11 March 2016

Africa: Daily Press Briefing


Washington, DC — March 11, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing

















.3:05 p.m. EST

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. And I apologize for the delay in the briefing here today. Another busy day here. I do have a couple things right at the top, and then we'll get to it.

On Syria. We welcome today's announcement by the High Negotiations Committee that it will participate in next week's negotiations in Geneva. We continue to strongly support UN Special Envoy de Mistura's efforts, and we look forward to the resumption of these talks - which, as you know, build on the progress we have made over the last month through the International Syria Support Group to significantly improve humanitarian access and implement a cessation of hostilities, which has led to an overall reduction in violence and to the delivery of additional aid and assistance, including medical supplies to many areas.

However, we note - while we note these steps forward, we remain deeply concerned by chronic and recurring actions to undermine some of these efforts and to inflict more suffering upon the Syrian people. And we strongly condemn the Assad regime's ongoing practice of removing badly needed medical supplies from the emergency humanitarian aid deliveries that are actually made.

We also strongly condemn reports today that the regime has conducted airstrikes which struck civilian protesters in Aleppo and Daraa, including the Arbayen mosque as the congregation was leaving. Now, these are clear violations of the cessation of hostilities and of the express commitment by the Assad regime to the United States and Russia as ceasefire taskforce co-chairs to provide full humanitarian access and to abide by the cessation of hostilities. Attacks against civilians and the denial of humanitarian aid needs to stop immediately, and we urge all parties - particularly Russia - to use its influence with the Assad regime to make this happen.

On Libya. Today and yesterday the Libyan political dialogue met in Tunis and reaffirmed the Libyan political agreement is the only legitimate framework for bringing an end to the political crisis and military conflict in Libya, and urged the new government's leaders to begin their work in Tripoli rapidly. The United States welcomes the political dialogue's expression of support for Prime Minister al-Sarraj and the Presidency Council. We will support the Presidency Council as it takes the next steps to start working from the capital without delay. In addition, we join the political dialogue in urging all Libyan public bodies to make arrangements for the immediate, orderly, and peaceful handover of power to the Presidency Council and other Government of National Accord officials in accordance with the provisions of the political agreement itself.

We also note that the political dialogue expressed appreciation for the statement supporting the Government of National Accord cabinet, signed by a majority of House of Representative members on the 23rd of February. As we've said before, we strongly support the majority of house members who took this brave step forward in the face of unacceptable intimidation and look forward to working with members of GNA - the Government of National Accord - the GNA's cabinet as representatives of the sole legitimate government of Libya. As we have said, the United States stands ready to support the new Libyan Government and provide humanitarian, economic, and security support to the government upon their request. We will continue to work with Libyans and the international community to support the Government of National Accord as it returns to Tripoli to help Libyans respond to the terrorist threat posed by ISIL/Daesh and to de-escalate the conflict in the country.

On South Sudan. The United States is appalled by the attacks on on civilians, sexual- and gender-based violence, mass pillage, and destruction of property carried out by the Government of South Sudan and allied forces, which have been documented in the report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. We have repeatedly called on the Government of South Sudan and the opposition to end human rights violations and live up to their commitment to establish a transitional government as soon as possible. U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan will be joining the Human Rights Council in Geneva next week to discuss an appropriate response with international partners. At this time we urge the Government of South Sudan to thoroughly investigate the atrocities alleged in this report and to hold accountable those who are responsible for these acts.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Very briefly on Libya, before turning to Syria. The EU - there are rumblings within the EU that targeted sanctions may be coming if these guys can't get their act together or drop their personal vendettas against each other and --


QUESTION: -- get together. Is this something the U.S. is also considering?

MR KIRBY: I wouldn't rule anything in and out - in or out at this point, Matt. I mean, obviously, we're watching this real closely. We want to see - as I said in my topper, we want to see the process move forward, get them seated in Tripoli, get them the support that they need. That's where our focus in - is right now. I mean, I've seen reports of potential EU actions, and I just think - I think we're going to reserve judgment right now until things can move forward.

