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

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 29, 2016

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TRANSCRIPT:


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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Dermal permeation data and models for the prioritization and screening-level exposure assessment of organic chemicals

High throughput screening (HTS) models are being developed and applied to prioritize chemicals for more comprehensive exposure and risk assessment. Dermal pathways are possible exposure routes to humans for thousands of chemicals found in personal care products and the indoor environment. HTS exposure models rely on skin permeability coefficient (KP; cm/h) models for exposure predictions. An initial database of approximately 1,000 entries for empirically-based KP data was compiled from the literature and a subset of 480 data points for 245 organic chemicals derived from testing with human skin only and using only water as a vehicle was selected. The selected dataset includes chemicals with log octanol-water partition coefficients (KOW) ranging from -6.8 to 7.6 (median = 1.8; 95% of the data range from -2.5 to 4.6) and molecular weight (MW) ranging from 18 to 765 g/mol (median = 180); only 3% > 500 g/mol. Approximately 53% of the chemicals in the database have functional groups which are ionizable in the pH range of 6 to 7.4, with 31% being appreciably ionized. The compiled log KP values ranged from -5.8 to 0.1 cm/h (median = -2.6). The selected subset of the KP data was then used to evaluate eight representative KP models that can be readily applied for HTS assessments, i.e., parameterized with KOW and MW. The analysis indicates a model that performs the best against the selected dataset. Comparisons of representative KP models against model input parameter property ranges (sensitivity analysis) and against chemical datasets requiring human health assessment were conducted to identify regions of chemical properties that should be tested to address uncertainty in KP models and HTS exposure assessments.

Can Human Associated Bacteroides (HF183MGB) be used as a Pathogen Predictor in Urban Watersheds?

The fate and transport dynamics of fecal indicators and pathogenic microorganisms are poorly characterized in urban watersheds. Moreover, very little is understood about the actual relationship between fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) and the risk to public health. In this study we focused on understanding the behavior of a human-associated Bacteroides marker (HF183MGB) in relation to the presence of E. coli and selected waterborne pathogens and toxins (Salmonella sp. and Shiga-toxin (Stx2)) in a highly urbanized watershed. The Proctor Creek watershed, in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. is listed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 303(d) impaired waters list due to failing fecal coliforms standards. Water grab samples were collected every two weeks at 12 locations throughout the watershed. Average culturable E. coli was high throughout the watershed; ranging from 369 – 30,124 MPN/100 mL. HF183MGB was present at 11 out of 12 sites, ranging from 15,325 – 8,257,914 gene copies (GC)/100 mL and exhibited a significant correlation with culturable (r2=0.89) and molecular (r2=0.90) signals of E. coli. In contrast to the widespread distribution of HF183MGB, Salmonella and Stx2 were present in 50 and 42% of the sites, respectively. These pathogens were largely found in locations impacted by a high density of storm water inlets and outfalls, regardless of the presence of HF183MGB. Results indicate that human fecal contamination is present and widespread throughout the watershed but the lack of correlation between Salmonella/Stx2 and HF183MGB suggests that other sources are contributing to the presence of these pathogens in the watershed.

Impact of storm events on the structure of a stream microbiome

The microbial structural and/or functional state in a stream community is assumed to be in relative stasis until a perturbation (e.g., runoff event with entrained pollutants) affects the community structure and its functional state. Quantifying these changes and resolving the speed at which the microbial community is affected by stressors can create an index of microbial condition or a resilience index. In this work, we used metagenomics analysis to measure the shift in microbial community structure in response to rain events of various intensities. Water samples were collected at the South Fork Broad River (SFBR), and Big Clouds Creek (BCC), GA throughout different flow stages using automatic samplers. The 16SRNA was amplified from each sample and sequenced on an Illumina MiSeq Platform. The data was combined with hydro meteorological, chemical, and other biological measurements, to establish key relationships between the microbial taxa and environmental stressors impacting the watershed. The highest diversity index was observed in samples collected during the falling limb (FL) of the hydrograph, while lowest diversity was observed during base flow (BF). Operational taxonomic unit (OTU) abundance was also highest during FL, while peak flow (PF) samples were the least abundant. Betaproteobacteria was the most abundant class across stream stages, with Deltaproteobacteria present only during FL. Our results demonstrate the impact of storms events on the structure of the stream microbiome and provides insights on the recovery potential of the system after disturbance.

Enterovirus and Norovirus Monitoring under UCMR3

This presentation describes the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule round 3 (UCMR3) monitoring program for enterovirus and norovirus in groundwater. It provides the data on microbial indicators and virus occurrence during the monitoring period. Enteric virus occurrence was about 2% with no relationship between indicators and virus.

A Simple Lightning Assimilation Technique For Improving Retrospective WRF Simulations

Convective rainfall is often a large source of error in retrospective modeling applications. In particular, positive rainfall biases commonly exist during summer months due to overactive convective parameterizations. In this study, lightning assimilation was applied in the Kain-Fritsch (KF) convective scheme to improve retrospective simulations using the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model. The assimilation method has a straightforward approach: Force KF deep convection where lightning is observed and, optionally, suppress deep convection where lightning is absent. WRF simulations were made with and without lightning assimilation over the continental United States for July 2012, July 2013, and January 2013. The simulations were evaluated against NCEP stage-IV precipitation data and MADIS near-surface meteorological observations. In general, the use of lightning assimilation considerably improves the simulation of summertime rainfall. For example, the July 2012 monthly-averaged bias of 6-h accumulated rainfall is reduced from 0.54 mm to 0.07 mm and the spatial correlation is increased from 0.21 to 0.43 when lightning assimilation is used. Statistical measures of near-surface meteorological variables also are improved. Consistent improvements also are seen for the July 2013 case. These results suggest that this lightning assimilation technique has the potential to substantially improve simulation of warm-season rainfall in retrospective WRF applications.

NASA Holds Final Sample Return Robot Competition

After five years of competition by more than 40 different teams from around the globe, NASA’s Sample Return Robot Challenge has reached its final stage. The top seven teams will compete for the $1.36 million prize purse on the campus of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Massachusetts, Sept. 4-6.

An Age-defying Star

An age-defying star designated as IRAS 19312+1950 (arrow) exhibits features characteristic of a very young star and a very old star. The object stands out as extremely bright inside a large, chemically rich cloud of material, as shown in this image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.