Daily Press Briefing
2:35 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: And now the book. Now, the book. (Laughter.) All right, guys. I have several things that I want to start us off with and then, obviously, we’ll get right to it.
You may have seen, or at least I hope you saw, my statement this morning about the outrageous terrorist attack in the West Bank where a 13-year-old girl, Hallel Ariel, was stabbed to death in her home. We have now confirmed that she is a U.S. citizen. This brutal act of terrorism is simply unconscionable. We offer our heartfelt condolences, of course, to her family and to her friends. I’d also add that we’ve just now heard that at least two Israelis were wounded in another stabbing attack today in Netanya, and of course we extend our hopes for a quick and full recovery. Look, as we’ve said many times, there’s just absolutely no justification for terrorism. And out of respect for the privacy of the families – in particular, the family of Hallel – I’m just not going to have further comment on those attacks.
I want to give you an update on the Istanbul attack. The Secretary this morning spoke, called – placed a call to Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu to express his deep condolences following Tuesday’s terrorist attack on the Ataturk International Airport. He reiterated our steadfast commitment to our partnership with our NATO ally, Turkey, in the shared fight against terrorism.
On to Kabul. The United States condemns today’s horrific multipart attack on Afghan National Police and civilians in Kabul. The first attack targeted new police cadets. A second attack then targeted the brave people who rushed to help the victims of the first attack. This incident during the Holy Month of Ramadan underscores the extremists’ complete disregard for human life and the harm that they continue to inflict on the Afghan people. Attacks like these are going to only deepen our support for the people and the Government of Afghanistan and their efforts to bring security and stability to their country.
On to Cameroon. Also yesterday in Cameroon, Boko Haram carried out terrorist attacks that killed over a dozen civilians. Boko Haram continues to commit vicious attacks against civilians, including children. This organization repeatedly has shown no regard, of course, for human life. We extend our deepest condolences to the families of the latest victims of Boko Haram and we remain committed to supporting our African partners in their fight against Boko Haram as we continue to work with Cameroon and the other nations of the Lake Chad Basin region to bolster their efforts to end this wanton violence and to restore peace.
A travel note – and I think you may have seen our statement about this as well today – but the Secretary will travel to Tbilisi, Georgia on July 6th to meet with Georgian – the – excuse me, to meet with the Georgian prime minister for bilateral discussions on a range of issues, including U.S. support for Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations and successful elections in October. He’ll then co-chair a plenary meeting of the U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission and hold meetings with the Georgian president and other leaders of Georgia’s opposition parties.
He’ll then travel to Kyiv, Ukraine, on the 7th of July where he’ll meet with President Poroshenko, Prime Minister Groysman, and other Ukrainian leaders to discuss progress on reforms, and the implementation of the Minsk agreements, as well as other issues.
And then on the 8th of July, he’ll accompany President Obama to the summit meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Warsaw, Poland. He will meet with his counterparts from NATO ally and partner nations to further efforts to strengthen NATO’s security and to project stability to the alliances east and to the south.
Finally, I’d be remiss today if I didn’t also recognize that this is the last day for a member of our State Department bullpen, Voice of America journalist Pam Dockins. Pam, as you all know, is a terrific colleague and a consummate professional, not to mention an all-around really nice person, which is sometimes a little hard to come by in this business – no offense to anybody else in the room. (Laughter.) You’ve been with us for, what, two and a half years, and I’ve worked with you then at least a little bit more than a year that I’ve been here. And I just want to thank you for the professionalism that you bring to the job every day, for the tough questions that you are unafraid to ask, and to the account that you hold us to, but for your – but for your always professional demeanor. And you’re great to travel with. You’re not so easy to face here at the podium, but I respect that about you and we’re going to miss you. And I understand you’re going down to St. Augustine; is that right?
QUESTION: That’s right, yes.
MR KIRBY: I’ve been there many times as a Floridian. If you need restaurant recommendations or anything, just let me know. I think it would be fair if – you were going to applaud. I think we should applaud. Yeah, let’s applaud. (Applause.) Great. We’re going to miss you. I also think it would be fair if we give you the option for the first question today, if you’d like it.
QUESTION: I do have a question, but I think we want to go on to the news of the day and I’ll come back to it.
MR KIRBY: Okay. Look at that, she’s still the consummate professional, yielding the first question. So we’ll start with you, Deb.
QUESTION: Okay. So is there any truth to this report about how the U.S. has proposed on Monday, I guess it was, a new agreement that would enhance military cooperation between the U.S. and Russia in Syria? The report says that Kerry is very supportive of it. We just heard Ash Carter be less than – he was a little hesitant about endorsing it at the briefing over at the Pentagon. Is this new, just —
MR KIRBY: Look, here’s what I can say. I’ve seen the press report that you’re referring to, and here’s what I can say about it. We’ve been clear about Russia’s obligations to ensure regime compliance with the cessation of hostilities. We have also been clear about the danger posed by al-Qaida in Syria to our own national security. We’re looking at a number of measures to address both of those issues while also accelerating the fight against Daesh. We’re going to – I’m not going to speak to the details of ongoing internal or diplomatic conversations in that regard. But again, we have been nothing but clear and forthright about what we want to see happen inside Syria and what we want to see the Russians do with respect to the influence that we know that they have over Assad.