QUESTION: All right. On Syria, did the Secretary speak to Foreign Minister Lavrov again today?

MR KIRBY: Let me check. No. I don't have a --

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: I don't have a call --

QUESTION: Well, regardless of whether he did or not, Foreign Minister Lavrov today said again that the Kurds should have a seat at the table at these talks and is urging you guys --


QUESTION: -- to put pressure on the Turks, presumably, to allow that to happen. Your position in the past, if I'm not mistaken, has been that there are some Kurds who are involved in the HNC but that --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- but that other groups can - Kurds or - and other groups can participate in these kind of side talks, not in the actual negotiations. Is that still the case, or are you willing to take the - to make the case to the Turks that a solution here is going to require more direct Kurdish participation?

MR KIRBY: As I understand it, the invites for this next round of talks, like the last round, doesn't include the PYD as an invitee. And as the broader political process takes shape, as we've talked about in the past, we'll look for the right opportunities for how they can be a part of that process. I would tell you that without question Mr. de Mistura continues to consult with a wide range of Syrian groups that are outside the proximity talks as he begins to conduct them, and I would refer you to him for any details that he might be having or may have had with the PYD or any group. But essentially, our position is the same.

QUESTION: So you don't think, given their importance in all of this and their effectiveness that you even talked about --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- as a battlefield force, you don't think that they necessarily deserve a seat at the table from the beginning in the proximity talks?

MR KIRBY: Again, a couple of thoughts here. This is obviously a decision that Mr. de Mistura makes and has to make --


MR KIRBY: No, I get it. I get it. And we do - they have been a part of consultations in the past. When they first started in Geneva there were consultations with the PYD. And it's our understanding that arrangement will be carried forward to this next round, and we're comfortable with that. But these are decisions that Mr. de Mistura needs to make, and we are going to respect the process that he's putting in place.

QUESTION: Well, yeah. But - so are you willing or not to put pressure on the Turks to allow them at the table?

MR KIRBY: It's - we're not at that stage in the process right now. I mean --

QUESTION: Well, they say that you are. So you're saying no, we're not at that stage, right?

MR KIRBY: We're not at the stage right now. And again, we're going to respect --

QUESTION: Where you're going to put pressure on anybody.

MR KIRBY: Look, I mean, we're very actively engaged, as much as we can, in making sure that the political process moves forward. But this isn't about putting pressure on one or another nation-state or putting pressure on one or another group. We want these talks to be as productive as possible.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. But - okay, but you're calling on the Russians to put pressure on the regime to stop these - the airstrikes and --

MR KIRBY: We're asking them to use their influence with the Assad regime.

QUESTION: Yeah, exactly. So they're asking you to use your influence with the - if you have any, to use your influence with the Turks to get the Kurds involved. I don't understand. You say this is not a point to put - putting pressure, you're not at the point of putting pressure on anybody, but that's what this entire process is.

MR KIRBY: We are comfortable in the process that Mr. de Mistura has put in place and that the proper consultations with Kurdish groups will occur, as has occurred in the past. And as I said, we're going to continue to look for opportunities going forward in this process to see if their involvement needs to change. It's a very - look, it's a very fluid process - you know that, Matt - and it's just now getting restarted. And it's important for us - the main thing is to get - get the groups to Geneva and get these talks going so that we can start to have some progress.

QUESTION: But on this very point, I mean, there should not be any reason for the Kurds to be excluded from these talks, being a sizable minority and being an effective fighter against ISIS and so on, and have a legitimate stake in the case. Why should they be - other than the Turkish veto, why should they be sort of excluded from the talks?

MR KIRBY: Look, I can appreciate that you want me to dictate here who exactly should be at the table and who shouldn't be, and I --

QUESTION: No, you're not understanding. I'm saying in principle don't you agree with that?

MR KIRBY: I won't do that. There - we're at a fragile stage here and we're beginning to get these - proximity talks now are at the beginning. We're trying to get them started again. We want to respect Mr. de Mistura's position and his authority to conduct these proximity talks in the manner he thinks is best conducive to success. And so as we understand it, as the invites went out they didn't include the PYD, as they didn't last time. That doesn't mean that he won't have consultations with them going forward.

