2:04 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. I’ve got quite a few things here at the top, so if you’ll just bear with me.
First, on former Secretary Clinton’s emails. At about 9 o’clock tonight, the State Department will make publicly available online approximately 3,000 additional pages of emails from former Secretary Clinton’s email account. These emails were reviewed using Freedom of Information Act standards for release, as they all have been. The department acknowledges the significant interest in these documents and we’re releasing them in further demonstration of our commitment to transparency, a commitment Secretary Kerry has made very, very clear to all of us. The total page count of documents released to date meets a goal set by a court ruling whereby the department is to aspire to the release of 7 percent of the total number of pages of these documents by today’s date.
I know that 9 o’clock is a fairly inconvenient time for many of you in the media, and I certainly apologize for the inconvenience that that’s going to cause, but I can assure you and I want to make it very clear from the outset that a 9 o’clock release date is not deliberately intended to make your life harder. I know that’s going to be the going assumption, but it is absolutely not the case. We worked very, very hard to try to reach this 7 percent goal and we’re working right up to the deadline. And I can tell you that there were many conversations here yesterday to try to see if we could move that time to the left and just – it’s a matter of physics and time, and there’s just no way to get it done earlier. So just let me make that very clear. I know it’s not ideal for you; it’s not ideal for us either, but you’re just going to have to bear with us and we’ll keep it – and keep the process going.
Secondly, as you may have seen, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff visited the White House earlier today, just completed a press conference with President Obama. She is now here at the State Department meeting with Deputy Secretary Blinken and Vice President Biden, and they’re – in fact, they’re upstairs having a luncheon discussion as we speak. And I expect that they’ll be talking about a full range of issues, much like were discussed at the White House on how we can deepen our economic, trade, and commercial ties.
I also want to offer our heartfelt condolences to the Indonesian people today, especially those in the city of Medan, where a C-130 military aircraft crashed earlier today. As we understand it, and reports are still coming in – I would certainly point to the Indonesian authorities to speak more specifically about the accident. But as we understand it, there were casualties on the ground as well as in the aircraft. So again, our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Indonesia. They remain strong friends and partners, and we stand ready to assist the Government of Indonesia with the investigation as needed.
As you’ve also probably seen today, the P5+1 and Iran have decided to extend the measures under the Joint Plan of Action until July 7th to allow more time for negotiations to reach a long-term solution on the Iran nuclear issue. This is a simple technical extension. Working towards a final deal, today the Secretary met with Foreign Minister Zarif as well as Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, and all the experts continue to meet as we work to conclude a deal. We’ll continue to update you as things progress over the coming days.
And then two other personnel announcements, and then I will turn it over. Today Secretary Kerry announced the appointment of Lee Wolosky to the position of special envoy for Guantanamo closure. Special Envoy Wolosky’s appointment reflects the Administration’s commitment to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. He brings a wealth of experience as an accomplished litigator and pragmatic problem solver – a skillset that will prove valuable as he serves as the lead negotiator for the transfer of Guantanamo detainees abroad and manages the multitude of diplomatic issues related to the President’s directives to close the detention facility there, as well as implement transfer determinations and conduct periodic reviews of those detainees who are not approved for transfer.
And then finally, I just want to make – I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that today is Jeff Rathke’s last day here at the State Department. It’s a very bittersweet day for us to say goodbye to him. You all know Jeff. You know what a professional he is, how calm and cool and collected he is up here even in the face of just bitter scrutiny – (laughter) – and sometimes ridiculous questions. (Laughter.) Those were Jeff’s words, not mine – (laughter) – just before I came out here. But Jeff’s a dedicated – has been a dedicated career Foreign Service officer. And I know I’m speaking for Mark when I say that both of us have relied heavily on his advice and counsel in just the last few weeks as we’ve been trying to get up to speed. And Jeff, we’re really going to miss you and we wish you well. As we say in the Navy, fair winds and following seas. So thanks. (Applause.)
Okay, with that – go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Catherine Herridge over at Fox News. I have a couple of follow-ups on the emails. Just so I’m clear, are you still working on clearing more emails at this hour in advance of the 9 o’clock deadline?
MR KIRBY: It’s a continuous process. Remember now we had 55,000 pages to go through, 30-some – 30,000-some odd emails. So that’s a continual process. But the focus today is really going to be on getting these ready.
QUESTION: If I could just follow up again on that. When they’re posted to the website, they’re not posted in a chronological order. Is it going to be possible to do this because it would have more ease in understanding the traffic, or is this a reflection of how you’re receiving these emails from Mrs. Clinton?
MR KIRBY: It’s not a – I don’t think it’s a function of how they’re being – how they’re in receipt. And they’re going to be posted in a very similar format to the last time. So —
QUESTION: But that was a confused format. I mean, it was dates all over the place, right?
MR KIRBY: Recognize that. But you also have to understand sometimes, as you all know, in the use of email there’s forwards, there’s replies all over a spectrum of time. So they’ll be in the same format. Recognize the inconvenience of that, but they’ll be in the same format.
And I’m sorry. You had another?
QUESTION: I did have a follow-up. What we found in the last batch of emails is that there was some pretty significant discrepancies between what was released by the State Department and what was released to the select committee. For example, in April 2011 there’s an email from Mrs. Clinton indicating that she was in support of using private security contractors to arm the Libyan opposition, which was not legal at that time for the U.S. Government to do it. That line was redacted from the public email released by the State Department, but it was intact in the email that was released to the select committee.
MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t – I can’t speak to specific emails that the select committee might have that may or may not be in this tranche. Let me go back to try to – because —
MR KIRBY: — back to your chronological question. So the tranche that will be released tonight is – roughly includes emails from about March to December of 2009. So there is some chronological order to the process itself. We’re kind of going through time. Inside the tranche I can’t guarantee that they’re all going to be lined up exactly by date and time.
I also want to say that just because this tranche is, say, March to the end of 2009 doesn’t mean in the next tranche you may not see emails that are from April or May also of 2009. I mean, we’re doing the best we can to keep them bundled that way, but it’s difficult with the sheer volume of it.
To your other question, again, we can’t speak for inventories of email traffic that other people may provide the select committee or other sources they may get to it. We can only work with what we were given. In these 55,000 pages, that’s our task is to go through and redact them – redact them and prepare them through the Freedom of Information Act process. So in —
QUESTION: I don’t want to monopolize it, but this was the same email provided by the State Department to the select committee. So it’s the same document.
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering why it would be redacted in the public version but not in the select committee version because it’s a very important statement that she was interested in using private contractors to arm the rebels at that time.
MR KIRBY: I can’t speak to that particular issue and email, ma’am. I just don’t have the depth of knowledge on that particular note. But I can tell you it is not uncommon – again, not speaking to this case specifically – it’s not uncommon for us to release documents to Congress that have a different – there’s a different set of standards sometimes in terms of the kind of information that can be included in correspondence with Congress than you would put for public consumption on a Freedom of Information Act website.
MR KIRBY: There’s – and that’s why I stressed at the outset saying that these were all redacted and organized and reviewed through the Freedom of Information Act process. So I can’t discount the fact that in the future, with this or any other tranche, that there may be documents that are redacted differently for going to the Hill than they are online. Does that make sense?
QUESTION: Sure. This is my final question because I don’t want to monopolize it further. But the 2009 emails that are being released today are really about the furthest distance away of relevance from the terrorist attack itself.
MR KIRBY: Well, remember, don’t confuse these two things. So we are working with the select committee that’s investigating the Benghazi attack. And in cooperating with them, we have not only produced witnesses for briefings that they’ve needed or wanted, but we’ve also produced thousands and thousands of pages of documents, to include some documents from these emails. That’s separate and distinct from the task at hand, which is to make public all 55,000 —
MR KIRBY: — pages of emails, which the vast majority have nothing to do with the work of the select committee. So those are two separate processes going on.
QUESTION: Right. Got it.
MR KIRBY: Does that make sense?
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Lesley?
QUESTION: Can we change the subject?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Does anyone else have emails?
QUESTION: Another question on emails?
MR KIRBY: Sure, yeah.
QUESTION: Are you a bit concerned that releasing this glut of documents at 9 o’clock will seem like something done under cover of night? I mean, it does seem like an odd time to release documents.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, were you – I don’t know if you were here when I opened up the press conference.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you, I was.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I was very clear – I tried to make it very clear that is really a function of physics for us. I mean, there’s a lot of emails to get through, we have a deadline we have to meet, and it’s – we’re doing everything we can to reach that 7 percent goal for release, as ordered by the court. So that’s what’s driving the time. I recognize it’s inconvenient for you in the media, and I —
QUESTION: Well, it’s not a question of convenience. It’s a question of perception.
MR KIRBY: I recognize the optics – no, I recognize that too, as I said at the opening. I can assure you that this is not an attempt or an effort to try to be less than open and forthcoming or to try to steer away from news coverage of this. We recognize it’s an inconvenient time. We know the difficulty of posting it online at that hour. I could tell you that if we had our way, we would post it earlier. But we have a deadline, we have to meet it. There’s a lot of work between now and 9 o’clock this evening, and we’re just going to keep at it. To Catherine’s question, that’s our focus today, is really to drive at that and meet that goal. Again, recognize it’s not the greatest time of day to do it, but it’s simply – we simply have no choice today.
QUESTION: But Admiral, on this perception that you are scrambling to this deadline at 9 o’clock and you’re still working, this presumably could have been done in the last few days.
MR KIRBY: We’ve been – there’s been nothing but nearly nonstop work on this, Lucas, since the last tranche was released. You have to understand the enormity of the task here. It is a lot of stuff to go through. And it’s not just the volume of material; it’s making sure that, again, to my answers to Catherine, that they’re released properly, that the right redactions are made, that we respect the Freedom of Information Act. And we’re going to do that. And we’d rather be right than be early. And so while we all recognize that turning in our homework at 9 o’clock the night before – (laughter) – is probably not ideal —
QUESTION: You’ve never done that though, right? (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’m sure nobody’s ever done that. We recognize it’s not ideal, but it’s just the reality that we’re working with today.
QUESTION: And Trey Gowdy on Capitol Hill has said he wanted Secretary Kerry to appear before his select committee to discuss these emails. Would the Secretary be made available for that?
MR KIRBY: I don’t believe that’s exactly what the congressman said. He said if it got to that point, he would make that request. And I’m not going to speak to a hypothetical request that hasn’t come in yet. What I will repeat and I think is important to say is Secretary Kerry has been very clear with all the leadership here at the State Department that we’re going to be as cooperative as possible with the select committee on their task. And he respects it and we’re working very diligently to try to produce documents that meet their needs. I also have said that the more the requests for information expand beyond the original mandate of Benghazi-related material, the harder that – not the harder, but the longer it’s going to take and the more resources it’s going to consume here. So we’re working very hard. Again, there’s two processes here. There’s trying to —
QUESTION: Right, right.
