2:25 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. Sorry to make you wait a little bit today.
A couple things here at the top. On Burma: The United States welcomes the opening ceremony today in Burma of the Union Peace Conference – 21st Century Panglong and commends all participants for their willingness to engage in an inclusive dialogue for national reconciliation and unity. This is an important process towards a lasting peace and the first step in an inclusive political dialogue that can help transform the country into a more democratic union in which the rights of all – the people of Burma are fully respected. As a nation that has worked hard to draw strength and harmony from ethnic and religious diversity, the United States of course recognizes that this will be a long and challenging process that requires commitment from all people and institutions inside and outside the conference hall. The United States will continue to support this process and those who work in good faith, which includes dedication to the articulation, the consideration of different points of view to bring an end to civil conflict in Burma and to achieve a durable peace that benefits and empowers all of its people.
<a name="SECRETARYSTRAVELINDIA”>As a schedule note, I think you realize now the Secretary is in New Delhi today as he concludes his participation in the U.S.-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue. This morning he spoke to an audience of students, academics, business leaders, and journalists on U.S.-India relations at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. His remarks were followed by a short Q&A with the students. He also met today with opposition party leaders, and later at the American embassy school where he met with our embassy staff and family members. Finally, the Secretary met with Prime Minister Modi to discuss climate change and the next steps for implementation of the Paris Agreement as well as the deepening partnership between our countries.
I think you may have also seen from Mark Toner out there that the Secretary is extending his stay in New Delhi by a couple of days as he prepares to join the President for the G20 in China later this weekend.
And with that, I’ll go to questions.
QUESTION: One question. Does he have any official events in New Delhi over the next couple days?
MR KIRBY: His schedule over the next couple of days is still forming up, and as we have more detail, we’ll certainly provide it to you.
QUESTION: Why is he staying if he doesn’t have official events?
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that he didn’t have official events. His schedule is still forming up, and as we get more information about that, we’ll certainly provide it to you. But he wanted to be able to attend the G20, and so it just made practical sense from a logistical perspective, particularly as we had to finalize arrangements as far as for his ability to join the President, to stay there in New Delhi while those arrangements were made.
Your hand shot right up.
QUESTION: Can we – can we start with —
MR KIRBY: Did you have another one?
QUESTION: Yeah. No, I have a subsequent one.
MR KIRBY: Okay, then I’ll go to you.
QUESTION: Mexico. As you’re well aware, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is going to – is traveling to Mexico today. Did the U.S. State Department have – play any role in arranging or facilitating that trip? Did you provide any briefings to him prior to his trip? Will the embassy play any role in his visit there?
MR KIRBY: The only contact between the campaign and U.S. officials there was within the Secret Service and security personnel there in Mexico City to arrange the appropriate security requirements. The U.S. embassy was not asked to provide any support or briefings for the visit, and so there’s – there is no expectation that our ambassador or our – any embassy personnel are going to be participating in the visit in any way.
QUESTION: And just so we’re clear, the Secret Service protects presidential nominees. Is – to my knowledge, and maybe – there may well be Secret Service personnel in the U.S. embassy, although I would guess they deal more with counterfeiting and stuff like that – is it DS, Diplomatic Security, that’s liaising with the Secret Service to make sure that his protection is appropriate and so on for this trip?
MR KIRBY: I’m given to understand that the conversations over security were largely between Secret Service personnel. I’m not aware of any Diplomatic Security personnel role. I’ll check on that just to be 100 percent sure, but I’m given to understand that it’s – this was largely Secret Service —
MR KIRBY: — intra-Secret Service. And again —
MR KIRBY: — I can’t speak for that agency. You should certainly feel free to contact them. But to the larger issue, the U.S. Embassy, our ambassador, Ambassador Jacobson, is not participating in the visit. There was no request by the campaign for any support or any briefings.
QUESTION: And last one from me. And it’s obviously not unprecedented for presidential candidates to travel abroad during their campaigns; President Obama did it as a candidate in 2008 to Israel and to France and to Germany. Do you have any concerns, given the comments that the Republican nominee has made in the past about Mexico sending rapists and murderers to this country, his assertions that Mexico will pay for building the wall that he intends to build along the southern U.S. border despite Mexico’s president saying that Mexico will not pay for any such wall – do you have any concerns that such a visit can or would interfere in U.S.-Mexican bilateral relations?
MR KIRBY: Well, I would answer that by saying a couple of things. First, our bilateral relations with Mexico are very strong and very healthy, and we look to continue that strong relationship. It’s why the Secretary was so eager to get Ambassador Jacobson installed down there in Mexico City and he believes that she’s doing a terrific job. And so we look to that relationship continuing strong and strengthening. And we believe that the relationship is strong enough to be able to weather comments that are made by candidates running for political office here in the United States or, frankly, candidates that are in elected office in Mexico and things that they might say. Our relationship is strong enough to weather those kinds of things.
And so here at the State Department our focus is on not just our bilateral relationship with Mexico but our multilateral relationships across the hemisphere to the north and to the south of us and trying to make sure that we’re staying engaged on issues that matter to all of us, and migration is but one of those. It’s an important one, but it’s but one of those and so is counterterrorism. So are the concerns caused by narcotrafficking. I mean, there are plenty of things for us to stay engaged with and to have dialogue with – meaningful dialogue with leaders across the Western Hemisphere.
QUESTION: Sorry, one more on this. I realize you said that the embassy was not asked to provide any briefings or other assistance. Other than the intra-Secret Service dialogue, and you said you would check, I think, on whether DS had anything to do with that –
MR KIRBY: Yeah. In fact, we can do that before the end of the briefing. Maybe we can get an answer before the end of the briefing.
QUESTION: Yeah. Other than that, can you state that nobody from the U.S. Embassy, not the ambassador, is going to be involved in this visit? I mean, given that they’re all – given that one could construe this as a campaign-related event, I’m guessing that they may be barred from taking part anyway, but that basically not the ambassador, nobody else other than Secret Service is going to be involved in this event in —
MR KIRBY: I am not aware of any participation by embassy personnel from the ambassador on down in this visit.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on —
MR KIRBY: Yeah, let’s stay on – I’m assuming we’re to stay on this, the Mexico visit?
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, we’ll stay on that and then I’ll go to you, I promise. Go ahead.
QUESTION: So you said that his – that the U.S.-Mexico relationship is strong enough to weather comments by U.S. presidential candidates.
MR KIRBY: I said comments by any elected officials either here or there.
QUESTION: By any elected officials. So you’re not saying –
MR KIRBY: Or people running for elected office I think is how I said it.