There's absolutely no question that, as Matt gently reminded me, I have said they have been effective going after Daesh inside Syria. And we respect that, but this is a different process than the fight against Daesh. This is a political process moving forward to try to end the civil war. And Mr. de Mistura knows what he's doing. He has a strategy for how to get these talks going again, and we want to respect that. It doesn't mean that at some point in the future they won't be - it won't be more inclusive in that regard. We're just going to have to see how it goes.

QUESTION: Very quickly on the issue of the airstrikes, you said that there were airstrikes near Aleppo and so on. Were these, like, camps by at least what the Syrians claim to be ISIS supporters or ISIS camps and so on, or were they civilian areas?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said in my opening statement, our indications are that they were against civilian targets, or at least civilian targets were hit. What else was targeted, I wouldn't know. But we have enough information at this point - and you know I've been very careful and cautious about getting into specific comments on this or that airstrike, but again, it shouldn't be lost on you that we felt comfortable enough with the information that we have at hand to know that civilians were targeted in this regard, not just hit but targeted.

QUESTION: Has there been an increase in these violations over the past, let's say, 48 hours to the point where they can jeopardize the talks going forward?

MR KIRBY: Well, we certainly hope not. I mean, that - and frankly, that's one of the reasons why I felt compelled to mention this at the top of the briefing today, because we want this - we want it to go forward. And I would also, again, point to the HNC's statements that they plan to participate, so that's obviously an encouraging sign. So right now I see no indication that the talks are going to be affected by it. Obviously, we don't want that to happen.


QUESTION: A couple on Syria. First of all, the cessation, when it as launched on the 27th, was for a two-week period and now we're near the end of that. Secretary Kerry in his meetings with Saudi officials today and then later he'll be in Paris - is there any talk of ways to extend this?

MR KIRBY: That's a great question. I mean, I think it's true that many members of the opposition in their own mind interpreted this as a two-week process, to get us to the beginning of talks, and we have indications from most of them that they want it to continue. And so for our - from our perspective, there's no reason for it not to continue and we want to see it extended.

We, I think - and I've talked about this in the past. I mean, our view was we wanted it to be permanent from the get-go and we weren't too eager to put a deadline on it. But obviously when it was signed up to, many opposition groups felt that there had been - in their minds it was going to be a two-week period of time. Every indication we have is that they want to see it continue without an end date. We certainly want to see it continue without an end date. And so that's the premise that we're working on right now. I mean, if it can be --

QUESTION: So when you say "they" --

MR KIRBY: -- if it can be sustainable and lasting, clearly, that's good for everybody.

QUESTION: So just to clarify, when you say "they," do you mean just the opposition or do you mean the opposition and the regime?

MR KIRBY: The opposition is who I'm talking about. I can't speak for the regime and what their view is, but obviously, it takes two sides to make a cessation of hostilities work. And again, with some exceptions, for instance the ones I've mentioned today, it has still largely been holding and there isn't - just a - without dispute has been a significant reduction in the violence.

QUESTION: First of all, where did this two weeks come from?

MR KIRBY: It's my understanding --

QUESTION: It's not in the agreement.

MR KIRBY: No, it's not. It's not, which is when I got asked about it before and I told you that. We didn't have a timeline. We did not consider there to be a timeline on it.

QUESTION: Yeah, well, do you accept the opposition's claim that it was only for two weeks?

MR KIRBY: Well, it's clear --

QUESTION: They seem to have invented that out of thin air.

MR KIRBY: It's clear that some of them believed there was a two-week end on it. Even Mr. de Mistura said --

QUESTION: Are they right?

MR KIRBY: In our view, and I've said this from this podium, we did not view this as a two-week end date, but some of them did, and now they have said that they want it to extend, which is obviously good by us.

QUESTION: And then - all right. The bombing that you mentioned of Aleppo - of demonstrations in Aleppo and elsewhere, that is a violation of the truce, right?