MR KIRBY: — meet the needs of the select committee, and trying to make public 55,000 pages of emails.
QUESTION: And would secretary – former Secretary Clinton’s former aid, Huma Abedin’s emails be available as well?
MR KIRBY: I don’t – I’m not going to get into content here for tonight. I think we’ll just have to wait until they get online and you can go through them and look for yourself. I’m going to scrupulously avoid speaking to the content while we’re still processing these and getting them ready to go online.
QUESTION: Can we change the subject?
MR KIRBY: Sure. Are we done on the email thing? Okay.
QUESTION: I want to talk about the Iran talks. I know you got a team there and so have we. But I just want to be clear. You said the extension was technical. But can you give us a sense how these talks are going? Does – Foreign Minister Zarif came back today. There was a sense that maybe he hadn’t come back with everything. Is there a feeling that you can make – perhaps make this deal happen by the 7th, or at least by the deadline of the 8th or the 9th before it goes into that 60-day extension under the Corker bill?
MR KIRBY: Well, that’s a lot – there’s a lot in there, Lesley. I won’t speak for Foreign Minister Zarif or his trip back home and what he came back with. As I said, he met with Secretary Kerry today upon his return. I’m told it was a productive meeting, but I don’t have more beyond that and I wouldn’t speculate.
I think this extension to the 7th is really to extend the relief period under the Joint Plan of Action. It is, as I said, a technical extension. It’s like going into extra innings here, okay, in the same game. And what I can also say, then, thirdly is that our focus remains on trying to reach a deal. And that’s where – and the work inside the negotiating room is them trying to resolve the differences that are still outstanding. Again, I won’t speak to the specifics of all those differences, but there does remain – there are differences on some issues, and again, they’re working through that.
Secretary Kerry’s also very pragmatic and clear-eyed about this, though, and as I think you heard the President say – certainly Secretary Kerry has said it before – that no deal is better than a bad deal. So it’s not about – the – I don’t – the extension is – it’s important because it provides a little extra breathing space, but nobody’s under any illusions or trying to race to that day as sort of “I got to have it by.” It’s – we could get a deal in two days, three days; we could get a deal on the 7th; or we could get no deal at all. That’s always a possibility too.
QUESTION: Would you say that there’s still huge gaps remaining, or do you think that those gaps have now been narrowed over the last week or so?
MR KIRBY: I’m going to steer away from adjectives. There are gaps remaining. There are still things that need to be worked out and fleshed out between the negotiating teams. They’re working on that now. But I’m going to refrain from describing them or characterizing them.
QUESTION: Do you have to say anything on the suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan? How do you see the security situation there?
MR KIRBY: Yeah. I mean, we’re certainly aware of the attack that occurred in Kabul, and I think our Embassy had a statement out there condemning it – obviously, the violence.
QUESTION: Do you know who was injured in the attack?
MR KIRBY: I don’t. There were no U.S. personnel injured in the attack. And no coalition forces were injured from the attack.
The other thing I’d say is, as we’ve seen this before, the Afghan National Security Forces responded ably to this, and quickly as well. And so that’s another sign, another indication that they continue to improve their capability to defend their own people.
QUESTION: They’re not large-scale attacks, but it seems as if the Taliban or those who are sympathetic with the Taliban are launching on a regular basis these kinds of attacks in the capital city. What does that say to you about the Afghan security forces’ overall control of the security situation in the country? And is that an area where U.S. forces are going to have to give them additional training, perhaps help them recruit more people in order to keep these attacks from happening?
MR KIRBY: Well, let’s take a step back. I mean, it’s summertime – not unusual or atypical for us to see more Taliban attacks not just in Kabul, but elsewhere in Afghanistan during the summertime. So this is not altogether atypical. I don’t have trend analysis here for you to tell you it’s more this month than it was this month last year. But I think we need to keep it in perspective. These attacks have not been ultimately successful. They’ve been executed – that’s for sure – but the effect has been minimal on the people of Kabul and the Government of Afghanistan.
And I think, back to my previous answer, looking at the response of the Afghan National Security Forces, the speed with which they got on scene and the efficiency with which they dealt with the attackers, I think, shows that the training and assistance that we’ve been giving them has been effective.
So, again, I would point you to the Defense Department to speak to specific military matters, but I don’t think anybody here thinks that today’s attack or the one last week against the parliament building would imply that we need to make some sort of major muscle movement in changing the way Afghan National Security Forces are being trained, advised, and assisted.
And the last point to your question, I think, it’s important to remind people that they are providing security for their country. It is – the mission is theirs now, and we are in an advisory and assist capacity only. But they are defending their territory. They are defending their citizens, and I might add that they’re doing it quite ably.
QUESTION: What was —
QUESTION: Are you worried – are you worried by the fact that there were a few – several Afghans, local Afghans who were shouting slogans against the Americans and targeting American soldiers who were present there? At least one American soldier were injured in the incident, too, at the incident site.
MR KIRBY: Today’s?
MR KIRBY: I’ve got no reports that suggest – in fact, quite the opposite – that there was any American casualties as a result of today’s attack.
MR KIRBY: I have – everything – all the reporting I’ve seen indicates there were no U.S. casualties either to State Department personnel there or American citizens writ large, and certainly no coalition forces were —
QUESTION: The New York Times is reporting about it.