QUESTION: Sure. Putting it that way kind of makes it sound like such comments are kind of a nuisance or some kind of problem for relations. But is that what you meant to imply? Or —
MR KIRBY: No, I didn’t say that. If I wanted to say nuisance, I’d have said nuisance. I said it’s a relationship that’s strong enough to weather the comments and rhetoric that you often hear on political campaigns. And as you know, I’ve made it a stringent practice not to engage in a debate from this podium with anything that’s said by any of the candidates in this election or any other election. That’s not our focus, and we’re not going to engage in the politics. We are engaged in the policies and the foreign policy agenda that this Administration is pursuing in the hemisphere.
QUESTION: Okay. It’s just that saying it has to be weathered implies that it’s some kind of problem. That’s not what you meant?
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: No. Okay.
MR KIRBY: I mean, I wasn’t troubled by my use of the verb “weathered,” but I mean, I think because —
QUESTION: I was – I just wanted to clarify.
MR KIRBY: — I was simply trying to convey – we’re not ignorant here. I mean, I read the coverage just like you guys do. I mean, we see the comments that are made. And as I’ve said many times from this podium and the Secretary has said himself, foreign leaders around the world do frequently ask the Secretary about some of the comments that are made by candidates in this election. That’s not of surprise. And some of those comments concern them. Some of them concern them quite deeply. And so when I used the word “weather,” it was to express the fact that some comments made on the political campaign trail do cause our allies, our partners, and our friends around the world concern, and those are concerns that are expressed to us because we’re the ones out there visiting them, talking to them, engaging with them on a wide range of issues.
So I’m okay with the way I used the word “weathered.”
QUESTION: Thank you for clarifying. And then just a last one: Is it typical of visits like this for the contact to be purely focused on security? In previous visits by candidates for – major candidates for president to other countries, have U.S. embassies in those countries played more roles in terms of, I don’t know, participating in the visit, or is it usually just focused on security?
MR KIRBY: I don’t – I can’t speak for every past foreign visit by a candidate for office, but there are some basic guidelines, and Arshad sort of alluded to this in his question, which I think I have here somewhere. Hang on a second. Here we go. Nope, that’s not it. Maybe it’s in the front. See, I have to go to Elizabeth to figure out where it is. (Laughter.) There are some basic guidelines that we have to – that embassies are allowed to do. And again, in this case, the – there wasn’t any ask of support, and I’m not aware of anything other than on the security front. But in the past, we have been able to provide some support like providing support to a Secret Service protective detail, providing assistance on security matters as necessary for conditions in that particular country – and every country has different security parameters, as I think you might understand. In the past, we have been able to brief the candidate with appropriate information before any meetings in accordance with U.S. interests, ensuring that, as an important visitor from the United States, he or she is knowledgeable about recent developments, important issues, and U.S. positions on those issues. But as I said to Arshad, there was no such request for that kind of support or briefings in this particular case.
So there’s a limited amount of things that we can do, but again, and Arshad alluded to this, I mean, there’s obviously restrictions as well because we cannot engage in inherently political activities during an election season.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Are we still on this?
QUESTION: Just —
MR KIRBY: You’re still on this?
QUESTION: Still on this.
QUESTION: Still on this.
QUESTION: Still on this.
MR KIRBY: How many people are still on this? Raise your hand if you still want to stay on this issue. Okay. So we’ll go here and then over here, all right? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Sure. So you said that the embassy is not helping out at all during the visit. Did they advise against the visit at all? There were —
MR KIRBY: There was no recommendation by embassy personnel or the ambassador one way or the other with respect to whether this visit should occur. No recommendation made whatsoever.
QUESTION: Yes. If a candidate is talking to a foreign leader and makes some kind of diplomatic breakthrough, do you expect to be briefed on that when he gets back? You said that in the past leaders have complained about being offended. If he manages to mollify the Mexicans, would he be coming to the State Department to (inaudible) —
MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t even begin to entertain speculation about what the outcome of this visit would be. That is entirely for the Trump campaign to speak to, not the State Department. I wouldn’t even begin to speculate about that. Again —
QUESTION: If a U.S. national is talking to a foreign leader, that would be of interest to you if anything substantive came out of it.
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that we – that we weren’t aware of the meeting and wouldn’t be interested in it. I’m just saying that this is between the Trump campaign and in this case President Nieto. And how they characterize their discussion today is up to them, and the State Department isn’t going to get in the middle of that. Our focus is on the —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) afterwards (inaudible).
MR KIRBY: Our focus is on the relationship now and getting – and continuing to look for ways to strengthen it going forward. We’re not going to get into any kind of speculation or conjecture about what may be discussed or what the impact of what may be discussed going forward. That is for these two gentlemen to discuss.
QUESTION: And on this visit, you haven’t – you didn’t receive any prior request for assistance. Have you from any of the candidates received any request for future trips?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any, and I – I’m not aware of any.
QUESTION: That would be up to the campaigns to announce —
MR KIRBY: Yeah, that would all be for campaigns to speak to, but I’m not aware of any.
QUESTION: When did you learn of the request of the – not of the request. When did you learn of the visit?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know exactly when the embassy was informed. I’ll have to take that question. I don’t know.
QUESTION: You talked a lot about before – what is happening before the trip, and you just alluded to what will happen after the trip. What about —
MR KIRBY: No, no, no. I did not allude to what’s going to happen to the trip. Dave did.
QUESTION: Oh, okay. But what is happening during the meeting? Will there be a presence from —
MR KIRBY: That is a great question for the Trump campaign and President Nieto’s office. I have – I have no idea, and we’re not concerning ourselves with that.
QUESTION: So —
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: So there will be no State Department representation in that meeting?
MR KIRBY: No. I’ve said that three times today.
MR KIRBY: Three times. Are we still on this? Nope?
MR KIRBY: Everybody’s satisfied on this. I promised this young lady we would go to her next. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Gayane. My name is Gayane. Reuters and CNN quote unnamed U.S. officials who say Russia’s claim that its airstrike killed ISIL leader Abu Adnani is a joke. Does the U.S. officially dispute Russia’s claim?
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry. Can you say the question again?
QUESTION: Yes. So Reuters and CNN quote unnamed U.S. officials who say Russia’s claim that its airstrike killed ISIL leader Abu Adnani is a joke. Does the U.S. officially dispute Russia’s claim?
MR KIRBY: First of all, this is an issue for the Defense Department to speak to, and I think they already have. And I believe what they’ve said is that they conducted an airstrike. This individual was the target of that airstrike. They’re still determining and assessing the results of that strike and that they have not made a determination yet about the success of it, and I think that’s where they’ve left it.
QUESTION: I know, but these unnamed officials are quoted as disputing Russia’s claim. So the U.S. does not officially dispute Russia’s claim? Is that what you’re saying?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – again, the Defense Department has spoken to this. It’s not for the State Department to speak to the results of a specific airstrike. I can only point you back to what they’ve said. And I know you all would love me to make comments about every unnamed official that says things to media outlets. I don’t know who these people are. I don’t know how much information they have, and I’m simply not going to entertain conjecture about the accuracy of anonymous quotes by officials from who knows where.