QUESTION: So what's the consequence?

MR KIRBY: It's not a truce, but yes, it's a violation.

QUESTION: Well, it is a violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement.

MR KIRBY: It is.

QUESTION: What's the consequence for that, and who - is your saying it right now, is that an official determination as the co-chair of the COH task force?

MR KIRBY: I think it's pretty definitive. You know how reticent I've been to talk about specific violations. And so that I'm doing it today I think you can take as a definitive statement that it's a violation.

QUESTION: Okay. So what's the consequence?

MR KIRBY: We are going to continue to work at this. We have to get the groups together in Geneva to work this political process forward to get the violations to stop. There is a process of working through the violations. If you're asking me what exactly - what trigger's going to be pulled or what event might happen, I don't have a specific answer for you right now. What matters to us is that, in the main, the cessation continues to hold and that these cessations - I'm sorry, these violations of the cessations stop and that those that are alleged and claimed are properly viewed so that we can make a determination.

QUESTION: Before we talk about consequence, what about the mechanism that was supposed to deal with these sorts of violations? Are the Syrians supposed to come to the Russians and say oh, our bad, we accidentally targeted civilians in Aleppo while they were holding a silent or peaceful protest, or do the Russians approach them and say we have evidence that you carried this out and you need to come clean about what you did and why?

MR KIRBY: I don't think we're looking for - I mean, as I said, we know what happened in this case. We're not looking for some sort of further analysis of it in that regard.

QUESTION: Right, but I'm asking because -

MR KIRBY: But there is a process in place where information can be shared with the ISSG and with the UN about potential violations so that the proper communication to the offending parties can be made, so that, ideally, those offending parties can make the right decisions about not doing it in the future. And that's really what we're trying to get. It is unquestionably still fragile. I mean, it has been holding, and that's encouraging.


MR KIRBY: But we know there have been some violations and we want those to stop, and so we understand the fragility of it. So that's why it's important that the right conversations are happening so that it doesn't - so that these things don't happen again. Because we don't want to see violations of a cessation tear asunder these talks that are just about ready to start.

QUESTION: So what is the purpose right now of this mechanism that has been set up by the ISSG? Are you simply cataloguing every alleged incident or every confirmed incident of a violation? Are you saving this for potential Security Council referral down the road?

MR KIRBY: Without getting into every detail of every phone call or text or email that goes - that leads us to review these things, they are being looked at, and when there's reason to believe that there's been a violation, there's - the right communication has been - has happened with the parties that we believe are responsible so that we can get them to try to stop. The effort - it's not as if each and every violation is - there's going to be a blue ribbon panel to go look at it. We knew from the very beginning that when we put it in place two weeks ago --


MR KIRBY: -- that there were probably going to be violations. It is incredibly difficult to get to zero and to stay at zero, although zero is the right number and we've talked about that in the past. We knew it was going to be difficult.


MR KIRBY: We knew there were going to be reports of violations and that there would be actual violations. What matters in the main - and we have to always keep this in mind - is we want it to continue to hold as best as possible for as long as possible because it provides the political space, the breathing space, for the parties to sit down and have these talks.

So, I mean, I appreciate the procedural question. I'm not an expert on the actual process of how information moves up the chains, but I can tell you that it is moving and that the proper amount of communication inside the ISSG and with the UN and with the regime and with the opposition, it's happening. And I think - again, I'm not - I don't want to diminish the fact that there have been violations, but I think that that we have had this hold in place for two weeks, to the degree where there's obviously a significant and notable reduction in violence, that is now permitting the opposition to go to Geneva - I mean, I think that speaks for itself about the success of the process that we put in place.

QUESTION: One more on this. Does the - excuse me - the cataloguing of these violations then be used perhaps as the parties try to negotiate some sort of peace deal? Is this - or will these things be taken into account as they try to reach a peace deal at the end? Say, all right, you have to suffer this consequence because of this violation that happened on March 11; or you have to be willing to compensate so many people because of what you did on another date? Is this going to be part of the overall peace negotiations rather than going to the UN?

