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2:11 p.m. EST
MR KIRBY: Just a couple of things at the top. On Libya, the United States welcomes the Libyan Presidency Council’s announcement of the composition of the new Libyan Government of National Accord. This is a significant step forward on the path towards Libya’s peace and stability. We urge all Libyans to continue moving forward with the implementation of the Libyan Political Agreement. We note that the agreement calls on the Libyan House of Representatives to convene and endorse the Government of National Accord within 10 days, and we encourage the house to proceed without delay.
The international community stands ready to partner with the Government of National Accord to address the country’s critical humanitarian, economic, and security challenges. The United States will continue to support the implementation of the Libyan political agreement, and we are committed to providing the unified government full political backing and technical, economic, security, and counterterrorism assistance as requested.
On Honduras, the United States welcomes the signing today of an agreement between the Government of Honduras and the Organization of American States establishing the Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras. The establishment of this support mission responds to the legitimate demands of the Honduran people for vigorous and meaningful action against corruption, including criminal investigations and prosecutions of those who offer or receive illegal inducements. Its terms of reference provide for a team of international investigators and prosecutors to collaborate with specially selected Honduran counterparts to pursue – I’m sorry – to pursue specific cases of corruption and advance fundamental systemic reforms to the judicial sector. We welcome as well the announcement of Juan Jimenez to lead the special mission, a proven leader on anticorruption.
We also congratulate the Government of Honduras and the OAS Secretariat on reaching this agreement and urge them, in collaboration with other member and observer states, to ensure that the mission has the resources and independence necessary to achieve its mission. We look forward to seeing effective implementation of the special mission and their mandate in coming months.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: Right. So let’s start with the trip that the Secretary’s going to be making and specifically about his meeting tomorrow with Foreign Minister Lavrov and the status of the Syria negotiations, which are supposed to get underway a week from yesterday.
MR KIRBY: Yep.
QUESTION: There’s a lot of chatter about the fact that there’s still no agreement on, one, which groups should be called – should be identified as terrorist groups, and two, what that – and that and its effect on the composition of the opposition delegation that’s supposed to be sitting down at the talks. Is this the main focus of the conversation the Secretary will have with Lavrov tomorrow and then again with Foreign Minister Jubeir in Riyadh on – over the weekend? And how – what is the current state of play as it relates to whether these talks are going to get going on time?
MR KIRBY: Yes, you can expect that the Secretary will certainly talk about Syria and our ongoing efforts to get a political transition in place with Foreign Minister Lavrov when they meet tomorrow in Zurich. They will also, of course, as they always do, talk about Ukraine and our strong desire to see Minsk fully implemented. But yes, of course, they will talk about the Syria political process.
And as for the status of it, it is still our desire to see this meeting occur on the 25th. And the Secretary is in close touch with Mr. de Mistura, the UN special envoy, and, of course, has been in touch with Foreign Minister Lavrov about this in just the last days. He will stay in close touch with him, but is – certainly, what we want to see is we want to see it move forward. We’re not unmindful of the fact that there still remains differences of opinion and that this is a complicated process and that there’s still quite a bit of work that needs to be done to get the meeting to occur.
So we’re still tracking towards that. That’s what we want to see, and we’ll just have to see how things go.
QUESTION: As you may be well aware —
QUESTION: What do you think about Lavrov’s decision to —
QUESTION: Hold on. Wait a second, wait a second, Arshad.
QUESTION: What do you think about Lavrov’s suggestion that it happen in Damascus? Is that a nonstarter to you completely?
MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen Mr. Lavrov’s suggestion that it would happen in Damascus. I —
QUESTION: Really? He was quoted as saying it yesterday.
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry. I just didn’t see the comments. The venue and the mechanics and the logistics, that’s for the UN and for Staffan de Mistura to decide. I’ve seen no plans to have it in Damascus.
QUESTION: As to your desire to have this meeting, I mean, I’m looking to – everyone knows that’s what you want, but everyone also knows that not all desires are requited, right? This may be unrequited.
MR KIRBY: You sound like you speak from experience, Matt.
QUESTION: Of course. Doesn’t everyone? But anyway, the point is – my point is – my question is: What is the status of it? While it may be your desire, your hope, your wish that it’s going to go ahead, how realistic is that right now given the fact that you say there’s still quite a bit of work to do and we’re talking less than a week?
MR KIRBY: Yeah. No, there is still a lot of work to be done. We would still like to – our hope, as it’s been, is that this would continue to move forward for the 25th. That’s what the Secretary would very much like to see. But he is – he’s certainly aware that there remain – there remains some work to be done and some things to iron out, some issues to resolve before the meeting can take place. I simply am not in a position to predict with great certainty for you what the outcome of all that’s going to be, but it’s our hope that this can continue to move forward and that we can have this meeting on the 25th.
