional sphere of influence.

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s important to remember the suspension that you – it was high-level contacts and communication exercise – not exercises, we don’t exercise with the Russians – but just in terms of more formal contacts between the militaries. We have diplomatic relations with Russia. Secretary Kerry routinely talks to his counterpart. There’s certainly no prohibition for there to be discussions with – at a high level at DOD, for them to have discussions with their counterparts. The suspension was really more institutional when it was put into place. And again, those – as far as I know, those remain in place. I’d refer you to my Defense Department colleagues.

QUESTION: John —

QUESTION: But they have – just a final point, and this is really getting into the weeds, but they have said over at the Pentagon that they’re more than happy to let the State Department take the lead on the high-level communications, that they don’t see any reason why Secretary Carter should be engaged in anything with his Russian counterpart at this point.

MR KIRBY: Well, I won’t characterize what my colleagues at the Pentagon have said. Again, this is a Russian proposal Secretary Kerry talked about yesterday that we are exploring and considering. As far as I know, as you and I speak here, Ros, there’s been no final decision made about how or if or when to move forward on it. It’s a proposal that’s being explored, and I would let – should it go forward, it would obviously be under the auspices of the Defense Department, and I would allow them to speak to how – again, if it goes forward – how they would endeavor to pursue it.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? There are reports – I’m sure you’re well aware of them – of Syrian air force aircraft striking Raqqa, which has been a target for U.S. aircraft. Does the U.S. Government think there’s any utility in seeking to de-conflict to ensure that there are no crossed wires if there are aircraft from the two countries in the same area?

MR KIRBY: You’re talking about Syrian aircraft?

QUESTION: Correct.

MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve talked about this before, and I want to be – as I – I will respond to your question, but I do have to put the caveat out there that I am not going to talk about military matters or operational issues.

That said, it’s a point that we have discussed before. There is no communication or coordination with the Syrian regime or their military forces in our counter-ISIL efforts inside Syria. That said – and again, I’d point you to the Defense Department – but I know that we have, through various channels, made clear to the regime to not interfere with coalition air efforts inside the country. And as far as I know, you and I speaking here today, there’s been no conflict in that regard, that there’s been no interference. There’s been no activity by the Syrian regime with respect to our air operations over the country. Again, I’d point you to DOD for any more on that, but there’s been no issue.

QUESTION: To your knowledge, has there been any recent effort to communicate to the Syrians through whatever channels to reinforce that message?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of anything fresh, but it has – it’s been a message that has been delivered. And as far as I know and that we know, it has been observed.

QUESTION: One other one on this. We have a report out of the region saying that the Syrians have now begun to use unspecified Russian weaponry, which has improved their targeting. Do you have any reason to believe that that’s true, and do you have any sense of what kinds of weapons those might be?

MR KIRBY: I’m afraid I don’t, Arshad. I’ve not seen those reports. But again, we’ve long made our concerns known about military assistance and materiel from Russia to the Assad regime that would help them in any way perpetuate violence against their own people, but I’m not familiar with that particular report.

QUESTION: I still have a question that’s —

QUESTION: Haven’t they always used Russian weapons?

MR KIRBY: They have had a longstanding military relationship with Russia. That’s true. That doesn’t mean that —

QUESTION: I mean, aren’t they – their army mostly – I’m not —

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. Just a question about General Austin’s testimony yesterday, which made it pretty clear that the initial results of train and equip in Syria were pretty poor, to put it mildly. And he said that there was a review of the program, or his colleague did. Is that something that Secretary Kerry will be discussing with the Defense Secretary? And does the State Department have a view on that or an input in terms of how that might be made more effective possibly?

MR KIRBY: Sure. As I said, they will be discussing the counter-ISIL effort at their meeting this afternoon. Again, this is a series of meetings that they’ve had on this particular topic. I suspect that, if past is prologue, they will – one of the items they will discuss is this program and the status of it. It has been on the agenda before. I would expect that it will continue to be on the agenda. Now what exactly will be said today, I don’t know.

We all saw General Austin’s testimony yesterday, and frankly, we’ve seen and been aware of comments made by other Pentagon leaders in the past about the struggles and the challenges of this particular program, which they have spoken to candidly and forthrightly.