MR KIRBY: What?
QUESTION: The New York Times is reporting about it.
MR KIRBY: I can just tell you what reporting I have here, which is that there were no American citizens, no coalition forces injured in the attack. Now if that changes over time, certainly we’ll correct it, but as of right now the indications I have are no Americans were injured or involved in this attack.
QUESTION: Do you think the U.S. has faith and trust in the current system in Afghanistan, because many civilians in Afghanistan are – they are saying that they are still waiting that maybe outside help will help them to keep secure Afghanistan? What I’m asking you is that – you think – what is the future of Afghanistan? Do you think again that outside forces or international security will be called in to establish the peace?
MR KIRBY: I think I addressed this when I was talking to Ros. I mean, Afghan National Security Forces have come an extraordinarily long way in the last several years in terms of their competence and capability, their battlefield prowess, their command and control, their ability to sustain themselves. Now, there’s still gaps, which is why we have an advise and assist mission there. But they’ve come a long way and they’ve responded well to this violence – violence which is not atypical for this time of year for the Taliban. Afghanistan is – and we tend to forget this sometimes – a sovereign country, and their security forces are acting on the orders of their government, President Ghani, and they have done well not just in Kabul but elsewhere throughout the country.
There’s still some international support there, but eventually what we all hope to do is get to a point where the defense and security relationship between us and Afghanistan is more normalized, just like we would have with any other country around the world. And that’s the track we’re on and by dint of what we’ve seen, the Afghan National Security Forces proved capable of doing in just the last couple of years, certainly the last several months, and I think we’re on track and we all feel very good about that.
QUESTION: Before used to be only Talibans and al-Qaidas but now they are facing even ISILs, so how long will the international community keep watching, because attacks after attacks still happening there?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, nobody said Afghanistan was going to be violence free, point one. Point two, yes, we know and we’re watching and we’re certainly concerned about ISIL aspirations inside Afghanistan as we see their aspirations elsewhere. That’s certainly a concern. President Ghani has made that clear. I know Secretary Kerry has spoken to that, and that’s something that we’re all focused on. But again, nobody said and nobody promised that there will be no violence in Afghanistan moving forward.
What’s critical is how the security forces are able, over time, to improve their ability to prevent such violence, and then when they can’t prevent it – which we all have to understand is going to be a reality – how they respond to it. And again, I think you don’t need to take it from me, you could just look at the record over the last year or so and you can see how well they are responding. And they’re getting better every day.
QUESTION: Can we stay in the Middle East?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Bahrain, the decision to go ahead and restore some military assistance. I saw the note. I note that the U.S. has a critical national security interest in maintaining this relationship with Bahrain, but there are numerous human rights activists, both here in the U.S. and abroad, who are saying this undercuts the U.S. ability to hold the Bahraini Government accountable for its human rights violations. How do you respond to that?
MR KIRBY: I’d say we believe it’s important to recognize that Bahrain has made some progress on human rights reforms and reconciliation since the crackdown in 2011. At the same time – and we’ve been very honest about this, Ros; you can look at our Human Rights Report that went out last week – we don’t think that the human rights situation in Bahrain is adequate, as the report makes clear. We’re continuing to press Bahrain on numerous serious issues, including the recent sentencing of Sheikh Ali Salman.
But again, that said, Bahrain has implemented a number of important reforms, including some key recommendations made by the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry. And they’ve recently released a number of prisoners, including many who were in prison for political activity, as well as the well-known secular political society leader Ibrahim Sharif. So we’re going to continue to press our concerns with Bahrain, but we’re also going to continue to press on a very important security relationship that matters in the region, and certainly not just the Gulf region but the Middle East writ large.
QUESTION: We saw recently that when the U.S. decided to restore some military assistance to Egypt, that there was a fundamental change in the way that the Egyptians could access military equipment from the U.S. – that basically, the U.S. is now going to decide what the Egyptians can get. And I may be oversimplifying, but there is that fundamental change in the way the Egyptians can get the equipment.
Is anything similar going to happen with the Bahrainis? Is the U.S. going to be much more scrupulous in saying, “Okay, only this kind of equipment can go to this particular part of the government, and you can’t access other types of equipment because of the potential for abuse”?
MR KIRBY: Well, I think – what I think we made clear in the announcement was that the security assistance to the ministry of defense would be normalized now but that restrictions on assistance to the ministry of interior would remain. So equipment which will help Bahrain deal with terror threats in the region to their ministry of defense will now be – that foreign military service program will be restored, but restrictions on the ministry of interior will remain.
QUESTION: And that’s – to make it plain, that’s because the ministry of interior deals with domestic political issues, domestic strife, domestic crime, and you’re trying to head off their ability to use U.S.-provided equipment against their own people.
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: Would that be fair?
MR KIRBY: It’s because we believe the ministry of interior still has a lot more work to do in that regard in terms of human rights issues. The ministry of interior will still be held under these restrictions.
QUESTION: John, how much – sticking with that one, how much is this worth, the arms sales? Can you give us a figure?
MR KIRBY: It’s difficult to say exactly right now because lifting the restrictions that were, what, four years old – it doesn’t mean that this material was sort of shrink-wrapped and put in a warehouse somewhere and now we’re just going to go ship it over there. The next step is to have a discussion with Bahraini leaders, determine what their needs are inside the ministry of defense – what their needs are specifically – and then we’ll deal with it from there. So I can’t give you an exact dollar figure on what this lift is going to be, because we have to get with them, they have to tell us what they want.
