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Press Releases: Daily Press Briefing – May 13, 2016

12:41 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Friday to you. Thank you. I appreciate your flexibility on the timing of the briefing today. We’re going a little early and we’re going to have to keep it a little shorter than normal. This – I’m afraid I’ve got to be elsewhere here a little bit after 1:00.

So just a couple of things at the top. I do want to note that the department’s disappointed that the Senate Armed Services Committee did not extend or authorize new visas for the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program, which enables, as you know, Afghans who have worked alongside our troops and our diplomats to seek refuge in the United States. Thousands of Afghans have performed this vital work often at great personal risk, and many, as you also know, have lost their lives doing it. Many are continuing to face threats to themselves, to their families, to their livelihoods. These Afghan civilians have been essential to accomplishing our mission in Afghanistan. And we thank Chairman McCain and Senator Shaheen for their longstanding commitment to this issue, and we look forward to continuing to work with them to ensure that those who bravely stood with us in Afghanistan are not abandoned.

On a travel note, and I won’t read the entire travel note – I know we’ve put that a little bit ago so you’re aware, but I do want to just hit the top lines. The Secretary will leave this evening for a trip to Saudi Arabia, Austria, Belgium, Burma, and Vietnam, and that trip will go till about the 26th of May. His first stop will be in Jeddah, where he’ll have meetings with Saudi Government officials to discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues.

He’ll then go to Vienna, Austria, where he will co-host a ministerial meeting on Libya with the Italian foreign minister, and that – we expect that meeting will focus, again, on security issues. He’s also going to co-host the ministerial meeting of the International Syria Support Group also there in Vienna, which will be designed to reaffirm, of course, and strengthen the cessation of hostilities, to discuss ways in which we can better ensure humanitarian access, and of course, to expedite a negotiated political transition there. Then together with Russia and France, he will also co-host a meeting on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with the presidents of both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

He’ll then go to Brussels, Belgium – this will be from about the 18th to the 21st – to participate in the NATO Foreign Ministerial, which will be really focused on preparations for the Warsaw NATO Summit Heads of State and Government in July.

On the 22nd he goes to Burma to meet with key leaders there to signal U.S. support for the new democratically elected civilian-led government, and then to Vietnam, where he’ll accompany President Obama on the President’s trip to Hanoi and to Ho Chi Minh City. And I’m sure that we’ll have more and more detail as the trip unfolds, but I did want to just hit that right at the top.

Matt.

QUESTION: Right. Well, since this is kind of trip-related – the ISSG meeting – I want to start with Syria. A couple of things about it: One, this will probably be brief because I don’t think you’ll have a lot to say about it. But you probably will have seen reports that Hizballah’s top military guy was killed in Syria. I’m wondering what you make of that, what you know about it, if anything.

MR KIRBY: Don’t know a whole lot of detail. Have seen those reports. Certainly, in no position to dispute them, but we don’t have a lot of information regarding his reported death.

QUESTION: All right. The foreign minister – well, over the course of the past two, two-and-a-half years, Secretary Kerry has forged a personal relationship with the foreign minister of Iran, Mr. Zarif. Is it troubling at all that in response to the death of this Hizballah commander, Foreign Minister Zarif, according to the – Iran’s official news agency, sent his condolences to Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hizballah, saying that he hoped the martyrdom of this great commander will further strengthen resistance forces against the Zionist and terrorism.

The Secretary was just in Europe trying to encourage banks to do legal business with Iran. They are balking. They’re resistant because of other Iranian – non-nuclear Iranian policies. What’s the view of the Secretary, if you know, or of the Administration more generally, about —

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — notes of condolence for a guy who was accused of murdering dozens at least – more probably – of Americans sanctioned by successive U.S. administrations for links to terrorism and is accused of murdering Rafik Hariri?