QUESTION: Well, is it or is it not the case that there are still, despite the November agreement for the Jordanians to draw up this list, is it still not the case that there are only two groups, the same two that were identified back in Vienna, that are on this list of ineligibles?
MR KIRBY: Certainly, those two groups have always been on the group as ineligible —
QUESTION: But what progress has been made on this since —
MR KIRBY: Well, I’d point you to Jordanian authorities. They’re continuing to work this. This is an iterative process.
QUESTION: Well, isn’t – right.
MR KIRBY: And there’s – I don’t disagree that or I don’t refute the notion that there’s still not a final resolution to the, quote/unquote, “list.” But the work is still ongoing, and I think you’re going to continue to see the ISSG, the members of the ISSG, work with the Jordanian authorities to get that done. But again, there’s, again, more work to be done here with respect to the January 25th meeting, and we’ll just – we’ll have to see how it goes over the next few days.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Do you expect Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov to specifically discuss the question of which opposition groups might be acceptable interlocutors in these talks if they happen?
MR KIRBY: I don’t want to get too much in the weeds and detail of a meeting that hasn’t happened yet, and they’re going to meet tomorrow. We’ll make sure that we provide you a sense of how the meeting went after it was over and what was discussed. I’m not going to get ahead of their specific agenda. Broadly speaking, as I said before, they’re certainly going to discuss the Syrian political process – where we are, what needs to be done, how best we can move forward – as well as Ukraine.
QUESTION: Do you believe that the Russians share your desire to have this meeting go forward on the 25th?
MR KIRBY: I won’t speak for the Russians or what they view in terms of the 25th of January meeting. What I can tell you is that they have privately and publicly endorsed the Vienna process and supported the effort to get the opposition together with the Assad regime. But in terms of their exact feelings about the date of this meeting on the 25th and their prognostication about it, I’d point you to the Russian authorities for that.
QUESTION: Have you – are you aware of reports suggesting that they, the Russians, would like to have members of the opposition that are apparently not so opposed to the Assad government take part in those talks if they happen?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of specific reports of what – if they have an idea of a certain group or not. Look – and they should speak to that, not us. What I can tell you is that Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Russian Government have been not only supportive but very cooperative in the process that we have now engendered through the Vienna meetings and the effort to get at a political solution in Syria. It should come as a shock to no one that we don’t see eye-to-eye with Russia on every component of what the political future of Syria should look like. But that’s why it’s so important to keep having these discussions and these meetings. That’s why it’s significant that the two are going to meet again tomorrow in Zurich. And I suspect that they’ll have a – as they always do – a pretty wide-ranging discussion about how we’re going to move forward.
What’s important is that there is – that there is a movement inside the international community embodied by the ISSG to move forward with a political solution in Syria. Now, again, there are plenty of differences of opinion about what that looks like and how we’re going to get there, to include differences of opinion that are manifesting themselves in the lead-up to the 25th of January meeting. I mean, there’s obviously some – still some issues to be worked out. But that we are able to have those discussions and that dialogue, that we have the ability through the ISSG and bilaterally to work through issues, I think is encouraging, and the Secretary believes that it’s important to keep moving forward.
QUESTION: Well, let’s —
QUESTION: And do you think – can I ask one last one on this?
QUESTION: Do you think that the Syrian opposition, were they to attend such a meeting, whoever they might be at such a meeting if it were to happen, risk losing credibility, to the extent that they have credibility on the ground in Syria, if such a meeting takes place amid continued extreme violence, starvation, et cetera? Do you think that there is a risk for them in coming to a meeting while the violence rages?
MR KIRBY: I won’t speak for what they determine the risks may be. But I will tell you that we believe that there is opportunity in trying to stop that cycle of violence, that there is great opportunity in trying to get at a better Syria for the Syrian people by moving forward with this meeting and with the process, again, laid out in Vienna to get us to a political transition in Syria away from Assad and towards a government that can be responsive to the Syrian people. So they have much to gain by sitting down right now. In fact, now is the time to do this, when things are as they are, to try to get at a political solution that can stop this violence and lead to a better future for the Syrian people. The time is now.
QUESTION: Does it really matter whether the U.S. and Russia agree on which members of the Syrian opposition should be taking part in the talks?
MR KIRBY: What matters most – what —
QUESTION: Shouldn’t that be up to the Syrian people, ultimately?