QUESTION: So with deliberations, though? I mean, it sounded as if there was something that was actually transmitted on Monday, some sort of agreement.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think I’m going to leave my answer where I did, Deb. We’ve been very clear. We have been in constant conversation with other members of the ISSG about how to make the cessation of hostilities enduring and nationwide, about how to better go after groups like al-Nusrah and Daesh. And we’ve also been very clear about the regime’s role in violating the cessation and the role that Russia can play in terms of getting better compliance out of the regime. But I’m just not going to talk about the details of those discussions – discussions, I might add, that, again, we’ve not been bashful about saying have been happening. But I’m just not going to go into details.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR KIRBY: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: So without specific – referring specifically to this proposal, the ideas talked about do generally meet the criteria you have mentioned about military cooperation, don’t they? I mean, you’ve said it would be good for – to cooperate more closely with Russia if we were – if they were attacking ISIS and al-Qaida, which is what the proposal says, and if they weren’t attacking rebels that we support, which is what the proposal says. So I mean, broadly speaking, they do meet those criteria you’ve talked about before —
MR KIRBY: We’ve made no bones about the fact that – and we’ve said it many times, that if the Russians with their military presence in Syria prove to be willing to focus those efforts against Daesh, well, that’s a conversation that we’d be willing to have. We’ve – I’ve said that many times. I’m not going to talk about the specifics that were laid out in this press report and I’m not going to detail internal or diplomatic conversations. But again, I go back to what I said earlier: We have been nothing but clear and candid, certainly publicly, about what our expectations are with respect to the cessation of hostilities and to Russia’s role here in terms of the influence that they have.
QUESTION: But Kirby, the – you’re suggesting that those discussions are taking place about – I mean, you’re actually confirming that in this report what – by saying that you’re not prepared to give details. But can you just at least say that those discussions are taking place? The Secretary and everyone else has been frustrated by the fact that none of these – the humanitarian aid has not been delivered and that the bombing of ISIS positions – or the bombing of the opposition has not taken place – or continues to take place. So there is a frustration – so is there a frustration that this is not happening and therefore should – something else needs to be looked at, including what this article says is an expanded bombing campaign?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to talk about the specifics of this press report. But are we frustrated by what’s going on on the ground in Syria? Absolutely. And the Secretary has been very vocal about that, that the status quo is not sustainable, it’s not acceptable. Too many Syrians continue to die at the hands of the Assad regime either through barrel bombing or through starvation and lack of proper food, water, and medicine. So the situation obviously has to change, and the Secretary has been extraordinarily committed to trying to bring about that sort of change in Syria.
There are three legs to that: the political track – that’s the discussions between the regime and the opposition which UN Special Envoy de Mistura is leading; the cessation of hostilities; and access to humanitarian assistance. All three of those things are important, and no real progress on any one of them can really be had without progress on all of them. And we have – he has been tireless in his efforts to try to move each of those legs forward and to get better outcomes than what we’re seeing right now.
Yes, there’s been some access to besieged areas largely on the ground, but it’s still not enough. Yes, there have been pockets in Syria for short periods of time and in a localized area that have seen a reduction in violence, but it’s not enough, and it’s not over the course of the entire country and it’s not enduring and it’s not being uniformly enforced. And yes, there’s been discussions between the opposition and the regime, but you well know, Lesley, that those talks after three rounds still have not gotten us any closer to getting this transitional government process in place.
Now, I know I’m kind of rambling here, but I’m trying to make a point that we continue to work diligently inside the International Syria Support Group and with the UN to try to move the processes forward in Syria to achieve better outcomes. There are, throughout that process – there has been and there will continue to be lots of discussions, lots of conversations, lots of proposals. And there have been proposals offered by multiple parties inside this process and they are all given due consideration. I’m not – I haven’t yet and I’m certainly not going to start laying those out publicly, and I’m not – by saying that there’s ongoing conversations, by saying that we’re obviously interested in discussing ways to get at better outcomes in Syria with Russia or with anybody else in the ISSG, I’m not confirming this particular press report.
QUESTION: When last did – when last did the Secretary speak to Lavrov?
MR KIRBY: Let me look and see if I have that. I do not have a recent call in the last week or so with him going back to the 23rd of June. I have no recent calls.
QUESTION: Could I follow up on de Mistura?
QUESTION: John, I know that you don’t want to talk about the report.
MR KIRBY: Let me go to Said and then —
MR KIRBY: Is this the same topic?
QUESTION: Same topic, yeah.
QUESTION: Yes, yes, same – same topic.
MR KIRBY: Both of you, okay.
QUESTION: First, let me add my voice to what you said about Pam. We’re going to miss you, so – she’s a tremendous colleague.
I wanted to ask you, on the Special Representative de Mistura, can you share with us any meetings that he may have had today in this building?
MR KIRBY: I know he’s in town for discussions. I don’t have a readout of his agenda.