MR KIRBY: Well, you’re right. I mean, he was, in fact, convicted for his role in the 12 December 1983 bombings of the U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait which killed five people. And as you know, Hizballah is a designated foreign terrorist organization. So I’ve seen those comments. We certainly do not share in them one bit, and it’s disappointing to see that Foreign Minister Zarif would feel that way.

That said, we also have – know that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism and that they have continued to support this particular group which is a designated foreign terrorist organization. And that is exactly why, when the Secretary was in London speaking with European banking institutions, on more than one occasion in that meeting he raised very specifically our continued concerns about what Iran is doing in the region. And to be clear, many of these bankers expressed that as a source of some of their skittishness that here you have a country which, while living up to their commitments under the JCPOA, are certainly still conducting any number of destabilizing activities in the world and in the region. And we understand that and the Secretary was very clear about that.

But we do not share the comments attributed to Foreign Minister Zarif and we continue to hold Hizballah as a foreign terrorist organization. And you’re right; this individual was a deeply committed terrorist.

QUESTION: All right. Well, do these kind of comments give you pause about having such a close relationship or close part – I don’t want to say partnership, but close – the Secretary and the others in the Administration, the White House, has talked about how the Iran nuclear negotiations opened up this new channel between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif.

MR KIRBY: Sure, sure.

QUESTION: I mean, are you guys at all uncomfortable with —

MR KIRBY: We are – certainly, we would not associate ourselves with the foreign minister’s comments with respect to the death of Mustafa Badreddine. We wouldn’t associate ourselves at all with that. We have – because of the Iran deal there is an open channel of communication through the foreign minister that Secretary Kerry does use and will continue to use because —

QUESTION: Okay. Do you —

MR KIRBY: Will continue to use. I mean, look, Iran is a member of the ISSG so it’s our expectation —

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: — that Iran will be represented in Vienna. The channels of communication are open and will probably stay open. That doesn’t mean by any means that we’re turning a blind eye to what Iran is capable of doing or to these comments.

QUESTION: All right. The second issue on Syria is you will have also seen reports from numerous people – Government – Syrian Government as well as opposition groups that I believe yesterday or very recently – Ahrar al-Sham, a rebel group that you guys have fought with the Russians to keep off of the banned list, to keep them included in the ceasefire, along with al-Nusrah fighters, stormed this Alawite village.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: How is it that – I mean, they look like they are operating as one and the same, a group that you insist is not a terrorist group and a group that you insist is a terrorist group. How do you explain that? And when, if ever, are you going to tell them that they’re in danger of being unincluded in the cessation of hostilities?

MR KIRBY: There’s an awful lot there. Let me try to break this down. First of all, we’ve seen these reports and the initial reports are very, very troubling indeed in terms of the violence that were perpetrated on these families. We don’t have a whole lot of specific information about these attacks right now. Obviously, it’s reprehensible, unacceptable for any of this kind of violence to occur, particularly if, as early reports indicate, it was – it was based on religious affiliation. So we’re looking into this very, very carefully. Can’t say with great specificity at this time who we – who was responsible or who we believe was responsible.

Number two, Ashar al-Islam[1] is not, as you pointed out, not a designated foreign terrorist organization and therefore is a party to the cessation. And our expectation of them is the same expectation we have for everybody else who is a party to the cessation, that they will observe it, that they will abide by it. So we’re going to look into this and we’re going to see what we know about it. And based on the facts, then we’ll deal with it. But we expect all parties to the cessation to abide by it and we have repeatedly said that. That’s why we’re got the task force stood up. That’s why we’ve plussed up the resources. That’s why we’ve intensified the effort to be able to better monitor the violence in Syria. But this is – obviously, these are very troubling, disturbing reports that we’re taking very, very seriously.