MR KIRBY: I don't - the short answer is I don't know specifically what the content of the talks are going to be. That's really a better question for Mr. de Mistura. I don't believe that the intention going into these talks is to have an airing of grievances in terms of each violation, but it will certainly be a discussion of what --

QUESTION: (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Go ahead, Matt. Go ahead, interrupt me.

QUESTION: No, I'm sorry, just the phrase "airing of grievances" is just --

MR KIRBY: Don't think.

QUESTION: I'll try not to think it, but carry on.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.


QUESTION: You don't know - you don't get the reference?

MR KIRBY: I do get the reference.

QUESTION: Oh, okay, got it.

MR KIRBY: I get it perfectly.

QUESTION: Is there such a thing as merits and demerits in this process? I mean, you earn merits and get demerits?

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) Let me - now Matt's got me broken up. Let me go - let me go --

QUESTION: I apologize. This is a very serious thing and I don't want to --

MR KIRBY: I know it is. Let me go back to - let me go back to the question. I don't know what the structure is going to be --


MR KIRBY: -- in terms of what's going to be brought up. It's not my understanding that there will be a specific catalogue, as you put it, of violations. But clearly, if violations continue to occur, and if - or if they get worse, there's no doubt that it's going to color the discussion and affect the discussion. But what we're hoping to get out of this is not to re-litigate every strike taken or every alleged violation but rather to sit down and try to come up with solutions for how the political process can move forward. That's the most important thing.

QUESTION: How can you say that you do not know what the Syrians are thinking? Because you know what the opposition is thinking, Russians know what the Syrians are thinking, and you are talking to Russia. So mathematically it doesn't add up if you say that --

MR KIRBY: Well, you're going to have to - how does that - where's the math in that question?

We are in touch with the Russians, and the Russians do have influence over the Assad regime. But if you're asking me why we don't have perfect knowledge of what Bashar al-Assad is thinking on any given day or his approach to something, we have never had that kind of visibility, which is why Russia has been such a key partner in this effort, because they do have influence and they do have a relationship with the Assad regime. And yes, they can provide useful context about how they're wielding that influence and about some calculations of the Assad regime, but I'm - I stand by what I said about - in terms of perfect knowledge of what Assad's thinking on any given day.


QUESTION: Can we move to --


QUESTION: RT correspondent William Whiteman went to the city of Cizre in Turkey, and he was one of the very few journalists who went to that predominantly Kurdish city after the Turkish military carried out operations against PKK. And the material - the footage that he sent - was just terrifying. Among just so much destruction, among other things, locals showed him a basement where they said they found almost 50 beheaded and burned bodies. I know the U.S. supported Turkey's operations against PKK, but would you call for an investigation into what could have been war crimes committed by Turkey?

MR KIRBY: I haven't seen that report or that reporting, so I'm really not in a position to talk to any - in any detail with it, except to say that while we have certainly acknowledged Turkey's right to defend itself against terrorists - and the PKK is a terrorist organization that we recognize - we have also - and I've said many times from this podium - called on them to do so in accordance with international law and obligations that they have. So I can't speak to these specific claims and to the veracity of them, but I can tell you that we've been very honest and very candid with Turkey and Turkish leaders about how we want to see them meet their obligations internationally and to their own people.

QUESTION: If you saw the report, if you heard the allegations, would you call for an investigation - an international - maybe --

MR KIRBY: I simply couldn't answer that right - it's a hypothetical question that I simply can't speculate on right now.


QUESTION: Thank you, John. Let's talking about North Korean young man Kim Jong-un's behaviors. And yesterday, North Korea - Kim Jong-un said that he will never stop their nuclear development and nuclear test. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I have the same comment that I have had consistently with respect to their provocative behavior and their provocative threats, that the international community stands united - and you can see that in the most recent UN Security Council resolution, which is very robust - the international community stands united in addressing the threats that the North Korean regime continues to pose on the peninsula, and we will. And as I've said before, the United States must, given its past behavior, take those kinds of threats seriously.