I can only – all I can – all I can do is tell you what I know. And what I know is based on conversations I’ve had with my colleagues at the Pentagon and what they’ve told you themselves. There was a strike. This individual was the target of it. They’re still assessing the results. They don’t know yet whether it was successful or not.
QUESTION: But if the U.S. and if your colleagues, although they are unnamed officials, dispute Russia’s claim, then they presumably know who killed Adnani. Do you? Do you?
MR KIRBY: I do – I know – again, I can only tell you what I know. This individual was the target of a strike, strike occurred, they’re assessing it, they don’t know the results of it. I can’t go beyond the facts. Those are the facts as we know it right now.
QUESTION: Understood. There’s a lot of confusion in the media over who did this, and that confusion is based on conflicting reports from U.S. and —
MR KIRBY: From unnamed officials. There’s a shock —
QUESTION: — from U.S. and Russia.
MR KIRBY: — that unnamed officials are causing confusion in the media. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Why this confusion? Are the U.S. and Russia coordinating their strikes?
MR KIRBY: The confusion is because you guys are reporting unnamed officials, who we don’t know – we don’t know who they are. We don’t know how accurate the information is that they have. That’s the confusion. Gayane, is that how you say your name?
QUESTION: Yes, Gayane.
MR KIRBY: That’s the confusion, Gayane.
QUESTION: I agree with you.
MR KIRBY: The – not between you and me, but between people quoting these unnamed officials. Again, I think the Pentagon has been as clear and concise about this as they can be at this stage. And it’s not unusual for there to be a time lag between when a strike is taken and when you can make an accurate assessment of the results, particularly when a strike is targeted at an individual, and that can be a difficult process to identify BDA, battle damage assessment. So we just have to let the Pentagon do their work, and when they have a conclusion, I’m sure that they will speak to it one way or the other.
QUESTION: More of a policy question: Are the U.S. and Russia coordinating their strikes? Because it seems both the U.S. and Russia were targeting the same person. Wouldn’t it be something that the two countries would coordinate?
MR KIRBY: Our – there’s no coordination of airstrikes between the United States and Russia. That hasn’t changed. And your question, wouldn’t it be nice, that’s really for the militaries to speak to. What I can tell you the Secretary’s focused on – and today our two technical teams have resumed work in Geneva – and the Secretary’s very intently focused on that effort, which, as you know from the press conference last week with foreign – excuse me – Foreign Minister Lavrov, both he and Secretary Kerry made progress with trying to solidify proposals that would allow us to get an enduring cessation of hostilities across the country, which would keep the regime from violating that cessation by killing their own people and going after opposition groups and trying to reclaim territory, as well as providing for better mechanisms for the United States and for Russia to share information about tactical issues there in Syria and targets. But that hasn’t been solidified yet. That’s why our teams are meeting again today – starting to meet today. Okay?
QUESTION: Is this disagreement over who killed this propaganda chief for ISIS – will that possibly derail that conversation about tactics, common ground that we’re leading towards? I mean, couldn’t this hurt it?
MR KIRBY: I can’t see any way that it would.
QUESTION: You – there’s this – I mean, your colleague at the Pentagon half hour ago basically pushed back, disputed the Russian claim, said it was probably propaganda. And – so we’re disagreeing about who gets to claim credit for taking out one of the leaders of this group. That’s not going to derail the conversation?
MR KIRBY: No. I answered the question the last time you asked it. I can’t see any way that it would. These discussions are important. Both governments are committed to them. As I said, the teams have resumed work today in Geneva, and we look forward to seeing that work progress.
QUESTION: Perhaps this’ll give us an impetus to move faster towards that.
MR KIRBY: Move faster towards what?
QUESTION: Toward sharing information on tactics and targets.
MR KIRBY: Well, I think everybody shares the impetus to getting there based on the terrible imagery you saw coming out of Syria a week or so ago with that young boy and then the images that followed later about what’s happening in Aleppo. I think there – as the Secretary spoke to, a real sense of urgency here about the violence and the bloodshed and the need to stop it. That’s the impetus —
QUESTION: We’re talking about whether or not the Americans and the Russians are coordinating —
MR KIRBY: — for getting these two teams back together again in Geneva. Huh?
QUESTION: We’re talking about whether or not the Americans and the Russians are coordinating their kinetic attacks on the Islamic State.
MR KIRBY: They are not coordinating, as I said.
QUESTION: They’re not. And would an incident like this or a disagreement over who actually killed a top leader —
MR KIRBY: If you’re asking —
QUESTION: — would that lead to possibly moving faster towards agreeing?
MR KIRBY: There’s already enough sense of urgency to get these technicalities worked out and to have these discussions and to try to reach agreement. And that’s what’s driving us forward. It’s the need to end the bloodshed. It’s not this – these news claims one way or another about who killed this particular terrorist and whether or not he’s dead, in fact. I mean, I haven’t – I’ve seen no confirmation that he is. So I find the whole thing – the whole kerfuffle rather quizzical given that we are talking about the potential of a very dangerous individual now being removed from the fight, and hopefully the Earth. And we still have a very significant diplomatic effort going on now in Geneva to try to more solidify a process by which the United States and Russia can begin to cooperate more effectively inside Syria against groups like Nusrah and groups like Daesh.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Okay?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) about coordinating. Are you also not de-conflicting?
MR KIRBY: I think the work of de-confliction is still ongoing. I think the Pentagon spoke to that, but I’m not an expert on what that entails.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: TV Globo, Brazilian television. I wanted to ask you about any reaction of the U.S. Government to the decision of the senate in Brazil today?
QUESTION: Stick with Syria? Can we finish Syria?
MR KIRBY: I just turned over to Brazil. All right, we’ll stay on Syria, because I know where this answer actually is.
QUESTION: Oh, can we go – can we go back to Syria? I don’t mean to —
MR KIRBY: No, no. I’ll tell – can you wait —
QUESTION: Can we stay in Brazil and then you’ll go back to Syria?
MR KIRBY: — because we’ll go to – we’ll stay in the region and then I promise I’ll come back to you. I actually – I know where the answer is to your question – (laughter) – unlike Mexico.
QUESTION: I’ll ask quickly so it’s not – you don’t hurt your hand. But a Turkish official said today that there was no ceasefire between Turkey – Turkish and YPG forces in Syria. That was ostensibly rebutting a U.S. claim from yesterday. So my question: What is the situation in terms of Turkey versus the YPG forces? Is that conflict still ongoing?
MR KIRBY: What exactly did their comment refute from yesterday?
QUESTION: Yesterday a U.S. official —
MR KIRBY: Oh, another unnamed official.
QUESTION: No, no, no, he – it was a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve said that there was a ceasefire.