The second – the third part which you also were getting to were the potential collusion between a group like al-Nusrah and this group. And we’ve said all along that we’ve seen some comingling, and we have seen even to some degree some troubling cooperation between certain opposition groups and al-Nusrah. Again, I’m not specifically talking about this attack, because I just don’t know enough about it to say that that’s what happened here. But our message to the armed opposition with respect to al-Nusrah and to any perceived or real cooperation or collusion has been, again, consistent. And we’ve made it clear that our expectation is that they won’t do that.

QUESTION: But have you told them that if they don’t stop doing this kind of stuff, that they’re going to be excluded and they will become legitimate targets?

MR KIRBY: We have not – I don’t want to get into —

QUESTION: And if you haven’t, why haven’t you?

MR KIRBY: I don’t want to get into specific conversations or allusions of threats here. We have certainly made clear – and done so consistently – our expectations for the opposition groups. Those that are part of the HNC and the armed opposition, we have made very clear our expectations for their behavior and conduct with respect to the cessation of hostilities. And they have seen with their own eyes what happens when they are near or operating close to al-Nusrah, when some of the opposition groups have been – have fallen victim to attacks against al-Nusrah because of their close proximity. So I think they’re very well aware of the risks inherent in operating in or near a group like that. But we’ve made very clear what our expectations are in terms of their conduct with respect to the cessation.

QUESTION: Just one simple one on Syria, sticking with the first topic. To put a fine point on it, does the U.S. Government have any information about who may have been behind the attack that killed him?

MR KIRBY: We’re going back to the Hizballah official.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Hizballah —

MR KIRBY: I do not have additional information about it. I don’t.

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: Syria.

MR KIRBY: Syria. Let’s stay on Syria for a little bit.

QUESTION: Yesterday Staffan de Mistura said that he would await the results of the ISSG meeting before announcing the next proximity talks meeting. Considering this group has met three or four times now, the ISSG, from the U.S. perspective, what results need to take place in this upcoming meeting?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to get ahead of a meeting that hasn’t occurred yet, and I’m not going to preview specific outcomes. But as I said in my opening, and as I think we actually have in our travel note, there’s really three big items that will be discussed, and I suspect in a more comprehensive manner. And one is the cessation and trying to make sure that we can get this cessation better footed, and frankly, better observed and implemented throughout the country. And we’re very focused on that, as you know, because it continues to be fragile.

Number two, better delivery of humanitarian assistance. I mean, just today there was a convoy that was being prepared to go to Daraya to deliver much-needed food, water, and medicine supplies – had to be aborted because the regime stopped it and started pulling out the medical supplies, which they’ve done in the past. So now we have a – we have a town here who has not received a crumb of food from the UN since about 2012. So humanitarian assistance obviously is going to be, I think, a key part of the discussions.

And then lastly, of course, is the – to go right to your question, is getting the political process back on track. We all recognize that the first three rounds didn’t result in dramatic progress in terms of getting towards a transitional governing process, and we want to make sure that the next round can be more successful. So I think you’re going to see them talk about that quite a bit in terms of how that needs to be organized – not just the when and the where, but sort of how it’s going to be organized and what kinds of things need to be focused on.

QUESTION: I guess that’s what I’m getting at. The cessation, the focus on the political talks, and the humanitarian component have been part of all of the ISSG meetings up to now. What’s going to be a new approach or will there be a new approach to sort of breathe life into these issues and move this process forward?

MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t preview or predict a, quote/unquote, “new approach” here, but obviously not all the trend lines in Syria are going in the right direction. I’ve talked about humanitarian access. We’ve talked about the cessation continuing to be under threat and not to – and not to be uniformly observed. And of course, we know there has to be more progress made on the political front.

So there’s plenty of work to be done in the ISSG on all three of those fronts, and the Secretary is very mindful of the challenges still ahead. That’s why this next iteration of the ISSG is so important, and we respect and understand Special Envoy de Mistura’s desire to have the ISSG meet one more time and, perhaps as a result of that, come out with some guidance and some guidelines that he can take into the next round.