MR KIRBY: So we’ll see if we can dig that up for you. I don’t have a specific agenda for him.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, he held a press conference yesterday at the United Nations right after the closed meeting and he said that – conceivably that a meeting by the 1st of August is doable provided that it really comes in with the intent of being serious and not just holding talk just to hold talk.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: And he – when I – he was followed up on “Who do you expect?” He said, “Well, basically, the Russian and the United States.” So what is – what is it that you need to bring in to these talks to make them happen? Because otherwise, I think he painted a very bleak picture. He said this is the last round for President Obama, possibly for the secretary-general and so on, suggesting that maybe in the autumn there’s not going to be any talks in the future after the next General Assembly. So what are you prepared to offer, who are you prepared to pressure, how can you deliver the opposition to bring in something substantive?
MR KIRBY: Well, Said, I think I kind of got at that in my last answer to Lesley. I mean, we understand and we know all too well that the first three rounds of talks were troubled and were set back by the fact – well, by many things, but without question that the cessation of hostilities was not being adhered to, wasn’t being enforced, that many opposition groups and civilian targets were being hit. And it’s difficult to carry on a political discussion about a transitional governing process with the regime when that’s happening, and we understand that. There was also much less access to humanitarian assistance back then. All of that made – did not exactly set the climate properly for having meaningful talks about the political track.
So again, back to my answer to Lesley – that mindful of that, the Secretary continues to try to find ways – and I’ve said this many times before – to get the cessation of hostilities, which is still fragile, to be less fragile, to be enforced across the country by everybody, and for us to make sure that those parties not – those parties not adherent to the cessation, al-Nusrah and Daesh specifically, continue to remain under the appropriate amount of pressure. And that is not – I mean, not uniformly happening on the – certainly on the regime and the Russian side. So there’s a lot that we think needs to continue to be done to try to set the proper conditions for the resumption of meaningful political talks.
Now, I wouldn’t begin to try to speculate for you when the next round can start, and I’m not prepared to say that the next round’s the last round. I can assure you that that’s not the Secretary’s hope or expectation. He wants to see us get moving as quickly as possible, because every single day more and more Syrians are dying, more and more Syrians are being put at risk. Their lives and their livelihoods are being lost. And that is the sense of urgency driving the Secretary forward, and I can tell you that he is fixated on it and he was – he – and he will stay so.
So again, I’d – mindful of the challenges certainly and mindful of the steep hill that we know the UN special envoy has to climb, and I can assure you that we have every intention of climbing that with him every step of the way.
QUESTION: John, I know that you —
QUESTION: Related to this topic —
QUESTION: I know that you don’t want to talk specifically about the story, but going back to Secretary Carter’s answer a couple of hours ago, the report notes that he was opposed to it because an other – because, among other things, it would, in essence, let Russia off the hook for what it has done in Ukraine – the annexation of Crimea, the ongoing interference in the stability of the eastern part of Ukraine, and that that is really at the heart of his opposition to it. Is the U.S., in the interest of trying to restore stability, trying to bring back Syrians to their country, willing to make a purely transactional agreement with Moscow, even if it does mean that it’s getting a little more integrated into the world’s security posture?
MR KIRBY: I’m not sure what you mean by “transactional,” but let me just frame it this way. Nothing’s changed about our views on Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which we still consider illegitimate. Nothing’s changed about our views of their activities in Ukraine and the violation of Ukrainian territorial integrity, or our belief that the sanctions against Russia need to stay in place until Minsk is fully implemented.
So we’re still – nothing has changed about that. And the Secretary continues to discuss with Foreign Minister Lavrov – and Assistant Secretary Nuland continues to discuss with counterparts in Russia and in Ukraine – how we can move forward on getting Minsk full implemented. And I can tell you that we remain committed to that.
In Syria, we have been, again, nothing but candid and forthright about our concerns about the situation on the ground and that Moscow is either not using their influence appropriately on the Assad regime, or the Assad regime is proving resistant to that influence. In any event, the situation on the ground is not sustainable, and we continue to want to see Russia use its influence – the influence that we know they can have, because they – because it has borne out in the past —
MR KIRBY: — to continue to use that influence in a manner in which can reduce the violence and allow for more humanitarian access to millions of Syrians that are still in need. This isn’t about transactions, Ros; it’s about outcomes. And it’s about continuing to work inside the framework of the International Syria Support Group, of which Russia is a founding member —
MR KIRBY: — to get to those outcomes. Now, again, I’m not going to speak to this particular press report and I’m not going to speak to the details of conversations we are or are not having with Russia or any other member of the ISSG, except to say, as I said at the outset, that these are discussions we have had in the past, trying to get better outcomes. And you can darn well expect that Secretary Kerry will continue to have those discussions to move the process forward.
QUESTION: Is it – but is it fair to say – this is my last one, Barbara. Is it fair to say, at this point, that the U.S.’s goals are fundamental but essentially modest – expand the ceasefire nationwide and get food and medicine in – and anything that comes beyond that is gravy?