QUESTION: Today Assistant Secretary[1] Sung Kim met with South Korean Six-Party representative Hong Kim. Did they have any agreement with anything? Do you have a readout?

MR KIRBY: Do we have any --

QUESTION: Do you have any readout --

MR KIRBY: I don't have a readout of the meeting, no. Afraid not.


QUESTION: One more on North Korea. Are you heartened by the comments from the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers at their news conference in Moscow, essentially saying that the DPRK's nuclear ambitions are unacceptable, that its actions have been irresponsible, and so on?

MR KIRBY: I think those are encouraging comments and certainly in line with what we've been saying.

QUESTION: And do you have any reason to think that the Chinese are any more willing to pressure the North directly given their economic and other ties?

MR KIRBY: I would just point you to what they've said themselves about this and the very significant vote that they had on this particular resolution, which does include much more stringent sanctions on the North, as well as a pretty significant enforcement mechanism, which they signed up to.

So I've seen - let me put it another way. I've seen certainly no indication and have seen no comment, no reason to believe that the Chinese are any less committed to enforcing these sanctions as they voted for and signed up to do.

You had a question on --

QUESTION: One on Myanmar.

QUESTION: Oh, wait. Just on the Russian and the Chinese, they also said - while condemning the North Korean actions, they also said that they were opposed and will remain essentially forever opposed to THAAD. Your standard response to Chinese opposition in the past has been, well, if you don't want it there, then do more on North Korea. Is that still your position?

MR KIRBY: Our position on - I saw those comments. Our position remains that the THAAD system is defensive. It is not an offensive capability. It is purely defensive. And we are in consultations with South Korea about the potential deployment of THAAD to the peninsula. No decisions have been made. And we believe that these consultations - we continue to believe these consultations are prudent given the continued rhetoric and provocative behavior coming out of Pyongyang.

QUESTION: Yeah, but is it still your message to the Chinese and now to the Russians that if you don't want us to deploy THAAD in South Korea, you need to do more to get - to rein in North Korea?

MR KIRBY: No, no, no, Matt. Our --


MR KIRBY: I mean, obviously - obviously, we --

QUESTION: So they're going to have to suck it up regardless? Is that what you're saying? Even if North Korea goes totally non-nuclear, you're still going to deploy THAAD? Is that --


QUESTION: -- what you're saying?



MR KIRBY: No, I'm just waiting for you to finish and then I'll - so, look, the message is, first of all, we want - as we've said in the past, particularly in China's case, we want them to use the influence they have and the leadership in the region to engender a different set of behaviors out of Pyongyang. That's the same. And we have said that privately and publicly to Chinese leaders.

Number two, if you're asking what's the message here to Russia or China or anybody else, the message is this is a purely defensive system. It hasn't been deployed. It - I don't know if it's going to get deployed. But if it does, there's no reason for the Russians or the Chinese to be concerned about it, because it is purely defensive in nature. And we continue to believe that consultations on the potential deployment are important given the continued rhetoric and behavior out of the North.

QUESTION: Also on North Korea?


QUESTION: So going back to the idea that Kim Jong-un - it's been reported that Kim Jong-un is calling for more nuclear tests, are you considering any additional measures to try to prevent the North from conducting these additional tests?

MR KIRBY: We always have a wide range of tools at our disposal. I wouldn't rule anything in or out at this time. I'm not going to speculate about anything that might happen in the future. We - the international community, just by matter of fact, tends to - it is actions such as launches and tests that engender the kinds of sanctions that are put in place. And should that kind of behavior happen again in the future, I certainly wouldn't rule anything in or out in terms of what we might try to espouse inside the UN Security Council or unilaterally working with the Congress. We have a wide range of tools at our disposal and I think we've proven - and the international community has proven that they're willing to use those tools.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: But you won't - you'll have to wait until those tests happen as opposed to trying to prevent them.

MR KIRBY: That's the whole reason why there's another set of sanctions, is to discourage that kind of behavior in the future. That's the reason you do it.

