3:32 p.m. EST
MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.
QUESTION: Good evening. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: I should have known. 3:30 is getting near your bedtime, isn’t it? (Laughter.) I know you got to —
QUESTION: It’s not near my bedtime. It’s getting near happy hour.
MR KIRBY: No, no, no. I know you got to get – I know you got to get to the early bird special. The price of prime rib goes up to $3 here in about an hour. You don’t want to miss that. Goodness gracious.
QUESTION: You’re the one who’s (inaudible).
MR KIRBY: I will try to get through this quickly —
QUESTION: You’re the one who —
MR KIRBY: — so that you can get to your supper. (Laughter.)
I think you may have seen the Secretary’s statement on the fifth anniversary of New START. As he noted, today marks that anniversary of that treaty entering into force. The treaty’s value has been proven over the last five years, and we still believe it’s a source of continued dialogue, cooperation, and progress between the United States and Russia. New START furthers our goal to promote trust, transparency, predictability, and stability with the other largest nuclear power in the world, shows the world that the United States is serious about its leadership role on nuclear arms reduction. So I just wanted to draw your attention to that statement by the Secretary on this important anniversary.
And as you know and I think you may have seen, another important anniversary was the 15th anniversary of Plan Colombia, marked by President Santos’s visit to the White House yesterday and here to the State Department today. The Secretary, I think as you know, just wrapped up his press conference with the president. It was a good, fruitful discussion, and all of us are looking forward to the future years here under the new plan, which is now known as Peace Colombia, or Paz Colombia. So again, I’d point you back to what the Secretary had to say when he finished that meeting with President Santos. But we were glad to have them here, very honored and proud, certainly proud of the accomplishments that together we’ve made there in Colombia.
QUESTION: Let’s start with Syria. The Secretary made some strong comments upstairs echoing kind of what his message – that has been his message over the course of the past couple days when he was in London. I’m just wondering, how concerned are you about the situation in Aleppo? It’s almost completely surrounded now. There’s all sorts of fear that it’s going to end up in a – basically a bombing and starvation campaign, a siege of the city. How concerned are you that that’s going to happen, and is there anything you can do to prevent it from happening? Or is it just – have you just – is it just inevitable it’s going to happen?
MR KIRBY: I’d almost hasten to say, Matt, that in many respects a siege of Aleppo has, in fact, happened. You’re absolutely right the way you describe it. It is a city under siege. We know that certainly more than 10,000 at some estimates – and even higher by others – residents have fled. We know that humanitarian aid routes have been cut off, certainly the most significant ones, and there continues to be bombardment from the air – obviously, by Russian military aircraft. And of course, the regime ground forces continue to squeeze the city. So I think we would consider that it’s very much being besieged.
And we’re deeply concerned about that. You’re right; the Secretary was very strong this afternoon. I think that adequately and fully represents his concerns about where this is going particularly there in Aleppo but in other places in Syria as well. And all I can tell you is that we have made our objections and our concerns known very directly to the Russians. There’s no doubt in their minds where we are on this, and frankly, where the international community is on this. And the Secretary, again, was clear today it’s got to stop. He also said that the next few days, as we lead up to Munich, are going to be very telling in terms of what the prospects are for a real peace there.
QUESTION: Five years ago, the mere hint or threat of this kind of – of what’s happening to Aleppo now, the mere hint of that or threat of it in another country – the city was Benghazi, the leader was Qadhafi – prompted a bombing campaign. Now, I realize that it’s apples and oranges, that there’s – that Qadhafi didn’t have support from a UN Security Council member at the time. But why is it that the United States and its allies – but primarily the United States, which you speak for – aren’t doing more than kind of thumping your fist and – the Secretary said it himself, it’s got to stop, but it’s not going to stop by whining about it. So why aren’t you doing more, prepared to do more?
MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t characterize our approach as whining. It’s diplomacy and it’s assertive diplomacy. And the Secretary talked about that just a few minutes ago, that the very active diplomacy is trying to avert further bloodshed and not escalate the tensions and not make it worse. We – believe me, we’re very keenly focused on the suffering of the Syrian people in and around Aleppo and other places of the nation. And that’s – and we also believe that the way forward is through a political solution, through a diplomatic resolution to the civil war, not a military solution. And that’s why our focus, certainly here at the State Department, continues to be on trying to get at that political resolution to get to a ceasefire. And so we are working very hard on that outcome, on trying to get to a ceasefire.
I’ll get it for you.
QUESTION: Thanks, John. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: We’re working very hard to try to get to a ceasefire so that not only can dialogue continue, but suffering can stop. I recognize that people can argue it’s not going fast enough or we’re not going far enough, and I think the Secretary recognizes that. We’re all frustrated by the situation there. But we also need to be mindful of the ultimate goal here, which is an end to the conflict and not an exacerbation of it. So all I would tell you is, again, from the United States State Department, we’re doing everything we can, working very, very hard to try to get at the – to try to get all the people who signed up to 2254 to meet their obligations to 2254, and that includes Russia.
