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Report – The EU relations with Tunisia in the current regional context – A8-0249/2016 – Committee on Foreign Affairs

on the EU relations with Tunisia in the current regional context

(2015/2273(INI))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to Article 8 of the Treaty on European Union,

–  having regard to the final report of the EU Election Observation Mission for the legislative and presidential elections in Tunisia in 2014,

–  having regard to the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights entitled ‘Prisons in Tunisia: International Standards versus Reality’ of March 2014 and to the declarations of officials of the Tunisian Justice Ministry,

–  having regard to the Single Support Framework for European Union support to Tunisia for the period 2014-15, extended by modification of Decision C(2014)5160 until the end of 2016,

–  having regard to its resolution of 9 July 2015 on the review of the European Neighbourhood Policy(1),

–  having regard to the Joint communication to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy (JOIN(2015)0050) of 18 November 2015,

–  having regard to the signature by Tunisia on 1 December 2015 of an Association Agreement for research and innovation under the Horizon 2020 programme,

–  having regard to its resolution of 25 February 2016 on the opening of negotiations for an EU-Tunisia Free Trade Agreement(2),

–  having regard to its resolution of 10 March 2016, on the introduction of emergency autonomous trade measures for Tunisia(3),

–  having regard to the entry into force on 19 April 2016 of Regulation (EU) 2016/580 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the introduction of emergency autonomous trade measures for the Republic of Tunisia(4),

–  having regard to the recommendations of the EU-Tunisia Association Council of 17 March 2015 for the implementation of the EU-Tunisia Action Plan (2013-2017), and to the joint statement of the EU-Tunisia Association Council of 18 April 2016,

–  having regard to Tunisia’s ‘Strategic Development Plan, 2016-2020’,

–  having regard to Rule 52 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Foreign Affairs (A8-0249/2016),

A.  whereas Tunisia is one of the EU’s European Neighbourhood Policy priority countries;

B.  whereas the peaceful democratic transition process in Tunisia represents a successful example in the Arab world and its consolidation is paramount for the stability of the entire region and, as a direct consequence, for the security of Europe;

C.  whereas the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet in 2015 for ‘its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia’;

D.  whereas Tunisia currently faces a difficult socio-economic situation but also security challenges mostly deriving from the situation in Libya; whereas tourism, which represents a key element of the Tunisian economy, is severely affected by these circumstances and by the terrorist attacks which have targeted the country;

E.  whereas the Tunisian economy is highly dependent on foreign investment, tourism and exporting products to the EU and whereas the economy can only flourish if democracy can develop further;

F.  whereas the lack of jobs and opportunities was one of the main reasons for the massive popular demonstrations in 2011, and whereas many of the problems are still felt by people every day, given the high rate of youth unemployment;

G.  whereas there is a need to develop a genuine partnership through which the interests of communities on both sides of the Mediterranean are taken into account and which is designed to work on Tunisia’s social and regional inequalities in particular;

H.  whereas, with the end of Ben Ali regime and the consolidation of the democratic process, the EU could improve its political dialogue with Tunisia by taking greater account of the interests and priorities of this important partner as a way to achieve the objective of stability;

I.  whereas the EU and its Member States must remain committed to working with the people of Tunisia and their government to promote common interests, including in trade, investment, tourism, culture and security;

J.  whereas a tripartite dialogue has been set up, in the context of the organisation of the sub-committees, between the authorities, civil society actors and EU representatives in Tunisia;

K.  whereas the freedom of the press and the freedom of publication are essential elements of an open, free and democratic society;

L.  whereas Tunisia played an important role in facilitating the conclusion of an agreement between the conflicting sides in Libya;

M.  whereas instability in Libya and its spillovers represent a serious threat to the stability of Tunisia and of the whole region; whereas Tunisia currently hosts over a million displaced Libyans, who have fled instability and violence in Libya, and whereas this is putting a strain on the internal situation and infrastructures and leading displaced people to use the premises of former refugees camps such as Choucha, without any basic services being provided;

N.  whereas Tunisia has suffered several terrorist attacks in the last few years; whereas Tunisia is an essential partner of the EU in the fight against terrorism;

O.  whereas an alarmingly high number of Tunisian youths are recruited by IS/Daesh and whereas hopelessness and economic stagnation contribute to young people becoming increasingly vulnerable to the lure of extremist organisations;

1.  Renews its commitment to the Tunisian people and the political transition process that began in 2011; emphasises the challenges and threats facing the country while it consolidates its democratic process, implements the reforms needed to achieve social and economic prosperity and guarantees its security; urges the EU and the Member States to mobilise and better coordinate substantial technical and financial resources in order to provide concrete support for Tunisia; underlines that, without measures to strengthen Tunisia’s absorption capacity and stability, democracy, good governance, the fight against corruption, economic development and employment in the region, any prospect of reform will be put at risk; calls, therefore, for a genuine deep and comprehensive partnership between the EU and Tunisia;

2.  Calls on participants in the Deauville Partnership to fulfil pledge commitments; considers that the situation in Tunisia justifies the launch of a real ‘Marshall Plan’ with appropriate funding to support the consolidation of the democratic transition and foster investment and development in all sectors of the economy and society in the country, in particular employment creation and maintaining quality public services that are accessible to everyone; calls also for the consolidation of efforts to support civil society; expresses its concerns about the current socio-economic and budgetary difficulties inherent to the instability of the transition period and the imperative for Tunisia to implement adequate reforms aimed at boosting employment and developing sustainable and inclusive growth; deems it essential, as a result, that the budget authorities agree to a decisive strengthening of the resources of the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) earmarked for Tunisia;

3.  Affirms that, despite the dire social and economic situation, Tunisia’s historical democratic transition calls for a much more ambitious EU-Tunisia partnership, going beyond conventional measures;

4.  Commends the good cooperation between Tunisia and its neighbours, as illustrated by the signing of a preferential trade agreement and the establishment of local transborder committees with Algeria aimed at fostering local development, by the intertwining of Tunisia’s economy with Libya’s and by the solidarity of the Tunisian people with displaced Libyans; welcomes, in this context, the progress made on the reconciliation process in Libya;

5.  Stresses the importance of respect for human rights in the implementation of the reviewed European Neighbourhood Policy; calls for the development of monitoring mechanisms on respect for fundamental freedoms, gender equality and other human rights issues, with the full involvement of civil society;

6.  Underlines that the relaunch of the political process of integration in the framework of the Arab Maghreb Union could be a particularly appropriate opportunity to ensure security and strengthen cooperation in the whole region;

I – Political reforms and Institutions

7.  Expresses its support for the process of democratisation and points to the need for social and economic reforms in Tunisia; emphasises the need to support the People’s Representative Assembly (PRA) given the challenge of enhancing stability in a volatile regional context while deepening democracy; expresses concerns at the lack of means of the PRA, which is hampering its legislative role and slowing down the drafting of the urgently needed new legislation and the reform process; supports the PRA in its efforts to enhance its capacity, including by recruiting staff; supports a review of the needs of the PRA; requests that Parliament’s services enhance the capacity-building support activities provided to the PRA; recommends that Parliament organise a political meeting at the highest political level, such as a ‘Tunisian Week’, on its premises, in order to foster parliamentary cooperation;

8.  Welcomes the establishment of an EU-Tunisia Joint Parliamentary Committee which will play a key role, enabling Members of the European Parliament and Tunisians to meet regularly and develop a structured political dialogue on democracy, human rights, the rule of law and any topic of mutual interest; stresses that, as part of the opening of trade agreements, the EU-Tunisia Joint Parliamentary Committee has an important role to play in effectively monitoring ongoing negotiations; calls for the launching of specific initiatives of support to the PRA with other European Parliament committees, such as the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (for support regarding justice and home affairs matters, migration law and measures relating to police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, including terrorism);

9.  Welcomes the tripartite dialogue in Tunisia; calls for its continuation and extension to all aspects of EU-Tunisia bilateral relations and, in particular, to ensure the involvement of civil society in the implementation of the review of the European Neighbourhood Policy and the process for negotiating EU-Tunisia priorities;

10.  Notes that the reform of public administration is one of the main challenging reforms that Tunisia has to implement; welcomes the Tunisian Government’s consideration of new methods to fast-track key priority policies; believes that the twinning between European and Tunisian administrations is a positive contribution to the reform of public administration; supports using IT-based solutions for establishing and developing an e-state and an e-administration;

11.  Welcomes Tunisia’s compliance with international standards relating to freedom of association, which has given the country a leading role in strengthening an independent civil society in the Arab world; calls for the strengthening of technical and capacity-building support for civil society organisations, political parties and trade unions, which have a crucial role to play in Tunisia and have proven to be of fundamental importance to the democratic transition and overall development, government accountability and the monitoring of respect for human rights, including the protection of women and children, gender equality and the protection of all victims of persecution and discrimination; welcomes specific EU-financed programmes in this domain such as the project supporting civil society (PASC) and the agreement signed between the European Social and Economic Committee and the Tunisian quartet to strengthen ties between Tunisian and European civil societies; encourages dialogue and cooperation between civil society and public authorities in the identification of local development priorities, including local investment; calls for the promotion of civic education and democratic engagement;

12.  Underlines the importance of developing a culture of citizenship and calls for the creation of an enabling environment with the necessary structures for civil-society organisations to be included in the decision-making process;

13.  Deems it necessary that the Commission and the EEAS provide the necessary support for local elections (scheduled in October 2016) and an EU and EP monitoring mission and election assistance, should these be requested by the Tunisian Government as was already the case for the legislative and presidential elections in 2014; calls, in this context, for strengthened support for municipalities in the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (ARLEM), and by fostering the development of twinning projects in coordination with the Member States;

14.  Calls for support for gender-balanced policies, including by reforming the personal status code in order to abolish discriminatory laws against women such as those related to inheritance and marriage rights, and for an increased participation of women in public life and the private sector, as provided for in Article 46 of the Tunisian Constitution; encourages, furthermore, the development of mentoring programmes for emerging female leaders, with the potential to support their access to decision-making positions; recommends the lifting of Tunisia’s general declaration on the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women;

15.  Calls for the inclusion of young people in political life, especially regarding the promotion of youth participation in local elections; welcomes in this regard EU-funded projects in the field of youth awareness/civic education; welcomes the legislative provisions regarding youth representation in local and regional elections; considers the municipal elections in 2016 as an opportunity to encourage young people to reengage actively in the political transformation process;

16.  Welcomes the transitional justice law; recalls the high hopes of the Tunisian people for the transitional process; regrets the intense polarisation within the Truth and Dignity Commission; notes that national reconciliation and growth should not be contradictory priorities;

17.  Calls for the Commission and the EEAS to continue to support Tunisia in the reform of the judicial sector and the rule of law in respect of the values of the Tunisian Constitution, including through technical and financial support for the ongoing establishment of the Supreme Judicial Council and the Constitutional Court; welcomes the EU programme on Justice Reform (PARJI) adopted in 2011 and the PARJ2 programme, adopted in 2014 and funded with only EUR 15 million;

18.  Calls on the government to take swift measures to prevent the use of torture; encourages Tunisia to abolish the death penalty; raises concerns regarding repeated cases of torture inflicted by Tunisian authorities on minors suspected of wanting to join terrorist organisations;

19.  Calls on Tunisia, as a matter of urgency, to reform its 1978 state of emergency law, currently enforced outside the Constitution’s basic provisions;

20.  Expresses concern at the overcrowding, lack of food and sanitary conditions in Tunisian prisons and their effects on inmates’ basic rights; welcomes the Tunisian-European project for the reform of Tunisian penal institutions, which aims to reinforce the system of alternative penalties instead of imprisonment for less serious offenses;

21.  Calls for a reform of the penal code, and in particular for the repeal of Article 230, which penalises homosexuality with imprisonment for three years, and is contrary to the constitutional principles of non-discrimination and the protection of privacy; welcomes the new law replacing and modifying Law 1992-52 on narcotics, which gives priority to prevention instead of dissuasion and establishes alternative penalties that promote the rehabilitation and reintegration of drug users as an appropriate step towards aligning Tunisian legislation with international standards;

22.  Calls for a stronger process of decentralisation and the empowerment of the regions by means of further local autonomies; supports partnerships with EU Member States encouraging decentralised approaches (e.g. training and capacity building in that field), together with decentralised cooperation projects led by Member State authorities which contribute to the development of regional and local governance in Tunisia, as well as partnerships and exchanges of best practice with EU cities and local communities; calls for increased EU support for civil society in the regions, building on successful existing initiatives;

23.  Is worried that little progress has been made to overhaul the code of criminal procedures and the penal code with a view to upholding freedom of expression; is worried that several citizens have been prosecuted and imprisoned for alleged defamation, insulting state officials in rap songs or harming public morals, including journalists and bloggers, for expressing their opinions; welcomes the fact that Tunisia has joined the Freedom Online Coalition and calls for it to participate more actively;

24.  Reaffirms that freedom of the press and media, freedom of expression online, including for bloggers, and offline and freedom of assembly are vital elements and indispensable pillars for democracy and an open and pluralistic society; encourages best practice standards in the media sector to truly reflect investigative and differentiated journalism; recognises the enabling effects of uncensored access to the internet and of digital and social media; welcomes Tunisia’s vibrant and open online media landscape but calls on the Tunisian authorities to further invest in basic technological infrastructures and to promote digital connectivity and literacy, especially in the poorest areas of the country; welcomes the adoption of the new information law in March 2016 to effectively protect the right to freedom of information in Tunisia, including the rights of whistle blowers; welcomes the fact that the High Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HAICA) and its successor, the Audio-Visual Communication Authority (ACA), will benefit from EU support in the context of the ongoing EUR 10 million programme supporting media reform;

25.  Calls on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to grant Tunisia the status of partner for democracy as a significant step towards consolidating parliamentary democracy and the rule of law in Tunisia;

II – Economic and social development

26.  Welcomes the Commission’s proposal for macro-financial assistance of EUR 500 million and its adoption by the Council and Parliament;