MR KIRBY: What matters most is the High Negotiating Committee to select the participants that will be in the negotiating process. That’s the way the system was laid out. It – there are – to your answer, does it matter – I mean, obviously, we need to continue to work with Russia as we try to get through this political process. And I think it’s – the Secretary still believes it’s important to continue to work through some of the differences that we continue to have with Russia. There’s nothing wrong with having those discussions. There’s nothing wrong with laying it out plainly for one another sort of how we see the future shaping up. But as we’ve said all along, this has to be a Syrian-led political process with the Assad regime, Syrian-led. And so what matters most is who the High Negotiating Committee, chosen from among the participants in Riyadh, the 116 or some odd participants – what matters most is who they select, who they decide is going to sit across that table from the regime and move forward.
QUESTION: Or simply, does it matter whether there’s an agreement tomorrow, does next Monday’s meeting still go ahead? Or does that – or is that just —
MR KIRBY: You mean —
QUESTION: Or does the ISSG —
MR KIRBY: — is one of the stumbling blocks to the Monday meeting something between the U.S. and Russia?
QUESTION: Yeah. Yeah. Is this —
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: — enough to scuttle next Monday’s meeting?
MR KIRBY: No. What – no. This is a UN-led meeting. The ISSG is not going to be present at this. It’s not intended to be present. This is between – this is under the auspices of the UN, between the opposition and the regime. And what matters most is that the High Negotiating Committee have the people there that they believe needs to be there; that obviously Special Envoy de Mistura is there, because it is under UN auspices, and the regime is properly represented.
But look, we’re not unmindful of the fact that Russia has influence over the regime. And as we’ve said before, we want to see them use that influence on the Assad regime to keep the process moving forward, as per Vienna.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that the High Negotiating Committee will have the exclusive right to determine opposition or presented as opposition candidates? Could third parties, who are neither regime nor High Negotiating Committee, be invited?
MR KIRBY: The purpose of the – if you’re talking about the 25th of January meeting, that – the – as we said after Riyadh, the opposition will be represented at that meeting by delegates chosen from the High Negotiating Committee and only from the High Negotiating Committee.
QUESTION: Because as Arshad’s question suggested, there may be other factions who don’t see themselves as really represented by that group or maybe, as I think your phrase was, less opposition-y opposition.
MR KIRBY: Well, again, this is – the delegations – the delegates are going to be set by the High Negotiating Committee, which the opposition itself selected and chose the High Negotiating Committee at the meeting in Riyadh. And that’s one of the ways we’re trying to demonstrate that this is, in fact, a Syrian-led, Syrian-run process.
QUESTION: One more on Syria. As you stated, this is a UN-led process. But in terms of the deadline for the 25th, has there been talk in this building on what the U.S. would consider an acceptable plan B, for lack of another phrase, if the 25th deadline is not met? For example, a week, two weeks, what would the U.S. consider acceptable, especially considering that there are plans to implement a ceasefire that are tied in with all of this?
MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, it’s a UN-led process. It’s not for the U.S. to dictate the terms of the meeting or the date of the meeting. But secondly, as I said at the outset, it’s still our hope and expectation that this meeting will happen on the 25th. Now, we are – recognize there’s still work to be done, but the Secretary is focused on keeping it moving towards having it on that date.
QUESTION: I want – my question is about Syrian refugees. I wanted to see if you had numbers for how many came in in 2015 and how many are expected in 2016.
MR KIRBY: I don’t. Let me take the question and get back to you. I don’t have those exact figures right now. But the year 2016 just started, so I don’t know that we’ll have much in terms of additional data for you, but we can get you a breakdown of what it was in ’15. And as you know, the President required an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees for this year, so I know —
QUESTION: Any implement on the legislation that the Senate is looking at this week in terms of changing the vetting process?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about pending legislation. I’ll just tell you that we continue to work with members of Congress to try to address their concerns and their questions. I will tell you that, again, nothing is more important to the State Department and to Secretary Kerry than the safety and security of the American people. That’s why the Syrian refugees are vetted additionally with more scrutiny than any other refugee that comes into the United States. The process, as it stands now, takes between 18 and 24 months. It takes a long time for an individual Syrian refugee to be admitted into the United States.
It’s also why we’re working so hard on a political process in Syria, because ultimately, you don’t want to have to worry about a refugee problem. You want a home for these people to stay in or to return to, and that’s why this political process is so important. But as for your specific question, you’re going to have to let me take it. I just wasn’t armed with numbers when I came up here today.
QUESTION: No worries.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Iraq. So just one question about the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan: There have been some protests in the region over the lack of payments for a few months, and this month, the KRG was able only to pay the salaries of the public servants in half, and that’s caused some protest in the region. Are you worried that this might escalate and this might potentially even impact the war against ISIS? The deputy prime minister of the region describes this as an economic tsunami.