MR KIRBY: No. No, I wouldn’t associate myself with that characterization one bit. It – our goals in Syria are not modest, and they’re not just our goals. If you look at the communiques coming out of Vienna and Geneva, if you look at the UN Security Council resolution, it is clearly a representative statement of the international community. I mean, the International Syria Support Group is – what – 20-plus members. Again, Russia is a member; Iran is a member – sorry, I said “measure” – member. So those statements are clear and they are concise about what the overarching goals in Syria are, and they are not modest goals – unified, whole, pluralistic Syria that has in place a government that can be responsible for and responsive to the desperate needs of the Syrian people.
And we talked a little bit – you asked a question of Ms. Coppedge about the refugee situation. And one of the best ways, we believe, to deal with the outflow of Syrian refugees is to make sure that they have a home they can go back to, that they can live in peaceably. So those are not modest goals. Those are serious, long-term, strategic goals, and the Secretary is committed to that.
Now, one of the ways – well, several of the ways you can get to that goal are by getting the violence down, so that means a cessation of hostilities —
MR KIRBY: — which can then open the door to better, more productive political discussions, which have not been able to have – to be successful, in part because innocent people were being killed and the opposition was being bombed. And I don't want to be remiss in mentioning the humanitarian problem. I mean, I know I keep hitting on it, but it is serious. And while there has been more ground access, it’s still not enough; it’s still not sustainable. The regime still plays games with it, and that’s unconscionable.
So those are important goals, but they are not – that’s not the end game, Ros. I mean, the end game – it’s clear. We’ve espoused the communiques and we’ve espoused, obviously, the UN Security Council resolution, which calls for a unified, whole, pluralistic, peaceful Syria. And that is a very strategic goal.
QUESTION: Just another quick question on this. Would there be any – or is there a concern in the calculations that a concerted, increased military campaign focused on Jabhat al-Nusrah, even though it’s not part of the ceasefire, could strengthen Assad? Or is that not – does that not matter?
MR KIRBY: If a military campaign —
QUESTION: You would have a concerted military campaign focused on Jabhat al-Nusrah, whether that would be – whether that would strengthen Assad, because Jabhat al-Nusrah is one of the groups that’s most successful against Assad. Or is that not a factor here when you discuss these things? Doesn’t it matter?
MR KIRBY: Rather than engage in a hypothetical, what’s a factor here is the cessation of hostilities, which calls for stopping the violence against anybody party to it, and the people not party to it are UN-designated foreign terrorist organizations. And right now inside Syria that means al-Nusrah and that means Daesh. And as I said at the outset, we want to see continued, concerted pressure being put on them. And obviously that’s largely through a military level of effort, when we’re talking about Syria.
QUESTION: So it’s the same? They’re the same, in terms of the kind of military pressure you put on them?
MR KIRBY: Who?
QUESTION: The two groups.
MR KIRBY: They are not party to the cessation, and should therefore remain vulnerable to military pressure. So I think that’s how I’d leave it.
QUESTION: Yes. But the United States has a campaign against ISIS. It doesn’t have a campaign against Jabhat al-Nusrah.
MR KIRBY: Against al-Nusrah?
MR KIRBY: Well, look, I’m not going to get into military issues here, but, I mean, I think I’ve indicated in the past that we have in the past put pressure on al-Nusrah – the United States, not the coalition. And I’m not going to prognosticate about future operations, but that’s – but they are not party to the cessation, and therefore should consider themselves vulnerable to continued military pressure.
And as I said again earlier, as we’ve always said, if the Russians want to contribute to the effort in Syria by putting pressure on al-Nusrah and only al-Nusrah and Daesh and only Daesh, then that’s – we would deem that helpful. And that’s a conversation that we’re willing to have. Thus far, it has not been so clear that they’ve been willing to do that.
QUESTION: Related question. Turkey and Russia have just had this very public reconciliation after some months of dispute, and they’re on opposite sides of the Syrian civil war. Is there a concern that this reconciliation will occur more on Russia’s terms than on Turkey’s terms, and Turkey supports the Syrian opposition, Russia supports Assad, that this reconciliation might strengthen Assad, weaken the opposition, to the extent that Turkey is conciliatory towards the Russians, and perhaps with the exception of the Kurds, I guess, who could benefit from Russian support?
MR KIRBY: I would let leaders in both countries speak to their relations and prognosticate about whatever improving relations there are, whatever that would mean for the campaign against Daesh. What I would say though is Turkey’s a NATO alley; Turkey obviously has a long border with Syria. They are working to deal with certain stretches of that border. They have been cooperative with the coalition in terms of support to coalition operations against Daesh. And we look for that cooperation to continue and we want to continue to find ways to deepen it and to improve it.
With Russia, Russia is not part of the coalition against Daesh. But as I said and continue to stress, that to the degree to which they are willing to focus their energy and their efforts against Daesh in Syria, that is a – that would be a welcome contribution, and we would be willing to continue to have conversations with them about how they can be effective in that regard. But again, there’s a lot of – there’s still a lot of work to be done, there’s still a lot of conversations to be had. I won’t and wouldn’t speculate about the relations between Turkey and Russia and what that might mean. That they have been able to have that conversation, that they have been able to begin a healthy discussion, we certainly welcome that. We stand nothing to gain from there being animosity between them, whether it’s over what’s happening in Syria or elsewhere. To the degree that the international community can stay or be united against Daesh – again, that is all to the good. This is a group that enjoys no support from nation-states. And so to the degree to which nation-states can continue to put pressure on them, to degrade and defeat their capabilities – again, all that’s to the good.