27.  Notes the launch of negotiations on an ambitious free trade agreement (DCFTA) between the EU and Tunisia; recalls the need for the EU to conduct these negotiations along with technical and financial tailored assistance; emphasises that this agreement, while seeking to improve market access and the investment climate, has more than simply a trade dimension and must contribute to extending European standards in the fields of environment, consumer protection and workers’ rights to Tunisia, fostering its stability, consolidating its democratic system and reinvigorating its economy; calls on the Commission to take a progressive approach during the negotiations and ensure that this agreement will be mutually beneficial while taking proper account of the significant economic disparities between the two parties; recalls its recommendations to the Commission and the Tunisian Government to implement a clear and detailed process for involving Tunisian and European civil society throughout the DCFTA negotiations; calls for the consultation process to be open and transparent and to take greater account of the diversity of Tunisian civil society, drawing on the best practices employed in similar negotiations;

28.  Notes the adoption of the emergency autonomous trade measures for Tunisia as a concrete step to support the Tunisian economy and as an incentive for reforms; calls for an increase in EU aid to Tunisia through the ENI and for the coordination of international aid to Tunisia in order to allow the country to benefit fully from the EU support and enable job creation, particularly for young graduates; encourages partnerships with other interested global and regional donor countries and organisations and, in particular, measures reducing regional disparities and promoting training and investment in agriculture, taking into account the specificities of local agriculture, IT, the social economy, the manufacturing sector and SMEs which would boost employment; notes that the tourism sector has been dramatically impacted by the terrorist attacks and, in view of the measures implemented since then by the Tunisian authorities, calls on the Member States which have not yet done so to reassess the security situation as quickly as possible so that the Tunisian tourist sector may recover;

29.  Calls for the EU to include civil society, local authorities and other important actors in the process of identification of priorities for funding in the mid-term review of the ENI;

30.  Underlines the need to address unemployment, especially for young university graduates, to launch deep reforms with a view to promoting growth, quality education and employment (e.g. by easing currency restrictions, facilitating access to microcredit, reforming labour laws, developing training schemes suited to the needs of the labour market and simplifying administrative processes) and to diversify the Tunisian economy; calls on all parties to maintain a spirit of good cooperation in order to focus on reforms with a view to inclusive economic development for all territories of the country, including the less advanced and impoverished inland regions, which need a long-term development plan; calls on the Tunisian authorities to welcome initiatives in which citizens show commitment to improving political dialogue or technological innovations; emphasises that international support for these civic initiatives is needed;

31.  Welcomes the Tunisian Strategic Plan for Development 2016-2020 initiative and calls for its swift implementation with the adoption of regulatory frameworks aimed at facilitating the absorption of European support and of all international financial institutions; welcomes the adoption of the new investment code, which should create regulatory stability and facilitate investments, and the tax reforms; calls for the modernisation of the public administration, which should operate in an efficient and transparent way, thus greatly facilitating the implementation of projects and the better use of funds;

32.  Supports the efforts of the Tunisian Government to modernise and liberalise the economy in order to meet new domestic, regional and global demands and believes that a strong and diverse Tunisian economy will create jobs, opportunities and prosperity, and allow the country to achieve its wider political and social ambitions;

33.  Recalls the strategic importance of the agricultural sector in Tunisia and welcomes in this regard the measures foreseen in the 2016 Tunisian budget, including the cancellation of debts for farmers, and the launch of a national consultation on the agricultural sector; considers it essential for this national consultation to involve civil society and the broadest possible number of actors, including small farmers from the south of the country as well as young farmers; believes that the agricultural sector requires a deep reform and a series of urgent practical measures, such as developing the capacities of desalination plants to tackle the water deficit issue and other emerging problems owing to climate change; calls on the Tunisian authorities to ban the use of any pesticide that is already banned in the EU;

34.  Calls on the EU to step up its efforts against desertification in Tunisia; notes that Tunisians are experiencing a serious shortage of water; calls on Tunisia to foster sustainable agriculture and eating habits; recommends a land reform to incite farmers to preserve forests and rivers; recalls that sustainable development of Tunisia’s coastal tourism requires a strong reduction in hotel density in order to rationalise investments and manage the water front;

35.  Welcomes the launch of the project entitled ‘Youth mobility, food security and rural poverty reduction’ by the APIA (Agence de promotion des investissements agricoles), in order to combat youth unemployment by offering alternatives in rural areas; calls on the Member States to support the EU actions by engaging, in partnership with Tunisian authorities, civil society organisations and the private sector, in sectoral or thematic projects that could have a direct and beneficial impact on Tunisian society;

36.  Welcomes programmes developed by the Secretariat of the Union for the Mediterranean, such as Med4jobs, to address the employability of young people in the Mediterranean; calls on the member states of the Union for the Mediterranean to task its Secretariat to focus on the economic and social development of Tunisia in support of the consolidation of its transition process;

37.  Calls for a stronger fight against corruption, particularly in the context of the growing underground economy, with a view to achieving a more efficient and transparent decision-making process and to establishing a better environment for investment and business; welcomes the creation of the Tunisian Anti-Corruption Agency but regrets its limited budget; urges the Tunisian authorities to strengthen its capacity and effectivity and to provide it with all the necessary financial and logistical support to ensure the proper functioning of public administration and the regularity of public procurement; calls on the Tunisian authorities to ensure that the steps they take against corruption are highly visible;

38.  Calls for the acceleration of the establishment of the National Social Dialogue Council decided on in 2013;

39.  Expresses concern at Tunisia’s lack of asset recovery, owing notably to the lengthy and cumbersome processes involved in confiscating and repatriating assets; calls for specific technical capacity support to be provided to Tunisia in order to undertake investigations and collect the intelligence and evidence needed to build cases of asset recovery;

40.  Calls on the Member States to demonstrate support and political will in order to speed up the recovery of frozen Tunisian assets; welcomes the Council decision of 28 January 2016 to extend the freeze on the assets of 48 people by one year;

41.  Calls for the promotion of faster and safer transfers of remittances and of the investment potential, especially with regard to local and regional development, of Tunisians and North Africans already residing in the EU;

42.  Express concerns regarding the sustainability of the Tunisian debt, and calls for an assessment of possible ways to make it more sustainable, especially in light of the country’s economic situation; calls for the conversion of Tunisian debt into investment projects, especially for building strategic infrastructures and reducing regional disparities, and welcomes the initiatives in this regard; encourages the Commission and the Member States to increase the number of these types of projects; calls on the Member States to explore ways of securing a preferential rescheduling of Tunisia’s debt and a diversification of debt components;

43.  Welcomes EU projects in the area of job creation and vocational training, such as IRADA; recommends the use of European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) funds to further assist SMEs; points out that SMEs are crucial to Tunisian growth and should therefore benefit from EU support; encourages the development of business start-up programmes targeting women and young people specifically, with a view to developing business management training and access to financial support in order to enhance the SME sector; recommends that Tunisia take the appropriate measures to be able to benefit fully from the EU’s COSME (Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises) programme as soon as possible; encourages private lending to SMEs, including by enhancing the capability of the credit guarantee sector and by reforming the undercapitalised banking sector; welcomes the recent twinning programme for the Tunisian Central Bank aimed at supporting the modernisation of the banking sector;

44.  Recommends that EU expertise in the field of regional funds and the reduction of regional disparities be used to address regional development in Tunisia and reduce disparities; calls for the support of international partners and funding institutions to improve and expand national infrastructure (e.g. motorways, railways, ports, airports, and telecommunication networks) to better integrate rural and inland centres;

45.  Encourages the integration of the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) with pan-EU initiatives such as the Energy Union; encourages, at the same time, more North African regional cooperation on specific issues such as afforestation and water management, as well as greater socioeconomic integration, with increased trade, across North Africa; points out that the Union for the Mediterranean supports the development of specific projects in the region and should, in that regard, be involved in projects led by the EU in Tunisia;

46.  Calls for EU cooperation to focus more on the green economy and sustainable development and to increase the use of renewable energies, as well as better water and waste treatment, especially considering Tunisia’s high potential in the renewable energy sector; welcomes projects such as the depollution of the Lake of Bizerte endorsed by the Union for the Mediterranean, the plant roofs of Ghar el Melh and organic waste used for consumption in Beja;

47.  Welcomes the integration of the Euro-Mediterranean electricity markets as an important element of energy cooperation with the southern neighbours; considers that the European Institute of the Mediterranean (EIMed) project would enable two-way electricity trade between the North and South of the Mediterranean, generating benefits for all partners in terms of security, stability and affordability of electricity supply;

III – Security and defence

48.  Is deeply concerned about the immediate security spillover in Tunisia originating, among other reasons, from instability in Libya; notes the building of a wall at a part of the border with Libya; expresses concerns at the high number of Tunisian foreign fighters joining Daesh and other terrorist groups; underlines that the fight against weapon smuggling is an important part of counter-terrorism; underlines the need to reform the country’s intelligence services while respecting the rule of law and human rights conventions;

49.  Is worried about the terrorist attack in the border city of Ben Guerdane immediately after the bombing in Sabratha, which shows that the Tunisian-Libyan border remains highly permeable; expresses concerns about the situation in Libya and calls on all parties in Libya to engage constructively with the Government of National Accord (GNA); underlines that the EU stands ready to offer security support at the GNA’s request and that security coordination between Tunisia and Libya needs to be re-established; suggests that an assessment should be made, in partnership with Tunisian authorities, of the possibility of establishing an EU Border Assistance Mission in Tunisia;

50.  Recognises that poverty and social exclusion are among the major causes of radicalisation; calls for more effective social inclusion of young people to enable them to find stable employment and prevent them from becoming targets for recruitment as fighters for terrorist organisations; recommends using the expertise gathered through the initiative of international organisations such as Hedayah to develop local and regional strategies for countering violent extremism; calls for awareness raising about these existing networks or similar initiatives in Tunisia;

51.  Calls on the Tunisian Government to set up a strategy to deal with returning foreign fighters, for example by coupling punitive and precautionary measures with de-radicalisation and rehabilitation programmes in order to give them the possibility to reintegrate into society, thereby reducing future risks; calls for a more comprehensive strategy to prevent radicalisation in prisons and detention centres; calls for a focus on improved education and on countering the radicalisation of young people;

52.  Recognises that terrorism is a shared challenge which requires a joint response and that cooperation between the EU and Tunisia in the field of security and the fight against terrorism has been stepped up recently, in particular with the launch of an ambitious programme to support security sector reform;

53.  Supports the UN-led process of peace and political reconciliation in Libya as an essential vehicle towards stabilising the wider region and strengthening Tunisia’s security and reform process;

54.  Welcomes the security assistance coordination process launched by Tunisia, in which the EU plays an active role; stresses that the EU should support Tunisia in building state structures to deal with security issues; welcomes the results achieved by the G7+3 on security cooperation; calls for the swift implementation of the programmes currently in place and for the reinforcement of security assistance to Tunisia, with a focus on border security, protecting tourism infrastructures and combating the shared terrorist threat; encourages the Tunisian authorities, however, to respond proportionately to such threats in order to safeguard democratic freedoms and fundamental rights; calls for the full backing of the Tunisian competent authorities, the establishment of a national security adviser and for the Member States to share best practices in the security field with Tunisia, focusing on the training of security personnel and respect for human rights; calls for systematic human rights assessment of EU support to Tunisia in the security field;

55.  Expresses its deepest concern about Law 22/2015 on counter-terrorism, adopted in July 2015 by Tunisia’s Assembly of Representatives, which imposes the death penalty as a possible sentence for a range of ‘terror’ offences; expresses concerns regarding several provisions of the counterterrorism law; stresses that this bill could seriously infringe civil liberties and undermine respect for human rights in Tunisia; calls on the Tunisian authorities to continue to observe the moratorium on the death penalty; recalls that the death penalty already exists under Tunisian law for crimes such as murder and rape, even though no executions have occurred since 1991; underlines that, although Tunisia is one of the countries that are most vulnerable to the terrorism threat, states are obliged to fully respect human rights when fighting terrorism; emphasises that the ENP is strongly linked with respect for human rights and international law and recalls the strong EU position against the death penalty;

56.  Welcomes the fact that provision is now made, under Law 22/2015 on counter-terrorism, for the legal protection of journalists’ sources and for the criminalisation of unauthorised government surveillance;

57.  Welcomes the launch, in November 2015, of the EU programme of support for security sector reform in Tunisia – with particular focus on restructuring security services, border controls and intelligence services – and the commitment made by both parties at the EU-Tunisia Association Council of 18 April 2016 to implement the programme efficiently and swiftly;

58.  Calls for the promotion of a logic of objectives, rather than mere support by policy instruments, within a clear strategic vision focusing on prevention, support for the PRA’s drafting of legislation, and the establishment of a counter-terrorism prosecutor’s office;

59.  Welcomes the enhanced political dialogue between the EU and Tunisia in the fight against terrorism; emphasises the importance of protecting human rights in the context of counter-terrorism measures;

60.  Calls for increased cooperation with EU agencies such as EUROPOL, while observing that Tunisia was not among the list of third states with which Europol will conclude agreements; calls on the Council to consider the inclusion of Tunisia on this list of third states; requests that an impact study on this cooperation be conducted and presented at a joint meeting of the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) before the agreement is approved; welcomes the fact that EUROJUST has established a contact point with Tunisia and EUROJUST’s invitation to the authorities to step up their cooperation and appoint a second contact point specifically in charge of terrorism; invites the Tunisian Government to provide the appropriate follow-up to these proposals as soon as possible;

IV – Mobility, research, education and culture

61.  Welcomes the EU and the Tunisia Mobility Partnership signed in March 2014 and calls for its rapid implementation; calls for a new visa policy towards Tunisia and for the conclusion of a readmission agreement; notes that, although mobility partnerships rely on national competences, they are included in the EU proposal within the ENP; recommends that Member States show their solidarity with Tunisia by facilitating the issuing of visas for entrepreneurs, teachers, students, researchers, artists, etc.;

62.  Encourages the EU to sign mobility partnerships with the partner countries in its southern neighbourhood in order to relax visa procedures in conjunction with readmission agreements; calls on the Commission, in cooperation with the Member States, to develop possibilities for circular migration schemes which would open up safe and legal routes for migrants; condemns trafficking in human beings, most of the victims of which are women, and stresses the importance of reinforcing cooperation with partner countries in order to combat it; notes that the issuing of long-term visas with several entries, instead of short-term visas, is the best way to decrease irregular migration, including through smuggling and human trafficking; recommends that Tunisia amend the 2004 law on the criminalisation of individuals who have left its territory without authorisation, in accordance with international law;

63.  Calls on the Tunisian authorities to cooperate closely with Member States in order to tackle organised forms of illegal immigration;

64.  Stresses that missions such as EUNAVFOR MED are a positive and effective way to tackle human trafficking; calls on the EU to continue to intensify operations of this type and to involve partner countries such as Tunisia;

65.  Welcomes EU-Tunisian partnership in the field of research and innovation, and Tunisia’s participation in the Horizon 2020 framework programme; emphasises that a consistent scientific research and technological development policy would be an incentive to R&D investments, the transfer of research and innovation to the private sector and the creation of new businesses; underlines that Tunisia should become a full participant in the Erasmus + programme in order to develop further the exchange of university students; is concerned about the growing difficulties faced by Tunisian students wanting to study in Europe; calls for a ‘positive discrimination policy’ to be implemented, particularly for young students coming from less developed regions, with incentives for them to be allowed to participate in such programmes; calls on Tunisia to readjust and prioritise partnerships for developing skills in foreign languages, engineering, renewable energies, sciences and computer science, which have the highest employment rates;

66.  Calls on the Commission to encourage the development of partnerships among schools, universities and research centres and to strengthen shared lifelong learning projects, especially in the fields of language learning, new technologies, promotion of women’s education promotion and entrepreneurship;

67.  Calls for a strengthened partnership in the creative, cultural, sports, popular education, community life and audiovisual sectors through the strengthening of networks and of initiatives for increased intercultural dialogue, the highlighting of the common historical and archaeological heritage from the Roman era, player mobility, and the promotion and circulation of cultural and audiovisual content, including through festivals and exhibitions; encourages Tunisia to participate in the Creative Europe Programme;

68.  Recommends the use of Arabic by the EU institutions, and especially the EU Delegation in Tunis, when publishing calls for tenders and for expressions of interest and when communicating with the public; underlines the importance of the Tunisian Government informing its citizens about its actions;

69.  Considers that the use of Arabic is necessary to ensure the involvement of civil society in EU-Tunisia relations, in particular in the context of the free trade agreement negotiations;

70.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Government of the Republic of Tunisia and the President of the Tunisian People’s Representative Assembly.