The Secretary still believes, as he has, that this is an important component of the strategy and he welcomes the attention that the Pentagon continues to put on it. Obviously, these are decisions that they have to make, a review they have to conduct. Obviously, the Secretary will be interested in learning how that’s going and whatever recommendations they might arrive at. But I think the Secretary also recognizes that it is but one component of a strategy that has many lines of effort, and not all of them are in the training realm; in fact, not all of them are in the military realm. And so that’s why we have General Allen here, as I talked about his travel, and Ambassador McGurk, who is also on travel right now, working very hard at the coalition pieces to this strategy, which again are not all military in scope.

QUESTION: But as the person who’s taking the lead on setting up the coalition and keeping the coalition going, does the Secretary or the State Department have a particular view on the – on how this could be changed or made more effective?

MR KIRBY: Well, this is a DOD program, and the Secretary respects the Defense Department’s prerogatives in terms of how it’s administered and executed and eventually implemented. So he looks forward to continuing to talk to Secretary Carter about that and the broad swath of things that we’re trying to do against ISIL in the region. But he will leave it to the Defense Department, as he should, to conduct their review and make whatever changes they deem are most appropriate.

QUESTION: John —

QUESTION: Does the fact that DOD is taking a second look at how the train and assist program goes forward put more emphasis or more importance on the other lines of effort – the counter-messaging, the political diplomatic channels in terms of trying to basically starve out ISIL, particularly inside Syria? Because the military part was the first part of this anti-ISIL campaign, and if it’s now going to be shifting into training a small number of people to basically call in airstrikes – which is very different from a big military force that was envisioned to go after ISIL – doesn’t that put more emphasis now on the nonmilitary parts of the strategy?

MR KIRBY: No, not necessarily, Ros. The nonmilitary aspects of the strategy have remained important and will continue to remain important. They are not the most visible nor are they the most tangible, but they’re no less important now – or no more important now than they were before. I think it’s important to remember that this train and equip program, whichever – wherever way it goes and whatever changes it sees is also just one component of the military line of effort. There are many lines of effort – I’m sorry, many components to the military line of effort which includes airstrikes, it includes training, equipping Iraqi Security Forces there inside the country. It includes assisting in command, control coordination. We have two joint operations centers now – one in the south, one in the north.

So there’s a lot of pieces to the military line of effort. This is but one of them. And again, we need to let the Defense Department do the work that they feel like they need to do to examine where they are and make the right decisions moving forward. But it doesn’t – the challenges that this program is having doesn’t, just by dint of itself, force a radical change in any of the other lines of effort.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: All right? Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: John, back to the military-to-military dialogue —

MR KIRBY: I’ll get to you, Said.

QUESTION: So —

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – I got you.

QUESTION: Wherever you want.

QUESTION: Just to clarify or make —

MR KIRBY: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Just to make clear, is – has the U.S. officially accepted the Russian proposal to discuss the de-confliction and possible cooperation? I know you’ve talked about it, but has the U.S. officially accepted that offer?

MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary was very clear yesterday that it’s a proposal they made that we are exploring, and I would say to you that that’s where we are today.

QUESTION: There was a report that said the Administration accepted the proposal by one of our colleagues from AP. Have you seen that report —

MR KIRBY: Again, I would just —

QUESTION: — the Pentagon approved, Susan Rice approved?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the press reporting on this. Again, I think it’s – the Secretary, as you – you can go back and look at what he said yesterday. He certainly indicated a willingness to review this and to explore it, and that’s what we’re doing now.

QUESTION: One more question about it. What type of timeframe are you considering with this proposal? Are you perhaps considering something on the sidelines of UNGA or perhaps a meeting before the General Assembly?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any milestones here to read out on it. I think that’s putting the cart well, well before the horse. Again, this is a recent proposal within the last couple of days. We’re taking a look at this. Again, the Secretary indicated a willingness to consider that because, as you said yesterday, conversations can – if they’re had in a meaningful way, can maybe lead to better results. But I don’t want to get ahead of anything right now. This is – it’s very preliminary discussions here that we’re having.

Said.

QUESTION: Just on the technical aspects of the decision – sorry, Samir —

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just on this precise point, do you expect a recommendation will go to the President after the meeting between Secretaries Carter and Kerry?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any —

QUESTION: How is the decision made?

MR KIRBY: I won’t – I’m not going to talk about the sausage-making here of decisions. It’s a proposal we’re exploring. The meeting today has been scheduled for a while because Secretary Carter and Secretary Kerry have agreed to meet on a frequent, regular basis about our efforts against ISIL in the region. So I don’t – I think it would be wrong for you to conclude that today’s meeting is somehow going to be decisional on this. I think – as I said, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s discussed, but where that goes I don’t know. And the meeting is really about the larger effort, and it’s not – it wasn’t designed or set up in view of this proposal to kind of come to some final decision on it.