But let me just step back for a second and remind that nobody ever predicted or thought or expected that this was going to be a very clean, linear, or quick process. The war has been going on for five years and there has been an awful lot of bloodshed and suffering experienced by the Syrian people. And obviously, that has embittered the opposition to a fare-the-well, and that’s understandable. So we all understand – we know that this was going to be hard from the beginning. It’s going to remain difficult, and that’s why the Secretary is so committed to continuing to stay involved like he has.

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia?

MR KIRBY: Can we go to Saudi Arabia? Okay. All right.

QUESTION: A former member of the 9/11 Commission, John Lehman, said the commission had been aware of at least five Saudi Government officials who were strongly suspected of involvement in the terrorist support network. He said that the 9/11 investigation was terminated before all the relevant leads were able to be investigated. While I know that U.S. officials usually cite the 9/11 Commission Report, which says that there is no evidence that the Saudi Government as an institution or senior Saudi officials were involved – were – had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks – well, what about lower-level Saudi officials? Can you say the same about lower-level Saudi officials?

MR KIRBY: Well, our position hasn’t changed in terms of our view of any official, high-level Saudi involvement. There’s been no change —

QUESTION: High-level.

MR KIRBY: — no change in our view on that.

QUESTION: What about lower level?

MR KIRBY: Look, there’s a process that’s underway right now to consider those 28 pages, which, as I know, is what gets to this, and to determine how much, if any, of those documents can be declassified and released. There’s a process for this. I’m going to refer you to Director Clapper’s office for an update on where it stands. All of the work, including the contents of the 28 pages, fed into 9/11 – their commission’s work. And I’ll say it again: We believe that that work, the 9/11 Commission’s work, provided a definitive statement about the nature of support that came from Saudi Arabia and other countries with respect to al-Qaida financing. Obviously, it did not determine that the Saudi Government had any intent to support al-Qaida.

So our position hasn’t changed on that.

QUESTION: Well, can you say with certainty that no Saudi Government resources were used to help the 9/11 hijackers?

MR KIRBY: I would point you back to what the 9/11 Commission’s work found, which we believe is still relevant today. That’s what I’d point you back to.

QUESTION: Well —

MR KIRBY: Go ahead, Lalit.

QUESTION: — in March – in March – actually I had one more. In March, Iran was ordered by a U.S. judge to pay over $10 billion to families of 9/11 victims. Do you believe that Iran had more to do with the 9/11 attacks than Saudi Arabia did?

MR KIRBY: I would point – there’s a long history here in terms of what happened on 9/11. It’s all available publicly, and we fully support the work of the 9/11 Commission. I’d point you to that work. It’s very clear. It’s all laid out for you right there. I don’t really believe that it’s a valuable use of our time here today to re-litigate all that history. We fully support the work done by the 9/11 Commission and it’s been very clear about the responsibilities.

QUESTION: Recently, Saudi Arabia told the Obama Administration and members of Congress that it will sell off hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of its U.S. assets if Congress passes a bill that would allow the Saudi Government to be held responsible in U.S. courts for any role in the 9/11 attacks. Do you see it as extortion?

MR KIRBY: We’ve also talked about this many times here in the briefing room. I don’t really want to revisit it all again. We’ve talked about this. We’ve responded to it. As I said, we remain committed to assisting the families of all the 9/11 victims. We share in the grief that they have had to endure. We do have concerns about this bill specifically, and the Secretary testified that specifically with the precedent that it could set going forward for us and other places. So we’ve made very – very clear our own concerns about this bill. But other than that, again, we’ve reacted to this, we’ve talked about this before. I don’t have anything more to add.

Lalit.

QUESTION: There’s news reports according to which China is blocking India’s membership to a Nuclear Suppliers Group, and you know U.S. has said that it is committed to help India become a member of NSG.

MR KIRBY: Well —

QUESTION: So do —

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: So what steps U.S. is taking in that regard?

MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, I’m going to refer you to the governments of China and Pakistan with respect to their positions on India’s membership. Deliberations, as you know, about the prospects of new members joining the Nuclear Suppliers Groups are an internal matter among current members. And then I’d point you back to what the President said during his visit to India in 2015, where he reaffirmed that the U.S. view was that India, quote, “meets missile technology control regime requirements and is ready for NSG membership.”

QUESTION: So what are the hurdles that India become a membership of – member of NSG?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, I did not understand.

QUESTION: What are the hurdles, what are the problems in —

MR KIRBY: What are the what?

QUESTION: Hurdles.

MR KIRBY: Hurdles.

QUESTION: Hurdles.

MR KIRBY: Again, as I said before, the – this – the discussion of membership is an internal matter between those members and I’m going to refer you to the governments of China and Pakistan.

QUESTION: Do you know what state it is – the membership is right now?

MR KIRBY: I do not.

QUESTION: Application for membership is —

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

Samir.

QUESTION: What’s on the agenda in the meeting between the Secretary and the Egyptian foreign minister today?

MR KIRBY: There’s a range of bilateral issues that the two intend to discuss. Certainly, security concerns in Egypt and in the region, our shared concerns about the counterterrorism threat, and as he always does, I would fully expect the Secretary to once again raise our concerns over human rights in Egypt.

QUESTION: Israel-Palestine?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Have you got any calls to read out with Mr. Abbas any time in the past few days? Has Secretary Kerry spoken to Mahmoud Abbas? And any update on the decision about whether to join the planned French meeting in Paris on May 30th?

MR KIRBY: He did speak with President Abbas yesterday. I don’t have a specific readout of it. I mean, I – as I’m sure you can imagine – first of all, he speaks frequently with President Abbas. Obviously the main purpose and topic is to continue to reaffirm our desire to see both sides take affirmative steps to get us into a position to create the kind of conditions where a two-state solution can be better pursued. I don’t have any update with respect to the French meeting at the end of the month.

QUESTION: When was the last time he spoke to President Abbas? You have that?

MR KIRBY: I do not, but he does – it’s not an infrequent thing, Arshad.

QUESTION: No decision yet regarding the participation in the conference in —

MR KIRBY: No.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Afghanistan. Nazira Karimi, Afghan journalist.

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: My name is Nazira Karimi. I am from Afghanistan, Ariana Television.

MR KIRBY: I think we’ve met before. (Laughter.) Welcome back.

QUESTION: Yes. So what do you think about President Ghani’s statements yesterday in London – international —

MR KIRBY: Which ones?

QUESTION: The one that he rejected the David Cameron’s statement that Afghanistan and Nigeria is number one on the drug and corruption and everything, but President Ghani said that the root is came from different reasons. Like, for example, drugs – consumer in Europe, in Western. So now how should Afghanistan fight against those? Because as I mentioned and Mr. Ghani mentioned, that the consumer of the drug in Afghanistan is European people.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, a couple of thoughts. I mean, first of all, the narcotics trade in Afghanistan obviously has been a longstanding problem. We know that the Taliban continues to profit and to resource itself off the narcotics trade, so this is not a new concern. And the second thing I’d say is that – and the Secretary met with President Ghani privately yesterday – we support his efforts at reform and at building a unity government. His work with Chief Executive Abdullah remains important, and we know that he’s very focused on the issue of corruption in Afghanistan and we fully support those efforts.

QUESTION: Follow-up on the same meeting. President Ghani also said that Afghanistan is fighting an undeclared war with Pakistan. Do you agree with his assessment?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t see those comments, but look, what we continue to believe and continue to see is that Afghanistan and Pakistan still face a shared threat from terrorist networks – terrorist networks which continue to still use the spine between those two countries as safe haven. That’s why we still have a counterterrorism presence in Afghanistan. It’s why we continue to work with the Government of Pakistan as best we can to help share information as appropriate to help all sides go after this shared threat. This is a shared, common enemy to the people of Afghanistan and to the people of Pakistan, and they have been working and communicating together, and we want to see that kind of dialogue and cooperation continue and to improve.