(1)

Texts adopted, P8_TA (2015)0272.

(2)

Texts adopted, P8_TA (2016)0061.

(3)

Texts adopted, P8_TA (2016)0086.

(4)

OJ L 102, 18.4.2016, p. 1.

Report – The EU Trust Fund for Africa: the implications for development and humanitarian aid – A8-0221/2016 – Committee on Development

on the EU Trust Fund for Africa: the implications for development and humanitarian aid

(2015/2341(INI))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to Article 41(2) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU),

–  having regard to Article 208 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU),

–  having regard to the EU Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing root causes of irregular migration and displacement of persons in Africa (EU Trust Fund for Africa), established at the Valletta Summit on Migration held on 11 and 12 November 2015,

–  having regard to the Joint Action Plan adopted at the Valletta summit,

–  having regard to the Partnership Agreement between the members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States of the one part, and the European Community and its Member States of the other part, signed in Cotonou on 23 June 2000(1), to its successive revisions and to Annex IC thereto (Multiannual Financial Framework for the period 2014 -2020), corresponding to the 11th European Development Fund (EDF),

–  having regard to the Multiannual Financial Framework for the period 2014-2020, constituting the EU budget, and to budget heading 4 contained therein (‘Global Europe’),

–  having regard to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted at the UN Sustainable Development Summit held in New York in 2015,

–  having regard to the Joint Staff Working Document on ‘Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Transforming the Lives of Girls and Women through EU External Relations 2016-2020’ (SWD(2015)0182) and to the Council conclusions of 26 October 2015 in which the corresponding Gender Action Plan 2016-2020 is endorsed,

–  having regard to the Beijing Platform for Action (1995) and the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) (1994) and to the outcomes of their review conferences,

–  having regard to Rule 52 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Development and the opinion of the Committee on Budgets (A8-0221/2016),

A.  whereas the main goal of the EU Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF), signed by the President of the Commission along with 25 EU Member States, as well as Norway and Switzerland, and launched at the Valletta Summit on Migration on 12 November 2015 by the European and African partners, is to help foster stability in the regions and contribute to better migration management; whereas, more specifically, the EUTF aims to address the root causes of destabilisation, forced displacement and irregular migration by promoting resilience, economic opportunities, equal opportunities, security and development;

B.  whereas the European Consensus on Development remains the doctrinal framework for EU development policy, and the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid reaffirms the fundamental principles of humanitarian aid; whereas peace has been recognised as crucial for development in the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 on peace and justice that has been introduced; whereas the EU and its partners in the humanitarian field must be able to ensure assistance and protection based on needs and on respect for the principles of neutrality, impartiality, humanity and independence of humanitarian action, as enshrined in international law and in particular in international humanitarian law;

C.  whereas Africa continues to experience very high rates of population growth and only a slow decline in fertility rates, a situation which will lead in the near future to a sharp rise in the young working-age population, bringing great potential social and economic benefits; whereas equipping young people with the education and skills they need to realise their potential and creating employment opportunities are essential to foster stability, sustainable economic growth, social cohesion and development in the region;

D.  whereas the EUTF is intended to be a development tool that pools resources from different donors in order to enable a quick, flexible, complementary, transparent and collective response by the EU to the different dimensions of an emergency situation;

E.  whereas 1.5 billion people live in fragile and conflict-affected regions worldwide and fragile states and ungoverned spaces are spreading, leaving many in poverty, lawlessness, thriving corruption and violence; whereas the EUTF has been conceived in order to assist 23 countries across three African regions (the Horn of Africa; the Sahel and Lake Chad basin; and North Africa) that contain some of the most fragile African countries, are affected by migration as countries of origin, transit or destination if not all three, and will draw the greatest benefit from this form of EU financial assistance; whereas the eligible countries’ African neighbours may also benefit, on a case-by-case basis, from EUTF projects having a regional dimension with a view to addressing regional migration flows and related cross-border challenges;

F.  whereas the EUTF aims to tackle the root causes of irregular migration and displacement in countries of origin, transit and destination, through five priority sectors, namely: 1) development benefit of migration; 2) legal migration and mobility; 3) protection and asylum; 4) prevention of and fight against irregular migration; and 5) return, readmission and reintegration;

G.  whereas the EU’s contribution amounts to EUR 1.8 billion, while the Commission can also draw on additional funds from EU Member States and other donors for an equivalent amount; whereas the EUTF serves to complement the existing EU aid to the regions covered to the sum of over EUR 10 billion up to 2020, with the objective of supporting inclusive and sustainable economic growth;

H.  whereas two EUTFs were created in 2014, namely the Bekou Trust Fund focusing on the stabilisation and reconstruction of the Central African Republic, which has shown positive results, and the Madad Fund dealing with the response to the Syrian crisis;

I.  whereas the report of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) ‘ICPD Beyond 2014 Global Report’, published on 12 February 2014, stresses that the protection of women and adolescents affected by violence must be a priority on the international development agenda;

J.  whereas trust funds are part of an ad hoc response – thus laying bare the scarcity of recourses and limited flexibility characterising the EU’s financial framework – but are vital for ensuring a rapid and comprehensive response to humanitarian crises, including long-term crises;

K.  whereas the EU will continue to pursue efforts to effectively implement UN Security Council resolution 1325 and the subsequent UN resolutions on women, peace and security;

Financial allocation and budgetary aspects

1.  Recalls that financial allocation is characterised by three main phases: promise, commitment and action/payment; points out, however, that lessons need to be learnt from previous EUTFs; regrets the fact that to date Member States’ contributions have remained too low, amounting only to a small fraction of the Union contribution and are thus far from reaching the official commitment, totalling only EUR 81.71 million in April 2016 (or 4.5 % of the projected EUR 1.8 billion); insists that promises and commitments must translate into action; reminds the Council and Commission that effective aid is characterised by timely and predictable funding, and calls for disbursement of this funding to be expedited;

2.  Welcomes the intention to disburse funds more quickly and flexibly in an emergency situation, and to bring together various sources of funding in order to address the migration and refugee crisis in its multiple dimensions; criticises the fact that the Commission has diverted appropriations from the objectives and principles of the basic acts to channel them through the EUTF, as this is in breach of the financial rules, and furthermore jeopardises the success of long-term Union policies; considers that such a fund should add value to the existing sources of funding; calls, therefore, for fresh appropriations to be used wherever possible and for full transparency to be ensured as to the origin and destination of funds;

3.  Observes that in the field of external action, EUTFs are mainly designed to enable a swift response to a specific emergency or post-emergency crisis by leveraging the contribution of EU Member States and other donors while increasing the global visibility of European efforts; acknowledges the added value of pooling a large number of national contributions at Union level in addition to substantial contributions from the external financing instruments and the European Development Fund (EDF); stresses, however, that Member States should not overlook their commitment as regards achieving the target of 0.7 % of Gross National Income (GNI) for official development assistance (ODA); calls on the Member States accordingly to respect their commitments as regards both the ODA 0.7 % target and their contribution to the EUTF for Africa;

4.  Stresses that the volatility of voluntary contributions shows that recourse to funding instruments outside the EU budget is not a viable way to mobilise additional funding; urges the Member States to honour their pledges and to rapidly and effectively match the Union contribution, in order to allow the EUTF to develop its full potential rather than provide the minimum required to obtain voting rights on the Strategic Board;

5.  Deplores the fact that the trust funds result in bypassing the budgetary authority and undermining the unity of the budget; notes that the fact that this ad hoc instrument has been set up is an acknowledgement that the 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF is undersized; points out that Member State contributions make up 85 % of the Union budget; considers that setting up the EUTF is de facto tantamount to revising the ceilings for the current MFF by increasing Member State contributions; stresses, therefore, that the creation of funding instruments outside the EU budget must remain exceptional as it bypasses the budgetary authority and undermines budget unity; deplores the fact that Parliament is not represented on the Strategic Board, despite the fact that substantial funds come from the Union budget; calls for the budgetary authority to be invited to participate in the Strategic Board;

6.  Notes that the EU’s financial allocation for the EUTF for Africa currently comes mainly from the 11th EDF; stresses that the EUTF was established because the EU budget and the MFF lack the resources and the flexibility needed to address the different dimensions of such crises promptly and comprehensively; calls for the EU to agree to find a more holistic solution for emergency funding in the framework of this year’s revision of the 2014-2020 MFF and the revision of the external financing instruments in 2016, with a view to increasing the effectiveness and reactivity of humanitarian and development assistance available under the EU budget;

7.  Calls, in particular, for an adequate revision of the ceiling to allow for the inclusion of the crisis mechanisms in the MFF in order to restore the unity of the budget; considers that revision of the MFF would provide greater budgetary, democratic and legal certainty; stresses, moreover, the need to review the financial rules with a view to facilitating the management of EU budget funds and to achieving, as part of an integrated approach, greater synergies between the Union budget, the EDF and bilateral cooperation so as to increase the impact of development funding and pave the way for the budgetisation of the EDF, while maintaining the level of resources as foreseen as of 2021; urges the Commission to take immediate steps to improve the involvement of the budgetary authority and to better align the trust funds and other mechanisms with the budgetary norm, notably by making them appear in the Union budget;

8.  Observes that Parliament has demonstrated responsibility, as one arm of the budgetary authority, by agreeing to release emergency funds; deplores the fact, however, that, as a result of the proliferation of emergency instruments, the Community method is being abandoned; gives an assurance of its intention to safeguard the fundamental principles of the Union budget, notably budget unity and codecision; considers that a rethink of the Union’s ability to respond to large-scale crises, in particular as regards their budgetary implications, is what is genuinely imperative; makes its agreement to future proposals for crisis instruments subject to incorporation of those implications into the mid-term review of the MFF, which is scheduled to take place before the end of 2016;

9.  Observes that further funding has been drawn from other financial instruments under the EU budget, such as the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI), for EUR 125 million, the Instrument for Humanitarian Aid, for EUR 50 million, and the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI), for EUR 200 million;

10.  Notes that of the total EU contribution of EUR 1.8 billion, only the EUR 1 billion from the EDF reserve is an additional resource; is concerned that financing of the EUTF may be implemented to the detriment of other development objectives; recalls that the EUTF tool should be complementary to already existing instruments, and calls on the Commission to ensure transparency and accountability over the use and amount of current budget lines contributing to the EUTF;

11.  Strongly underlines that funds from EDF and ODA sources must be devoted to the economic, human and social development of the host country, with particular focus on the development challenges identified in the Trust Fund decision; emphasises that development is not possible without security; recalls that funding of the EUTF must be implemented and evaluated on the basis of ODA criteria and that all expenses falling outside this requirement have to be funded from different sources that are pooled in the Trust Fund; stresses, in this regard, the importance of pooling resources from diverse and multiple sources and donors, and recalls that leveraging is one of the foremost reasons for the creation of this instrument devoted to such different and heterogeneous ends; condemns any use of EDF and ODA funds for migration management and control of any other actions without development objectives;

Funding least developed countries

12.  Stresses that the use of the EDF to finance the EUTF for Africa may have an impact on the aid recipient African countries which are not covered by the Trust Fund, and in particular the least developed countries (LDCs); warns against the risk of shifting aid away from the poorest countries, which have the least access to other sources of financing;

13.  Deeply regrets the fact that, despite the continued importance of ODA for LDCs, the already low levels of development assistance to LDCs declined for the second year in a row in 2014, and that the proportion of aid allocated to those countries is at its lowest for ten years; calls on the Member States, accordingly, to make sure that aid is not diverted away from the poorest countries to cover the cost of the current crises;

The role of civil society, NGOs, local authorities and international organisations

14.  Considers that the EUTF for Africa should contribute to development in countries of transit and origin of migrants, the strengthening and improvement of local public services (social services, health, education, nutrition, culture), of political participation and of governance, especially through community-based projects; considers that the Fund should contribute to the development of employment in local sectors, while respecting human rights and the environment; believes, in this framework, that local government authorities must be consulted as full partners as long as there are full guarantees of efficiency and good governance in accordance with the principles of aid effectiveness, and that they should also be the main actors in charge of public services delivered at the local level; believes that civil society, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), international organisations and diaspora communities should play a complementary and pivotal role in addressing the root causes of migration and improving local services; calls for open and participative consultation processes prior to the definition of projects, as a key contribution to development needs assessment;