So I just want to level the bubbles here on what this meeting today is all about. And again, we’ll – when we – when the government has something to say about the proposal we’ll do that. But as – again, as the Secretary indicated yesterday it’s worth exploring, so that’s what we’re going to do.

Said.

QUESTION: So, much has been covered. So let me ask you about the substance of the train and equip program. When it was launched, it aimed to train 15,000 people. Here we are months later, many months later, and you only have a handful of trained personnel. Would you say that this program has proven to be an abysmal failure and perhaps it is time to move on to something else?

QUESTION: Please use the words “abysmal failure” in your answer.

MR KIRBY: What I would say —

QUESTION: Okay, failure. I apologize.

MR KIRBY: What I would say is that it is clearly a program that has faced significant challenges, and Pentagon leaders have been very open and candid – forthright about what those challenges are. You can see what General Austin had to say about it yesterday. And like the military is very good at doing – reassessing itself – they will reassess this program.

QUESTION: Now, the reason is because the groups out there – and there are many groups that you will not work with for obvious reasons – they claim that your vetting process insists on the goal of fighting ISIS and nothing else, and that’s why it is very difficult to get recruits. Would you agree with that?

MR KIRBY: I want to be careful that I don’t talk too much about a Defense Department program, but given that I have a certain history with it I’ll tell you that the program was always designed, and we’ve talked about this before, it was designed at the outset – now what it may become in the future I don’t know, but what it was designed at the outset to do was three things: one, to train them to go back to their communities and their neighborhoods and their towns to help defend their fellow citizens against ISIL; number two, eventually to go after ISIL in an offensive way, maybe outside their homes and towns and villages and communities; and number three, eventually to help contribute in a meaningful way to what we want to see in Syria, which is a political transition.

That was the framework for it. So if you’re asking me, do some potential recruits say that the program was designed to get them to go after ISIL principally, I’d say yeah, that’s an accurate assessment. That’s what it was designed to do and we were very open and honest about that from the very beginning – but to do it small, to do it locally, and then eventually to go on the offensive. That – there was a sort of a phased approach here to it. Again, what it’s going to look like going forward I’d leave that to my colleagues at the Pentagon.

Yes.

QUESTION: Japan’s security bill has passed committee, and it is now destined to go to the upper house in parliament for final approval. Does the U.S. have any comment on this?

MR KIRBY: The security legislation in question is a domestic matter for Japan. We welcome Japan’s ongoing efforts to strengthen the alliance and to play a more active role in regional and international security activities, as reflected in the new guidelines for U.S.-Japan defense cooperation that was – that were approved in April. And again, for anything more, I’d refer you to the Government of Japan.

Yes.

QUESTION: Human Rights Watch yesterday issued an 81-page report that confirmed what we already know about the human rights situation in Gambia, which includes the persecution of LGBT Gambians. Have you had a chance to read the specifics of that report, and if so, any comment?

MR KIRBY: We are still reviewing that particular report. We obviously have seen it and we’re reading it.

Broadly speaking though, I can assure you that the United States continues to place great importance on the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people, and we’re going to continue to stand against any efforts to marginalize, criminalize, and penalize vulnerable minorities in a society, including members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

QUESTION: And one of the specific recommendations in that report was that it’s urging the United States and other countries, including the European Union, to impose travel bans, or “other targeted sanctions” against Gambian officials responsible for these human rights. I brought up the question back in July and there was no answer about whether there was any immediate plans to implement such measures. Any update on that?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t. I mean, we’re – again, we’re still going through this report. I don’t have any decisions with respect to this issue to announce today. As you know, we have a variety of tools at our disposal. We’re not afraid to use them when we feel its warranted. But I wouldn’t get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: Samir.

QUESTION: Was the Secretary supposed to meet with the foreign minister of Egypt today?

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: No?

MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Okay. I have a second question.

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Any update on the bombings in Baghdad today? Did you confirm if ISIL was behind it?

MR KIRBY: In Baghdad?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: No. Again, we’ve seen reports, but I don’t have anything to confirm with specifics.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: I have a couple questions of Yemen.

MR KIRBY: On what?

QUESTION: Yemen.