QUESTION: And linked to that is one of the Afghanistan minister has asked Pakistan to immediately open the Torkham border crossing, which has been closed by Pakistan for quite some time now. Afghanistan thinks that it is a retaliation by Pakistan because the tension between the two countries.

MR KIRBY: I – just before coming out here, I got updated that the gate was open, so as far as I know – and, I mean, I could be wrong here, this was an update I just got out – before coming out here – was that the gate had been reopened. Obviously, we want to see – we want – if it’s open, we want to see it stay open, obviously. If I’m wrong about that and it technically hasn’t been opened yet or it’s not open yet, obviously, we want to see both sides work – to work through these differences and to get it open because —

QUESTION: And one more.

MR KIRBY: — it’s an important – go ahead.

QUESTION: Quickly on the Pakistan’s foreign advisor to Pakistan’s prime minister, Sartaj Aziz, in the parliament today said that the relationship between Pakistan and U.S. has been under stress for the last few months. What is the reason for that stress?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t see his comments, so I’m going to refrain from responding specifically to that sentiment. I will say again what we’ve said before: It is a important, vital relationship that we strongly believe in. Is it complicated at times? Absolutely, it is. And do we see eye-to-eye on every issue with Pakistan? No, we don’t. But that’s why the relationship matters so much, because we have shared threats and shared concerns, shared interest in the region, and we’re going to continue to work at it.

QUESTION: But do you agree that at this point of time, you don’t have the best of the relationship with Pakistan?

MR KIRBY: We have – it is an important relationship that we continue to work at very, very seriously, and we are – we’re going to remain committed to. And I would not share that characterization of it.

QUESTION: I have got two very brief ones, one on Brazil. You will have seen the interim government has been formed or is pretty close to being completely formed and there are no women on it, very few if any minorities. I’m just wondering if you have any thoughts about the inclusivity or lack thereof in this new – in this new government and if it causes you any concerns.

MR KIRBY: We obviously are continuing to follow political developments there. These matters of the government and the composition of it are internal matters for the Brazilian people and Brazilian authorities to decide and to speak to. What we are confident is that we’re going to – that Brazil (a) will work through the political challenges that they’re facing in a democratic way, and that we will continue to look for ways to work with the new government going forward.

QUESTION: Well, okay. That’s – I mean, okay, but this Administration – when Secretary Clinton was the secretary and Secretary Kerry as well – has put great emphasis when they go abroad to talk about particularly including women in positions of government. The phrase, “No country can perform to its full outcome if — ”

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — “50 percent of the team is on the bench” has been – I mean, that’s been a recurring theme —

MR KIRBY: We’re —

QUESTION: — in countries all over the place. So I’m a little bit surprised that you don’t – does that not apply to Brazil?

MR KIRBY: We’re not walking away from that sentiment at all, Matt. I mean, the – you’ve heard the Secretary speak much about the power of diversity here at the State Department and in – and democracies overseas. And we still believe that for a democracy to achieve its full potential, it does need to include and represent all manners of society.

QUESTION: Okay. So why wouldn’t you be concerned about this situation in Brazil?

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is that they’re going through a period of significant political challenge now. We’re watching this and following it as closely as we can. We believe that Brazil has a strong enough democracy to work through all this, and we’re also convinced that because the relationship is so important, that we will continue to have a strong bilateral relationship with Brazil. But I’m – largely but generally speaking, obviously, more diversity is always a better thing.

QUESTION: And then the last one is completely unrelated but it goes back to the subject we’ve been talking about for several days this week, which is the glitch, the quote/unquote “glitch” in the briefing video, that we were told there’s a look into what happened, how this happened, if it was done intentionally, if it was content-related, if it was audio gap-related, whatever.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: Has – have you guys come to a determination of how exactly this happened?