QUESTION: But —
QUESTION: But in the meantime – but in the meantime, until it’s actually enacted, I mean, there’s tens of – as you said, 10,000 more people have fled, a lot more people are going to die because of this, and in horrific conditions. So just getting people – I mean, there’s got to be some kind of interim step, doesn’t there, that you can take to prevent that from happening? You may have seen one of your – Nick Burns, one of your predecessors here at the podium, along with Jim Jeffrey wrote a piece in The Washington Post talking about resurrecting the idea of a safe zone 25 to 30 miles south of the Turkish border. Why not finally consider that? It’s been batted around for a long time, especially by the Turks.
MR KIRBY: There has been conversations about various options in that regard, and I can tell you that discussions continue about what options may be most viable. But what is obviously the simplest thing to do and to put into effect is the very ceasefire that the Russians signed up to.
QUESTION: But —
MR KIRBY: And that’s all we want. Hang on a second, Elise. That’s all we want. We want them to meet their own obligations and commitments. I won’t get up here and speculate about options going forward or ruling anything in or out. What we’re focused on is having everybody who signed up to those commitments to meet those commitments and to stop the suffering.
QUESTION: But I mean, I want to go back to something the Secretary said the first day or the first press avail that he gave, which is he wanted to change Assad’s calculus, because until you changed the battlefield situation or the reality on the battlefield you’re never going to give anybody the kind of incentive to negotiate.
Now, what the Russians are doing – it seems as if they’re trying to create a new situation on the ground, a new battlefield reality, as if it wasn’t bad enough, to strengthen their hand and Assad’s hand at the negotiating table. So is there anything that you’re considering doing, or don’t you think it’s time to do something to stop – to not fight back, but to create the battlefield situation that you wanted from the beginning? I mean, they’re trying to completely flip the script and they’re using the talks as a diplomatic cover to do that.
MR KIRBY: Well, the Secretary again talked about – you said isn’t it time, and he said in his statement the other night —
QUESTION: No, I said isn’t it time to —
MR KIRBY: — it is exactly time —
QUESTION: — do something on the battlefield to get them to the table?
MR KIRBY: It’s time – it’s time for everybody to meet their commitments under 2254 and to enact the ceasefire that they signed up to and everybody else did.
QUESTION: That wasn’t what I asked, though.
MR KIRBY: No, I know that’s not what you asked. This is my answer to what you asked. There is a – the time is now for them to meet their commitments. And —
QUESTION: Yes, it is time, but what are you going to do to get them to honor their commitments?
MR KIRBY: Clearly, as we’ve said, that their actions to date indicate that they continue to believe – even though they’ve said otherwise – that they continue to believe that there’s a military solution to what must be solved politically. And nothing’s changed about our view that that’s still the right answer here in the long term for Syria – a political solution to this conflict, not a military one. The Russians themselves have signed up to that. They signed both Vienna communiques and they signed 2254. But it —
QUESTION: No, I’m not – I’ll stipulate to all of that. But what I’m saying is: How are you going to get them to honor their commitments? Not that they should honor their commitments. Everybody knows that they should. But what are you going to do – and I mean, one of the things of this idea of the safe haven that has been discussed before is to change the leverage that the Russians have on the ground. I mean, what – what can you do practically to get the Russians to say what you want them to – do what you say you want them to do?
MR KIRBY: I certainly won’t speculate or talk about options in or out or options that are or are not on the table going forward. I won’t do that. What needs to happen is the Russians need to meet their own commitments. And frankly, these questions you’re asking, they’re good questions; they should be asked in Moscow. What’s it going to take for the Russians to do what they said they would do? What’s it going to take for them to stop the bombing so that the peace talks can resume and so that we can get to this actual political transition that they themselves signed up to?
Now, as the Secretary said, the next few days, going into next week, are going to be telling. And I can assure you that he has already made his objections and deep concerns about the situation known to Foreign Minister Lavrov. He will continue to do so, and I fully expect, as I said yesterday, that this is all going to be very sharply in focus in Munich on the 11th.
QUESTION: Just one more. One more. But where is the incentive? Where is the – I mean, just saying, “You should live up to your obligations,” I just don’t —
MR KIRBY: I understand and appreciate that you want me to say this is how we’re going to twist their arm. It’s not about arm twisting. It’s about meeting —
QUESTION: Yeah, it is about arm twisting, John.
MR KIRBY: It’s about meeting their – they’ve already said that they would support a ceasefire.
QUESTION: And they’re not.
MR KIRBY: Exactly. And so they need to meet their obligations. It’s not about arm twisting. It’s about doing what you said you were going to do. And the question to what if – well, what if they don’t? Well, there’s going to be tens of thousands of more —
QUESTION: Well, there is no question – I’m sorry. I’m sorry, there’s no —
MR KIRBY: — people injured or maimed or displaced, more civilian infrastructure destroyed, and no end to the war. A war, by the way, that the Russians have said they too want to see an end to.