MR KIRBY: He said, I think, there – he said there was an agreement.
MR KIRBY: But look —
QUESTION: And then today, a – the – Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs said that that was not true, there was no agreement or ceasefire, and so my question was what is the situation? What has the U.S. been doing to try and end the fighting between these two allies?
MR KIRBY: What – I think it’s exactly the way I described it yesterday. We’re still seeing calm between the two sides and we welcome that. We want to see that continue. As I said yesterday, we’re – we are in communication with both sides and working to establish communication channels between them to help de-conflict operations and maneuvers in a very crowded battle space. But nothing’s changed about, aside from that, what we want to see, which is every member of the coalition – all of these parties we’re talking about are members of the coalition – to focus their efforts on Daesh.
QUESTION: And you feel you’re having success in this effort at kind of calming —
MR KIRBY: To the degree that there has not been clashes now in the space of a couple of days, we certainly welcome that. We think that’s positive. But we recognize that it – those tensions, as they were before, need to be continually discussed, worked out, and nurtured so that we can try to keep the kinetic activity aimed at Daesh and Daesh only.
QUESTION: John, just on that answer right there, you talked twice about both sides and talked about how you’re trying to get them to talk to each other. You – in the answer you put the two sides on a kind of parity, and that has offended Turkish officials in the past. Yesterday they came out and said they refuse to be talked to as if they were just two parties on equal standing in the way American officials talk about them. They regard the YPG as a terrorist group, and they say they’re a sovereign nation and your NATO ally; they don’t want to be talked about in that way. Do you accept that criticism of the language you use?
MR KIRBY: We understand that concern, and I’m not – by referencing it that way, I’m not at all equating the YPG with the sovereign nation of Turkey, who, as you noted, is a full member of NATO and as a sovereign state – as a state a member of the coalition. Obviously, that is a significance that we certainly recognize. I was simply using terms and words to reflect the fact that we’ve got two sides here that were, as of a few days ago, actively shooting at one another instead of coordinating in their activities and shooting at Daesh. That’s all. But absolutely, we recognize that Turkey is a sovereign state.
We on this?
QUESTION: Brazilian television.
MR KIRBY: Still on this?
QUESTION: Do you have any information about a U.S. citizen who was arrested in Turkey?
MR KIRBY: Who was arrested in Turkey? Yes. I can confirm that U.S. citizen Lindsey Snell was detained in Turkey on the 7th of August, 2016. She is currently being held in a prison facility in Hatay Province. I believe that’s how you say it. Consular officers from the consulate in Adana visited Ms. Snell most recently on the 26th of this month and are providing all possible consular assistance. The embassy and the department are following this case closely. State Department officials have been in contact with Turkish Government officials regarding this case.
QUESTION: Can you spell her name?
MR KIRBY: Lindsey. L-i-n-d-s-e-y. Snell. S-n-e-l-l.
Did you have more?
QUESTION: Yeah. Is – was the arrest at all related to her profession as a journalist or in any case – any way associated with that?
MR KIRBY: What I – what we understand is that she has been charged with violating a military zone, but I can’t speak to her reasons for being in Syria, for traveling there. I can’t speak to that. What I can tell you is that we’ve been informed she was charged with violating a military zone.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) that she entered a military zone that she wasn’t supposed to, or —
MR KIRBY: That would be my interpretation of that, Arshad. But that’s a better question for Turkish authorities since they’re the ones that issued the charges.
QUESTION: Did you say she was arrested in Syria and is held in Turkey? I’m sorry, I just didn’t hear the details exactly.
MR KIRBY: She was —
QUESTION: I thought you said she was —
MR KIRBY: She’s been – she was arrested – detained in Turkey —
MR KIRBY: — and has been charged with violating a military zone.
QUESTION: I thought the word “Syria” came out of your mouth, and I just wanted to make sure that there wasn’t —
MR KIRBY: Yes. Yes, I did. As I understand it, she journeyed to Turkey from Syria, and I – what my answer was, I couldn’t speak for why she was in Syria in the first place. The question was was she doing the business of journalism, and I don’t know.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Okay. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, John. On North Korea. President Obama recently mentioned on NFU, no first use of nuclear. But North Korean Kim Jong-un continue to threat North Korea use a nuclear preemptive attack United States. What is your comment?
MR KIRBY: I’d say what I’ve said before. It’s long past time for the North to stop these provocations, to abide by their international obligations, do right by the people of North Korea, and cease these – the pursuit of advanced ballistic missile activity and nuclear capabilities. It’s doing nothing to provide security and stability to the peninsula, and doing nothing to enhance security and stability in the region writ large.
QUESTION: Can I follow up —
QUESTION: But – follow-up again. We know the United States is strong supporter for safety and security of U.S. allies in South Korea with the nuclear umbrella. But this wrong signal may send mis-concept message to North Korean Kim Jong-un.
MR KIRBY: What wrong signal?
QUESTION: I mean, is – the no use – no first use mean —
MR KIRBY: Well, I’ve seen some press reporting about this alleged policy shift. And I have nothing for you on that, and that’s —
QUESTION: What about the North Korea using first?
MR KIRBY: Huh?
QUESTION: First using of nuclear weapons, but still U.S. cannot use this.
MR KIRBY: I’m not sure I understand your question.
QUESTION: I’m a little confused —
QUESTION: First use – North Korea perhaps having a first use of nuclear weapons policy.
MR KIRBY: About North Korea having a first use —
MR KIRBY: Well, I think my answer to that would be exactly the same, Janne. We’ve seen the bellicose rhetoric; we take that seriously. We have to take that seriously based on the actions that we’ve seen coming out of the North, which is why we are going to remain just as committed as we always have been to our alliance with the Republic of Korea. It’s why there are the discussions about the potential deployment of a THAAD system there. And it’s why we’re going to continue to exercise and operate with defense forces from the Republic of Korea to make sure that we have the capabilities ready at all times to protect the people of South Korea. That – this kind of – these kinds of comments and the kinds of activities that the regime in the North have conducted are all the more reason why we’re going to stay committed to our alliance requirements.
QUESTION: Sir —
QUESTION: But this suggestion, Obama’s suggestion, but that Secretary Kerry and the Defense Secretary Carter didn’t accept his suggestions.
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about rumors and interagency discussions one way or another. The United States has serious security commitments on the Korean Peninsula, and we’re going to continue to meet them, period.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
QUESTION: Also on Korea.
MR KIRBY: Wait, I – this gentleman has been waiting for a long time. Let me go to you and Brazil. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Your reaction of the decision.
MR KIRBY: Now you have to give me a second to find it.
QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: The reaction’s here, I just have to get to it.