QUESTION: Kirby, the White House just confirmed that de Mistura is in town in D.C. today. Who is he meeting from the State Department? Is he meeting —
MR KIRBY: I just got that question.
QUESTION: Did you?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Oh my goodness. Where was I? (Laughter.) Forgive me.
MR KIRBY: Do you have another one? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I have —
QUESTION: I can’t believe I’ve missed that one. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: I’m just so riveting up here. It’s just my eloquence; I’m sure that’s what it is. (Laughter.) Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: Let me ask you a related question – I mean, in light of the horrible attack in Istanbul.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is that in any way an indication that this whole war on terror is maybe misguided, that perhaps attacking territory or driving Daesh and its —
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: — different whatever —
MR KIRBY: No. No, and I think —
QUESTION: Because obviously they are able to strike and move about and so on —
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: — and maybe it ought to be, like, law enforcement, or like INTERPOL and – or – that kind of cooperation and so on among nations rather than a war.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, and that’s happening, actually. That’s happening, Said. I mean, the short answer to your question is no. And we believe that their increasing reliance on spectacular, more classic terrorist attacks is in many ways a representation of the pressure that they’re under in Iraq and Syria. Now, Brett McGurk was talking about this just a couple days ago. They’ve lost nearly half of their territory in Iraq, about 20 percent of it in Syria —
QUESTION: But that’s the —
MR KIRBY: Wait a minute.
QUESTION: That’s exactly the point. They lose territory, but they are able to strike elsewhere and more horribly.
MR KIRBY: Yes, and we talked about this months ago, that we – that that wasn’t a surprise to us, that as they got under more pressure – they’ve lost – they have lost much of their composure as a quasi-military group. When this first started, they were storming across the border in track vehicles and convoys and armed pickup trucks and moving almost like in military formation. They don’t do that anymore. And you just saw what happened, what, a day or so ago when they tried to leave Fallujah in a massive convoy of trucks and they got hit pretty hard. They – so as they get under more pressure inside Iraq and Syria, how did – what happened? They changed the way they communicate, they changed the way they operate. They started hiding inside the population, right, and they started resulting more in extortion and terror operations inside Iraq and Syria. And then as the pressure ratcheted up even more, what happened? They started to reach out – outside of Iraq and Syria, where they can’t operate so freely, to conduct these kinds of spectacular attacks.
Now look, I’m not at all suggesting that they’re completely down and out. They are under enormous pressure in Iraq and Syria. But they are still capable of conducting these attacks, and we take that seriously. And so they have adapted to the pressure we put them under. We are also adapting to their adaptation, if you don’t mind the lengthy explanation there. So we are adapting, too. INTERPOL is involved. We have now more information and intelligence sharing arrangements with allies and partners in the region and in Europe than we did before – and more cooperation, I might add. And more than 30-some-odd nations have adopted administrative and legal procedures to try to get at the foreign fighter threat.
So the international community is adapting to this, and this idea, this notion out there that we’re just helpless and standing by while they continue to try to strike Western targets is simply not borne out by the facts. Now, does that mean that there’s never going to be another attack? And I can’t – again, back to Ataturk Airport, as far as I know, there’s been no official claim of responsibility. And while it bears all the hallmarks of Daesh, I’m not in a position to confirm that it was, so let me just state that up front.
But obviously, we’re mindful that the danger of terrorist attacks against Western and/or soft targets remains. That’s why we’re continuing to adapt our approach as well. That’s why the interagency here in the United States is working so hard to try to prevent these attacks. But if somebody’s committed to blowing themselves up, it’s going to continue to be hard to combat that as they change the manner in which they try to prove able to do that. They only have to be right once; we have to be right every single day, 24 hours a day. And I can assure you that, at least from the United States Government perspective, we’re committed to trying to make sure we’re as ready as possible.
MR KIRBY: Goyal.
QUESTION: Trafficking report.
MR KIRBY: Okay. I know you didn’t get to ask a question. I may have to take it, but go ahead and ask.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Question is: This is a big problem as far as South Asia is concerned, including India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, Sri Lanka. Many of these sheikhs from the Middle East, they come there, buy little girls – small girls – and lure them also for money and all that, and poor parents might – sometimes they sell them and sometimes they are just trafficking. How big is the problem as far as South Asia is concerned – as I mentioned, these countries – and what U.S. is doing? This has been going for many, many years as far as Middle East is concerned, and those big, rich sheikhs, they go to India, these – and South Asia.
MR KIRBY: Look, obviously we’re mindful of trafficking issues in South Asia and around the world. I would point you to the report that we just released today, which I think will better answer your question than I can from up here when it lays out our concerns in the region. And, as you heard Ms. Coppedge make clear, we obviously have tools at our disposal to deal with it, and the Trafficking in Persons Report is actually one of those key tools because it is a report card on various countries and their conduct and performance – improvement or lack thereof – with respect to trafficking in persons.