QUESTION: But John, a few minutes ago the Secretary said he’s in talks now on two legs: there’s the ceasefire and then humanitarian issues.
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: Does he believe that those two can bring the opposition back to the talks? That – is that enough to bring the opposition back to the talks?
MR KIRBY: Well, I won’t speak for the opposition and what will or won’t bring them back to the table. We’ve long said that we want the discussions to go on without preconditions. That said, we also recognized – and we recognize – we recognized and we recognize today, now, that it was difficult to have those talks be successful in Geneva when the very people that the opposition was representing were being bombed and could not get access to food, water, and medical supplies. Again, I know it’s not popular, but I’ll point you back to Resolution 2254, which said all parties need to provide access – unfettered and sustained – to humanitarian aid and assistance to all those besieged areas. And we believe that that should happen in its own right, not tied to the resumption of talks or not. It needs to happen now. It should have happened yesterday. It should have happened back in December when everybody signed up to it.
Now, clearly, one would think, given the fact that the continued bombing and the lack of humanitarian access certainly played a role in pausing the talks in Geneva, one would – one would naturally assume that if we could get a ceasefire in place, or we could get some humanitarian access, that it would certainly help encourage a resumption of those talks. I mean, that’s just obvious. And – but we’re not pursuing it – we don’t want to pursue it just to that end. Obviously, we want the talks to continue. The reason that the Secretary wants to pursue those two tracks, as he talked about a little bit ago, is because the international community signed up to them, and the fighting and the dying have to stop. And those are two ways that you can have an immediate practical effect on the fighting and the dying.
QUESTION: So when he goes to Munich, he wants to have one or the other in place? Because he said, “the next few days.” Or is he talking about something that he will then finalize in Munich?
MR KIRBY: I don’t think he was at all saying that he’s not going to go to Munich unless we have one or the other in place. Look, if we could get one or the other or both of them in place today or tomorrow, that’s great. That’s not going to stop the meeting in Munich from happening. That still needs to occur. But I don’t think he was tying Munich in any way to getting these done.
QUESTION: John, a follow-up on the ceasefire. When the Secretary said a few minutes ago that, “Russia has indicated to me very directly that they are prepared to do a ceasefire,” was he referring to a new commitment from Russia and – within the past few days, and if so, what kind of timeframe did Russia indicate it was looking at?
MR KIRBY: I think what he was talking to, or talking about, was a series of discussions that he’s had with Foreign Minister Lavrov, including the last conversation where they talked about – in fact, it was in the readout that they talked about the importance of trying to get at a ceasefire. But this is something that he and Foreign Minister Lavrov have talked about a long time. And again, back in December, the Russians signed up to a resolution that said there needs to be and will be a ceasefire. So it’s not a new topic.
QUESTION: But when he said —
MR KIRBY: But it is something, certainly, that in the last call they had, what, two nights ago —
MR KIRBY: — that it certainly came up.
QUESTION: They talked about it before, but when he says they indicated to me very directly they are prepared to do a ceasefire – so, I mean, is there a time factor in there that’s new or —
MR KIRBY: I don’t have – I don’t have any more detail.
QUESTION: Next day, next week?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have any more detail beyond that.
MR KIRBY: It needs to happen today, Pam. Today.
QUESTION: Yeah, but —
MR KIRBY: I mean, it was signed up to in December. We want it to happen now. I don’t know that the – that in their conversations, Foreign Minister Lavrov ascribed a certain timeline or a date to it. But they did indicate – he did indicate, as the Secretary said, their willingness to pursue a ceasefire, and that’s what we want to see happen.
QUESTION: Yes. A spokesman for the Kremlin was quoted today saying that the Russians want to do both – support the peace process and continue to support the Assad regime militarily. What do you say to that?
MR KIRBY: I’d say they’re completely discordant thoughts and discordant actions.
QUESTION: So —
MR KIRBY: I mean, you can’t prop up the Assad regime and make it easier for him to kill his own people —
MR KIRBY: — and say out of the other side of your mouth that you want to pursue this political transition and a peace process that you yourself signed up to in Vienna twice.
QUESTION: You can do it; you shouldn’t do it.
QUESTION: But how long —
MR KIRBY: It can’t be done. You can’t say that you’re going to continue to bolster Assad and his regime, which has killed untold numbers of Syrian people and displaced millions from his own country – you can’t say that that is your goal, that that’s what you’re doing, and still say that you want to see a peaceful resolution to this conflict. Because the more Assad feels emboldened, the more he is reassured of his power and influence, the less likely – in fact, there’s no likelihood of peace in Syria.
QUESTION: So they are bluffing then?
MR KIRBY: Who?
QUESTION: The Russians.
MR KIRBY: I don’t know if I’d call it bluffing, but I certainly would say that – I certainly would say that it’s – that the messages are absolutely at odds with one another and doesn’t, as I said yesterday, doesn’t – everything we’ve seen them do certainly would indicate or signal that they believe, despite what they’ve said, that there’s a military solution to this conflict. And we continue to believe that there isn’t one.