MR KIRBY: Look, we’ve seen reports that the Brazilian senate, in accordance with Brazil’s constitutional framework, has voted to remove President Rousseff from office. We’re confident that we will continue the strong bilateral relationship that exists between our two countries as the two largest democracies and economies in the hemisphere. Brazil and the United States are committed partners. We cooperate with Brazil to address issues of mutual interest in the 21st century’s most pressing global challenges. We plan to continue this very essential collaboration.
QUESTION: Is there any communication after the decision between the U.S. Government and Brazil that you know?
MR KIRBY: I’m not – I don’t have any diplomatic discussions to speak to today. Again, this was a decision made by the Brazilian people, and obviously, we respect that.
QUESTION: Do you know if now that President Temer and President Obama are in the G20 if they are going to have any bilateral meeting? Do you have any request from the Brazilians to do that?
MR KIRBY: You’d have to consult my colleagues at the White House for the President’s discussions at the G20. That’s not for us to speak to.
QUESTION: Finally, the last question. And do you know if there is any arrangement for President Temer to come and visit President Obama in the next month?
MR KIRBY: Again, I’d have to ask you to consult my White House colleagues. I’m not aware of any, and it wouldn't be for us to speak to the travel schedule of another foreign leader anyway.
QUESTION: North Korea again.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on Brazil before —
QUESTION: The – would it be normal to send a letter of congratulation to a new president?
MR KIRBY: Would it be —
QUESTION: Temer has been – apparently has been – you noted President Rousseff has been moved out, but I understand new President Temer has been officially nominated. Would it be normal to congratulate him?
MR KIRBY: It’s not uncommon for us to congratulate new leaders.
QUESTION: Are you aware that that’s happened?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any correspondence at this time, Dave.
QUESTION: Did you have any concerns about the impeachment process? Did the U.S. have any concerns? There’s evidence that the key promoters of the – of Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment process wanted to shield themselves from investigations of corruption. Was that of any concern to the U.S.?
MR KIRBY: I would say two things. This is an internal Brazilian matter and I think I’d refer you to Brazilian authorities for more information about those concerns raised. What I would say is we believe that Brazil’s democratic institutions have acted within its constitutional framework.
QUESTION: And I know that over 40, if I remember that correctly, members of Congress wrote a letter to Secretary Kerry asking the U.S. to express concern over the proceedings. Has the U.S. – has the Secretary —
MR KIRBY: Over these proceedings?
QUESTION: Impeachment process overall. I believe they sent a letter three weeks ago. Has Secretary Kerry responded?
MR KIRBY: I’ll have to check on that. I’m not aware of the correspondence, so let me see if, in fact, we have received something. And – but as always, when we do get congressional correspondence, we respond appropriately, which is back to the requesters. That’s the form, that’s the right way to do it. And if we did get such a letter, I’m sure we’d be preparing a response along that process, but let me just check to see. I don’t know.
QUESTION: But do I understand it correctly? Just to clarify, there was no concern? The U.S. had no concern over the way – over these proceedings, over this process?
MR KIRBY: As I said, we believe that Brazil’s democratic institutions have acted within its constitutional framework.
QUESTION: Two issues on North Korea. First, it’s been now about six months since the UVA student Otto Warmbier has been – since he was sentenced there. We’re now understanding that he hasn’t had consular access in quite a while. Are there any concerns that these calls from the U.S. for him to be released on humanitarian grounds are falling on deaf ears in North Korea?
MR KIRBY: Well, you’ve seen, I think – you may have seen comments from me on this. We do understand that the DPRK court has convicted Mr. Warmbier. He’s reportedly charged with, quote, “hostile acts against the DPRK” and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor. We believe that sentence is unduly harsh for the actions that Mr. Warmbier allegedly took. Despite official claims that U.S. citizens arrested in the DPRK are not used for political purposes, it’s increasingly clear from its very public treatment of these cases that the DPRK does just that. This underscores the risks associated with travel to North Korea. We continue to strongly recommend against all travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea. We urge any U.S. citizen considering travel to get on our website, travel.state.gov, and read the Travel Warning.
Now that he has gone through this criminal process, we urge the DPRK to pardon him and grant him special amnesty and immediate release him – immediately release him on humanitarian grounds.
QUESTION: Have you gotten any signals that that’s likely?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that – of any such signals, and as I think I noted earlier, our protecting power, Sweden, last was able to visit him in March. So it’s been a while.
QUESTION: And then separately but still on North Korea, there are reports that a education official was executed recently, two other officials were sent to these re-education camps, and now just even since I’ve been here I’ve seen a report that another official was executed for falling asleep during a meeting that Kim Jong-un was presiding over. Is this turmoil, this shakeup going on in the North Korean regime of concern to the U.S.?
MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t verify the accuracy of these reports. I’ve seen some media reporting along those lines in the last several days myself. But if it’s true, it’s just more examples of the brutality, the depravity of this regime, and certainly gives no one any comfort about the direction that the regime is going in or would give us any reason to be anything but continuously vigilant about our security commitments on the peninsula.
QUESTION: Can I ask —
QUESTION: Is it confirmed that North Korean prime minister of education, Kim Yong-jin – his execution?
MR KIRBY: Again, Janne, I’ve seen the reports. I’m not able to independently verify them. I mean, we’ve seen this tragically before, these – reports of these kinds of executions.
QUESTION: Go to India?
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Two questions, South Asia?
MR KIRBY: Well, okay, let me go here and then to you, Goyal. What do you want to ask about?
QUESTION: Iran, another American arrested in Iran.
MR KIRBY: Okay, let’s go here.
QUESTION: Okay. So you mentioned about the Secretary Kerry staying back in India. Now, when he landed, he – there was a one-hour delay due to traffic or rain problems. Then he had to cancel his visit to three religious sites because of traffic problems. He arrived one hour late at the IIT Delhi. Are you concerned about that when – but knowing that in Delhi, when the prime minister or the ministers travel, the roads are just empty. They’re – so was there any security risk by – can you confirm all these delays which are being reported in the media? What is the reaction of the State Department to this kind of treatment of the U.S. Secretary of State there?
MR KIRBY: It’s rain. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No, it’s not just rain. That’s —
MR KIRBY: I would love to complain about the weather, but – (laughter) – I’m not sure that’s going to get us anywhere.
QUESTION: It is rain the first time they were ill-prepared. But what about the repeated —
MR KIRBY: The Secretary has had a terrific couple of days in India and he’s grateful for the support, the courtesies, the time of Indian officials as he wraps up the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, as well as, quite frankly, the time and attention that was afforded him in the bilateral discussions that I have now read out to you for the last couple of days. Yeah, there were some delays because of rain, and not even the prime minister, who we have great respect for, can do much about that. It’s weather, and that it caused some delays I think would be expected. As I understand it from talking to Mark, my deputy, who is out there, that this wasn’t just a sprinkle. This was pretty significant rain, right up to the top of the tires on the cars. You want to be safe more than anything.