QUESTION: Okay. So it could be more or less than what is expected —
MR KIRBY: I don’t suspect it’s going to be more than what we were doing previously, which was about $10-15 million a year. I do not think it’ll be in excess of that, but again, we’ve got to sit down with their leaders now and determine, now that the restrictions have been lifted, what is it they need. And it’ll be – it’ll comport with the same kinds of material they were getting before: armored personnel vehicles, MRAPs, Humvees, TOW missiles, arms and ammunition, that kind of thing.
QUESTION: And then —
QUESTION: John —
QUESTION: — what specifically did you mean by specifically categorizing as “meaningful progress” on those reforms? I mean, is the release of prisoners – can you give us —
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: — exact examples that you see as meaningful that the Bahrainis have done?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think – let me just tick off a few here. And I didn’t memorize them, so if you’ll just bear with me, but some of the recommendations made by the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry which they have implemented now include establishing institutions to promote accountability, like an ombudsman’s office, a special investigative unit for the ministry of interior, the National Institution on Human Rights and the Commission on the Rights of Prisoners and Detainees; rebuilding most of the mosques that were destroyed during the 2011 crackdown – construction is completed on 13 of them, significant progress on 14, and there’s limited progress on 3 of them due to some zoning issues; training police and human rights standards both for all new cadets and continuous learning courses for exiting personnel; and reinstating the vast majority of workers who were dismissed from their jobs in 2011.
I do want to – so that’s some actual meaningful reform and change. But again, Lesley, we’re under no illusions here that there’s still work to be done. And as I said, it’s all documented in our Human Rights Report. I mean, we’re not – we’re taking a very clear-eyed approach to this.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. satisfied with the Bahrainis’ reaction to this decision?
MR KIRBY: I would refer you to the Bahrainis for their reaction. I think, again, this was something that was in discussion. And again, we believe this is the right decision for our relationship with Bahrain and for their importance as a partner in the region, but I would refer you to them.
QUESTION: So you’re saying that you did inform them that this is how it was going to be moving forward?
MR KIRBY: Of course. Of course, yes.
QUESTION: Change topics?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) ask quick on Bahrain. Sorry. Quickly, just to follow up on Ros’s issue.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: So you’re saying that while things are not perfect, they have made a lot of improvement, right? They have made certain strides toward human rights —
MR KIRBY: As I said at the outset, Said, they’ve made meaningful reform progress, but we’re under no illusion that there’s still more work to do.
QUESTION: Where was that progress made? What particular area?
MR KIRBY: I already answered the question. If you check the transcript, you’ll see I gave a list.
QUESTION: Thanks. Sorry for being —
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: If I could —
QUESTION: Excuse me. I’m sorry. I just want to ask one more on Bahrain.
MR KIRBY: Anyway, I promise we’ll go to you.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: But if there is still progress to be made and the things we’ve seen have been – I mean, establishing commissions is great but it’s not actual concrete progress, why now? Why make this decision now? And does it have anything to do with the fact that we are moving towards a deal with Iran that Bahrain isn’t probably very happy about?
MR KIRBY: I would like to disabuse you of the notion that this is somehow tied to the timing of talks with Iran over their nuclear weapons program.
MR KIRBY: No connection to that whatsoever. Why now? This is – this is a – I mean, this has been something, as I said to Ros, we’ve been talking about and thinking about for quite some time, and it’s a matter of sets of discussions we’ve had here internally in the United States Government and with our Bahraini counterparts. And again, we’ve seen enough progress to know that there’s a concerted effort by Bahrain and their leaders to make the changes that they need to make in – with respect to human rights. But as we’ve also said, under no illusion that there is more work to be done, that there’s more change that needs to be effected. So – and that’s why the ministry of interior will not – there will be no resumption of assistance for them at this time.
So I mean, this is part of a – every relationship that we have around the world there’s things you agree on, things you don’t agree on, things you want to work on, things that need to be improved, and this is part of a process. But the timing is tied to the progress they’ve made and the discussions we’ve had, the comfort level that we feel on restoring some of this assistance. And as I said at the outset, that there’s still some discomfort with restoring all of it.
Yes. And I promised this young lady. I’ve got to go to her. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. The topic is about the Futenma relocation plan. Yesterday Okinawa’s board of education announced that the stone which is found at the Henoko Bay Camp Schwab seaside is a cultural asset. That stone is – was used by the ship sinker during Ryukyu Kingdom and Nago City wanted to request investigations – the Henoko Bay, which the construction – U.S. and the Japanese Government constructing new air base place and by the culture property protection law. And that there is a possible – the possibility that the construction is behind schedule by the found cultural asset. How do United States Government think about that? I need a comment about that.
MR KIRBY: You’re going to have to give me some time to get you a comment on that one. I’m simply not up to speed as much on this – on the construction delays that you’re speaking about to speak with any authority, so I’m going to have to take that question and we’ll get you an answer back.
QUESTION: What controls are there on any possible transfer between the ministry of defense and the ministry of interior of equipment?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, these articles are being resumed for – the sales resumed for the ministry of defense and only for the ministry of defense. And that’s been made clear from the outset.
QUESTION: But presumably, the two ministries could exchange or route.
MR KIRBY: They are – the agreement to lift the restrictions is contingent on the fact that it’s only for the ministry of defense.
QUESTION: Do you have a readout of the meeting that the Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar had in the building yesterday including that with the deputy secretary?