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, we’re certainly watching developments and monitoring them. I don’t have any announcements or decisions to read out today. We want to see a successful, whole, inclusive Iraq that is capable of maintaining the pressure that they have been maintaining against ISIL, but I don’t have anything specifically to address with respect to these economic issues.
QUESTION: Can we stay in Iraq?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering if there is any update on the three Americans who were apparently kidnapped in Baghdad, and whether or not Secretary Kerry has decided that it would be worthwhile or already has made a call to Foreign Minister Zarif about this issue.
MR KIRBY: Zarif? These are in Iraq, you’re talking about?
QUESTION: There are reports that they were kidnapped by Shiite militias in Iraq.
QUESTION: They’re more than reports. I mean, the Iraqis are saying that the Shiite – that Shiite militias —
MR KIRBY: Now, you —
QUESTION: — that basically – that have links – strong links to Iran were responsible.
MR KIRBY: So what I would tell you is I don’t have an update for you. Obviously, we’re working very closely with Iraqi authorities to try to get more information about these three individuals to determine their whereabouts. And without getting into details, I mean, I can tell you that the picture is becoming a little bit more clear in terms of what might have happened here. And we’re working – again, work very hard to try to resolve this. I’m just not able to go into any more detail than that. And I don’t have any communications with Foreign Minister Zarif to read out with – related to this.
QUESTION: Well, how about this: Are you talking to anybody other than the Iraqi authorities about this incident?
MR KIRBY: As I said, we’re working very closely with Iraqi authorities to try to get as much information as we can and to try to resolve this.
QUESTION: So you have not made a determination yet that you might need to bring in – or you might need to expand your communications beyond just Iraqi authorities?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any – I’m not aware of any decision to expand our communications here. And I would remind everybody that first reports, even second reports are often wrong here in terms of what might have happened. So I think we need to – what we’re focused on at the State Department is working closely with local authorities to try to get as much information as we can so that we can make the – or at least help make the right decisions moving forward. So we’re —
QUESTION: Right. But don’t you cast the widest net possible in trying to determine what happened? And wouldn’t that, given the fact that there are – whether or not the first or second reports are correct or not, there are Shiite militia that operate in this area, and there are indications that they were taken to Shia area —
MR KIRBY: There may be indications of that.
QUESTION: — and that —
MR KIRBY: I mean, yes, there are Shia militia that operate in Iraq, and yes —
QUESTION: Right, and they have —
MR KIRBY: — there are some Shia militia that are influenced by Tehran.
MR KIRBY: Not all of them are, Matt; you know that.
QUESTION: Well, no. Exactly.
MR KIRBY: And I don’t want to get ahead of what is a very active, energetic effort to try to determine the facts and to determine the whereabouts of these individuals and see if we can’t get them home. So I think we just need to – we just need to keep working it as we are. And we’re working closely with not only the Iraqi authorities, but obviously military – our U.S. military officials there in Iraq.
QUESTION: Are you saying that U.S. military advisors are helping the Iraqi authorities in trying to find these three Americans?
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that. I said we’re working – we’re in close contact with the military command there, U.S. military, as well as Iraqi authorities.
QUESTION: How confident is the U.S. that the Iraqi Government can find these three U.S. citizens and bring them back safely?
MR KIRBY: If we – what I’m confident of is that we’re going to work very hard at this, and we’re going to do everything we can to try to get more information and to try to resolve this. But it is very fluid; it just happened. And we’re doing the best we can to try to gather more information. I’m just not able to go into any more than that.
QUESTION: Some Iraqi officials have been telling reporters in Baghdad the names of the people they believe were kidnapped, for whom they worked, what they think the circumstances were. Are you able to confirm any of these reports?
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: Why not?
MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, there’s privacy considerations that we have to acknowledge when it comes to identifying. And number two, it’s a fluid situation. We are gaining a better – a better picture through information that we’ve been able to glean in the last day or so. But I would – I can easily say that the picture’s not complete. And so I don’t know that it would help the situation and help us resolve it any quicker by having me detail what is changing information as we continue to get it here from the podium.
QUESTION: My name is Nazira. I work for Afghan TV. Could you please share your opinion about the peace talks discussion, four parties discussion, which had happened yesterday in Kabul? Are you optimistic? Although there is so many things, negative things going on. The school get fire by the insurgency and also so many people killed in Jalalabad in Afghanistan. So are you optimistic about this peace process?