So you’re asking me are we concerned about security – that was your second part. Absolutely we are. Part of being safe and secure is being careful when you drive in the rain. I grew up in Florida; I know a little bit about that. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It’s a very good answer diplomatically. But on this —
MR KIRBY: Oh, no, no, no, no. It was a very good answer, period. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: On the ground, first time is acceptable. What about the second, third times? Like, it’s —
MR KIRBY: The relationship that we have with India is exceptionally strong and getting stronger —
QUESTION: I was not questioning relationship.
MR KIRBY: — under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership.
QUESTION: I was questioning the way this happened.
MR KIRBY: And I think I’ve answered the question. I – the Secretary was very grateful for the support and the courtesy and the time that he was afforded by Indian leaders over the last two days. I – I’m a little befuddled that you want to make a diplomatic row out of this, the fact that some of the meetings didn’t start on time. Welcome to the State Department. (Laughter.) That just happens. And —
QUESTION: It just happened for this briefing.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I was late for the briefing, and that wasn’t even – (laughter) – and that wasn’t even weather-related. Thank you. (Laughter.) It – but look, it’s been a great couple of days. And as I said, we’ve been very open about the progress. You’ve seen his remarks, his public comments and remarks, and he was very glad to be able to be in New Delhi and to have these discussions, and we look forward to continuing that deep relationship going forward.
MR KIRBY: Huh?
MR KIRBY: You again?
QUESTION: No, on a different —
MR KIRBY: No, not you. Him.
QUESTION: Separately —
QUESTION: Yeah, me again, absolutely.
MR KIRBY: On this same issue?
QUESTION: No, different issue.
MR KIRBY: Okay. Well, let’s stay on India and South Asia for a while.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. As far as your relationship between the U.S. and India is concerned, my question is that so many agreements and meetings and greetings took place in Washington and also in Delhi. My question is that because of this relationship, special on security and economics and commercial and strategic and defense, but at least China and Pakistan across the border are not very happy and they’re opposing all these special relationship agreement between the U.S. and India. Anything that where we go from here because of their opposition?
MR KIRBY: Well, look, I – it’s hard to get too specific on the answer there, Goyal, because I don’t know what agreements you’re talking about that are causing angst by Pakistan or China. But broadly speaking – we’ve said this before, I kind of dealt with it a little bit yesterday with a question about whether or not President Putin was going to go to Japan – we don’t view relations with other countries as zero-sum games. And I can’t speak for why one sovereign nation or another might have a concern about a bilateral relationship that we are working to advance and improve. All I can tell you is that those relationships are important and the United States remains globally engaged on a scale that no other nation in the world is. And the Secretary’s committed to staying engaged as much as possible, and there should be no reason why in this particular case that any other nation should view the deepening and strengthening of our relationship with India as a threat or a challenge. This is a relationship that’s decades and decades old, and we expect that it will remain strong and – going forward decades and decades to come. There’s no reason to view it as a threat or a challenge.
QUESTION: Maybe one more quickly on the region. As far as G20 and China is concerned, many nations in the region are fear that China is building some fear for some smaller nations in the region. But as far as G20 is concerned – and some of the nations will be in G20, including India – what do you think – how serious is this Chinese fear in the South China Sea and the G20 meetings they are hosting?
MR KIRBY: I’m not sure I understand the question. That —
QUESTION: How the G20 leaders will take this, China’s fear in the South Asia Sea?
MR KIRBY: China’s fear in the South China Sea?
QUESTION: Yeah, building up against the smaller nations in the region.
MR KIRBY: Well, look, I’m not going to get ahead of the G20 agenda, but obviously, when we are engaging particularly partners in the East Asia Pacific region – and I can’t speak for other nations, just for us – the tensions in the South China Sea routinely come up, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised that those tensions are discussed over the course of the G20 summit. But nothing has changed about our views here. We’re not taking a position on individual claims. We do take a position on coercion. And we want to see disputes resolved peacefully, diplomatically, and in accordance with international law. That’s not going to change. The President has spoken, the Secretary of Defense, certainly Secretary of State Kerry. We are and will remain a Pacific power in the United States, which means that from a military perspective we have a presence there and that – and we’re going to maintain that presence. But that’s only one element of the Asia Pacific rebalance. There’s a lot more to that, and I also expect that over the course of the coming days at the G20 that other aspects tied to the rebalance – economic aspects, diplomatic aspects, political aspects – will also be on the agenda.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
MR KIRBY: Okay. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: There’s reports that the Revolutionary Guard in Iran have charged an Iranian American with national security charges. And they didn’t name the individual, but the details they gave seem to fit Robin Shahidi – Shahini. And I just wondered whether you had any information.
MR KIRBY: I – all I can tell you is we – safety and security of U.S. citizens remains, obviously, our top priority. We have seen reports of detentions of U.S. citizens and we continue to raise our concerns about that, continue to use all the means at our disposal to advocate for their release. I just can’t go into any more detail than that.
MR KIRBY: Sorry.
QUESTION: Do you have a comment on the first U.S. commercial flight to touch down earlier today in Cuba, first time in 50 – over 50 years?
MR KIRBY: I think what I would say – seen – certainly seen the reports of that, and look, I think it’s a positive step forward in the normalization of diplomatic relations between our two countries. So we welcome this first scheduled passenger flight from the U.S. to Cuba. Indeed, it’s historic, and again, the President’s policy is simple – the goal of it. It’s to improve the lives of Cubans and to advance the interests of the United States, and we believe that the best way to achieve that goal is by facilitating more interaction between the Cuban and the American people, including through travel and commercial opportunities and through more access to information, which – all of that culminated, of course, in the President’s trip to Cuba.
QUESTION: Subject change to the emails yesterday. Do you know how many of the – Secretary Clinton’s emails were about the 2012 incident in Benghazi, and do any of those contain classified information?
MR KIRBY: As we’ve said, the department agreed to search the materials that we received from the FBI in response to several pending Freedom of Information Act requests and, to the extent that responsive records are identified, produce them using broad search terms. We have identified approximately 30 documents that are potentially responsive to a Benghazi-related request, and I want to stress the words “potentially responsive.” That doesn’t mean that they definitely are. It means they are potentially responsive. At this time, we have not confirmed that the documents are in fact responsive or whether they are duplicates of materials already provided to the department by former Secretary Clinton back in December of 2014. And I’m not aware of – because we’re still working our way through that, I’m not aware of potential classification.
QUESTION: Now, today a spokesman for the Clinton campaign said, quote, some, not if – or “some, if not all” of those emails are duplicates. Is that right?
MR KIRBY: As I said, we’re still working our way through it. We have not confirmed that either they are actually responsive to the Benghazi-related request or that they are duplicates of materials that we have already had. We’re still working our way through that.