QUESTION: And another question, if I may? Just another —
MR KIRBY: I’ll come back to you in a second. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: As far as this MTCR is concerned, this time which India became the member, and of course the – of course U.S. did help or support it. But this time, for this membership, China was not very much against it or didn’t say much. But what’s happening as far as NSG is concerned?
MR KIRBY: What – in what – say that last part again? What’s happening with —
QUESTION: Membership in the NSG.
MR KIRBY: NSG.
MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll just say again, India has a strong record and we believe deserves to be included in the NSG. That’s why the Administration, including senior White House and State Department officials, made a concerted effort – and I do mean concerted effort – to secure India’s membership in the recent NSG plenary that was held in Seoul, and we talked about this. We’re obviously disappointed that India was not admitted during this recent session, but I can tell you that we’re going to continue to work constructively with India and all the other NSG members on India’s accession in the months ahead. We’re not going to let that go. Okay?
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
QUESTION: There’s a bipartisan push in the Senate to stop selling arms to Bahrain because the senators believe doing so violates U.S. law. The State Department has criticized Bahrain for human rights violations. With this being the case, how is continuing arms supplies not a violation of U.S. law, or do you think it is at this point?
MR KIRBY: Are you basing that on the fact that we got a letter from Congress, that question?
QUESTION: Did you get a letter from – well, how is that —
MR KIRBY: What I’ve said – we’ve seen reports of the letter, but we’ve not yet received it. I didn’t know if – I didn’t understand if that’s what you were referring to. We’ve seen reports; we have not yet received it.
QUESTION: But the arms supplies continue, and why do – why does the State —
MR KIRBY: We continue to urge the Government of Bahrain to reverse their recent harmful actions. These, as you know, include the suspension of the opposition political society al-Wefaq, the extension of the prison sentence against Wefaq secretary general Sheikh Ali Salman, the detention of activist Nabeel Rajab, and the revocation of citizenship of Sheikh Isa Qassim. As Secretary Kerry underscored to the Bahraini foreign minister, recent government actions against civil society will only lead to greater instability, with potentially grave consequences for not only Bahrain but also the broader region.
To your question, as you also well know, we had put restrictions on foreign military sales to Bahraini security forces recently. About a year ago, we lifted some but not all. And as I said about a week or so ago, we – we’ve proven in the past we’re not afraid to put those kinds of limits in place if we feel like we need to, and we will continue to review our options going forward.
QUESTION: But it is up to the State Department to determine Bahrain is a systematic violator of human rights. What does Bahrain have – what else does Bahrain have to do for the State Department to make that determination and stop arms supplies?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – I won’t speculate about specific determinations one way or the other. I think I’ve been very clear about what we expect of Bahrain’s leaders. And I think we’ve been very clear about our concerns about very specific recent actions that they’ve taken, and we’ve been very clear about urging Bahrain to reverse those exact actions, every one that I just mentioned. So you ask me: What do they need to do? They can start by reversing those actions, which we have said to them in numerous ways. And again, I’m not going to speculate one way or the other about where things go. What we want to see happen right now is for them to reverse those actions.
QUESTION: But why does the U.S. continue arms sales despite the concerns that you have voiced?
MR KIRBY: We lifted – we had stopped them altogether, as you know. We lifted – a partial element of them to help Bahrain deal with real, tangible counterterrorism threats that they face. But we didn’t take all of it away, and there were still some in place over some of the interior ministry police forces, because we believe that there still – there was more work that needed to be done. And we still believe there’s more work to – needed done. And that restriction is still in place, and I won’t speculate going forward about what decisions we might or might not make. What we’re focused on right now are the decisions that Bahrain has made recently and seeing those decisions reversed. Okay?
QUESTION: But are you at all concerned that Bahraini authorities may use some of the U.S.-provided weapons to crack down on the opposition?
MR KIRBY: We always have concerns about the end use of items that are inside the Foreign Military Sales program and there are often – and I won’t – I can’t cite chapter and verse in this case, but there are limits placed upon that, end-use limits that are placed upon articles that – in the Foreign Military Sales program. And again, what was lifted was certain items – and I can get you the list of specific items that were lifted, but certain items that were geared towards counterterrorism efforts and counterterrorism capabilities that Bahrain continued to need. But yes, there’s limits, of course, on that.
QUESTION: But just to be clear, at present you do not think that continuing —
MR KIRBY: I’m not going —
QUESTION: — arms supplies to Bahrain violates U.S. law at this point?
MR KIRBY: I have answered your question, and we’re going to continue to review Bahrain’s actions going forward. And I’m not going to speculate one way or another about decisions that haven’t been made yet.
MR KIRBY: A comment about what? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Japanese prosecutor charged U.S. military worker with the rape and murder of 20-years-old woman in Okinawas.
MR KIRBY: Oh, okay. So he’s been charged.
QUESTION: Yesterday. Yes.
MR KIRBY: I don’t, actually. I wouldn’t from this podium weigh into the specifics of a legal case. Again, we were all outraged by this crime. You called him in your question a U.S. military worker. I think it’s important to make sure that it’s clear that this individual was not a member of the United States military but a civilian contractor. And that’s an important – I’m not minimizing the crime at all. We’re all outraged by it. But I just wanted to correct that one bit in your question.