MR KIRBY: Who?
QUESTION: India’s foreign secretary was here in this building yesterday and he had a couple of meetings. Do you have a readout?
MR KIRBY: I don’t, no.
QUESTION: Who he met and what are the issues they discussed?
MR KIRBY: I don’t. I’ll have to get back to you on that.
QUESTION: Turkey today moved 32 additional tanks and armored vehicles to Syrian border considered to be used in a safe zone inside of Syria. And yesterday it is said that Turkey didn’t inform United States about a secure zone inside of Syria. Didn’t Turkey still inform you about her intentions about the secure zone yet?
MR KIRBY: The question the way you’ve phrased it makes it sound like Turkey’s made this decision and they’re implementing it. So you need to talk to the people in Ankara about the decisions that they’re making and what they’re doing.
The issue writ large, the interest by Turkey and Turkish leaders in a buffer zone, if you will, which may or may not include a no-fly zone, is something that they’ve made very clear over many, many months now. And this is – but I would point you to them to speak to their desires or their plans. I’m not aware – we’re not aware of any plans that they might have for that specific – military plans for that. And I would let the U.S. military speak for the complications and the difficulties in any kind of U.S. support for that kind of plan. But again, you should refer – I’d refer you to Ankara.
QUESTION: I did ask about that because there was report today on (inaudible) saying that Secretary Kerry was informed by Turkish FM Cavusoglu about the secure zone. He even invited Turkish – American authorities to join those kind of establishment of a secure zone inside of Syria.
MR KIRBY: He was invited when?
QUESTION: Last week during the phone talk between —
MR KIRBY: They talked about a broad range of issues. Again, this is not – this interest by Turkey in a buffer zone is not new, and it’s something that comes up all the time in conversations. You should talk to Turkish leaders about what their plans are and if they intend to do that. The U.S. military – and again, I’m not speaking for the Pentagon, but they’ve made it clear that right now they don’t – there isn’t a need for it from a U.S. military or coalition perspective, and that there are difficulties in trying to execute that kind of thing.
QUESTION: John, I know this is a hypothetical, but if Turkey were to try to establish some sort of buffer zone or if Jordan were to try to do something similar because of all the instability inside Syria, would that require any sort of approval from the UN Security Council? Why, why not?
MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on UN Security Council procedure. These are – this issue of Jordan, whether they are going to do it or they’re not going to do it or Turkey’s going to do it, these are – those are national decisions that as far as I know haven’t been made yet by those governments. And if it were to be made – and I hate getting into hypotheticals —
MR KIRBY: — they would have to decide how they would both make the decision, defend the decision, and implement it. That’s a national decision that they would have to speak to. I don’t know there would be a role for the UN, but again, I’m not a procedural expert on UN policies.
QUESTION: Well, we’re talking about establishing some sort of buffer zone inside another country’s territory.
MR KIRBY: I understand.
QUESTION: Isn’t that —
MR KIRBY: No, I get the fact that we’re talking about a cross-border. But again, this is something – first of all, there’s been —
QUESTION: I mean, it is hypothetical, but it is worth asking, because I’m thinking of the experience that the U.S. had in Iraq in the 1990s. There were UN Security Council provisions —
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I don’t know what role the UN would play. Clearly, the coalition, should a country want to move forward on that, I’m sure that the coalition and coalition members would have a view. I can’t speak for what those views might be in light of decisions that haven’t been made yet.
MR KIRBY: I mean, it is very hypothetical at this point. As far as I’d go is what I’ve said before with respect to the buffer zone that Turkey has talked about in the past. That’s not new.
MR KIRBY: And the Defense Department has made it clear that they don’t believe there’s a need for that at this time, and that should coalition military assets – that the use of coalition military assets in trying to effect a zone like that would entail an awful lot in terms of logistics, time, resources, and effort.
QUESTION: What is the thinking inside this building? I know that the effort has been on trying to train moderate Syrian rebels to be capable of fighting ISIL, but have there been any discussions about whether, from a policy standpoint, having some sort of buffer zone between part of Syria and Turkey would be an advisable situation?
MR KIRBY: I’m – again, I – Ros, you’re really getting into hypotheticals here. It’s hard for us —
QUESTION: No, I’m asking just about – have there been discussions about a buffer zone? Yes, Turkey has been asking for this for the better part of the past year, but —
MR KIRBY: As I – no, as I said, I mean, this is something that we’ve – that has certainly been discussed over the last year or so, and – but there’s been no decisions made, and so I wouldn’t talk about private diplomatic conversations that we may or may not be having with Turkey over it. It’s something that they’ve made plain that they’re interested in. It’s something that the coalition has thus far not been interested in supporting. And again, the discussions continue, and I just – I don’t think I’d go beyond that right now.
I think it’s also important to note – and we’ve all been honest about this – that we understand the concerns that Turkey has about that border. And they are doing an awful lot to accommodate thousands and thousands and thousands of refugees. They also have – and they’re mindful of the challenge they have about a foreign fighter flow —
MR KIRBY: — across that border. So it’s not like – I mean, nobody’s turning a blind eye to the challenge that they’re facing, or that —
MR KIRBY: — or the concerns that they have. But again, I just don’t want to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made, and I certainly am not going to detail discussions that are ongoing.
QUESTION: And just to follow up on that, what is the difference, from your military expertise, between a buffer zone and a safe haven? Because also they talk about a safe haven for refugees. What would be the difference between a buffer zone and a safe haven?