QUESTION: John, when was the last time the Secretary and Lavrov spoke? Was it not yesterday?
MR KIRBY: I thought it was the night before last, yeah. It was the one I talked about yesterday, so it would have been the night before last.
QUESTION: All right. So in that, the Russians say – in that, they also talked about humanitarian – flying humanitarian aid in on military planes. Do you —
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I saw that readout. Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have anything that you can add about – add to that?
MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is – and I think I said this yesterday. Certainly, the foreign minister and the Secretary talked about the need for humanitarian aid and access to besieged areas and discussed various ways in which that might be achieved. I don’t have any specifics to offer beyond that.
QUESTION: I mean, were they talking about Russian planes or U.S. planes or Jordanian planes or Turkish?
MR KIRBY: I don’t – I don’t have any more specifics to offer than that, but they did recognize in the conversation that humanitarian aid and assistance is important, and certainly, we believe that. We also continue to make the point that it’s difficult to make that a goal when, through the bombing campaign and the regime operations on the ground, you continue to cut off the various supply routes on the ground to these cities.
QUESTION: All right. And in terms of the Russians and what Samir described as bluffing, which – I mean, it seems to me the Russians, rather than bluffing themselves, are calling your bluff here, because they have determined that you’re not going to do anything really to stop – to stop them, which gets to Elise’s first question on the whole idea of when the Secretary came in talking about changing the calculus of Assad on the ground. Is it not the case that what the United States did to try and change Assad’s calculus on the ground failed and that, in fact, the country that was able to change the calculus on the ground has been Russia?
MR KIRBY: I would agree with half of your statement. I wouldn’t say that it failed, because if you remember, the reason why Russia flew aircraft in was because the calculus of Assad was changing. He was under more pressure. Damascus was under threat. He was losing a grip. And as we said at the time, when the Russians were getting this great credit for some sort of grand Middle East strategy, what it really was was them making a calculated decision, seeing that the regime was under threat, not wanting to have their – what they believe their military interests are, particularly military interests in Syria, damaged; decided to react. And it was reactive, and that’s all it was, was reactive.
QUESTION: Okay. But the —
MR KIRBY: And that – and that – there’s no question that their intervention has, in fact, had an impact on the calculus of Assad in the opposite direction. He has felt more emboldened, he has felt more reassured. And our message has been the same, that that is – that reassurance to him is doing nothing to try to bring peace in Syria, and it absolutely, fundamentally is at odds with what the Russians themselves have signed up to in two communiques and a UN Security Council resolution.
QUESTION: Right, but I don’t understand why you’re surprised at that.
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say I was surprised by that.
QUESTION: Oh. So you took the Russian – you didn’t think the Russians were being honest?
MR KIRBY: Surprised by what?
QUESTION: When they voted in favor of the resolution?
MR KIRBY: They signed up to it, they voted for it. They have been leaders at the table throughout the Vienna process. So I don’t see how it would be beyond us to have the expectation that they would honor their word and that they would – that they would do what they said they would do in the presence of the rest of the international community. But this isn’t about —
QUESTION: Well, it’s a Chapter VII resolution, though, right?
MR KIRBY: But this isn’t about – but this isn’t about trust. And we’ve been nothing but candid and open and forthright about what we’ve been seeing them do. And as I said even yesterday, when I got asked about coordination, it’s difficult to say you can coordinate with somebody when clearly the outcome they seek is so different than the outcome we seek and the rest of the international community seems to – they seek.
QUESTION: So I’m still confused about two things. First of all, if this is a Chapter VII resolution, right, and they’re in violation of it, then why don’t you bring them – not that you would be able to pass it through the UN Security Council, but why don’t you bring them in violation of the UN Security Council?
MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to speculate about future actions one way or the other. I can appreciate why —
QUESTION: Do you see future action at the UN on this?
MR KIRBY: I can appreciate why you would want me to be able to say, “If this, then that.”
QUESTION: No, they already did. It’s not “if this, then that.”
MR KIRBY: We’re not in that – we are not – we are not in a position to speak to that right now. As the Secretary said, the next few days are going to be very telling in terms of how much progress we can continue to make on the political front, and then —
QUESTION: But —
MR KIRBY: — and we’ll get to Geneva and then we’ll see.
QUESTION: If they – okay, so if they —
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, we’ll get to Munich and then we’ll —
QUESTION: If they have several times said that they’re committed to a political transition and have – their actions on the ground have shown otherwise and now they’re in violation of a UN Security Council resolution, now you’re talking to them again and they’re saying that they’re, in theory, kind of signing up – ready to sign up to a ceasefire, like, at what point do you not trust anything they say and their words, like, mean nothing? I just —
MR KIRBY: This has never been – has never been just about trust, Elise. It’s never been about that. It’s about commitments that the international community has made and about our desire – certainly, we’re meeting our commitments. We want everybody else to meet theirs. It’s never been about trust with Russia. But we didn’t make them sign that resolution. We didn’t make them —
QUESTION: How – I guess maybe a better question —
MR KIRBY: — sign up to the communique.