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. First of all, do you have any update of what’s going on in Yemen? What is the status of your involvement, let’s say. If – are you talking to Saudis, are you pushing them for some sort of a resolution? That’s one. And second, the – there are – the reports persist that actually al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is coalescing either on its own or behind the, let’s say, forces from the United Arab Emirates and Saudis and so on, and reconstituting itself. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: On the second thing, I’m – we can’t get into intelligence matters, but obviously, AQAP is a group that we continue to watch very, very closely. They have proven resilient. I’m not going to get into intelligence assessments about their level of strength, but I can assure you that we remain very keenly focused on the threat that they continue to pose.

As for the situation on the ground, again, I try to avoid operational kind of assessments in terms of where things are going. It’s very, very fluid. But I will tell you that we remain engaged on a variety of levels with key Yemeni partners and international partners in order to help support a return to the political transition that we want to see happen in Yemen, and that we’re working in coordination with international partners to ensure that the people of Yemen receive humanitarian relief. You might remember that King Salman was here. In his meeting with the President, both of them – both leaders reinforced the need for that political solution and for the free and unfettered flow of humanitarian aid to the Yemeni people. That’s still proving to be a challenge, and obviously, we’re very focused on that.

QUESTION: On the one hand, the Saudis say that many of the targets that were targeted have been destroyed and so on, but on the other hand, we see a relentless kind of bombardment and it’s actually accelerating, not ebbing.

MR KIRBY: By the Saudis, you mean?

QUESTION: By the Saudis, yes.

MR KIRBY: Well —

QUESTION: The —

MR KIRBY: I mean, if you’re asking me what my reaction to that is —

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: — we continue to discuss with Saudi authorities their prosecution of the – of the air operations that they’re conducting. I’m not going to speak for the Saudi military, but this is something we’re in constant communication with them about. And we continue to urge them to take all proper precautions to avoid collateral damage and civilian casualties and to conduct these strikes in accordance with international law, and will continue to do so.

It’s important to remember, Said, that they were invited in by the Yemeni Government to assist in this effort. But we’re in constant and close communication with them about it.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. satisfied with the Saudi efforts to make sure that humanitarian aid is still getting into Yemen?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think this came out of the meeting between President Obama and King Salman. I think everybody recognizes that because it’s such a fluid situation there, that it’s difficult, that it’s hard. But the Saudis have committed on more than one occasion, including in this meeting, to doing what they could to try to make sure that the access for humanitarian aid can go on unhindered. It’s a difficult – everybody shares that goal; it’s difficult to actually implement it, given the fluidity of the situation. But we’re going to continue to work at that.

Yeah.

QUESTION: On Secretary Kerry’s state regarding the U.S. respond North Korea’s nuclear threat. Yesterday, Secretary Kerry has mentioned that United States have additional different pressure to North Korea, against North Korea’s nuclear threat. Does the U.S. have different additional pressure except existing economic sanctions to North Korea?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, we’ve talked about this before. I mean, we’ve often noted that in a country that’s as economically isolated as North Korea, there is going to limits to the pressure that can be exerted through sanctions alone, particularly unilateral sanctions from the United States. I don’t have – and the Secretary didn’t – I don’t have any announcements to make of – with respect to new tools or new options, but we do continue to look at and will aim to use all the tools at our disposal to make clear, as President Obama and Secretary Kerry have said, that North Korea has a choice to make. And the onus – as I’ve said before, the onus is on them. They’ve got this choice to make to denuclearize and attain the peace and security and prosperity that we’d like to see on the peninsula, or stay along the current path and face increasing diplomatic isolation and economic deprivation.

QUESTION: Yeah, but he said the economic sanction is not enough to pressure to North Korea. I’m saying did you have any specific different pressure currently he has?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary said that sanctions alone may not be enough to create the pressure to – yeah, to inspire a different set of behaviors out of North Korea, that we have other tools at our disposal. But I have nothing new to announce with respect to that. I mean, we have – it would be irresponsible of us not to look at other tools that could be used. This is a closed society and completely – not – almost completely isolated economy, and so there’s a limit to what sanctions can do. And that’s what he referring to, that that’s – it’s a difficult problem to solve and a difficult regime to influence, and we have to recognize that there are limits to what economic sanctions can do. But it doesn’t mean that we’re going to turn away from it or not continue to look at options.

Okay?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: It’s on China. According to the reports from China, Xi Jinping mentioned at yesterday’s meeting U.S. and China agreed to establish the so-called new type of the major power relations in the 2013th meeting, and he likes to promote it in coming visit. U.S. and China is on the same page as for the using this word, so-called new type of the major power relations still, or is the U.S. Government comfortable using the word likewise?