QUESTION: And we still don’t know if there’s – any contained classified information?
MR KIRBY: I have no information on that right now.
QUESTION: And then why did the State Department ask for five weeks to review roughly, like, 30 records?
MR KIRBY: Because I think you need to keep in mind that this isn’t the only FOIA request we’re staffing right now. And we’ve talked about over the last three years a dramatic increase in FOIA requests, not just in the number but in the scope of the information that they’re seeking. It’s a major undertaking, and the FOIA staff is working as hard as they can. But to prepare even one document for release through FOIA, it requires work and it requires effort. We have a responsibility to be responsive. We also have a responsibility to protect sensitive information before it’s released to the public.
So I’m not going to speak to the specific filing here. You talked about the timeline. What I can tell you is that you have to understand that this is but one of many, many FOIA requests that we’re staffing, and very few of these FOIA requests that we see are simple and direct and only – and asking for very discrete information. They’re often asking for lots of information over a long period of time, and that takes effort.
QUESTION: So one of the emails that has been – at least before; it’s a 2013 email – shows that she shared classified information after she left the State Department. Is that appropriate? Is there any sort of administrative action you believe your office should —
MR KIRBY: Yeah, so I would say a couple of things to that. We are responsible through FOIA of preparing documents for release today. And we’re not in that process; we’re not concerning ourself whether it was classified at the time, so I want to just get that off the table. So our job is to prepare them for release today. And sometimes that does mean making redactions, and some of those redactions go along with and are tied to security upgrades. And the reason why this document is included was – even though it was – I can’t speak for the reason it was sent post-her time at the State Department. That’s really for her and her staff to speak to, but it was – as I understand it, sent to people who were here still working at the State Department, which means then that we possess that as a record and, therefore under the Freedom of Information Act request in this particular case, we’re responsible for – being responsive to that request, responsible for preparing it for release, and so we did that.
QUESTION: Okay. Is there any – but is that unusual for her to be emailing about classified information after she’s left the post?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, I can’t speak for former Secretary Clinton’s email practices after she left her post as secretary of state. Is it unusual for prior secretaries of state to communicate with current staff, particularly – and not long after they’ve left? Absolutely, that’s not unusual at all.
And then your question about classification – I just want to be clear – this information was redacted for release, according to the Freedom of Information Act, which is our responsibility. And it was classified at the Confidential level which, as you know, is the lowest level of security classification. I’m not going to speak to the content, but I would point to you that one of the FOIA exemptions here that we used was 1.4(b), which is foreign government information. And as we’ve previously explained, while foreign government information may be protected from public release, both the executive order on classification and the Foreign Affairs Manual acknowledge that foreign government information often can be maintained on unclassified systems. And yet we have a proscription to – if – in order to release a document that contains foreign government information, it has to be redacted. And right now our – the rules that we’re operating under require that that redaction be accompanied with a Confidential classification. I’m not, again, speaking to the specific content, but I just wanted to make clear because you’ll see in the document that the exemption was 1.4(b), and that’s foreign government information, and there are some limits in terms of how we can treat that when we prepare it for a redaction. Does that make sense to you? Okay. I know it’s a fairly complicated process.
QUESTION: Can I check, because I want to make sure I understand that right. Are you saying that under your current rules, all foreign government information must be, not just redacted, but redacted and classified as Confidential?
MR KIRBY: That’s not what I said, Arshad. I’ll read it again.
QUESTION: No, no. I’m just trying to understand it. You don’t have to read it again, just help me understand it.
MR KIRBY: It doesn’t – it may be – while foreign government information may be protected from public release, according to the executive order and the Foreign Affairs Manual, it can be maintained on unclassified systems, so —
QUESTION: Yeah. I get that.
MR KIRBY: I got that. So when we decide that foreign government information being asked for in a FOIA request needs to be redacted, we have to redact it. But according to the rules that we are under now, it’s redacted with a Confidential classification marking. That’s the rules. We’ve asked for an exemption to that and we don’t have it. So right now, when we exempt foreign government information, it is exempted with a Confidential marking. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that the information redacted is in fact Confidential, the rules require a Confidential marking when it’s redacted and released for the public.
QUESTION: Okay I get it. I get it now.
QUESTION: Iraq —
MR KIRBY: Does that make sense?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
MR KIRBY: Let me go to Abbie. Let me go to Abbie.
MR KIRBY: Venezuela.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: Do you have any information regarding reports that several journalists attempting to go into Venezuela to cover the upcoming anti-Maduro rally were turned away at the airport? And along with the seeming increase in arrests of opposition activists ahead of the rally, are you concerned that this is part of a widening crackdown?
MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen any report of arrests at the airport, so let me get back to you on that. And look, we are – our concerns about freedom of assembly and freedom of speech there in Venezuela are long known. I just don’t have any information on that particular question.
QUESTION: Human Rights Watch says Iraqi Government-backed militias have recruited children in preparation for an offensive to drive ISIL from Mosul. They call on the Iraqi Government to take action to demobilize child soldiers. Has the U.S. raised the issue with the Iraqi Government or are you going – aware of the issue?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of that report. Obviously, we would strongly condemn the use of children as soldiers in any armed conflict, but I’m not aware that – of this particular report.
QUESTION: Jackson Proskow with Global News from Canada. I wanted to ask you about Caitlan Coleman —
MR KIRBY: Look at that. Thank you for introducing yourself. That’s very nice.
QUESTION: I’m a newbie, so —
MR KIRBY: That’s – no, but nobody else does that. That’s great.
<a name="AFGHANISTANPAKISTAN”>QUESTION: Caitlan Coleman, the American held in Afghanistan with her Canadian husband and their two young children.
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: There’s a new hostage video out apparently yesterday in which she is – presumably at the behest of her captors – urging the American Government to press the Afghanis to adjust their policy with respect to executing Taliban prisoners.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just wondering what actions are being taken to secure their release. Is the U.S. taking the lead? Is Canada taking the lead?
MR KIRBY: I can’t – let me do it this way, and I talked about this a little bit yesterday. We’re certainly aware of reports of this video featuring U.S. hostage Caitlan Coleman and her husband, Joshua Boyle. We are aware that that video’s been released. As I understand it, that video is still being examined, and I don’t have an update for you on it. We obviously remain concerned about the welfare of Caitlan and her family, and we continue to urge their immediate release on humanitarian grounds. We are regularly engaged with the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan at the highest levels to emphasize our commitment to seeing our citizens returned safely to their families. We are going to continue to work aggressively as we have in the past to bring all U.S. citizens held hostage overseas home. Okay.
QUESTION: You specifically mentioned Pakistan in that answer. Do you expect the group holding them are linked to the Pakistanis?
MR KIRBY: We have long – we have said that – before that we believe that they are somewhere in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.
QUESTION: I’ve got a couple of quick ones, if you can do them. They’re all substantive.