MR KIRBY: We’ve been – a couple of thoughts. We’ve been very pragmatic, and I think clear-eyed about the challenges which still remain in trying to get at an Afghan-led reconciliation process. Nobody’s more mindful of the challenges with respect to that than we are. And we – obviously, we know that President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah are also aware of those challenges. But we applaud the continued efforts that they have put into this to trying to get it – to try to get it going. And as we’ve said before, we stand willing to support that process as appropriate, but it must be Afghan-led. That’s the only way this is going to be successful. And we still want to see it move forward.
QUESTION: China. Do you have a update on your reaction to the opening ceremony and official inauguration of – the bank, AIIB?
MR KIRBY: I don’t, no. I’m afraid I don’t have an update for you on that. I’ll have to get that back to you.
QUESTION: One more?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Emails. Fox has a report out citing a letter from the inspector general to the intelligence community responding to a – it’s an unclassified letter responding to a member of Congress. And the letter, as has been described to me, says that intelligence community elements, whatever that means, have told the inspector general that some of the emails that were found on former Secretary Clinton’s home email server had so-called SAP classified information on them – Special Access Program. Do you have any comment on this, and do you have any reason to believe that there was any such highly classified information on her email server?
MR KIRBY: Well, I wouldn’t speak to a letter written by the intel community. I think that would be for them to speak to. What I’ll tell you is that we are focused on and remain focused on releasing the rest, the remainder, of former Secretary Clinton’s emails in a manner that protects sensitive information. And as you know, nobody’s going to take that more seriously than we are.
We’ve said repeatedly that we do anticipate more upgrades throughout our release process, and we’ve been very open and honest about that – those upgrades when they’ve occurred. Our FOIA process – I’m sorry, our FOIA review process is still ongoing. And once that process is complete, if it is determined that information should be classified as top secret, then we’ll do so, as we have consistently done throughout the process.
QUESTION: I understand you don’t want to comment on a letter written by a different set of agencies or by the inspector general to a different set of agencies. But it makes an allegation that concerns a former secretary, and therefore I think it’s a reasonable thing to ask you about. Are you in a position to say anything about whether you believe there may have been information classified at that level, which I gather is beyond top secret, on her home email server, or deny it?
MR KIRBY: I’m not in a position to comment any more than what I’ve already done here. I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave it at how I left it.
QUESTION: Do you have in your book there the number of redactions made because of top secret information?
MR KIRBY: I do not. You mean total from —
QUESTION: Total top secret. You said, “as we have consistently done throughout the process.” And I’m just – I don’t remember off the top of my head. Do you remember how many were redacted because of top secret, not confidential or – I mean, if you don’t have it there, it’s okay. I can get it afterwards.
MR KIRBY: I’ll see if I can dig up the redactions. I mean, as you know, every time we’ve done this we’ve kind of laid out how many redactions there were. Most of them – in fact, the vast majority of them – have been at the confidential level. I don’t have the accumulated number, but we’ll see if we can get it for you.
QUESTION: Are you still on track to wrap up by the 29th of this month, which I think is the final deadline?
MR KIRBY: We’re still working very hard to be able to meet that deadline.
QUESTION: Do you think you will?
MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t want to predict right now. We’re working —
QUESTION: It’s like the Syria talks.
MR KIRBY: We’re working very hard to meet that deadline. And look, if we’re not going to meet it, just like last month, we’re going to be open and honest about it, not just to the court but to the public and to all of you. But that’s what we’re still working towards.
QUESTION: If you won’t comment specifically on the IG’s report, can you – I mean, wouldn’t you consider this a pretty serious matter, if this is true? I mean, the IG report was released and then sent to members of Congress.
MR KIRBY: As I understand it, it’s a letter, right?
QUESTION: Right, letter, sorry.
MR KIRBY: It’s not an IG report. And I won’t speak to a letter we didn’t write. And I’m not going to – because I haven’t seen the letter, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment about it either. I’m not going to – I mean, I’m not going to try to characterize what it says or what’s in it.
What I can tell you is serious is the manner in which the Secretary wants this building to do two things: one, to be responsive to Freedom of Information Act reports, and we’re trying very hard to do that. We’ve upped the number of staff, we’ve put more resources into it, we’ve made some process changes, and I suspect you’ll see us continue to do more. And the other thing that we take very seriously is the handling of sensitive information, which is why we’re working so hard as we release all these that we take a look very carefully to make sure that we redact sensitive information appropriately. Those two things I can tell you we take very, very seriously.
There are reviews and investigations going on about past email practices here at the department, and I am simply not at liberty to discuss the content or the things that may or may not be being investigated. I think you can understand why I wouldn’t want to get ahead of that.
QUESTION: Can we come back to Iraq? A couple of UN agencies put out a report on the number of civilians who have been injured and killed in the conflict since the beginning of 2014 but with a focus on May to October of last year.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: At least 3,855 people killed, another 7,056 injured. Is there a building comment about – about the deaths, about the injuries, who’s responsible?
MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve seen the report. We’re reviewing it. We strongly support the work of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq and the Special Representative to the Secretary-General Jan Kubis. I don’t think it – we’ve said it before, but it certainly bears repeating that the depth of ISIL’s depravity has already been well documented, and this report continues to show the horrendous methods that ISIL has used to run its campaign of terror.
We obviously condemn in the strongest possible terms their atrocities and extend our deepest condolences to all the victims’ families and to the people of Iraq. That’s why we’re there. That’s why we’re part of this coalition. We’re leading it, and we’re going to stay at the job. The —
QUESTION: The report – sorry.
MR KIRBY: We cannot independently confirm the numbers that are stated in the report. We’re certainly not in a position to dispute them either. But look, again, their slave trade in Iraq and Syria is well-documented, as well as their atrocities and the violence and the – just the brutal, murderous activities that they continue to conduct. It – so again, while we’re reviewing the report, it reinforces things we already know and believe about this group. And it underscores for us the importance to stay at the job and to continue to contribute to the coalition against ISIL.
QUESTION: The report also does have some criticism of ISF and local militias for some of their misdeeds, some verging, the report alleges, on war crimes. Is that a particular concern for this building?
MR KIRBY: That is always a concern for this building and, as I said, we’re going through the report, we’re reviewing it now. I don’t have any independent assessments by the State Department about those particular findings. But issues of proper conduct and behavior and the fair treatment of innocent civilians in a conflict like this is something that we routinely discuss with our Iraqi counterparts, and I think you’ll continue to see us routinely bring that up. But again, we’re just – we just got this, we’re just going through it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: One more question about Iraq. There are reports of a meeting between the – the coalition to discuss the operation to liberate Mosul. Do you see any role for the Peshmerga to play in Mosul?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to make military assessments here.
QUESTION: Politically, like – (laughter) – do you think it’s problematic for the Kurds to participate in the liberation of an Arab-dominated city?
MR KIRBY: The – everybody understands the importance of Mosul and getting it back, and everybody in the coalition is focused on that, and working to support the Iraqi campaign plan to do it – and it is an Iraqi campaign plan. But I won’t talk about operational details of that. That is for the Iraqi Government, for the coalition to speak to.
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, back to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. If you can answer the question – can you take these two question first? Is the U.S. going to consider to join AIIB in the near future?
MR KIRBY: I’ll get back to you. I don’t have anything on this today.
QUESTION: And secondly, are those initial concern about the high standard – environment standards has been relieved in the past year?
MR KIRBY: We’ve said in the past with respect to the bank that should it come to pass, should it be formed, that we would want to see the same high international standards towards accountability and transparency that exist in other such banks. But as for a particular comment about its establishment, you’re going to have to just let me get back to you.
QUESTION: Oh —
MR KIRBY: No, go ahead.
QUESTION: I’ve got a couple quick ones about the events over the course of the last three days. Yeah? Yeah?
MR KIRBY: Sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: You’re game?
MR KIRBY: Yeah. Whatever you want.
QUESTION: This is about the Hague claims —
MR KIRBY: I assume you not talking about the playoffs.
QUESTION: No. The Hague claims commission settlement.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any more information than what was in – what’s already been put out? What I’m curious about is how much the Iranians were actually seeking. You said you got out of this with a pretty good settlement, avoided having to pay billions and billions of dollars more. How much did they – were they asking for in the first place? Secondly, are you – do you know – and these are all questions that can be taken if you don’t or – how many outstanding claims there still are before this commission; whether or not you are actively pursuing settlements of any of those that might still be outstanding; and what prospects are for quick closure of those claims, if you can say? And if you don’t have the answers to any of them, I can wait. It’s not —
MR KIRBY: Yeah. I don’t have that level of detail on claims outstanding. You’re going to have to let me —
QUESTION: Can you copy me into your response to that question?
MR KIRBY: Huh?
QUESTION: Can you copy me into that question – response —
MR KIRBY: Sure. You’re going to have to let me get back to you on that, Matt. I don’t have additional – I don’t have any additional information about specific claims.
QUESTION: But that – generally, that probably interests most people.
MR KIRBY: Yeah. But – and you had – but you had an original – your first question was —
QUESTION: Well, how much they were asking for. What did the Iranians say that they were owed? Because the way it was presented here, you’re giving them far less than what they had sought.
MR KIRBY: Well, they’re receiving the balance of $400 million in the trust fund —
QUESTION: Yeah. I know that, but how much did they want?