QUESTION: I guess a better question is: How many more times are you going to take their assurances that they’re willing to sign on to a ceasefire or hold talks and continue to drag out the diplomatic process without taking more action on the ground to change the battlefield situation?
MR KIRBY: The question presupposes that we’re simply just sitting back and taking them at their word, and we’re not. This has been a very iterative, very constant communication with them, particularly on the Secretary’s part with Foreign Minister Lavrov. They have had some pretty tough conversations about this. And the Secretary’s been nothing but very forthright about his concerns and we’re going to continue to press those concerns. Again, the next few days will be telling, and it’s important that we move towards —
QUESTION: And what are they going to tell? Like, what if it —
MR KIRBY: It’ll tell us how committed all the parties are to seeing enacted exactly what everybody said they would want to see enacted, which is a ceasefire and humanitarian access and a real, tangible move to get the political process going. And the next few days, again, will be very telling of that. And I wouldn’t speculate right now one way or the other conditionally what the international community might do if we can’t get there.
QUESTION: John, as a follow-up to Matt’s question, you don’t want to speculate, I know, but just to understand the perspective of U.S.’s —
MR KIRBY: But you want me to.
QUESTION: — you talk about this issue —
MR KIRBY: Everything comes after the word “but” is what you’re really going after.
QUESTION: Okay. At this point – you talk about this issue yesterday as well, about the Russians’ suggestion that the Turks are preparing for a ground operation in Syria. And you didn’t comment on this, but do you believe that after these ceasefire attempts fail, at this point, a ground operation will be productive in Syria? Not by – not necessarily by U.S., but the Turks, or for example, Saudis?
MR KIRBY: The short answer to your question is no. We continue to believe that there’s no military solution to the civil war in Syria. Nothing has changed about that, about our calculus with respect to that; that the answer needs to be a political one; that that’s the real way to achieve some sort of long-lasting, sustainable peace, not escalating the tensions, not more bloodshed.
QUESTION: And the second one. I know that you are discussing this border security issue with the Turks, and Secretary of Homeland Security also – he’s heading to Turkey soon in the upcoming days. There is another border security problem right now after this situation in Aleppo – not only the 98 kilometers between (inaudible) Jarabulus – between Marea and Jarabulus, but also the Azaz corridor is another border security problem maybe, because after this push by the Syrian Government and the Russian forces, some radical elements also are about to retreat to Turkey, including Nusrah and other radical groups in the area. Are you discussing this issue with the Turks?
MR KIRBY: We have routinely been discussing issues of border security with the Turks. As you know, Brett McGurk has been very active on that front, and they have taken steps – meaningful steps – to try to get at dealing with their security issues, issues that they admit and that they know that they’re facing. So there have been a range of discussions about that. I wouldn’t get into the details one way or another. Certainly not – I’m not going to talk about specific geography. I think you can understand that we don’t exactly want to communicate to groups like Daesh everything that’s being done, and I wouldn’t talk to operations one way or the other. But on the whole, yes, we continue to have discussions about border security with the Turks.
QUESTION: Are you concerned specifically about the retreat of Nusrah?
MR KIRBY: We are concerned about all the border issues that are affecting Turkey with respect to the flow of foreign fighters, the materiel assistance, and other means of sustenance to Daesh inside Syria.
QUESTION: Not Daesh, Nusrah. I’m talking about Nusrah and other anti-regime forces.
MR KIRBY: Absolutely, we’re concerned about that. I mean, Nusrah is a terrorist group. We continue to discuss all these issues with the Turks.
QUESTION: Just on that point on ground troops, with the Saudi statement saying that they’d be willing to dedicate ground troops as part of a U.S.-backed coalition – with your remark saying that there’s no military solution, is that basically you saying “thanks, but no thanks” to an offer to use ground troops?
MR KIRBY: We’ve just seen this proposal. We’re – I think it’s safe to say that we’re – that we obviously have some questions about it and are going to continue to talk to the Saudis about exactly what the parameters are here. But when we talk about no military solution, we’re talking about no military solution to the civil war, to the fight by the opposition against the regime. We’re not talking about the efforts to go after Daesh. I mean, clearly, the coalition is involved in military operations in Syria against Daesh, and that’s going to continue. We still have to degrade and destroy their capabilities. But I think we just need to know a little bit more about what this proposal is. That’s why I wasn’t able to comment in any detail yesterday on it, and I’m really not going to be able to offer a judgment on it today. But we are certainly talking to the Saudis about what the parameters of this is, what their intentions are.
QUESTION: If you’re still talking to them about it, is there, though, U.S. concern that the fact that the Saudis made this proposal is an indication of Saudi frustration that basically the status quo isn’t working and it’s time to try something new?