And I know that Ambassador Kennedy remains in close touch with Japanese authorities and with U.S. military authorities as this investigation proceeds. But I wouldn’t want to say anything from the podium to insert ourselves into this legal case one way or the other.
MR KIRBY: Armenia. Was that going to be your first question, Armenia? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: There are regional reports that the Secretary spoke to Armenia’s president today. First off, can you confirm? And then secondly, if so, was the context largely on looking at progress for Nagorno-Karabakh?
MR KIRBY: He did speak with both the president of Armenia and Azerbaijan. I don’t have a detailed readout for you. We’ll see if we can get something a little bit later today that – but the conversation did happen – those conversations – it wasn’t one call, it was two – did happen. And, of course, they talked about Nagorno-Karabakh and where things are going and our desires to see a peaceful resolution there. But I just don’t have a more detailed readout for you, okay?
QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on a court filing today by the State Department where they said they would need an additional 27 months in order to complete a FOIA request. Is that the kind of timeline with FOIA requests that we should be expecting, and would an increase in resources be required to meet this mounting – the mounting FOIA requests? Is there an outstanding request to Congress?
MR KIRBY: So a couple of thoughts there. I think you know I can’t comment on the specifics of matters that are in ongoing litigation. I’d refer you to the court filings in this case for all the details because we just can’t – we just can’t speak to it with great specificity.
But generally speaking, and I think you’ve heard me talk about this before, but there has been a dramatic, significant surge in FOIA requests to the State Department in recent years which we are working very, very hard to clear and to respond to. Just since 2008 the volume of FOIA requests here at the State Department has tripled. In Fiscal Year 2015 alone we received 22,000 FOIA requests, and that’s just in one fiscal year.
So the other thing I’d say is that these requests are also frequently more complex and increasingly seeking larger volumes of documents, requiring more time, more resources, and frankly more interagency coordination. So again, without speaking to the details here, I’d just tell you that you have to – in considering the response time to any single FOIA request, you have to factor in the cumulative effect it has on an office that is already working at full tilt to try to deal with a very large volume of increasingly more complex and cumbersome FOIA requests.
But I’ll say this: The Secretary takes our FOIA obligations very, very seriously. It’s why he hired Janice Jacobs to come in as a transparency coordinator. She’s working hand in glove with the people in the FOIA office to try to improve processes, to try to help clear the backlog. It is a difficult job when you’re – as you bale water out of the boat, water keeps coming in. So they’re working at this very, very hard.
The other thing I would say is that we haven’t been bashful in the past about plussing up the resources of the office. I’m not predicting one way or another that we would do that going forward, but we certainly reserve all the rights and responsibilities to do that if we need to. If we need to look at manning and resources again, we’ll do that. The Secretary’s been clear about that. And if, in turn, that would lead to a request or a requirement for additional fiscal resources, the Secretary is not afraid to do that either. I’m not predicting that’s going to happen. I’m not going to get ahead of budget requests that haven’t been made, but I can tell you this Secretary is very focused on trying to deal with these FOIA responsibilities as efficiently and as effectively as we can as an institution.
QUESTION: Wait, wait, can I go back to – I apologize for being late. I just got off a plane. I have a couple. but I’ll just let other people go, but I just wanted to follow up.
QUESTION: A follow-up to that one?
QUESTION: A follow-up on Abby’s, yeah.
MR KIRBY: You have a follow-up on FOIA?
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, your maritime analogy, you baling. Does that mean the State Department is sinking?
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: So you are going to – you’re not going to – the ship – the FOIA ship is not going to go down because you’re not able to bale fast enough, is it?
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: You intend to fulfill all of these —
MR KIRBY: No, Matt. I wouldn’t read too much into my analogy. I was simply trying to articulate it.
QUESTION: Well, you said that you’re baling water out of it. That would imply the boat is sinking.
MR KIRBY: I was trying to articulate it in simple enough terms for you to understand. And maybe I made it – maybe I made it – (laughter) – no, I admit maybe I made it too simple and I apologize for that.
No, of course not. Look, we take it seriously and we’re going to continue to work at this.
QUESTION: Is the massive increase you describe in FOIA requests simply because more U.S. citizens are discovering and availing themselves of legitimate means of inquiry? Or are you receiving harassment from political opponents or just nuisance makers who want to overload you?
MR KIRBY: We don’t consider the Freedom of Information Act a tool by people harassing us or political opponents. It’s legitimate and we take it seriously. I can’t – I couldn’t begin to try to articulate why the increase or what’s the motivation behind that. You’d have to ask each requestor. We don’t really bother ourselves with trying to figure out the motivation. A legitimate —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on two or three themes, or was it across the board?
MR KIRBY: The – I mean, 22,000 in the last year alone, I’m —
QUESTION: Right. But if 11,000 were the former secretary’s —
MR KIRBY: Well, we don’t – we don’t talk about the specifics of FOIA requests, so I’m not going to get into chapter and verse in terms of what they’re about. But 22,000’s a lot, and there’s a lot – obviously, various issues that we get FOIA requests for. But it’s the law. We believe – we believe not only in – obviously we have to obey the law, but we believe in the soundness of it and that it’s healthy for the American people, whether it’s private citizens or journalists alike, to use the Freedom of Information Act to procure information from the federal government. And the Secretary is committed to our responsibilities under that.