15.  Recalls that regional and local authorities, civil society organisations and NGOs are natural partners for an effective development policy, and that a constant dialogue with national authorities and local communities is essential in order to define common strategies and priorities and allow an evidence-based approach in the implementation of the Fund; stresses the need for closer cooperation with local authorities and NGOs in states demonstrating insufficient guarantees of good governance and transparency; calls for respect for the principle of subsidiarity and ownership also in this field of action; stresses that local government bodies, local civil society, NGOs and international organisations should be strongly involved in the planning, implementation and evaluation phases of the EUTF; calls on the Commission to clarify and formalise the consultation procedures with these stakeholders so as to ensure their effective participation in the discussions taking place in the Operational Committees, with clear and transparent eligibility criteria;

16.  Stresses the importance of ensuring a better balance of funding for recipient country governments and especially for reliable civil society actors, who tend to be more aware of societal deficiencies which are in need of support;

17.  Recalls the importance of a people- and community-centred approach to resilience, and strongly believes that the EUTF should focus not only on economic development but also on grassroots projects specifically aimed at improving quality, equity and universal accessibility of basic services as well as training to develop local competences, particularly in education, vocational training, health and nutrition, food security, and the water and sanitation sectors, all of which are key to greater inclusiveness, empowerment and the enhancement of the wellbeing of local populations, with a focus on young people, as well as to responding to the needs of vulnerable communities, including minorities, while also being able to provide better and more equitable and sustainable services to the general population;

Transparency and clarity for better achievement of goals

18.  Acknowledges the complexity and the multidimensional nature of the current refugee crisis; warns, however, against the serious risk of misuse of EU development aid, in particular in conflict-affected countries where security, migration and development issues are closely interconnected; emphasises that the projects covered by the EUTF, which have been created using sources mainly devoted in principle to development purposes, must have development objectives; stresses that projects aimed at reinforcing security capacity in particular countries must be designed in such a way that their final outcomes are focused on poverty reduction, as well as the stability of the recipient countries;

19.  Reminds the Commission and the authorities directly entrusted with the managing of the Trust Fund that the resources coming from the EDF or other development funding must be used exclusively for actions directly devoted to development assistance; asks the Commission to provide express assurance as regards such use and to ensure regular and comprehensive reporting of the use of these funds;

20.  Emphasises that the EU budget cannot be used to directly finance military or defence operations (Article 41(2) TEU), but that there is no explicit exclusion of peacekeeping operations with development objectives; recalls furthermore that Articles 209 and 212 TFEU do not explicitly exclude the financing of capacity-building in the security sector;

21.  Calls on the Commission, the Strategic Board and the Operational Committee to focus primarily on capacity-building, stability and peace, resilience, wellbeing and empowerment of local populations, promotion, protection and fulfilment of human rights, and creation of work opportunities and training, particularly for women and young people;

22.  Emphasises strongly that the ultimate purpose of EU development policy, as enshrined in Article 208 TFEU, must be the reduction and eradication of poverty; in this regard, deplores the fact that while the EU contribution to the EUTF will be made mostly using ODA resources, this financing mechanism will not be focused exclusively on development-oriented objectives; stresses that a clear, transparent, and communicable distinction must be made within the EUTF between the funding envelopes for development activities on the one hand, and those for activities related to migration management, border controls and all other activities on the other; stresses that diluting ODA so that less funds are used to fight extreme poverty would undermine the significant progress made in international development and threaten the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);

EU policy coherence and commitment on human rights

23.  Calls for the EU to show greater coherence when acting in the field of international cooperation for development, from a twofold point of view: the EU and the Member States should, on the one hand, act according to their commitments and, on the other, exhibit overall coherence in their external policies and instruments for the African region, with particular regard to the co-management spirit of the ACP-EU Cotonou Agreement; from the latter perspective, considers that the EUTF should reflect the principles of policy coherence for sustainable development and complementarity between all development stakeholders, and should avoid any contradiction between development aims and security, humanitarian and migration policies; hopes that the Better Regulation package will contribute to furthering policy coherence for sustainable development by taking into account development and human rights in all its impact assessments;

24.  Recalls that the rules and criteria that govern development aid for projects financed by the EUTF must be set according to shared values and common interests, in particular as to the respect and promotion of human rights; in this regard, underlines that EU policy regarding cooperation on security, migration management and human trafficking and smuggling should include specific provisions aimed at ensuring respect for human rights and the rule of law, with particular attention to women’s rights, the rights of LGBTI persons, sexual and reproductive health and rights, children’s rights, and the rights of minorities and other particularly vulnerable groups; points out that the EU must encourage efforts to combat discrimination on grounds of religion or personal beliefs, sex, race or ethnic origin, disability and sexual orientation;

25.  Points out that trust funds must contribute to achieving the long-term objectives of ensuring peace and strengthening governance in recipient countries; stresses the need to carefully and systematically evaluate the impact of the actions funded under the EUTF for Africa on the delivery of humanitarian aid; underlines that the EUTF should not undermine the long-term development cooperation of the EU; stresses that ownership and complementarity of long-term and short-term projects must be ensured, safeguarded and aligned with the EU’s existing regional and country strategies for the Sahel, the Gulf of Guinea, the Horn of Africa and North Africa; stresses that a comprehensive country and sector diagnosis is required for a good allocation of funds, as well as in terms of developing close partnerships with a wide range of civil society actors; welcomes the research component integrated in the EUTF as a potential opportunity to create development opportunities and synergies between the EU and the countries concerned;

Objectives and follow-up

26.  Calls on the Commission to systematically monitor how the EUTF funds are employed and how they are allocated, and to increase Parliament’s scrutiny powers over the EUTF; in particular, calls on the Council and the Commission to regularly communicate on the specific actions undertaken by both the EU and the African states when employing these funds and the results achieved;

27.  Is concerned at the lack of coordination among all the actors involved in managing the EUTF (and in particular between the Commission’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO) and its Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO)), and at the lack of clear guidelines as to how funding can be secured; deplores the lack of clarity and transparency regarding the funding criteria and the volume of funds available for civil society under the EUTF; recalls the need for better communication between the Commission, the Member States and Parliament in programming and implementing actions of the EUTF in general , in the interests of the further planning of potential additional Trust Funds; recalls that the Commission must take particular care to ensure that its actions are consistent and coordinated with the Regional Development Programmes (RDPs), in order to avoid duplication of effort and ensure that the main focus is on development, and not on border control and security to the detriment of migrants; calls on the Commission, for the same reason as well as in order to maximise the impact and effectiveness of global aid, to maintain a strong dialogue with the UN in the context of the EUTF; also calls on the Commission to strengthen its efforts with a view to the more systematic impact assessment of its policies and funding, including the EUTF, especially with regard to their effects on sustainable development, human rights and gender equality, and to integrate the results of these assessments into its policies and programming;

28.  Underlines the lack of involvement of Parliament thus far in the establishment of the EUTF, and insists on the need to guarantee, through detailed and regular reporting by the Commission, Parliament’s scrutiny as to how the Fund is being implemented;

29.  Believes that, given the extraordinary flexibility and rapidity proper to a Trust Fund, periodical reporting to Parliament should be undertaken at least once every six months; strongly underlines the need for transparent performance monitoring, evaluation and accountability;

30.  Believes that transparency, communication and visibility in relation to projects developed in the framework of the EUTF are of the utmost importance with a view to disseminating the results and involving and sensitising European private actors, local and regional authorities, NGOs and civil society, in order to create the conditions for broader involvement and facilitate participation by Member States;

31.  Underlines the need for thorough monitoring of the implementation of the provisions on redistribution, replacement in countries of origin, and Member States’ financial commitments, paying particular attention to human rights;

32.  Recalls that EU migration policies should primarily focus on addressing the root causes of migration, having as their main objective to investigate and solve the real causes of impoverishment in the countries of origin, such as the plundering and exploitation of human and natural resources by multinational companies, land grabbing, the EU Member States’ support for autocratic and corrupt government, the arms trade and the pernicious consequences of the payment of external debt; stresses that EU migration policies should work to help create peace and stability and foster economic development, in line with Sustainable Development Goal 16 on peace and justice, by working to ensure healthy lives for all at all ages, achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, and ensure inclusive and equitable quality education to create the conditions for a demographic dividend in line with Sustainable Development Goals 3, 4 and 5, by stepping up work on promoting and organising migration through legal channels, in line with Target 7 of Sustainable Development Goal 10 (‘Facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies’), by enhancing the protection of migrants and asylum seekers and of particularly vulnerable groups, by more effectively fighting exploitation and trafficking of migrants, and by working more closely with third countries to improve cooperation on incentives for return to and reintegration in the countries of origin of migrants, including high-skilled migrants, voluntary return and readmission, in a way that enhances their opportunities;

33.  Stresses that instability and physical insecurity are prominent causes of forced displacement, and therefore supports a conflict-sensitive approach to implementation of the Fund that would prioritise conflict prevention, state-building, good governance and the promotion of the rule of law; believes that the EUTF is a great opportunity for the EU, enabling it to reinforce its cooperation and political dialogue with its African partners, in particular concerning the effective implementation of return and readmission agreements, and to build up on common strategies for the management of migration flows; points to the need for sharing of responsibilities between the EU and its African partners, in line with the conclusions of the Valletta summit of November 2015; considers, however, that development aid should not be used to stem the flows of migrants and asylum seekers, and that the projects covered by the EUTF should not serve as a pretext for preventing departure or tightening borders between countries while ignoring the factors that drive people from their homes; expresses grave concern at the impact which the EUTF may have on human rights, if containing migratory flows involves cooperating with countries which commit systematic and/or serious violations of fundamental rights; asks the Commission to enhance the transparency of the Fund, and underlines that monitoring and evaluation of the projects and programmes financed will be essential to make sure that the Fund serves its purposes, directly helping those in need and not financing governments responsible for human rights violations; calls for respect for migrants’ human rights to be improved in EU-financed projects;

34.  Emphasises that it is important to understand the causes and consequences of international migration from a gender perspective, including the process of decision-making involved and the mechanisms leading to migration; recalls that women and girls, as refugees and migrants, are particularly vulnerable when they find themselves in situations where their safety cannot be ensured and where they may be subject to sexual violence or exploitation; stresses that the EUTF needs to contribute to the protection, support and/or assistance of vulnerable migrants, refugees and victims of trafficking, and that special attention should be given to women and children;

35.  Notes that the EUTF for Africa was created following the Valletta summit of African and European Heads of State and Government held on migration issues; calls on the Commission to provide Parliament with an overview of the concrete actions that followed this summit, notably in the field of development, the fight against smugglers and the signature of return, readmission and reintegration agreements; calls on the Council to provide the Commission with the necessary mandates to conclude such agreements with the countries concerned by the EUTF;

36.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the President of the European Council, the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Council, the Commission, the parliaments of the Member States, the Co-Presidents of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly and the President of the Pan-African Parliament.

(1)

OJ L 317, 15.12.2000, p. 3

Daily Press Briefing: Cuba

2:10 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: Good afternoon.

MR KIRBY: That’s a nice response. I like that. Okay, just a quick scheduling note. I think you know the Secretary arrived last night in New Delhi to participate in this year’s U.S.-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue. This morning he met with Indian National Security Adviser Doval and the Minister of Power Goyal. He met later with the Minister of External Affairs Swaraj. And together with Secretary of Commerce Pritzker and her Indian counterpart, they chaired the second S&CD. The Secretary’s visit to India will continue tomorrow and will include meetings with senior officials and a speech at the Indian Institute of Technology on the U.S.-India relationship and its importance to global peace and prosperity.

With that, we’ll start. Go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION: Can we start with Turkey and Syria? Both President Erdogan and the Turkish chief of general staff have basically signaled that they’re going to continue prosecuting their operations. What success, if any, have you had in persuading your YPG allies to vacate those areas and in persuading your Turkish allies from pursuing their operations against the YPG?

MR KIRBY: Well, the first thing I’d say is it still remains a pretty dynamic, fluid environment. That’s one. Two, we’ve seen largely, over the last 12 to 18 hours, that there has been calm. And of course, that’s welcome. As we said yesterday, we don’t – that we don’t believe tactical operations between members of the SDF and Turkish forces or Turkish – or forces supported by Turkey to be productive in terms of the fight against Daesh.

The third thing that I would say – and I think General Votel spoke to this over at the Pentagon this morning – that Kurdish forces have, in fact, moved to the east of the Euphrates. And so what I – again, I can’t speak for Turkish leaders and what they’ve said they’re going to do or not do, but certainly – and again, General Votel talked about this this morning – we see Turkish operations in that area. And to the degree that those operations are designed to secure that stretch of border, as was always the plan, well that’s helpful; that’s constructive.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that all Kurdish forces have moved across the river?

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on the tactical laydown. I would point you to my colleagues at the Pentagon. All I can do is repeat what General Votel said today, which was that he – he said that Kurdish forces had met their obligation to move to the east of the Euphrates. I can’t count every nose and every pair of ears, but I would just point you back to what the Pentagon has said about it.

QUESTION: John, is there any ceasefire between Turkey and YPG? Because an American official has said there is a ceasefire now and there’s an agreement between the two parties. Turkey has denied and that YPG has confirmed.

MR KIRBY: I would point you to both sides to speak to where they are in terms of these clashes we’ve seen over the last couple of days. As I said in my first answer, we would note that over the last 12 to 18 hours or so, there’s been calm, that there have – there have been no clashes between those two sides. And that’s a welcome development. It’s one that we strongly encouraged even yesterday.

QUESTION: And are you mediating between the two parties to —

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: Why not? Do you want them to fight?

MR KIRBY: Again, there’s been a period of calm here over the last 12 to 18 hours. That’s a welcome thing. We’ve made clear to both of them what our desires are in terms of the focus being on Daesh. But if you’re asking me are we in some sort of negotiating role or mediating role between them, the answer is no.