MR KIRBY: — as well as roughly 1.3 billion on the interest, which was a compromise figure arrived at. I don’t know what – as we were working through the compromise on the interest what their original going-in position was. I don’t know. But the 1.3 billion in interest was a compromise figure that both sides agreed to. I don’t – again —
QUESTION: What I’m looking – what I’m – I mean, it was presented by the State Department, by the White House as this great kind of victory – or maybe not victory, but you got out of this – because you settled this claim at terms that were beneficial for the U.S. Government/taxpayer.
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: So I want – what my question is, is: How much money did you save the taxpayer —
MR KIRBY: I’ll see if I can —
QUESTION: — in settling for 1.3 billion in interest? Because it seems like a lot.
MR KIRBY: I will see if I can get you —
MR KIRBY: I will see if I can get you more fidelity on that. But we do know, because of reaching the compromise on the interest – remember, the 400 million was their money —
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. I know.
MR KIRBY: — tied up in defense sales that was busted at the – during the ’79 revolution, and the 1.3 billion in interest was a compromise. I don’t know what they came in at. I’ll see if we can get more fidelity on that. But that it was a compromise, as we said over the weekend, means that it was certainly a lower figure than was originally sought.
QUESTION: Well, right. But you get what I’m saying, that if they came in saying, “Well, we want 1.4 billion,” and you only got it down to 1.3 billion, it’s not exactly a huge – I mean, it’s a lot of money still. I wouldn’t mind having it.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: But still, it’s not as if you saved 5 – if they came in saying we want 7 billion in interest and you got it down to 1.3, it’s – then that’s something that’s —
MR KIRBY: I’ll see what I can find out.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks. And then the other things that occurred over the last three days, but not Iran related – this is Israel related. One, in – you read, I presume, and seen the response to Ambassador Shapiro’s speech that he gave yesterday?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Why – in a particularly difficult moment or a sensitive moment like yesterday was in the wake of the Iran deals, the sanctions on Iran getting lifted, something that clearly was opposed by Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government, was it – in retrospect, was it wise to send Ambassador Shapiro out to give a speech castigating the Israeli Government on issues, and not making really any new points about your opposition to their activities in the West Bank?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, there’s really nothing new there.
QUESTION: Well, exactly. But why —
MR KIRBY: Well, this was —
QUESTION: You’re trying to heal the relationship with – that – with Israel, not exacerbate it. Not exacerbate the problems, I assume, right? So why have your ambassador go out and basically trash the Israelis for stuff that they already know you don’t like?
MR KIRBY: Okay, a couple of things there. This was a —
QUESTION: The timing of it.
MR KIRBY: He spoke at a conference —
MR KIRBY: — the INSS conference that he had long been invited to attend and was on the agenda to speak and felt it was important, especially in light of events that were going on in the world and in the region, to continue to meet his obligation to speak there. It wasn’t like he chose that day as a “Well, here’s the day I’m going to go out there just because I want to.” It was a long-scheduled appearance at a conference that he had obligated himself and his time to, and he took it very seriously.
As you rightly pointed out, there’s really nothing new here in what he said. We’ve consistently made clear our concerns about violence on both sides, and we obviously have strongly condemned terrorist attacks perpetrated by Palestinians, including the attacks over the weekend. We also remain concerned and – deeply concerned, and we’ve not been bashful about saying this and neither was he, about Israeli settler violence against Palestinians and their property in the West Bank.
And as for the relationship, it’s because we value the relationship with Israel so much that we feel it’s important to continue to have an honest, open, candid, forthright discussion about our concerns. And that he said these things in his speech shouldn’t be misconstrued as not – as us not saying them in private to Israeli leaders as well – and have over many, many, many months. So this wasn’t a new – this wasn’t a new set of remarks. He didn’t say anything that we haven’t said, again, privately and publicly.
And to your point about the relationship, we understand that there’s still concern over the Iran deal. It is – this is the time to be having these frank and candid discussions with Israeli leaders. This is the time to try to move the relationship forward and to see a real prospect for a two-state solution there.
QUESTION: I suppose that my question doesn’t relate so much to what he actually said as when he said it. I mean, it wasn’t imperative that he go out and deliver a highly critical speech on – yeah, he could have made a speech and not been as critical as he was. But your position is – I’m assuming from what you said – is that the Administration thinks that now, despite the fact that this was a – this weekend was a point of big tension, not only because of the Iran deal but because of the attacks that you said – that you mentioned and condemned, that it was important and in the – and to the benefit of the relationship to say what he said at that particular time.
MR KIRBY: What I said – what I mean is in the – that because things are tense, this is a time for having an open, honest dialogue with Israel. But let’s go back to the speech – long planned.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know.