MR KIRBY: No, we haven’t, Matt. But I can tell you – and I say this as not just the spokesman for the department, but the assistant secretary of state for public affairs, that I’m very concerned by this, and I have every intention of making sure that we look into it thoroughly and try to get answers as best we can about what happened here. We have an obligation to be transparent and to be fully so, and I take that very, very seriously. So we are still looking at it. I don’t have an answer for you as to what exactly happened.

QUESTION: But from what you know so far, is there – do you have any reason to believe that this was done intentionally because of the content of what the – what the (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: I do not – I don’t have enough information right now to say one way or the other.

QUESTION: All right. Any idea —

MR KIRBY: And I’m not – and I don’t want to get ahead of a process.

QUESTION: Any idea when this – when you might be – when whoever is looking at it might be finished with it?

MR KIRBY: I do not. I don’t.

QUESTION: Two quick ones, please. One, do you have any comment on the plans announced by the Chinese Government today for China and Thailand to begin doing some military exercises on May 18th and —

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — sorry, May 19th to June 20th?

MR KIRBY: Seen those reports. Obviously, national militaries have a right, if not a responsibility, to exercise their capabilities. And I’d let China and Thailand speak to the scope of the exercises, the purposes for it, the outcomes that they’re trying to achieve. We exercise bilaterally and multilaterally all the time. There’s no reason why those two nations shouldn’t also have the opportunity to exercise their militaries.

QUESTION: Are you worried that the Chinese are filling a gap or a vacuum left by the United States, which, as you well know, has suspended its military exercises until – with Thailand until there’s a democratic election?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’d let China and Thailand speak for the outcomes that they’re seeking in this exercise and for the purposes behind it. I would strongly rebut any characterization that we somehow ceded opportunities in the Asia Pacific. As a matter of fact, quite the opposite. The United States military – and I don’t want to get into too much military issues here, but we have from a military perspective alone – and not just military, but from that perspective alone – dedicated a lot more resources, time, energy, and talent into the Asia Pacific region.

QUESTION: And then last one from me: Do you have any comment on the Myanmar Government’s proposal to keep some of the prior government curbs on protests and limitations on freedom of speech?

MR KIRBY: Just seeing these reports. Obviously, you know where we stand on the right of peaceful protest and freedom of expression. This is something that we endorse all around the world and certainly there as well. So just seeing these reports. Obviously, it’s concerning, but again, our position with respect to peaceful protest and expression are long, longstanding.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to wrap it up.

QUESTION: Just one last one —

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — on this GAO report into your arms sales to Egypt. Apparently you didn’t follow through on your own controls on who got the weapons. Have procedures been improved since the period covered by the report?

MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, we welcome the work of the GAO and we’re obviously – we take the report seriously. We accept the GAO’s recommendations for strengthening end-use monitoring, and we intend to utilize available programs to help improve the completeness and timeliness of responses from the Egyptian Government. And I’d also note that we’re – are in complete compliance with requirements for end-use monitoring in Egypt. But review and monitoring are an integral component of the process, and this is to make sure that U.S.-origin defense articles are being used in the manner intended for and are consistent with our legal obligations, foreign policy goals, and values. But we take the report’s finding seriously and, again, we accept their recommendations.

Okay, thanks.

QUESTION: But if you’re in complete compliance, why is there a report in the first place?

MR KIRBY: It doesn’t – well, because you can always improve. It doesn’t mean – being in compliance doesn’t mean that you can’t always improve.

QUESTION: I mean, it’s a pretty damning report. It basically says that you’ve have been falling down on the job completely —

MR KIRBY: And look, we take it —

QUESTION: — not in complete compliance, but in —

MR KIRBY: We take the report seriously and we’re going to accept their recommendations.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:18 p.m.)


[1] Ahrar al-Sham

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