QUESTION: The YPG has said that they are working through the coalition in order to talk to the Turks. Are they wrong?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not – you’re asking me for details here on conversations that really are better placed over at the Defense Department. I can tell you that we – I’m not denying that we have communicated to both sides our desires to see the clashes between them stop, and we welcome the last 12 to 18 hours where that has appeared to be the case, and to refocus all of our efforts on Daesh. It wouldn’t surprise me if, because they’re all – because we’re all members of the coalition, because we all should be focused on going after Daesh, it wouldn’t surprise me that conversations were happening in the context of the coalition. I just can’t speak to the details of it.

QUESTION: Well, would you welcome a mediation role, or do you think the two sides should discuss their differences directly?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, so far the clashes have stopped, so that’s the outcome that we wanted to see. We want to see that continue. I’m not sure that there’s a role for the United States here in terms of mediation. We have made our position quite clear privately, and then again publicly yesterday and again today, so we’ll see where it goes.

QUESTION: But do you —

QUESTION: So you’re not calling that a ceasefire though, this – you’re just describing what happened. You’re not saying that there’s a ceasefire.

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s 12 to 18 hours and we’ve seen calm. We’ve seen the clashes stop between the two sides. And again, that’s the outcome that we want. We want – we don’t want to see them fighting each other. We want to see everybody in the coalition – and we all are – focus our efforts on Daesh. You can call it what you want, but what – I can tell you what we want to see is focused efforts against Daesh.

QUESTION: But you’re not aware of an agreement that there would be an end to the violence that would last sort of longer than what you’ve seen?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to talk to the sides on that. Again, we made clear what our hopes and expectations were. We welcome the fact that the clashes have stopped at least over the last day, day and a half, and we’d like to see that continue.

QUESTION: But first the news came from a U.S. official confirming that there is a ceasefire agreement between the two parties. Why don’t you want now to —

MR KIRBY: Who’s the U.S. official?

QUESTION: I don’t know.

MR KIRBY: Oh, you don’t know. So it’s an anonymous source.

QUESTION: That’s what I’m asking. I know. I didn’t ask it —

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Oh, so we should just – yeah, so we should just take that all to the bank. Look, I’m not going to speak for anonymous sources here. And you’re asking me why shouldn’t we mediate. And there’s – since the clashes have stopped – and that’s a good thing, and we want to see that continue – I’m not so sure that there’s a need for any kind of mediation by anybody. And that’s point one.

Point two, we, again, made clear privately to both sides our concerns about these clashes and about the need to refocus on Daesh, and we’re going to continue to do that. We’re going to continue to have those conversations as necessary. Hopefully, Michel, they won’t be necessary. Hopefully, this can be – this reduction in the tensions here can be more enduring and we can all do what we’re supposed to do inside the coalition, and that’s degrade and defeat Daesh.

QUESTION: One last question for me. Latest reports coming from Syria said that ISIS spokesman got killed in Aleppo. Do you have any confirmation?

MR KIRBY: I don’t.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: On the same subject.

MR KIRBY: I’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: Last couple hours, Turkish press reports that U.S. Ambassador Bass, John Bass, summoned to Turkish foreign ministry in Ankara for the statements coming out from U.S. officials regarding this truce or ceasefire. Do you have any comment or —

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen reports that he got summoned, so I just – I have nothing to say on that. I haven’t seen that.

QUESTION: One more. Have you been informed or do you have any information regarding Turkey-backed FSA forces, next step for them? Do you know whether they are going to go to westward or – you’re not coordinated? You have not been informed about their coordinates?

MR KIRBY: I think General Votel spoke to the fact that Turkish operations along – just on the other side of that border have – are continuing, in terms of going west. And I think the general said that – and this was something that we’ve been long in discussions with the Turks about – that that’s a good thing, that the whole idea here is to secure that border to prevent the flow of foreign fighters across it. It’s a stretch of the border that the Turks have long been concerned about and that we’ve been in communication with them about those kinds of operations.

But if you’re asking me where they are today and how far they’re moving and where they’re going, you’d have to talk to Turkish officials about the movement of their troops. That wouldn’t be something that the State Department would speak to one way or the other. Again, I’d point you back to what General Votel said this morning at the Pentagon and the way he characterized it.

QUESTION: There are reports that the U.S. has not been informed or not coordinated regarding Turkish incursion into Syria. Would you be able to comment whether you are dissatisfied with —

MR KIRBY: Again, that’s a better question for the Defense Department to speak to. I think General Votel also talked about that a little bit today. They – I’ll just repeat what I said again yesterday. The operations by Turkish forces to secure that border, including some operations on the Syrian side, is something that we had been in discussion with them about and supportive of. Yesterday, we were talking specifically about the clashes between Turkish forces or Turkish-backed forces and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, Kurdish fighters. And I said yesterday that those are uncoordinated, they weren’t being supported by the United States, and in terms of notification, there was very little at all. That’s different than the purpose of Turkish forces being in Syria at the outset, which was to help secure that border. Okay?

Barbara.

QUESTION: Just to follow up with Michel saying a U.S. official had talked about a ceasefire, the – Colonel John Thomas, Central Command spokesman, said there’s a loose agreement to stop fighting. Is that —

MR KIRBY: Is that a different official than his anonymous official?

QUESTION: I don’t know.

MR KIRBY: Is that the one you were quoting, Michel? Is that a different guy?

QUESTION: No.

MR KIRBY: Different guy?

QUESTION: No, but you said who said it. That’s what I’m saying, that that’s what – that’s a named person.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I can’t – I – those are comments that are attributed to a military official, and the Pentagon should speak to that. Again, call it what you will. What we’re saying is we welcome the fact that there has been calm over the last 12 to 18 hours, that these clashes have ceased. We want to see that continue. We want to see that endure. And you can put whatever label you want on it. What we want is a focus on counter-Daesh operations by all members of the coalition. And when we had clashes of the sort that we had over the weekend, as I said yesterday, that they were not productive to that effort, they were not helpful, they were not moving us in the direction that we think all members of the coalition need to move, and that is to focus military activities against Daesh.

QUESTION: Where is Ambassador McGurk today?

MR KIRBY: Ambassador McGurk —

QUESTION: Yes.

MR KIRBY: — is on travel in the region.

QUESTION: He’s in the region?

MR KIRBY: He’s on travel in the region. That’s as much detail as I have today.

Abbie.

QUESTION: Different subject. I wanted to ask you about some comments that Secretary Kerry made when he was in Bangladesh. He seemed to suggest that perhaps the media shouldn’t be covering terror attacks quite as much as they do. He said, “Perhaps the media would do us all a service if they didn’t cover it quite as much. People wouldn’t know what’s going on.” Can you offer any clarification on —

MR KIRBY: Well, I’d say a couple of things. I mean, first of all, the Secretary’s views about the media, press freedom, and certainly the strength and the power of independent press reporting of events around the world are well established and well known by all of you. I think you all know how much he appreciates the work that you do and the importance of the light that you can shed on so many issues. What he was referring to in that statement was simply that – an acknowledgment of the fact – and it’s a fact that all of you know – that often in acts of terrorism there’s more than one purpose. There’s the violence itself and the havoc that it can wreak and the fear that it can instill and the damage that it can cause. And there’s also the notoriety that comes with the press coverage from it, the glorification of that through amplification in the mass media. And I think he was just referring to that as a fact and something that we all have to be mindful of as these events happen.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: At the risk of amplifying an attack, do you know what’s happening in Bishkek?

MR KIRBY: Bishkek. I can tell you that we’re aware of a – of what appears to have been a vehicle-borne IED that exploded there. As I understand it, it was near the Chinese embassy. I don’t have all the particulars. I know it’s being investigated by officials there. I can tell you that we’ve been in touch with our embassy and all U.S. and embassy personnel have been accounted for. So we’re not aware of any injuries at this time. And the embassy will be closed tomorrow for independence day observances there, but it’s our expectation that they’ll be able to pick up right after that.

QUESTION: Sir, India and Pakistani media —

QUESTION: Sorry, there was —

QUESTION: — is reporting —

QUESTION: — there was a previously scheduled closure tomorrow?

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: For the independence day celebrations observance.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Sir, India and Pakistani media is reporting that Pakistani Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani has been reprimanded by White House due to his anti-Indian activities. Sir —

MR KIRBY: By his what activities?

QUESTION: Anti-Indian activities. Anti-Indian activities.

MR KIRBY: He’s – can – I’m sorry, you went really fast there. Can you just try that one again?

QUESTION: All right. All right. Sir, Indian and Pakistani media —

MR KIRBY: No, I – just – just let me try – let me just try it again.

QUESTION: Sir, Indian and Pakistani media is reporting that the White House – that the Pakistani ambassador, Jalil Abbas Jilani, reprimanded by White House due to his anti-Indian activities. Do you agree with these media reports?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen a report of that. I would refer you to the White House to speak to that. I’m not – I’m not aware of that.

QUESTION: Sir, I’ve just seen Secretary Kerry’s statement in India. He just said that Pakistan in recent months taken strong actions against Haqqani Network. But if we see Pentagon, they have different views about the Pakistani action against Haqqani Network. Why State Department, Pentagon are not on the same page?

MR KIRBY: Well, I – I’m not going to just presume that your implication is correct there, that we’re not. I don’t know what comments you’re talking about from the Pentagon that differ from what we’re saying here at the State Department. Look, I’d just say that we all recognize that the continued security threat that is posed by the Haqqani Network and by other terrorist groups that operate inside Pakistan and along that border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the Pentagon is obviously well aware of that, as we are here, and it’s a conversation that we continue to have and will continue to have with our partners in the region. I’m not aware that there’s any dissonance here in terms of the way we’re seeing it.

Is there a particular comment that you’re referring to?

QUESTION: Yes, sir —

MR KIRBY: What is it?

QUESTION: It’s a BBC report about – and said that John Kerry has said that —

MR KIRBY: No, I know what my Secretary said. You’re saying there – that’s a difference opinion that’s expressed at the Pentagon.

QUESTION: Pentagon – sir, Pentagon —

MR KIRBY: So what’s the Pentagon say?

QUESTION: The Pentagon withheld the – refused to issue the certificate for the military assistance to Pakistan, saying that Pakistan is not doing enough against Haqqani Network.

MR KIRBY: There is a constant conversation that we are having with our Pakistani partners about the threat posed by Haqqani and by other extremist groups there in the region and certainly operating inside Pakistan. And we make these decisions routinely and they’re based on active, fluid, dynamic conversations that we have with Pakistani leaders. I don’t know of any difference. I think the United States Government is viewing this very much all in the same – in the same light.

QUESTION: Stay on the region?

QUESTION: Can we continue in the region?

QUESTION: Continue in the region?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you want to go first?

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. In his press conference, Secretary also said they recently spoke to Prime Minister Sharif and General Raheel in Pakistan. Do you know when they talked last, what this was about?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know – let’s see if I have a recent call. I don’t have a recent call to read out, so I’d have to find out when the last discussion was.

QUESTION: Okay. And he also announced resumption of trilateral dialogue with India and Afghanistan. Why it was stopped in the first instance? He did explain why the reasons for resuming this dialogue. Why it was stopped in the first instance, and at what level this will be held next month?

MR KIRBY: I think the movement forward – I think we have to work through those details. And I think what matters is that, as the Secretary said, those discussions are important and they are going to continue. And he talked about the constructive role that India has played inside Afghanistan and wanting to see that – see that role continue. So we’re focused on the future here. I’m not going to get into a debate or a discussion about what happened in the past and the degree to which those talks didn’t continue. What matters is they are going to continue going forward, and that’s why – one of the reasons why the Secretary’s there in New Delhi today.

QUESTION: At what level this will be held?

MR KIRBY: As I said, I don’t have that kind of detail right now. I think that kind of stuff needs to be worked out.

QUESTION: Continue in the region – thank you, sir. As far as U.S.-India relations are concerned, a lot going on this week. Secretaries of State and Commerce, of course, are in Delhi, and defense minister of India is in Washington, where U.S. and India – they announced yesterday that India is a major defense partner of the United States. So out of these meetings in Delhi, what are we expecting this time more or any other major partnership between U.S. and India is expected —

MR KIRBY: I think there’s – there’s already a tremendous partnership between the United States and India, which cuts across quite a few sectors. And it’s not just security and defense related; it’s economic, trade, and information and technology sharing. I mean, there’s a – it’s a pretty full and complete, comprehensive relationship and it’s one that we are committed to deepening and strengthening, and I think that’s why the Secretary of Defense’s counterpart is here, it’s why the Secretary and the Secretary of Commerce Pritzker is there – are there in New Delhi, to continue this Strategic and Commercial Dialogue. I mean – so if you’re asking me are there major announcements to be had, I’m not aware of any. These kinds of discussions – and this is where we want to be, right? We want to be able to have these kinds of bilateral discussions that cut – that really do cut across all the sectors of a bilateral relationship to deepen it and grow it and to keep it going forward.

QUESTION: And is there major talks going on about threats in the South China Sea, and also any regional terrorism threats?

MR KIRBY: You mean in the discussions in New Delhi?

QUESTION: During this meeting, yeah.

MR KIRBY: Well, certainly as part of the S part of it, right – strategic. I mean, they talked about strategic regional issues. I don’t have a specific readout on each and every one of these, but discussing tensions in the Asia Pacific region is something that’s not uncommon when we’re meeting with our Indian counterparts, and there’s certainly a lot there because India is – India does have a purpose and a presence in the Pacific that’s important.

QUESTION: And finally, Secretary’s visit to Bangladesh – you have anything – any major things were discussed or announced between the two countries? Because Bangladesh still needs U.S. help in many areas, including fighting terrorism.

MR KIRBY: I would point you to – I mean, my deputy spokesman, Mark Toner, was on the trip and issued a series of readouts from each of the bilateral meetings, and the Secretary did a press conference. I’d point you to the transcripts of those readouts and that press conference for the kinds of things that the Secretary discussed and advanced while he was in Bangladesh.

But by and large, and if you look at – again, I don’t want to spoil the read for you, but I mean, they talked about counterterrorism, they talked about climate change, they talked about Bangladesh’s progress on democracy and human rights. And the Secretary certainly made clear our expectations that that kind of progress would continue and deepen and grow and be better than it is right now. So it was a wide-ranging set of discussions, but again, I encourage you to go look at our website and you can see all the things that were discussed in Bangladesh are there.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: I had a quick follow-up —

QUESTION: Thank you ,sir.

QUESTION: — on this defense thing.