MR KIRBY: New – the word is new type of major power relations.

QUESTION: New type of the major power relations.

MR KIRBY: I think you can understand that I’m not going to get ahead of President Xi’s visit and the agenda and what’s going to be discussed and/or decided. That’s really for my colleagues at the White House to speak to, and I simply wouldn’t get ahead of that. So I’m not in a position to characterize one way or another terminology that will or will not be discussed, debated, or adopted.

We’re looking forward to the visit. It’s an important relationship that matters not just in the Pacific region but around the world as China’s economy continues to grow and China’s influence continues to expand. And so we’re all very excited about this. Secretary Kerry is looking forward to it. And I think we’ll just let the meetings speak for themselves once they happen.

QUESTION: John, on China? This morning up on the Hill, the Secretary’s former colleague and old pal, Senator McCain, before – I believe it was a Senate Armed Services Committee, some subcommittee about the naval role in the Asia Pacific, said that the U.S. Navy should ignore China’s claims – disputed claims to these manmade islands in the South China Sea and should sail its vessels – the U.S. Navy – within the 12-mile limit there. Considering that President Xi is coming next week, from the State Department’s point of view, is this a diplomatically sound thing to be recommending to the military?

MR KIRBY: I’ve not seen the senator’s specific remarks with respect to that, and —

QUESTION: Well, regardless of whether – regardless of whether you’ve seen them or not, is that the kind of thing – I mean, intentional – what would appear to be a provocative move from your part, is that the kind of thing that the State Department would like to see happen ahead of such an important visit, a visit to which you ascribe so much value?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to hypothesize about potential or speculative military actions. First of all, I think it would be unwise to do that in the main. Secondly, it’s the kind of thing that I think is better proffered to the Defense Department to speak to. What I will tell you though, Matt, is that we continue to share an interest with the region in maintaining regional stability, upholding the existing rules-based order, and in that spirit we continue to encourage all the claimants – and that’s really what this is getting at is this idea of the claimant, the claims – to take concrete steps to reduce the tensions in the South China Sea. So what we want to see are tensions reduced, not tensions increased.

QUESTION: Right. So would this kind of suggestion, that’s something that – that that’s something that would increase tensions, right? Even though you’re not a claimant, if you sent —

MR KIRBY: We are not.

QUESTION: — if the U.S. Government was to send naval – its Navy or some ships from its Navy from the Pacific Fleet into the waters claimed by the Chinese in these disputed areas, that would elevate tensions, correct?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know because we’re not – I mean, it’s not being done, but —

QUESTION: Well, let me give you the answer. Yes, it would.

MR KIRBY: But —

QUESTION: So you think that it’s a bad idea or a good idea?

MR KIRBY: What we want to see —

QUESTION: I’m asking you not whether it should be done or not, but whether you think —

MR KIRBY: What we want to see are tensions decrease, Matt. We obviously have an obligation, and we continue to exercise it, of freedom of navigation and freedom of the seas. And I think Secretary Carter spoke to this very bluntly earlier this week about the fact that the military will continue to operate in international waters and international airspace as we need to do to maintain our proficiency and to maintain our security commitments to the region. So that – that will not – we are a Pacific power. We’re going to remain one.

QUESTION: All right. You —

MR KIRBY: And we’re going to do it in keeping with international law.

QUESTION: Okay. So that means you – even though the —

MR KIRBY: I’m not —

QUESTION: — these limits are disputed, you’re going to respect them.

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is we’re going to continue to exercise freedom of navigation and freedom of use of the airspace in accordance with international law. I’m not going to speculate or hypothesize on exactly where those activities are going to happen.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Just can you tell us – I know the meeting just began, but what can you tell us about the subject of the meeting between Secretary Kerry and the CEOs of American Airlines and Delta Airlines? And then the schedule had him also meeting with two union – airline union leaders. Are they in that meeting or is he meeting them separately, or is that not happening at all?

MR KIRBY: No, this – the meeting today between the Secretary and Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Catherine Novelli – they’re scheduled to meet with American Airlines CEO Doug Parker – actually, the meeting is, as you rightly noted, going on now – and the Delta CEO, Richard Anderson. Those are the parties in the meeting, and the principal purpose is to discuss the concerns of these two airlines over Gulf carriers – Gulf country air carriers – that are benefiting from government subsidies that these CEOs believe are distorting the market. That’s the purpose for the meeting.