MR KIRBY: He was on the agenda. It was an obligation that he made.
QUESTION: Yes. Fair enough.
MR KIRBY: And he – it wasn’t like he sat down and scribbled on a piece of paper, “Well, today I’m going to say stuff that’s going to cause concern and angst with Israeli leaders.” He was simply stating again longstanding, public policy by the United States with respect to the violence that’s going on there, to the settlement activity which is going on there, and to what we believe needs to happen to get to a two-state solution.
QUESTION: Well, all right. But – okay. But I don’t see – people make changes to their prepared remarks all the time. And so it seems, to me, clear that this was – that he did it intentionally, that this was the message that you guys wanted to send to them, and you were going to do it, regardless of whether the timing might have been bad or misunderstood by the prime minister’s office, which came out pretty hard, saying it was inappropriate.
MR KIRBY: Well, I saw the reaction.
MR KIRBY: I think it would be wrong to conclude that he sort of chose this moment, necessarily, to tweak noses. This was a longstanding —
QUESTION: Well, he chose the moment not to change his speech.
MR KIRBY: — speech. And again, he restated – he restated —
QUESTION: But it is a requirement that he make – I understand that. But is it a longstanding requirement for him to say exactly what he said? I mean, number of times that we look at as-prepared remarks that officials make, and they take stuff out, depending on whether or not they – whether or not it’s appropriate to say at the time. The prime minister said it was inappropriate. Clearly, you disagree. Is that correct? You think it was entirely appropriate, what he said?
MR KIRBY: He was simply reiterating our longstanding policies —
MR KIRBY: — that we believe are important to continue to stand by.
MR KIRBY: I got —
QUESTION: Secondly, the Human Rights Watch Report – maybe you saw – about the – about activities in the West Bank and Gaza and occupied territories – have you seen this – that invest – they’ve come out, Human Rights Watch, and said that if people invest in those areas, they’re investing in oppression, essentially.
MR KIRBY: I’ve not seen —
QUESTION: You haven’t seen that report? Okay. Could you take that?
MR KIRBY: I have not seen that report.
QUESTION: And then the last one is on the EU decision —
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: — to – you know what I’m talking about, right? Them to make —
MR KIRBY: The foreign affairs inclusions?
QUESTION: Right. All agreements with Israel have to make it clear that the West Bank and Gaza are not affected.
MR KIRBY: Well, as you know, our longstanding position on settlements is clear. We view Israeli settlement activity as illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace. We remain deeply concerned about Israel’s current policy on settlements, including construction, planning, and retroactive legalizations. The U.S. Government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements, because administrations from both parties have long recognized that settlement activity beyond the 1967 lines and efforts to change the facts on the ground undermine prospects for a two-state solution. We are no different.
QUESTION: And does that mean – so that means that you have no issue with this EU decision? You support it?
MR KIRBY: Well, you’re talking about this – the specific reaction to —
QUESTION: Correct. Yeah.
MR KIRBY: Yeah. Although I would refer you to the EU for an official response to their policies, they’ve made clear that this is not a boycott in any way and that the EU also made clear that they oppose boycotts against Israel.
MR KIRBY: We do not view labeling the origin of products as being from the settlements a boycott of Israel. We also do not believe that labeling the origin of products is equivalent to a boycott.
QUESTION: Okay. But in terms of the issue with the agreements and omitting from them the West Bank and Gaza, you also – you think that that – you think that’s okay? In other words, you agree with the EU that this does not indicate a boycott or isn’t a boycott or won’t —
MR KIRBY: That’s right. And we —
QUESTION: — lead to a – okay.
MR KIRBY: And our position on boycotts have not changed.
QUESTION: Gotcha. Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Okay, I’ve got one more, and then I’ve really got to go.
QUESTION: There are reports that the Assad regime is blocking some of the humanitarian aid convoys to enter some of the besieged cities in Syria —
MR KIRBY: Yeah. We’ve seen reports that a third convoy now has made it through.
QUESTION: So I was wondering if you any – have any updates. What’s the latest situation in Syria?
MR KIRBY: So yesterday a third joint UN-ICRC-Syrian Arab Red Crescent humanitarian convoy reached the towns of Madaya, Foah, Kefraya, as well as al-Zabadani with additional food and relief supplies. We remain deeply concerned about the widespread suffering inside those areas that are under siege, but as we’ve said before, there must be sustained, unimpeded humanitarian access to all besieged areas inside Syria that the UN has so designated. So we’re obviously glad to see that a third convoy made it to these towns. We want to – we want to see that continue unimpeded, and there are many others that need the help and the access to humanitarian supplies, which obviously we want to continue to see happen.
Okay, thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:59 p.m.)
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