Now, why people do it or why the increase? Again, we don’t bother ourselves with trying to do the forensics on that. We’re – we wouldn’t anyway, even if there wasn’t a significant increase and surge here; but in particular, because there is, there’s more than enough work to go around just trying to get these things out the door. That’s where our focus is on.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) they’re asking about. Can you – are you – can you give us, can you tell us, 22,000 requests last year, what years those requests cover – like, say, how many, what percentage of them cover the years 2009 to, say, 2013?
MR KIRBY: No, I can’t. And I don’t – and we wouldn’t – we wouldn’t characterize them.
Yes, Janne, way in the back there.
QUESTION: I waited so long.
MR KIRBY: Yes, I know. I know.
MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t, as you know, get into intelligence matters one way or the other or try to prognosticate.
QUESTION: When did the North —
MR KIRBY: Hmm?
QUESTION: I have another question for that. The U.S. Congress appoint – reappointed North Korea as a terrorist country. Do you have anything?
MR KIRBY: Look, we’ve – we share Congress’s concerns about the provocative activities of the North and about the destabilizing actions that they continue to take that are doing nothing to contribute to stability and security on the peninsula. And that’s why we so resoundingly supported the new UN Security Council resolution that enacted the toughest sanctions in, what, two decades with a much tougher enforcement mechanism attached to it. I mean, we’re very focused on the danger that the DPRK still poses.
QUESTION: Do you think provocative is terrorist act?
MR KIRBY: Look, they have – they have – they’re a provocative nation on multiple fronts.
Yeah, in the back there.
QUESTION: But can —
MR KIRBY: I already got you. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Sir, Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV. Sir, there’s a hot debate in Pakistan right now about the allocation of funds – like $3 million – to a madrassa called Darul Uloom Haqqania by the KPK government. Sir, many of the political parties in Pakistan and even the former President Asif Ali Zardari lashes out on the provincial government for allocation of these funds at this madrassa, also called factories – a factory for jihadis. So I sent this question to your press team, but I was surprised they choose not to comment on that. So what’s the reason, sir?
MR KIRBY: Just because you sent a question to the press team doesn’t mean I have to answer it. I’m kidding, of course. Look – let me see. I thought I had something in here.
QUESTION: Is your answer to the question (inaudible)?
MR KIRBY: I don't know. You’re going to have to let me get back to you.
QUESTION: Sir, are you aware —
MR KIRBY: Seriously, I have it. (Laughter.) I’m trying to find it. Help me out, Elizabeth. Where is it?
QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: I’m still looking.
QUESTION: Can we go back to (inaudible)? (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: I don't know.
QUESTION: (Off-mike). (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Hang on, hang on, hang on. Here we go. Boy, that took a while. We’re aware of press reports stating that the KP government proposed a $3 million budget allocation to the Darul Uloom Haqqania seminary. I would refer you to the KP government or the Government of Pakistan with any questions concerning this funding.
QUESTION: Sir, are you aware that this is the same madrassa religious school which was funded by the U.S. Government and CIA in the early ’80s to oust the Soviets – occupiers from Afghanistan —
MR KIRBY: I’m going to let my statement stand.
QUESTION: Sir, I have one more.
MR KIRBY: Yeah. Abby.
QUESTION: But can I complete my questions? One more, one more. Sir, the Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz has said that there are some tensions in the relations between the United States and Pakistan, and one of the reason is the U.S. concerns on the CPEC, the Pak-China Economic Corridor. Sir, what are those concerns?
MR KIRBY: Say that last part again.
QUESTION: The CPEC, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. The Sartaj Aziz has said that you – United States has expressed concerns on the CPEC project. Sir, what are those concerns?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – I’m simply not going to detail diplomatic conversations that we have. Look, there are enormous challenges in the region. We continue to work with the – with Pakistan to try to address those challenges. I don't have anything more additional for you.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the swearing-in of the new president of the Philippines today, who’s made comments saying that under his leadership the country will not be beholden to the U.S. and that he wishes to expand ties with Beijing?
MR KIRBY: Look, I’ve seen the comments. We look forward to working closely with his administration going forward. The Philippines is an ally and a partner in the region. We have no expectation that that’s going to change. And look, as a sovereign nation, they have every right to seek bilateral relations that they believe are appropriate to their situation, whether it’s security-related, economic-related, or politically so.
We have a relationship – bilateral relationship with China. Do we agree on everything? No. But we cooperate on many things, climate change being one of them. So again, we look forward to continuing to work with the Philippines going forward. And again, we leave it to them to decide what bilateral relations they might pursue. But to the degree there is avenues for dialogue and discussion and constructive movement forward in the region, well that’s healthy. We would want to see that.
Okay. I got to go. Thanks, everybody. Nope. Thanks. I got to go. Sorry.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:30 p.m.)
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NASA has awarded almost $10 million in grants to informal education organizations in seven states to help inspire the next generation of scientists and explorers.
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