QUESTION: Do you know the —

QUESTION: Can I go to Ukraine?

QUESTION: Sorry —

MR KIRBY: Did you have one on this?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Well, just given the fact that one of the airlines, I believe, is the Emirates Airlines and the Secretary is flying to London to see the Emirati foreign minister, you expect that he’ll be raising this issue?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. It could certainly come up in light of today’s meeting, but I don’t know.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ukraine, as part of new sanctions, has banned more than 40 journalists from several countries. The list was criticized by the Committee to Protect Journalists and the OSCE. Does the U.S. support these sanctions?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve seen – we’ve seen this. The – you’re talking about President Poroshenko’s —

QUESTION: Yes.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. So we believe, as you know, all governments should uphold free expression, and we welcome President Poroshenko’s decision to swiftly lift the travel ban on some of the journalists. We recognize that more than 30 individuals remain banned from travel to Ukraine for a variety of reasons, including illegally entering the country.

As the Ukrainian Government continues to review the list, we encourage it to keep in mind the importance of unfettered and factual journalism in a democratic society. The United States fully supports a real marketplace of ideas, but we also recognize that the Ukrainian Government, like many other countries in the region, has serious concerns about the intense propaganda campaign waged by Russia’s state-controlled media and the possible impact that propaganda could have on the country’s future.

QUESTION: But they were from – they’re from, like, six different countries, not just Russia – throughout Europe, even Israel.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: Nothing to do with Russian propaganda.

MR KIRBY: That’s why I said as the Ukrainian Government continues to review the list – and I recognize that there are more than Russian state media on the list – we ask or we encourage them to keep in mind the importance of unfettered and factual-based journalism in a democratic country. I mean, we – we’re very honest and candid and open here in the United States about the importance of media freedom, and that’s no less important there than anywhere else.

You had a question?

QUESTION: You know the – and you’ve seen in – the public schedule said he was going to meet the two union leaders.

MR KIRBY: Oh, I have to – I’ll have to turn back in the book here. Hang on a second.

QUESTION: Is he ever going to meet those union leaders? I mean —

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I don’t have anything further on his calendar with respect to this issue to read out. This – I do want to stress that this meeting was requested by these two CEOs, and so the Secretary agreed to meet with them. They, as I understand it, have also met with other leaders in our federal government, not just the Secretary of State. So I know of no additional meetings that he’s going to have on this particular issue or who they would be with. Obviously, just like today, if they happen, they’ll be on his public calendar and you’ll know about it.

QUESTION: And just last thing: I believe the department which negotiates the Open Skies agreements under which the claims of improper subsidies are being raised is reviewing the airlines’ claims about the Gulf carriers. Has the Department or the Administration more broadly made any determination one way or the other, or is it still in a information-gathering, kind of analyzing mode?

MR KIRBY: You’re right; it’s really a DOT and a Commerce Department issue. I’m not aware of any final decisions that have been made with respect to these claims. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why these two CEOs wanted to speak to Secretary Kerry to continue to discuss their concerns. So I’m not aware that this has been resolved in any way whatsoever. And again, the Secretary respects the role of DOT and the Commerce Department in terms of working through this.

I have got to go. I’m going – we have another bilateral meeting this afternoon. I’ll take one real quick one and then I’ve got to run.

QUESTION: What’s your reaction to today’s expiration of the legislative review period for the Iran nuclear deal, and is there any consideration of the Administration offering some sort of olive branch to lawmakers who’ve been so vehemently opposed to the plan?

MR KIRBY: Our reaction is – I mean, we’re certainly grateful for the review in Congress, and we’re glad —

QUESTION: What?

MR KIRBY: We are glad that —

QUESTION: You’re grateful for the review? But they didn’t review it. They voted not to – they voted not to.

MR KIRBY: For the —

QUESTION: And you encouraged them to stop, to stop —

MR KIRBY: We’re grateful for the review and debate and discussion that the deal elicited. And as I said from the very beginning, Secretary Kerry did not shy away from having discussions with lawmakers who had all kinds of different opinions about this. He recognizes that that’s what is – that’s what’s great about living in a democracy, is that people can have differences and can disagree and can express their opinions. Now we are turning to the important task of implementation of the JCPOA, and that’s where his focus and energy is going to be going now, moving forward.

So thanks. Appreciate it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:51 p.m.)