MR KIRBY: Whoa, whoa, whoa. One at a time. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a quick follow-up on defense. This – yesterday China – in fact, today China had expressed concern about India and U.S. signing a logistic agreement, and they have said it will not make India safe. What is your comment on that?

MR KIRBY: On the what? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Yesterday India and U.S. signed a major logistic agreement which the two countries were working for last 10, 12 years. China has reacted strongly to it. They are saying that – they expressed concern and saying that this will not make India safe.

MR KIRBY: So a couple of things. I haven’t seen the details of this agreement and I haven’t seen a reaction to it by China, so I’m going – you’re going to have let me get back to you on the specifics about this. Broadly speaking, a deepening, stronger, more cooperative bilateral relationship with India is nothing that anybody should fear or worry about. We both are democracies; we both have incredible opportunities and influence on the global stage, and a better relationship between the United States and India is not just good for our two countries, not just good for the region, it’s good for the world.

QUESTION: John —

MR KIRBY: Barbara. You’ve been patient.

QUESTION: I just wondered if you had any comment on the EU decision for Apple to pay 13 billion euros in back taxes. I know the White House and Treasury have made some critical responses; does the State Department have anything to —

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything to add to that today. You’ll have to let me take that question. I suspect that that’s really going to be something more for the Treasury Department to speak to than the State Department. I just don’t have anything on it.

QUESTION: The Afghan Taliban has released a video of a kidnapped North American couple – one American, one Canadian – Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle. They are forced to appeal for an end to executions of Taliban prisoners by the Afghan Government. Do you have anything you can say on that publicly?

MR KIRBY: I do. We’re aware of recent reports that a video featuring U.S. hostage Caitlan Coleman and her husband Joshua Boyle has been released. I would tell you that the video is still being examined for its validity. We remain concerned, obviously, about the welfare of Caitlan and her family, and we continue to urge for their immediate release on humanitarian grounds. We are regularly engaged with the governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan at the highest levels to emphasize our commitment to seeing our citizens returned safely to their families. And I think as you know, and I’ve said many times, the welfare of U.S. citizens overseas remains one of our highest priorities here at the State Department. We continue to work aggressively to bring all U.S. citizens held hostage overseas home to their families.

Okay. Abbie and then you.

QUESTION: Congressman Mia Love has sent, I believe, a letter to the State Department regarding Joshua Holt, who is being held in Venezuela.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: The letter is asking that the State Department put more pressure for the Venezuelan Government to release Josh. Do you have any response to that or to some of the frustration that’s been expressed by the family?

MR KIRBY: Well I’m not – I won’t – as I don’t – we’re not going to respond to congressional inquiries or correspondence here from the podium. We’ll respond to the congresswoman in the appropriate way. What I can tell you is that – a couple of things, just broadly speaking. We can now confirm that a U.S. citizen, Joshua Holt, was arrested in Venezuela on June 30th of this year on weapons charges and that he’s currently being held in a prison in Caracas. Consular officers from the United States embassy in Caracas visited Mr. Holt most recently on the 16th of this month and are providing all possible consular assistance.

We call on the Venezuelan Government to respect due process and human rights and guarantee a fair trial. State Department officials have been in contact with Venezuelan Government officials regarding this case. The embassy and the department are following it closely. And again, the embassy has visited Mr. Holt on a regular basis and intends to continue to do so as he awaits trial.

QUESTION: I believe his trial is September 15th. Will the State Department have any representation there?

MR KIRBY: It’s typical for us to do that, and I can tell you that certainly would be our desire. I just don’t have anything specific to say to be able to confirm it, but obviously that’s – that is – it’s a very common practice for us to be there, to be represented there. Yeah.

Yeah.

QUESTION: This is just a quick follow on to the Apple question, because House Speaker Paul Ryan just added a statement saying that the decision is awful and it’s also in direct violation of many European countries’ treaty obligations. Is that anything that you’d be able to confirm?

MR KIRBY: Does that make it easier for me to then talk to? No. I just – look, I just don’t have anything —

QUESTION: But if you could look into it, that’d be —

MR KIRBY: As I said, I’ll have to look into it and see. I suspect this is something really for the Treasury Department to speak to. But you guys got me unawares here, so I’m just going to have to take the question, and we’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: And then just the only other thing I had is that the Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency has reported that IS spokesman and external operations manager, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, has been killed. Any confirmation?

MR KIRBY: Nope. In the last ten minutes, I have no more confirmation than when I answered the question from Michel.

QUESTION: Oh okay. Got it.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Turkey. On Turkey.

MR KIRBY: Turkey.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR KIRBY: Shocker. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Today another 35 journalists – there is a new detainment list about another 35 journalists in Turkey.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: It is now about 150 journalists, according to estimates, since we don’t know the exact numbers, but this should be around that number. This more than combined of China, Iran, and Egypt. I was wondering if you have any comment on this.

MR KIRBY: I mean, we’ve seen these reports, and as we’ve said before, we – and frankly, what I’ve said earlier in this briefing, we obviously continue to support independent, free media reporting and freedom of the press all over the world, including Turkey. And we’ve talked a lot over the last several months about our concerns, about a growing trend in the wrong direction with respect to press freedoms and freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in Turkey. Those concerns remain valid today.

Now, look, we understand, there was a very active and serious coup attempt in Turkey and that the Turkish Government has an obligation in looking after its own citizens to also fully investigate this coup attempt and to hold those responsible accountable. And so, as we’ve said before, we simply urge Turkish leaders, as they work through that process, they do it with all due respect for rule of law and for international obligations and human rights.

QUESTION: But you cannot imagine about 100 journalists will be involved in the coup. Is there a justification in your imagination that these (inaudible) journalist —

MR KIRBY: We’re not going to characterize the – every decision they make in the process of conducting this investigation, and you’re asking me to speculate about who was involved and at what level, and we simply don’t have the information to make that kind of an assessment, nor would it be appropriate from this podium.

QUESTION: Last week Vice President Biden, after he left Turkey – I think he was in Latvia – and he was asked about why he withheld criticism regarding crackdown in Turkey, and Mr. Vice President said that since nobody has been tried or executed, there is no need for speak up; when that happens, we can speak up.

MR KIRBY: I think —

QUESTION: Is this the policy, that you are waiting for someone to be executed, then the speak up more —

MR KIRBY: Our views, our perspective on these events in Turkey have not changed, not one bit. And I think I just articulated them in the answer to your last question. We understand they have an obligation to investigate. We have – we understand and we appreciate they also have an obligation to their own citizens to hold those accountable for this. This was a potentially – well, it wasn’t potentially. It was a violent and precarious, dangerous coup attempt, and real people suffered as a result of it. So they have an obligation to look into this and get to the bottom of it and to try to prevent that kind of thing from happening again. We understand that, and that hasn’t changed, and the Vice President wasn’t saying anything different than that.

We also, though, urge Turkey, as they work through that process, as I said before, to observe rule of law and due process in accordance with their own constitutional principles, and to observe international obligations and human rights as they work through that. And we’re in close touch with them and we will remain in close touch with them as they continue to work through that process. But there’s not – no change at all in terms of the approach that we’ve taken here. We condemned it that very evening – the coup attempt, that is. And again, we’ve – we were and we remain in close contact with Turkish authorities going forward.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) condemn these kind of a Turkish administration approach the freedom of press in Turkey and jail in these many —

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Would you condemn also jailing this many journalists in Turkey?

MR KIRBY: As I said before, Michel – I’m sorry, Michele. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Ilhan.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. You guys look so much alike. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the habit of characterizing each and every decision or each and every statement that comes out of Turkey.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) not about a statement.

MR KIRBY: No, it is.

QUESTION: This is being —

MR KIRBY: You’re asking me to —

QUESTION: — happening for about two months.

MR KIRBY: You’re asking me to say whether I’m going to condemn the jailing of journalists.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR KIRBY: They are conducting an investigation. I can’t begin to speculate here who was or who wasn’t involved in this and it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to do that. They’re doing this investigation and we understand they have to do that. We simply have urged them, in terms of process, how to go about doing that in a way that is thorough and complete, but also transparent and fair. And so we’re going to stay in close touch with them as they go forward, but we haven’t yet, and I’m not going to begin to make a judgment here from the State Department podium in Washington about every single decision that they’re making as they conduct that investigation.

QUESTION: So this is not about single decision. This has been going on for almost two months —

MR KIRBY: And we have —

QUESTION: — and jailing for hundreds of journalists.

MR KIRBY: We have talked about – I said it earlier – our concerns about a worrisome trend in Turkey, before the coup, about limiting press freedom and about shutting down media outlets or detaining reporters. We’ve been nothing but honest and open about that, and in fact, I said the same thing again today to your first question. But if you’re asking me to condemn this specific decision, what I’m saying is we’re not going to get into characterizing each and every move they make as they investigate this. We’ve talked to them about process and what our hopes and expectations are for that going forward. And we’re going to stay in close touch on this. We’re watching it as closely as possible.

Yeah, Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, John. In the Clinton email documents, 2012 former President Clinton was planned to visit Kaesong Industrial in North Korea. That is the former Secretary Clinton asked him to visit that Kaesong Industrial. Do you have anything how that happened, who invited him? I mean, North side or South side?

MR KIRBY: I don’t, and I wouldn’t speak for invitations or decisions that were made by the previous secretary of state. I think you’d have to talk to her staff about that. I don’t have any information on that.

Yeah.

QUESTION: The organization Human Rights Watch is calling on the UN Security Council to impose further sanctions on the Government of Syria. Is this something that the State Department supports?

MR KIRBY: So I would just say that we’re aware of the reports of that and I’d have to refer you to the UN specifically.

QUESTION: And then a follow-up: How important is it to hold the Assad regime accountable for the use of chemical weapons in Syria?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: A follow-up would be: How important is it for the international community to hold the Assad regime accountable for the use of chemical weapons in Syria?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, without speaking to this specific report —

QUESTION: Sure.

MR KIRBY: — obviously, the international community did and I think remains committed to limiting or effectively trying to pressure the Assad regime to stop using chemical materials as weapons. Now, as we know, we got most of the material out, and we’re grateful for the international partnership, and it really was an international partnership that got that material out. But clearly, we know and we’ve seen in this most recent OPCW report that Assad continues to barrel bomb his people and use chlorine to do it.

So I think there’s a strong international community mandate to see that end, and that is why – again, not speaking to UN decisions. I think that – I’d refer you to them. But that is why the Secretary is working so hard inside multilateral fora, not just the United States unilaterally but inside a multilateral structure, to bring an end to this war so that – so that the regime can’t continue to use chemical materials against their own people. And one of the things that our two teams, the U.S. and Russian teams, are going to continue to try to work through after Geneva on Friday is the technical modalities to get a cessation of hostilities that is enduring across the nation that would effectively prevent the regime from being able to conduct those kinds of missions.

Okay?

QUESTION: Any update on the meetings between the Russians and the U.S.?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any update today, no.

Barbara.

QUESTION: Cuba. Nine Latin American countries have sent a letter to the Administration saying that U.S. policy, its wet foot/dry foot policy which guarantees citizenship to Cubans who make it to U.S. soil, is creating an immigration crisis for those countries through which they pass, and asked the Administration to review that policy. Do you have a response to that, and is there any review likely to be made?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll tell you a couple things. So we did receive the letter that you’re referring to signed by nine foreign ministers from Latin America about what is known as the Cuban Adjustment Act. Obviously, we are concerned for the safety of all migrants throughout the region, including migrants seeking to journey northward through South and Central America and Mexico. Irregular migration often involves dangerous journeys that illustrate the inherent risks and uncertainties of involvement with organized crime, including human smugglers and trafficklers – traffickers, excuse me, in attempts to reach the United States.

We continue to encourage all countries to respect the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers, and to ensure that they are treated humanely. And we’re going to continue to, obviously, engage governments in the region on this issue going forward. So we did receive the letter. I’d refer you to the authors of the letter for any more specific information on its content. I have no meetings to announce at this time, and the Cuban Adjustment Act remains in place and wet foot/dry foot remains U.S. policy regarding Cuban migration.

I can take a couple more. I haven’t gotten to you yet.

QUESTION: Russia has announced that President Putin will visit Japan in December. Do you welcome this visit? Do you have any response?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen reports of that. I would let officials in Moscow and in Tokyo speak to official travel by themselves or by foreign leaders. Obviously, these are sovereign decisions that countries have to make in terms of their bilateral relations, but I – we don’t –

QUESTION: Can you —

MR KIRBY: We wouldn’t have a comment, one way or the other.

QUESTION: Can you speak a little bit more broadly then on whether you would welcome closening ties between Russia and Japan?

MR KIRBY: I mean, look, those are decisions for the people of Russia and the people of Japan to make, in terms of bilateral relations. We have bilateral relations with both Russia and obviously we have a very strong bilateral relationship and alliance with Japan that we take very, very seriously. But these are decisions that these governments have to make about their bilateral relations. Certainly, the United States is – we’re not concerned or worried about bilateral relations between Russia and Japan, and we leave it to them to define what that relationship is going to be.

QUESTION: Sir —

QUESTION: So in that context — sorry, just one more follow-up on that.

QUESTION: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Sure, sure.

QUESTION: In the context of the Minsk agreement, U.S. has previously said that you don’t want to see a return to business as usual in engaging with Russia. In the context of that, do you have anything to add —

MR KIRBY: We still have concerns about, quote/unquote, “business as usual” with respect to Minsk implementation. Now, there’s been some progress towards implementation of Minsk, and that’s a good thing – progress by both sides. There needs to be more. The Secretary has spoken to that quite openly.

But again, you’d have to talk to officials in Moscow and Tokyo in terms of this visit. I can’t even confirm for you that it’s going to happen. I don’t have any information on it. They should speak to whether there’s going to be a visit and what the agenda is going to be and what they’re going to talk about. That’s for them to speak to. But nothing’s changed about our view that it’s still not – it’s still not time for, quote/unquote “business as usual” with Russia across a wide variety of sectors, given the concerns that we still have about their actions in Ukraine, the occupation of Crimea, and the tensions that still exist as we try to get Minsk implemented.

QUESTION: Sir, the Indian defense minister was here in United States. So did the U.S. side take up the situation of Kashmir with the Indian defense minister?

MR KIRBY: The defense minister’s meetings were at the Pentagon. You should talk to my colleagues at the Defense Department on that. He didn’t meet us with – here.