MR KIRBY: Are they going to require me to keep flipping me back and forth all over this?
QUESTION: They are, and that’s why you work out every morning, so you have the strength to —
MR KIRBY: Can we do it in alphabetical order so that I can just go through the book that way? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, then we’d have to do it in State Department alphabetical order by bureau, right?
MR KIRBY: By bureau, let’s do that.
QUESTION: Okay, for 400. All three are within NEA.
MR KIRBY: All right. Well, hey, give me a second. Let me get to the NEA tab.
MR KIRBY: All right, I’m there.
QUESTION: The first one concerns Israel and the Palestinian territories.
MR KIRBY: Okay, give me a second – I. All right, I’m ready.
QUESTION: So there’s a report that the – Israel’s military – runs civil administration in the West Bank – has approved today the construction of 284 new housing units in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Do you have any comment on that approval? I can give you the names of the settlements if you need them.
MR KIRBY: We’re – I do actually have comment. We’re deeply concerned by the government’s announcement to advance plans for these settlement units in the West Bank. Since the Quartet report came out, we have seen a very significant acceleration of Israeli settlement activity that runs directly counter to the conclusions of the report. So far this year, Israel has promoted plans for over 2,500 units, including over 700 units retroactively approved in the West Bank. We are particularly troubled by the policy of retroactively approving unauthorized settlement units and outposts that are themselves illegal under Israeli law. These policies have effectively given the Israeli Government a green light for the pervasive advancement of settlement activity in a new and potentially unlimited way. This significant expansion of the settlement enterprise poses a very serious and growing threat to the viability of the two-state solution.
QUESTION: Can you read that one sentence again – the final one about the – “in a potentially unlimited way”?
MR KIRBY: Yes. These policies have effectively given the Israeli Government a green light for the pervasive advancement of settlement activity in a new and potentially unlimited way.
QUESTION: Second, Syria. There are reports of three American citizens who have been killed in Syria, apparently while fighting with Kurdish forces. What can you tell us about those three men?
MR KIRBY: I had to go back to the American citizens tab because I don’t have them in my Near East/Asia tab.
QUESTION: I can’t answer for that.
MR KIRBY: We’ve been working to help facilitate the return of the reported remains of private U.S. citizens killed in Syria. We remain in close contact with local authorities and stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance. I have no additional information right now on this.
QUESTION: Can you provide any other kinds of information about whether you know the fate of these three men, whether it is in fact three men, whether you have any understanding of how they may have perished? Can you provide anything on that?
MR KIRBY: I’m afraid I can’t right now.
QUESTION: Okay. Nothing on names or anything else?
MR KIRBY: I’m afraid I can’t go any further than that right now.
QUESTION: Yep. And then the last one is on Yemen. We have —
QUESTION: Okay, can I just follow up on —
QUESTION: Oh yeah, sorry. Yeah, please.
QUESTION: Just more broadly – obviously you have an existing travel advisory for Syria and Iraq. These are private citizens, not military personnel. Do you have any particular concerns about U.S. citizens traveling to take part in the conflict over there, whether as adventurers, mercenaries, or sympathizers with the Kurdish cause? Do you have any idea of broad numbers of Americans who may have done that? And do you have any particular message for them?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have an idea of numbers. I can – I think you can understand we don’t – we’re not able to keep track like that. But since 2011, we have urged all U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to Syria, and we strongly recommend those who remain in the country to depart immediately. The government does not support the activity – the travel to Syria to participate in the conflict in any way whatsoever. We don’t support that activity, and our ability to provide consular assistance to individuals who are injured or kidnapped, or to the families of individuals who die as a result of taking part in the conflict, is extremely limited.
QUESTION: And this is probably a question for your Pentagon colleagues, but I’ll try in case you remember the rules: If any of the – some of these people I understand are veterans. They’re no longer serving U.S. military. But if they’re reservists, could they be breaking military rules?
MR KIRBY: You’d have to definitely refer to the Defense Department.
QUESTION: Yeah. Okay, thanks.
MR KIRBY: I’m not – I don’t know enough to do that.
You had one on Yemen.
QUESTION: Last one on Yemen. We have a report that the Saudi Arabian-led coalition conducted an airstrike that killed at least 16 members of the extended family of a Yemeni imam, and one of the photographs that we have showed – taken by our photographer shows the body of a child being dug out of the rubble. You’ve often spoken about the need for all sides to avoid civilian casualties in Yemen. Do you have any information on this particular incident and have you raised it with the Saudis or others?
MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve seen reports of the strike, and we express our deepest condolences to the families of the victims. As the Secretary made clear when we were in Jeddah just last week, attacks that kill and injure civilians actively undermine the attempts to peacefully resolve Yemen’s challenges. We have repeatedly expressed our deepest concern about the ongoing airstrikes and the heavy humanitarian toll that’s being paid by the Yemeni people, and again, that’s why the Secretary was in Jeddah – to try to find a way forward to put an end to the conflict. We are urging – continue to urge all sides to return to a cessation of hostilities which can create the conditions necessary for a return to peace talks, and that’s really the way we think this is going to get resolved.
QUESTION: And have you raised this particular incident with the Saudi Government or with other members of the coalition?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware – because this incident is so new, I’m not aware that we have raised this in diplomatic channels, but it is not uncommon at all for us to have routine conversations with the coalition about the kinetic activity, the airstrikes, and the precision. It’s not unusual at all. But I just – in these hours after, I just don’t have any conversations to read out.
Okay, I’ve got to go. I’ll take one more. You, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just two questions on Syria.
MR KIRBY: No, I said one more and then you —
MR KIRBY: Not a two-part one question. Just one question.
QUESTION: Exactly. (Laughter.) I mean, the U.S. says that, I mean, PYD forces have been withdrawing to the east of Euphrates River. However, Turkey, I mean, says that there are not enough evidences to confirm that. I mean, it seems there are two different claims on that issue. I mean, PYD forces have been withdrawing or not? What would you like to say on that?
MR KIRBY: I think – look, I think General Votel spoke to this. I’m – again, I’m going to be wary of speaking to operational maneuver. That’s not our role here. But General Votel spoke to this yesterday and he made clear that the arrangement had been after Manbij, Kurdish forces would move back to the east of the Euphrates and that they have met their commitment. I can’t go into any more detail than that. As I said yesterday, I am not capable of counting ears and noses, but I can only point you to what the Defense Department said yesterday.
Okay. Thanks, everybody. Appreciate it.
Oh, wait a minute, I’m sorry, before we leave —
Thank you. Sorry. Sit. (Laughter.) In answer to the question I promised before the end of the briefing, Diplomatic Security did not – did not – provide assistance to the U.S. Secret Service on Mr. Trump’s visit to Mexico today.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Yep. Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:38 p.m.)