MR KIRBY: I don’t think in —
QUESTION: In military terms.
MR KIRBY: In military terms, I’m not sure that there’s technical definitions for either one. I think it depends on the context in which you’re using it, Said. So I don’t know that there’s much – it depends on how you’re – what – how you define it and how you want that area defended and protected. But I don’t know that there’s – I’ve never seen a technical military definition difference between the two.
QUESTION: Are the Turks sort of frustrated with the level or the pace of the train and equip program that you are sort of directing with the – I guess the moderate Syrian rebel group?
MR KIRBY: Or you should ask the Turks.
QUESTION: New subject? Go to Yemen?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to the – ISIS’s claim of responsibility for the car bomb attack that killed 28 people in Sana’a?
MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the reports that they’ve claimed it but I can’t confirm it at this time.
QUESTION: Do you have any – what’s the level of concern about the seeming – the apparent increase in the level of activity by ISIS in Yemen in recent —
MR KIRBY: It’s the same – I mean, look, we’ve – I’ve said this before. We’ve remained concerned about the desire by ISIL to metastasize and to spread beyond Iraq and Syria, which is the principal front right now. So while I can’t attribute any veracity to the claims that they had anything to do with that or any other of the recent terrorist attacks outside of Iraq and Syria, certainly we know they have those ambitions and those aspirations, and that concerns us all deeply. And it’s why we take so seriously the threat and the challenge of foreign fighters, and self-radicalized individuals that can come or go with the – with various passports and visas.
QUESTION: There are some who say that U.S. tactics in the region – fighting against AQAP, for instance – have created a sort of vacuum or a space that has allowed ISIS to go in and set up more of a presence in the country. How do you respond to that?
MR KIRBY: I would refute the premise that – I mean, the pressure we’re putting on terror networks around the world has produced results. There has been progress against certainly al-Qaida and its senior leadership, but other elements as well. And I don’t – I think it’s not – this perceived growth of ISIL – and I use the word “perceived” deliberately – is – who knows exactly what’s behind it? But it’s just as much about branding and aspirations as it is anything else. That doesn’t mean we don’t take it seriously, doesn’t mean we’re not trying to adapt to the threat that they pose, but to suggest that the work – the counterterrorism work that we’re doing has created ungoverned spaces or space for these guys to grow – I just – I would challenge that.
QUESTION: But are you able to – assuming that there is a level of reality to the threat in Yemen, are you able to adapt to that without much of a presence there on the ground, given the conflict?
MR KIRBY: Our effort in Yemen I think – and this gets to – what really needs to happen in places like Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, and quite frankly Libya as well, is good governance, responsive governance. And I know that that’s a difficult thing to wrap your brain around, and it’s not something that’s tangible, but it is in effect what is the long-term solution here. Because these guys – we talk about their slick propaganda machine and the – there is an allure to a certain segment of particularly young men out there, but to paint these guys as 10 feet tall and ultra-popular around the world would be ridiculous. It’s ludicrous. They’re not invincible, they’re not 10 feet tall, and they’re going to fail.
But it’s going to take some time, and one of the ways you get at the threat – aside from kinetics, which we’re very good at, and they continue to lose fighters, they continue to lose equipment, they continue to lose ground – they’re able to sustain themselves and to recruit and survive, and we recognize that. One of the reasons they’re able to do that is because of this popular ideology. But they will eventually – over time they will be defeated, and it won’t just be through kinetic military action. It’ll be through good governance, and that’s what the political solutions in places like Yemen and Libya – that’s the real answer, and that’s harder to get at.
QUESTION: Yeah. I guess – I mean, I guess my question was really how much the U.S. can contribute to that without the kind of presence on the ground that you used to have that you don’t —
MR KIRBY: Contribute to good governance? Well, we’re —
QUESTION: Yeah, building a durable and political solution.
MR KIRBY: Well, the lack of presence on the ground affects you more from a military perspective than it does from a governance perspective. In Libya and in Yemen there’s UN-led processes here to try to come to political resolutions which we are very much in support of, and so I think that, we believe, is the right approach. It’s the right mechanism to try to do this. Now we also note that there’s been some challenges in these – in both sets of talks, but we fully support that as the way forward.
QUESTION: Change of subject.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead, Lesley.
QUESTION: Can I go?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: I want to turn to Greece. I know that the Treasury’s in charge of looking at the economic issues, but from this building you look over the geopolitical risks of what’s going on. Greece is on the edge of a default, which could have political, regional repercussions. What is this building doing or people in this building doing to encourage them to – to encourage the Europeans to either extend the talks – because Merkel said today there’s no more talk – or what are you doing within the International Monetary Fund, of which the U.S. is the largest shareholder, to try to also press from that side for more leniency with the Greeks?
MR KIRBY: Well, one, we’re carefully monitoring the situation. This is something that certainly Secretary Kerry has been watching closely. Secretary Lew, as you rightly pointed out – senior Treasury officials and the White House are in close touch with a broad array of our counterparts on this situation, to include officials from Greece, the European Union, and the IMF. I think you heard the President speak to this today, how he’s closely watching this process, and he cited Secretary Lew’s work as well.
From here at the State Department, we continue to believe that it’s important that all sides work together to get back to a path that’s going to allow Greece to resume reforms and to return to growth within the Eurozone. But again, we’re monitoring this very closely.
QUESTION: So it sounds like you don’t believe that Greece should leave the Eurozone.