Thanks. Appreciate it.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:52 p.m.)

DPB # 151

News in Brief 30 August 2016 (PM)

Listen /

Plastic bottles and garbage waste from a village in Timor-Leste wash on the shores of a river and then spill into the sea. UN Photo/Martine Perret

Polluted water threatening millions in Africa, Asia and Latin America

The rise in water pollution in Asia, Africa and Latin America is placing hundreds of millions of people at risk of life-threatening illnesses such as cholera and typhoid.

The warning comes in a report released this week by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) which describes the development as “worrying.”

Factors contributing to the increase in surface water pollution across the three continents include population growth, expansion of agriculture and a rise in the amount of untreated sewage discharged into lakes and rivers.

Diseases associated with human waste in water kill roughly 3.4 million people each year, according to UN data.

The report recommends better water monitoring, particularly in developing countries.

UNEP Chief Scientist Jacqueline McGlade said “Luckily it is possible to begin restoring rivers that have already been heavily polluted and there is clearly still time to prevent even more rivers from becoming contaminated.”

She stressed the importance of countries coming together to combat what she called “this growing menace.”

Welcome for ruling that overturns “burkini ban”

The decision by France’s highest court to suspend the so-called “burkini ban” has been welcomed by the UN’s Human Rights Office, OHCHR.

The ruling came after a French seaside town banned supposedly inappropriate beachwear.

OHCHR is now calling for all other resorts that have adopted similar bans to take note of the court’s decision.

Spokesperson Rupert Colville said the ban was unhelpful and inflammatory in the wake of recent terror attacks in the country.

“It does nothing to increase security, it does nothing to improve public order; if anything it stimulates friction and therefore undermines public order, if anything it’s having a counter-productive effect.”

Those negative effects have included religious intolerance and the stigmatization of Muslims in France, according to OHCHR.

The UN office also noted the humiliating and degrading way in which the anti-burkini decrees have been implemented, in reference to women being forced to remove clothing in public.

US exceeds Syrian refugee target

More than 10,000 Syrian refugees have resettled in the United States which means the country has exceeded an admissions target set for this fiscal year, UN partner agency the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has announced.

As of 29 August, 10,172 Syrian refugees entered the US as part of the Obama administration’s promise to increase admissions by the end of this September.

Most of the new arrivals were processed through an IOM support centre based in Jordan.

The agency, together with the US State Department, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and other partners, helped with their resettlement.

Dianne Penn, United Nations.

Duration: 3’00”

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing – August 29, 2016

2:12 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Hi, guys.

QUESTION: Hi.

MR KIRBY: You’re the only one that said hi. Thank you. Thank you. (Laughter.) Okay, a couple of things at the top and then we’ll get right at it. Happy Monday to everybody.

On Yemen, the United States condemns today’s suicide bombing claimed by Daesh in Yemen that left more than 50 people dead and scores more injured. Obviously, we express our condolences to all those affected, to the families of the victims, and everyone else affected. Today’s attack underscores the urgency of a full and comprehensive settlement that will shrink the political and security vacuum that’s been created by the ongoing civil war there. In the absence of a political solution, we remain concerned that Daesh and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula will continue to take advantage of the instability, and innocent people will regrettably continue to suffer.

Last week in Jeddah, I think you all know, the Secretary laid out a path for a full and comprehensive settlement, and we urge parties to seize this opportunity and work constructively with the UN special envoy as he begins his consultations.

On Crimea, as we have said in the past since he was first taken into custody, we are extremely concerned by the detention of Crimean Tatar leader Ilmi Umerov. We understand that his health condition is now critical and that he remains in a forced psychiatric detention. This tactic of detaining dissidents in psychiatric wards is deeply troubling. We join the international community in calling on the Russian Government to release him now.

Then, on the Secretary’s schedule, I think you know he spent the day in Dhaka for his first official visit to Bangladesh. While there he met with the prime minister, expressing his condolences on recent terrible attacks there in Bangladesh and discussing our growing cooperation on a broad range of global and bilateral issues. He also met with the foreign minister to review our partnership on a broad range of issues, including democracy, development, security, and human rights.

Following their meeting, the foreign minister, Minister Ali, hosted a lunch with key government officials to focus on our growing partnership and regional security and in countering violent extremism. And he met with American and Bangladeshi embassy staff to thank them for their hard work and to express his condolences on the recent tragic loss of two of their colleagues.

The Secretary also met with Khaleda Zia, the leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Today, now – or I’m sorry, this evening, he has landed in New Delhi where he will participate in this year’s U.S.-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, and we look forward to providing more details on the dialogue in the next couple of days as events unfold. But it is evening there in New Delhi, so his day starts bright and early tomorrow in that dialogue.

So with that, I’ll take questions. Arshad.

QUESTION: Can we start with Syria? I have seen the tweets that Brett McGurk has put out. What I want to ask you about is the Turkish advance further into Syria and its operating – the Turkish military now operating in areas where Islamic State is not believed to be present. How concerned are you by the deepening operations, one? And two, why is it that the Assad government is not likely to ultimately be the beneficiary here if —

MR KIRBY: Why is Assad not the beneficiary?

QUESTION: Likely to be a beneficiary if the Turkish military is going after – potentially going after your allies, the YPG fighters who have been so effective against Assad’s forces.

MR KIRBY: Well, so the couple – there’s a lot there. Obviously, we’re closely monitoring these reports, the ones that you’ve suggested. And of course, you’ve seen Mr. McGurk’s Twitter activity which confirms all that. So we’re watching this area south of Jarabulus and north of Manbij where ISIL is no longer located, and the clashes yesterday and those today between Turkish armed forces and some opposition groups and Kurdish units that are affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces.

These actions were not coordinated with the United States and we are not providing any support to them. As I think the Pentagon noted yesterday, we’re going to remain closely engaged with Turkey and with the SDF, the Syrian Democratic Forces, and other coalition-supported actors on the ground in Syria to facilitate as best we can de-confliction. We call on all the armed actors on the ground to maintain a focus on Daesh, or ISIL as they’re otherwise known, which remains a lethal and common threat.

So we’re watching this closely. And as we said, as the Pentagon said yesterday, uncoordinated actions like this really aren’t getting us further along the path of defeating Daesh inside Syria.

Now, as for the benefit to the Assad regime, I mean, he has taken full advantage of the vacuum that his lack of leadership and governance has caused, particularly in the northern part of the country. Now, I don’t know if he has a reaction to these recent clashes or not, but we’ve long said that his lack of legitimacy to govern has allowed Daesh to grow and to fester inside Syria, that – and the Secretary has noted that there are if not deliberate, certainly consequential benefits that he has gained from what Daesh has been able to do.

So any effort that is taking away from our ability to defeat Daesh is certainly going – is certainly not helping the international community. It’s not helping the Syrian people. And it could be perceived by some as a potential benefit to Bashar al-Assad. But I mean, I think we’re two days into this. I think it’s a little too soon to sort of try to measure significant benefits to the regime at this point. But obviously, it’s not helping us as a coalition team and effort to do what we’re really designed to do militarily, what all of us are dedicated to doing militarily inside Syria, which is go after Daesh.

QUESTION: Do you have any influence, do you think, over Turkey and its military actions in Syria given that they didn’t even consult you most recently?

MR KIRBY: Well, Turkey is a NATO ally and Turkey is a member of the coalition to counter Daesh. And in the context of those two multilateral relationships as well as our bilateral relationship, we certainly routinely have discussions with Turkey about how efforts can be coordinated to go against Daesh inside Syria. I don’t know the degree to which there was prior consultation to these operations. As I understand it, there wasn’t much in the way of any advance notification, but I would refer you to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: I thought you said there was none. I thought you said these were un —

MR KIRBY: Uncoordinated.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR KIRBY: Right. But you’re asking about – coordination is different than consultation or information.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR KIRBY: As I understand it, and I would refer you to the Pentagon, but as I understand it, there was very little in the way of advanced notification. That’s a difference than saying coordination.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: In any event, we are in – as you might expect, given the events of the last two days, we certainly have been in contact with Turkish officials about these actions and, quite frankly, about the concerns we have in regard to the diminishing of an effect on Daesh and efforts to try to refocus everybody’s activities in that regard.

QUESTION: Could I ask about another potential beneficiary of this? The situation where your one ally is fighting the other when they are both supposed to be fighting ISIL and other terrorists, do you think this helps terrorists?

MR KIRBY: Do I think it helps terrorists? As I said to Arshad, I mean, if the terrorists we’re talking about is Daesh, and that’s principally the terrorist group that military efforts by the coalition are aimed at, these clashes that we’ve seen over the last two days are not helping us degrade and destroy Daesh as an entity any faster.

QUESTION: But the U.S. – just a few more, actually, on this topic —

MR KIRBY: I figured there’d be a few more.

QUESTION: On this very topic, yes. But the U.S. supports Turkey’s operations in Syria, doesn’t it?

MR KIRBY: We have certainly supported their efforts to contribute to military activities against Daesh. And with respect to the activities on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey, along that 98-kilometer stretch that we’ve been talking about that we’re talking about here today, yes, with respect to their efforts to try to better secure that border from access to terrorist groups like Daesh. We’ve been supportive of that as the effort.

QUESTION: Of that just – some rebels threatened to advance to Manbij —

MR KIRBY: I would say, though —

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: But before I leave that, because I want to make it clear we also continue to support the Syrian Democratic Forces, who have been brave and courageous fighters. And again, I think the Pentagon spoke to this yesterday, but we continue to support their efforts as well to go after Daesh. And they have been effective against Daesh in that part of Syria.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Some rebels threatened to advance to Manbij. Does the U.S. support that kind of advancement of Turkish-slash-rebel forces?

MR KIRBY: What we support is an effort to go after Daesh inside Syria, and as part of the broader coalition, Turkey’s efforts have in the past and continue to be very productive. As well, we continue to support Syrian Democratic Forces, the SDF, as they put pressure on Daesh. So if we’re talking about efforts on that side of the border and in that area that are designed to better speed the defeat of Daesh, then obviously we’re supportive. These clashes that we’re talking about over the last couple of days weren’t coordinated with the United States. We are not providing support to them, and as I said, we’ve urged all parties in this regard to refrain from fighting each other and focus their efforts instead on Daesh. That’s what we want to see happen.

QUESTION: Yeah. Turkey says it seized 10 villages from Kurdish control in Syria. There are reports of multiple casualties. Are the Syrian Kurds on their own now?

MR KIRBY: As I said, we continue to support the SDF, and that support’s going to continue.

QUESTION: Yes, the U.S. had – as you’re saying, the U.S. had supported Kurdish fighters, fought with them, trained them. Is Washington now doing anything or going to do anything to protect them from Erdogan, who openly states that one of his objectives in going into Syria is to go after Kurdish fighters, whom he considers terrorists?

MR KIRBY: The support to the SDF is going to continue as they continue to press the fight against —

QUESTION: Even protection from Erdogan and Turkey?

MR KIRBY: — as they continue to press the fight against Daesh. I’m not going to speak about military hypotheticals one way or another in terms of rules of engagement. What we want to see is that these clashes between the Turkish forces and SDF forces – we want to see that come to a close because that’s not advancing the overarching goal that everybody should be focused on, which is Daesh.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) to stop Turkey from going after —

MR KIRBY: Again, we’re engaging consistently and regularly with Turkish officials about this situation, as we are with our counterparts in the SDF.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you —

QUESTION: Just one —

MR KIRBY: No, I think I’ll go to him, and then to you, Dave.

QUESTION: The Turkish Government from the highest level, including President Erdogan – they have openly supported FSA’s attacks on the YPG. Erdogan has said the YPG should wait for the worst to happen to them, and the YPG and SDF in general are your effective partner. Do you at least condemn Erdogan’s remarks?

MR KIRBY: This – look, this isn’t about condemnation. This is about a genuine concern that we have that the effort against Daesh is not being assisted, not being helped, not being advanced by these clashes between Turkish forces on one hand and Syrian Democratic Forces on the other when all of us agree that Daesh is and needs to be the real enemy to be challenged and to be defeated. Everybody agrees that this is a group that needs to be stopped, including the Turks, and so we’re going to continue to consult with all sides to urge that the focus be put on Daesh and not one another.

QUESTION: So you’re not condemning what the Turks are saying, encouraging FSA to attack the Syrian Democratic Forces?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to make a habit of getting up here and responding to every bit of rhetoric, as I said, that comes out of Ankara. I’m just not going to do it. We’ve made our position very clear. The United States has been nothing but consistent about the focus that we want, which is on Daesh in Iraq and in Syria. And as a member of the coalition and as a NATO ally, we obviously want to look for continued cooperation by Turkey toward – to that end. And as I said, we also will support – have supported, will continue to support the SDF in their efforts to go after Daesh. These clashes – and look, I’m not – I don’t want to get into the history of the animosity and why it’s there. I think that’s self-evident. But they’re not doing anything – this energy that’s being applied to one another isn’t doing anything to help us as a coalition team and effort go against Daesh.

QUESTION: While the United States is openly telling the Kurdish forces to go to the east of the Euphrates River, otherwise they will not receive U.S. support. That’s what Joe Biden said in Turkey. On the other hand, you’re not willing to even condemn what the Turks are doing or encouraging – the —

MR KIRBY: I appreciate the effort to rephrase the question in another way. I’m not going to answer it any differently than I have in the past.

QUESTION: Do you get a sense that a separate war is starting within the war in Syria, and that by supporting Turkey’s operations in Syria, the U.S. may be – perhaps unintentionally is supporting the beginning of that separate war within a war?

MR KIRBY: What we’re – okay, so there’s a lot there. What we’re supporting in terms of Turkey intervention in Syria is efforts to go after Daesh and to help preserve that section of the border – not preserve it, but to secure it, that section of the border up near Manbij, that 98 kilometers – against the flow of foreign fighters and terrorist activity, which has long been a problem. We’ve talked about this many, many times here in this room, and we’ve certainly talked about it with our Turkish counterparts, about the importance of securing that stretch of border, and their intervention in Syria was designed at the outset for that purpose.

And so yes, are we supportive of that purpose and that effort? Absolutely we are. As I said, these clashes over the last two days were not coordinated with us, and we aren’t supporting them in any way. And then – I’m sorry, you had another question there. Was – I missed it.