MR KIRBY: Again, we’re going to talk to the Saudis about exactly what the parameters are here and what the intentions are. I’m not going to get ahead of that. The – again, and I won’t speak for a foreign government. But certainly, I think it’s safe to say that everybody in the international community is frustrated by what’s going on in Syria and everybody wants to see that war stop, everybody wants to see a group like Daesh defeated. And we’re going to continue to work at that.
So again, I won’t – I can’t say whether they’re frustrated or not. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me. Everybody’s frustrated about what’s going on in Syria. That’s why it’s important to have this next meeting of the ISSG in Munich, and that’s why it’s important before the end of the month to get those talks – the Geneva talks – resumed.
QUESTION: But John, there is a report on Reuters quoting the White House spokesman, saying the Saudis are responding to a request by the Secretary of Defense to increase their support to the fight against ISIL.
MR KIRBY: I said this – Samir, I said this yesterday. I mean, when we —
QUESTION: Yeah. But it’s not like —
MR KIRBY: — when I first got this question yesterday. We have intensified our efforts against Daesh – the United States has – and I’m not just talking about militarily, although that’s the most tangible representation of that intensification. And we have urged every other member of the coalition to intensify their efforts against Daesh to the degree that they can. As I said before, it’s a coalition of the willing. Every nation in that coalition has to be willing to participate in whatever way they deem fit. These are sovereign decisions. We recognize and respect that.
But we want – we want everybody to increase the pressure. And to the degree that Saudi Arabia is willing and able to participate more intensely against Daesh, well, that’s a welcome thing. As Secretary Carter said, that would be a welcome thing. But we have to study this proposal a little bit more, I think, and learn a little bit more about what the intentions are. But yes, I mean, in general, we have long said we want other nations to contribute more against Daesh, as we are. We’ve got skin in the game and we’re adding – we’re putting more skin in the game. We certainly would like to see other nations do the same thing.
QUESTION: Other subject?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: India. India on Thursday ratified the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damages, which will come into force in May. What’s your reaction?
MR KIRBY: The United States welcomes the action by India to join the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, otherwise known as CSC and that’s how I’ll refer to it now since I don’t have – won’t say that again. Indian membership in the CSC marks another important step towards creating the global nuclear liability regime called for by the IAEA Nuclear Safety Action Plan. We’ll also facilitate participation by companies from the United States in the construction of nuclear reactors in India, which will mean more reliable electricity for Indians, will reduce its reliance – India’s reliance on carbon-intensive sources, that will benefit the environment, and will offer India greater energy security for its large and growing economy.
QUESTION: So you mean to say that it’s going to help the civil nuclear deal implementation?
MR KIRBY: As I said, we believe it’s an important step toward creating a global nuclear liability regime and it’ll facilitate international cooperation in expanding the use of nuclear power in India.
QUESTION: So what is the next step?
MR KIRBY: Well, I would refer you to the Department of Energy for next steps. I don’t have with me what the next steps would be. This is really something for the Energy Department to speak to.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay, I have a couple questions. First on the Somali airplane mystery, this is looking to become more of a terror probe. The FBI is over there looking at it. Is the U.S. Government willing at this point to characterize this as a terror investigation, or ready to characterize it that way?
MR KIRBY: I don’t – I don’t have an update for you on causation. Clearly, we’ve seen the reports that it was an explosion caused by a bomb. But again, this is being investigated predominantly by the Federal Government of Somalia, and I just don’t have anything more on that.
MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything to confirm one way or the other. But they’re obviously – it’s being investigated as a possibility of that, but we need to let investigators do their work and make their conclusions before we jump to our own.
QUESTION: Wait a second.
QUESTION: You’re going jump to a conclusion after the investigation?
MR KIRBY: Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.
QUESTION: You could come to another conclusion?
QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, the – there’s a big hole in the side of the plane, and the guy is missing. So —
MR KIRBY: I think Justin knows what I meant.
MR KIRBY: We’re not going to jump to conclusions, but we’re obviously going to let the investigators do their job.
QUESTION: The Pentagon released 198 previously classified photos that document abuse or mistreatment of some detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001 to 2009. Are you concerned that putting these – I know that there has been some concern with the government. They’ve been trying to withhold them. So now that they’re finally out, what are you – is the State Department issuing any warnings to Americans overseas to be cautious or to watch out essentially for any —
MR KIRBY: Well, look, any citizen traveling can go to our website and read whatever our travel warnings and alerts are. I’m not aware of any specific alerts with respect to this release. That said, we have made sure that our posts and our embassies, particularly in the Middle East, were aware of this release and were aware of the essential content of it and reinforced what they already know, which is they have to do what they need to do based on the temperature there – the security temperature – to look after the safety and security not only of our facilities, but providing information – the appropriate information – to American citizens there.
QUESTION: And do you think these photos could lead to retaliatory-type attacks or —
MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t speculate one way or the other. I wouldn’t want to do that. I certainly wouldn’t say – want to say anything that could in any way have an effect on that.