MR KIRBY: Look, what we believe is that all sides need to work towards a path where, again, Greece can execute the – resume the reforms that it needs to do and to return to growth within the Eurozone.
QUESTION: Are there any concerns about the geopolitical issues like Greece’s ability to handle refugee flows from the Middle East to North Africa or bases that we have on Crete? I mean, if the country becomes less stable, is there any concern in this building about those issues?
MR KIRBY: I mean, I think our concerns about – whither Greece or across a broad range of issues – but again, this is – I want to keep going back to this is something for the Greek leaders to work out with our European partners and the IMF. And I don’t think I want to go beyond that.
QUESTION: One clarification. The 3,000 pages of emails that will be released tonight – are they all going to be related to the Benghazi attack? And then a second question is the new special envoy for Guantanamo closure: Do you happen to know when’s the last time he visited the facility, and also if there’s any conversations with senators like John McCain on this topic?
MR KIRBY: Okay. There’s a lot there.
MR KIRBY: Good to see you again, by the way.
QUESTION: You too.
MR KIRBY: Remember, there’s two processes going on here. The release of the emails tonight, as I said, roughly – roughly – correspond to about March to December of 2009. And they cover a wide swath of issues. I’ll let you look at them tonight and you can see that the content is not at all – it’s not driven by the Benghazi Select Committee’s work. That is a separate and distinct process that we are also trying to support and cooperate with. The emails that are being released tonight are in keeping with a court ruling that we do a rolling production of these 55,000 pages of traffic.
On Mr. Wolosky’s last trip to Gitmo, I don’t know. I’d have to get that – I mean, he just got – we just announced him today, so I mean, he may never have gone for all I know. I’m going to have to look and see if he’s ever made a trip down there. Again, today was the announcement.
And then your third one was —
QUESTION: Any conversations with Senator John McCain or others who’ve been really active on this issue, on Guantanamo?
MR KIRBY: Well, certainly we consulted members of Congress about Secretary Kerry’s decision to announce Mr. Wolosky for the job. I mean, that was done in concert with – as we always do – with members of Congress.
QUESTION: So I’m just going back to Iran for a second. Why are – is the U.S. Government not demanding that Iran release the American hostages being held by the regime?
MR KIRBY: Why are we not —
QUESTION: Demanding that Iran release the American hostages being held right now?
MR KIRBY: I think you – I mean, the President spoke to this pretty forcibly today. I mean, this is something we routinely bring up on the sidelines of discussions on other issues, like the nuclear deal.
QUESTION: Well, why the sidelines? Why not make it a redline and say we’re not going forward until you —
MR KIRBY: We’ve long said that we’re not going to link – they should be released because they should be released. And we’re not going to tie that to the nuclear deal.
QUESTION: Why not?
MR KIRBY: That’s long been Secretary Kerry’s and this government’s policy with respect – they need to be released because they need to be released. And – just on the face of it. And it’s something we routinely discuss with Iranian leaders. As the President said today, as Secretary Kerry has said before, our focus has never turned away from their plight, the way they’re being treated in their detention. But it is a separate and distinct issue, as are – as there are many others that we work with with Iran and disagreements we have with Iran separate and distinct from this nuclear deal. This nuclear deal – the discussion is about stemming their ability to ever achieve a nuclear weapons capability.
QUESTION: But what – are you sure prisoners is not – I thought there was a statement yesterday that Secretary Kerry raised the issue during the discussions yesterday.
MR KIRBY: It’s something, as I said, on the sidelines. Any time we engage with Iranian leaders, we make sure we raise this issue. But it is raised separate and distinct from and not connected to the negotiations over the nuclear deal.
QUESTION: But why is that? Why not link it?
MR KIRBY: They – because – as I said, Lucas – I mean, I don’t know if I can say – I’ll say it again, but it’s going to be the same – they should be released because they should be released. They should be home with their families. And certainly – and we’ve spoken to this, too, that the conditions under which they’re being detained —
QUESTION: So this wasn’t a decision by the supreme leader saying this is not negotiable?
MR KIRBY: No, this is our policy, that they need to be released by dint of the fact that they are not being detained with due process. They should be home with their families. And we’re going to continue to work to that end. But it is a separate and distinct discussion from the nuclear deal.
I got time for one more. Goyal.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Just my – a quick comment, sir. There’s a blame game going on between India and Pakistan as far as terrorism is concerned. My question is last week India brought some proofs that why Pakistan freed Lakhvi, who was involved in Mumbai attacks and all that where 166 people were killed, including six foreigners. And there was a question at the UN Security Council, but China vetoed, and China said there’s not enough proofs. But now there are demonstrations in the – among the human rights groups, and they are saying now China is also supporting terrorism when they vetoed at the UN, that not enough evidence that India provided as far as Lakhvi and others supported by Pakistan. Any comments on this – China’s involvement now that (inaudible) Pakistan on terrorism?
MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen all those reports, Goyal, but I think our position hasn’t changed, that we want tensions between India and Pakistan to be reduced. We want them to work together bilaterally to resolve some of these differences. I just haven’t seen the – I haven’t seen the comments that you’re referring to with respect to China and the UN, so —
QUESTION: And final comment: Just last week also foreign secretary of Pakistan was here, and he was speaking at Atlantic Council, and he said that he has proofs against India; India is supporting terrorism against Pakistan. So has he provided any proofs here at the State Department which he said he will be giving to the State Department?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any such delivery.
MR KIRBY: All right. Thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:00 p.m.)