QUESTION: No, do you get a sense that a separate war is beginning within the bigger war in Syria?

MR KIRBY: Oh, thank you for – yeah. Look, I mean, the effort – there’s two primary efforts that everybody – we believe the international community needs to focus on in Syria. One is the fight against Daesh. We’ve talked about that now over the last 10, 15 minutes of the briefing. The other one is, of course, the diplomatic effort to end the civil war. And as the Secretary has said – we were just in Geneva having a day-long meeting with our Russian counterparts about how to advance towards that goal – but as the Secretary has said himself, there are many conflicts that are happening inside Syria. There is the international fight against Daesh. There has been tensions between Turkey and Russia. There have been – obviously, there’s tensions between Turkey and the Kurds. There’s Shia/Sunni tensions. Not every opposition group espouses all the same objectives. And then you have al-Qaida in Syria, represented by al-Nusrah, that continues to pose a significant challenge to our ability to advance a peaceful solution.

So there are many conflicts inside the broader war inside – in Syria. And we’re as focused as much as we can on working our way through that. And again, militarily, we believe the focus has got to be on Daesh. There’s not going to be a military solution to the civil conflict in Syria, but there can be military solutions applied to that terrorist group. And politically, diplomatically, we’re focused on ending the civil war by finding a political solution that advances a transitional government structure.

That unfortunately can’t be advanced until we can get a meaningful cessation of hostilities applied nationwide, we can get better humanitarian access to more Syrians who are in desperate need. That can’t happen until the siege of Aleppo has been lifted. And again, that’s where the Secretary’s focus has been over the last several days.

QUESTION: With the situation being already complicated, as you described, do you think Turkey’s operations are making it even more complicated?

MR KIRBY: As I said earlier, the – these clashes over the last couple of days are not helping us advance the efforts against Daesh. Okay?

QUESTION: But you continue to —

MR KIRBY: Michel.

QUESTION: — support both sides.

MR KIRBY: Michel.

QUESTION: Is that correct?

QUESTION: Yeah. Most of the headlines in the last two days said that U.S.-backed force in north Syria are fighting each other. Where is the problem here? It looks like the U.S. is backing two parties fighting each other.

MR KIRBY: Michel, the support that we’ve been giving to fighters inside Syria has been in the realm of helping them as they fight Daesh. And so you’re talking about a dynamic here that’s just developed over the last several days. And – but prior to that, were we supporting groups of fighters that were going against Daesh in Syria? Absolutely we were. And we’ve talked about that many, many times. And as I – I think I answered quite a few times here, we were in support of efforts by Turkey to help secure that stretch of the border in Syria. But these clashes that we’ve seen are not helping us as a coalition advance the efforts against Daesh.

QUESTION: And my second question on Syria: After Secretary Kerry and Minister Lavrov meeting on Friday, is there any update on other meetings that happened during the last 48 or 72 hours between the two parties?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t have any – I don’t have any additional updates for you. Those meetings occurred, as you know, all day Friday. I’m not aware that there was any follow-up meetings over the course of the weekend. Our two teams, technical experts are supposed to meet again very soon in Geneva, but I don’t have an update for you.

QUESTION: And on Daraya, the Syrians, or the people of this village have left on Friday. And they’re talking now about al-Waer in Homs, the same scenario will happen in this village. Are you doing anything to prevent the same – the same Daraya scenario?

MR KIRBY: We’re doing everything we can to try to find a political solution to this conflict so that the people of so many Syrians – Syrian towns and villages don’t have to leave their homes, don’t have to abandon their businesses, don’t have to disrupt their lives, and either become victims or refugees. So we’re working very hard on that. Again, the Secretary has been laser-focused on trying to find an end to this civil war to prevent those kinds of conditions for so many millions of Syrians. And look, a big part of that is, in fact, the discussions that we’ve been having with Russia, who is – has been supporting the regime. And that’s why the Secretary was so engaged in Geneva on Friday, and I fully expect you’ll see him continue to stay very, very engaged going forward. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: In the discussions with Russia that have occurred —

MR KIRBY: Who are you?

QUESTION: Trey Yingst with One America News.

MR KIRBY: Okay.

QUESTION: Has there been —

MR KIRBY: Just wondering. I’ve never seen you before. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, sure. Yeah. Nice to meet —

MR KIRBY: I’m John Kirby, nice to meet you.

QUESTION: Nice to meet you as well. Have there been increased discussions about the use of chemical weapons in the civil war in Syria? We’ve seen reports this month of napalm-like substances and chlorine being used that have been —

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: — supported by the Assad regime and the Russians. What sort of conversations have taken place with —

MR KIRBY: We have raised our concerns about the use of chemical material as weapons with Russia routinely, even since we got the vast majority of chemical materials out of the country. We recognize and we know, and I think last week you probably saw OPCW issued a report that confirmed what we’ve been long saying – that we believe that, at least in the case of chlorine, an industrial agent that has peaceful purposes, the regime has used as a weapon of war, which is obviously a violation.

And we’ve been very clear in our conversations with our Russian counterparts about how unacceptable that is and have urged them to use the influence that we know they have on Assad to get those kinds of attacks to cease. Sadly, that hasn’t happened. Now why? I couldn’t tell you that, but we – nothing has changed about our deep concern about this and nothing is going to change about our deep concern or our efforts to try to get it to stop.

More critically – and I’m not saying – I’m not at all diminishing the terrible effect that these chemicals can have on people, obviously. But more critically, we’ve got to get a cessation of hostilities in place around the country so that the Assad regime can’t fly those kinds of missions against innocent civilians and drop barrels of chlorine on their own people, but it’s – it goes even beyond that. We want to see all attacks by the regime on the innocent people of Syria and, frankly, on groups that are party to the cessation of hostilities to stop. Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Iraq?

MR KIRBY: Iraq. Stunned. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay. Today a high-level KRG delegation, led by the Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, visited Baghdad and met with the Iraqi prime minister.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: What is the U.S. view on this? And did the U.S. play any role in trying to solve the problems between Erbil and Baghdad?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re in routine discussions, as you know, with the leaders from both Erbil and Baghdad. The Secretary was in Iraq not long ago. He met with leaders from both sides, as you have rightly asked me about in the past. Certainly, Brett McGurk, whenever he’s in the region, makes it a point to talk to both sides.

We strongly encourage dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad to try to work out these internal Iraqi issues, and so we’re aware of this particular meeting and we’re very supportive of them having that kind of a discussion and that kind of conversation to try to work this out between them. Did we set it up? No. Are we supportive of the fact that they did meet? Absolutely, we are.

QUESTION: Did you get any advance notice about it? Did they tell you they were going to have this meeting?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware. We can take that question for you and see if our embassy had any advance knowledge of it. I’m not aware that we did. But look, I mean, frankly, I’m not so sure that that’s all that important anyway. This – these issues are Iraqi issues. And sometimes I think we forget, because American forces were in Iraq for so long, that Iraq is a sovereign country and they should be working these issues out between them, themselves. And so, again, we – we’re pleased that this discussion happened. We’d like to see more and more of these kinds of conversations happening to try to resolve some of these differences, and we’re supportive of that. Whether we knew about it or not, again, I don’t know. Again, I also – not really sure how critically important that is that we did.

QUESTION: The prime minister met the ambassador as well – U.S. ambassador. Do you have a readout of his meeting?

MR KIRBY: I don’t. I don’t.

QUESTION: On the Syrian refugees, the White House has announced today that he fulfilled his promise on bringing 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. —

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — by this afternoon. Does that mean that in the months that it rests in the – before the end of the fiscal year, will you be able —

MR KIRBY: We got one month before the end of the fiscal year, my friend.

QUESTION: Yeah, I know.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: That’s what I’m saying.

MR KIRBY: You said “the months.” I think there’s one.

QUESTION: One month.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Are you able to bring more Syrian refugees to —

MR KIRBY: I suspect you’ll see what we think will be a continuation of the pace that we have set thus far. So I would fully anticipate that we will exceed – I mean, you’re right. We met the – we will meet the 10,000 figure today, and I would fully expect that you’ll see additional Syrian refugees admitted into the United States between now and the end of the fiscal year. How many I couldn’t predict, but it will be roughly on the same pace that we have achieved over the course of the late spring and summer, which has been about 2,000 per month. But again, I couldn’t give you an exact figure.

QUESTION: And when is the decision made on whether to continue that pace until the end of the Administration? Is that like a new – does the same pace remain in place until there’s a presidential decree?

MR KIRBY: Well, the President has set – he’s already set a goal of 85,000 total by the end of this fiscal year. We believe that we’re going to be on track to meet that. He has set a goal for Fiscal Year ’17 of 100,000 total, but he has not set a specific goal for next fiscal year of Syrian-specific refugees, and I certainly wouldn’t get ahead of any decisions he may or may not be making. But we —

QUESTION: But does he have to make a decision on that, or is it – does the current pace stay if no other order is made?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, our – the charge has been to bring in 10,000 in this fiscal year. We’re going to do that. As part of the larger effort to bring in 100,000 – the goal of 100,000 in Fiscal Year ’17, I think you can reasonably assume that some Syrians will be part of that, but I’m not – actually, I’m not – it’s not that I’m not aware. I know the President hasn’t made a decision about exactly how many Syrians will make up that 100,000. But I think, if I understand your question correctly, post October 1st —

QUESTION: Well, because I know that he makes a ruling once a year —

MR KIRBY: — do you – do we anticipate bringing in additional Syrians? I think yes, as a part of the 100,000 goal that the Secretary – I’m sorry, that the President set for Fiscal Year ’17. I just couldn’t tell you what – whether there’ll be a goal specifically set for that. That’s really a decision for the President to make, and I certainly wouldn’t get ahead of that.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. Government proud of its record in resettling Syrian refugees in the United States since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011?

MR KIRBY: I think the short answer to that question is yes, absolutely. But I’m not sure in what way you’re sort of referring to that effort.

QUESTION: Well, it’s – the numbers taken in, and I don’t remember them now – I know I had them at one point – but were quite low for a long time.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: And the —

MR KIRBY: You mean in terms of getting to the 10,000.

QUESTION: In terms of – well, in terms of just bringing Syrian refugees in, period.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: And I’m quite cognizant of the effort reached a month early now to bring in the 10,000, but there were a number of years where the U.S. was not resettling a whole lot of Syrian refugees despite the numbers of refugees that have gone to other countries. Obviously, neighboring countries is where they logically go.

MR KIRBY: It’s a little different situation there in Europe.

QUESTION: No, I know. I know. But – and I’m just wondering how, looking back over the last five years, the U.S. Government feels it’s done in terms of addressing this problem.

MR KIRBY: So it’s a great question, Arshad. I – absolutely, we’re proud of the efforts that we have – that we have expended towards the resettlement issue, particularly with Syrian refugees. And we’ve been able to do this while preserving a very stringent, strict vetting process. In fact, as I said before many times, the Syrian refugees are vetted more stringently than any other refugee to the United States.

Just as critically – and this is a really important point – resettlement is one option, but it is not the ideal option. It’s not the best option. And we focused our efforts on these 10,000 on the most vulnerable, the ones who are in most need of refuge. And again, the President set a pretty high bar with the 10,000, and again, we’re proud that we brought them in. But we’re equally as dedicated to our efforts to end the civil war in Syria so that people don’t have to flee, so that when this over they’ll have a home to go back to, whether it’s returning to Syria from the United States or from any other country that they’ve sought refuge in. That’s the goal here, because many of these people want to do that. They want to be able to pick up their lives. They just can’t right now.

Secondly, we remain the single largest donor to humanitarian assistance for refugees specifically in the region. And it wasn’t long ago that the Secretary announced even more funds for that effort. So we are – and part of the reason that’s important is because it’s designed to help care for them close to home so that, again, the expectation is that when you can find a peaceful end to the war in Syria, they can go home.

Okay. Thanks, everybody. Look, we’ve got one more. Go ahead.

QUESTION: All right, real quickly. On Russia and Iran, there are reports that Iran has deployed the S-300 advanced missile batteries outside the Fordow nuclear plant. I was just curious if you were aware of that and had any comment. And did the topic of these advanced weapons sales from Russia to Iran come up in the Secretary’s discussions with the foreign minister last week?

MR KIRBY: The focus on the meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov and his team yesterday was obviously on Syria. They did discuss other issues in the Middle East – Libya, Yemen. They certainly —

QUESTION: Ukraine?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I was going to get there. Thanks. (Laughter.) Obviously, they discussed Ukraine. I’m not aware that this particular issue came up on Friday. That said, it is an issue that the Secretary has been very clear with Foreign Minister Lavrov about in the past on numerous occasions that we’re concerned about the provision of sale to Iran of sophisticated defense capabilities such as this S-300.

Now, we’ve seen the reports of this deployment. Obviously, that’s of concern to us because we have long objected to the sale of Iran – of these kinds of capabilities. So as we get more information, obviously, we’re going to stay in close consultation with partners going forward.

Okay —

QUESTION: May I ask one refugee follow-up?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: So I’ve just checked the statistics, and unless I’ve got them wrong, which maybe I do, in FY13 the U.S. Government admitted 36 Syrian refugees; in FY14 it admitted just over 100; and in FY15 it admitted 1,682. And then obviously for FY – for the current fiscal year it’s going to be a big jump. I just want to make sure that you’re proud of that record.

MR KIRBY: We’re proud of the efforts that we have undertaken to try to bring an end to the war in Syria so that there doesn’t have to be refugees. The President noted himself when he set the 10,000 goal that, obviously, we can’t slam the door in the face of these desperate people. I wasn’t suggesting that in any of the given years that we couldn’t do more; and, in fact, we realized we could do more, which is why the President set that goal and why we met it, as you noted yourself, a full month early. And I fully expect we’ll exceed that goal before October 1st.

But what we remain dedicated to, and I believe the Secretary is proud of, is the larger, more comprehensive effort that the American people and this government has expended on trying to end the war in Syria, trying to degrade and defeat ISIL in Syria, and trying to provide the kind of humanitarian assistance – more than any other country – that can provide for the basic needs of those refugees who are in the region, who are very vulnerable because they’re still in the region but also close to home in the hope that they’ll have a home to go back to where they can live safely and securely.

Okay? Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:47 p.m.)

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