QUESTION: And the final question I have is about Zika. I was wondering if you have any update on travel warnings there or any – Puerto Rico, I guess, has now declared a public health emergency. I’m just wondering if you have anything else to share about Zika and travel warnings for Americans.
MR KIRBY: First of all, I’d say – there’s actually quite a bit, if you’ll bear with me, that I do want to talk about with respect to Zika.
The State Department is closely monitoring the situation and we’re in contact closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC. We’re also working directly with the Government of Brazil – which, as you know, has been most impacted by Zika and other neurological conditions – as well as other countries in the region. We are pleased to see that the World Health Organization and the regional office for the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization, are taking a strong leadership role and are directing critical research efforts and other response activities. As you know, the CDC issued updated guidance on Zika on the 3rd of February just a couple of days ago and I would refer you to them for additional information on that.
The U.S. Government is combatting the Zika virus through multiple lines of effort. Obviously, the CDC has got the lead in terms of providing expertise, working with health officials. The President met with the national security team and the health team in late January to discuss the spread of this and emphasized the need to accelerate research efforts to make better diagnostic tests available, to develop vaccines and medicines, to improve mosquito control measures, and to ensure that all U.S. citizens have the information they need about the Zika virus. We’ve posted some of that on our website. I know it’s on the White House’s website as well. And again, all the federal – all federal agencies are working together on this and collaborating it – with it.
At the State Department, we lead on several critical efforts in close coordination with the White House and Health and Human Services, CDC. We lead on the diplomatic front engaging with foreign governments, including coordination with affected countries and those ready to assist in response. We also lead on getting timely and accurate information to U.S. citizens traveling or living in affected areas – again, we’ve got quite a bit of information on our website – and in supporting all U.S. Government employees and their families at our overseas posts.
Under the leadership of the deputy secretary for management and resources and the assistant secretary for oceans, environment, and science, in coordination with the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, we have established here at the State Department a Zika coordination team and a broader working group to ensure a robust and coordinated department response. In our response to Ebola last year, we learned important lessons about how best to put this kind of coordination mechanism in place, and we’re taking lessons learned from Ebola to do exactly that.
As for guidance to give American travelers, we obviously defer first and foremost to CDC on public health guidance. They’ve issued a travel alert, Level 2, which says – it’s called “practice enhanced precaution” for countries where there is active Zika transmission. They further recommend that travelers take measures to protect themselves from mosquito bites. They also recommend that until we know more about the connection between Zika and birth defects, that pregnant women in particular consider postponing their travel to Zika-affected areas, and women trying to get pregnant strictly adhere to steps to prevent mosquito bites.
We have, as I said, links to all this information on our website for Americans traveling abroad at travel.state.gov, and this site will be updated as further information becomes available.
QUESTION: What about your own embassy staff and employees? Are you urging pregnant women to come home?
MR KIRBY: At this time, I’m not aware of any warning to pregnant U.S. Government employees overseas in terms of coming home. These are obviously decisions that they have to make. But we are, however, just like we would for American citizens, certainly making sure that we’re providing our posts and our employees all the information that they need and that they have – that is available so that they can make these informed decisions. But I’m – I’m not aware of any order or requirement here at the State Department to order them back home.
But there’s a lot going on. And I can tell you Secretary Kerry is very focused on this. We were – he was talking about this just yesterday morning in a – I’m sorry, just this morning in a staff meeting, in a morning staff meeting. So it’s very much on his mind, and we’re going to continue to work with the interagency to do as much as we can. And obviously, it’s an evolving situation. As information becomes available or needs to change, we’ll change that.
But again, and I really want to take a – I appreciate the question because I do want to put a plug in for our website, travel.state.gov. There’s information on there. It is dynamic. We’ll keep it updated as need be, but thank you for that.
QUESTION: I got one more.
MR KIRBY: Okay, we’ll do – okay, a couple more. I know we’ve got to get to the early bird special, so we don’t want to – (laughter) —
QUESTION: It is not the early bird special, John.
QUESTION: Yeah, it’s —
QUESTION: Happy hour.
QUESTION: The early bird special is almost over.
QUESTION: It’s happy hour. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Well, in Matt’s case, they’re one and the same. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No, no.
MR KIRBY: All right, go ahead.
QUESTION: All right, John. So last night at the Democratic debate, Secretary Clinton said that she was 100 percent confident that the – that nothing will come out of the FBI investigation into her email server. Does the State Department share that confidence?
MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t speak one way or another to the outcome of reviews and investigations that are ongoing in terms of these past email practices. I’ve been very scrupulous about not commenting on those and I’m going to stay right there.
QUESTION: And a follow-up. Can you tell us about the differences between what was uncovered in the State Department Inspector General’s report into past practices by former Secretary of State Secretary Powell and Secretary Rice? Apparently, there was a few – a handful of classified emails on – that they were exchanging. How is that different from what was found on Secretary Clinton’s emails that – about 1,600 of them are deemed classified now?
MR KIRBY: Well, let me tell you what I can say, and there’s a lot that I can’t say. But this is what I can say regarding the emails that you’re speaking to of prior secretaries.
At the request of the State Department Inspector General, the State Department conducted a classification review of 19 emails and decided to classify some of them during this review – a review, which, I might add, is still ongoing. These emails originated from State Department officials using their unclassified State Department email accounts during the tenures of Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell. I’m not going to speak to the content of these documents. They were – these documents were not marked classified at the time that they were sent. And as to whether they were classified at the time they were sent, the State Department review process right now is actually focused on whether they need to be protected today with respect to these documents.
As you guys know from covering this, it’s not unusual to upgrade a document following a classification review. That happens routinely. And any further questions about this I’m going to refer you to the State Department Inspector General.
QUESTION: I might have misheard you.
QUESTION: Weren’t they the private – weren’t they coming from private email accounts —
QUESTION: They weren’t coming from unclassified.
QUESTION: — not from unclassified state.gov accounts?
MR KIRBY: I can confirm that the 19 emails reflect emails sent from unclassified State Department accounts to, in some cases, personal email accounts. Okay?
QUESTION: So wait a second. So the ones that – let’s just take Secretary Powell. These emails were sent to his private non-state.gov account?
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that. I didn’t say that.
QUESTION: Well, hold on.
MR KIRBY: I said that – I said that —
QUESTION: Then the Inspector General’s letter from yesterday seems to mean absolutely nothing. If, in fact, these were all on state.gov accounts – unclassified state.gov accounts – it’s completely different, entirely different, than the Secretary Clinton situation.
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to make comparisons between the two. This – the State Department Inspector General is, as requested by the Secretary – and we’ve talked about this – the Secretary asked the IG to look at our procedures and processes with respect to administrative handling of documents. In the course of that work, they identified these 19 emails. I’m not going to speak with any more detail about this traffic except to say what I’ve said before – that the 19 emails reflect emails that were sent from unclassified State Department accounts to personal email accounts. Exactly whose account and all that, I’m not going to get into it.
QUESTION: All right. But in every case, these 19 were sent to a personal account, not another state.gov unclassified account?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to go into any more detail than I just did. I can’t say any more than I just did.
QUESTION: Actually, just to be clear, Powell said in a statement that his executive assistant thought he should see some information that this person sent him to his personal account. He doesn’t call it an unclassified state.gov account; he calls it his personal account. For clarity.
QUESTION: Okay. If you remember the last year, we hosted this – at the press club, on the email, and there it came out that Secretary Kerry is the first secretary who is using state.gov. Somebody has used before that AOL; somebody has used something else. And so do you – so where does this official or unofficial thing comes? Because they were not even using state.gov, the previous secretaries.
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to past email practices. I haven’t done that from the beginning of this and I’m not going to start now. I can only tell you what I’ve told you with respect to these 19 documents. I am not going to speak to past email practices of former secretaries of state. Just not going to do it.
QUESTION: But you can confirm that Secretary Kerry is the first secretary who is using state.gov?
MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that the Secretary uses a state.gov unclassified email account for his unclassified email traffic and —
QUESTION: How – what was the —
MR KIRBY: — for business-related traffic.
QUESTION: The 19 – all of the 19 that you’re talking about had some redaction for class – or contained some kind of classified information. Is that what you’re trying to say?
MR KIRBY: The 19 —
QUESTION: Or did they only look at 19 emails? I mean, what’s the universe of the – what they looked at? And, I mean, 19 doesn’t seem to be a very representative sample, so, I mean —
MR KIRBY: I don’t know what the body was. I simply don’t know, and I’d refer you to the IG for that. And as I said, that we conducted a classification review of 19, decided to classify some of them, and the review is still ongoing. So what I didn’t say was —
QUESTION: Well, how did they pick these 19?
MR KIRBY: — what I didn’t say was all 19 have been upgraded in some way. I said we’ve upgraded some of them.
QUESTION: Right. But they only looked at 19 emails?
MR KIRBY: The Inspector General asked us to do a classification review of 19.
QUESTION: That they picked, for some reason?
MR KIRBY: They – again, I’d refer you to the IG to determine —
QUESTION: I mean, it seems to me 19 is a —
MR KIRBY: — to determine how they got to the 19. I don’t know that.
QUESTION: Nineteen is a minuscule number to start out with, isn’t it?
MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t —
QUESTION: I mean, there’s hundreds of thousands of these messages that —
MR KIRBY: I couldn’t possibly answer that question.
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: The IG referred 19 for us to take a look at for a classification review. That’s what we’re doing.
Thanks, everybody. Have a great weekend.
QUESTION: One last question. How’s that investigation into the 22 emails going, and when they were —
MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update for you.
MR KIRBY: Go Broncos.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Yes, go Broncos.
(The briefing was concluded at 4:21 p.m.)
DPB # 20