QUESTION: What about the - two days ago, North Korea launched two short-range missiles at the South Korean east coast. Will the UN Security Council take another additional sanctions on this every time they going to launch it - another missiles - or what?

MR KIRBY: I don't have anything specific to announce today. I mean, this is - those are issues for the UN to take up. I mean, we've seen those reports and noted them, but I just don't have anything to announce today.


QUESTION: Poland --

QUESTION: Myanmar?

QUESTION: About Poland, if I may. A few weeks ago, Secretary Kerry said - let me quote him - that: We are welcoming Poland's decision to seek a Venice Commission opinion with respect to the tribunal law. And today, the Venice Commission issued opinion - very harsh and recommending reversal of some decisions made by Polish parliament and government that are undermining democracy. And it seems that the Polish Government is set to ignore it, so I wonder, what does it portend for U.S.-Polish relations?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think we've addressed this previously with some of your colleagues. I'm happy to revisit our position here with respect to this.

QUESTION: Yeah, but today's new decision made by --

MR KIRBY: We - look, we want - we have a strong relationship with Poland. They are a NATO ally. And, as always, we want Poland to continue to be a strong and vibrant partner. And as a fellow democracy and an ally, we do care deeply about Poland and the Polish people, and we're watching the situation closely. We have expressed our concerns about some rule of law developments in Poland, this one in particular - there's no question about that. We hope a solution to the dispute will be found that conforms to Poland's constitution, maintains democratic checks and balances, and meets the highest international standards for rule of law. And, frankly, I'd say we remain confident about the strength of Poland's democracy and the ability of Poles to address this through dialogue and compromise.

QUESTION: But is there some disagreement between U.S. and Poland on this? Because on some - you can find some press reports - for example, for Ambassador Daniel Fried visit to Poland, some - in some right-wing media you can find information that he behaved like a viceroy visiting a colony. So it's not very friendly from their part, and I think they in some way express the views of the government and the ruling party.

MR KIRBY: I mean, I think I've answered the question pretty thoroughly. I mean, Poland is a good friend and an ally, and we care about Poland and its future. And as I said, we want to see them reach a solution here that conforms to their own constitution, and we're going to continue to monitor this very, very closely. We're going to stay in touch with Polish authorities. But I can assure you that our commitment to a strong bilateral relationship with Poland remains solid right now.

QUESTION: Can we go (inaudible) --

QUESTION: But can we go back to the --


QUESTION: Yeah, so --

MR KIRBY: Arshad's been patient on the --

QUESTION: I'm sure you've seen the reports that Myint Swe has been selected to serve as the vice president of Myanmar by the unelected group of former military legislators. As far as I know, he's still on the U.S. SDN list. How do you feel about Burma/Myanmar going forward in this way with a president selected by the reformers and a vice president who clearly harkens back to the military rule?

MR KIRBY: I think the way I'd put this is that we - while we believe the nomination of vice presidential candidates is an important step - another important step in Burma's democratic transition, and while we remain committed to supporting that very transition, we have been consistent and have not been shy in noting the structural and systemic flaws in Burma's constitution, which includes the reservation of 25 percent of parliamentary seats for the military, which in part allows for the Burmese military to ensure that one of its nominees will either be president or vice president. We believe that the people of Burma should be allowed to vote for the leaders of their own choice, so we have been very consistent and clear about these flaws in their system.

QUESTION: Russia? Russia?

QUESTION: John, what about --

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: -- what about the U.S. and this specific individual, though, who has been under U.S. sanctions for almost eight years now?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, this is a process, as you know, that's overseen by the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control. I mean, I think they would have to speak to the specifics as to why he's on that list. We wouldn't do that. As I understand it, people can only be removed from that list if they cease the sanctionable activities that put them on there in the first place. And again, that's a process that's overseen by OFAC. We don't control that here at the State Department. They investigate, they assess each case --

QUESTION: Right, but --

MR KIRBY: -- and I suspect that they - that they're - that they still are. But again, we want to see the democratic transition move forward. We think that's healthy for Burma. There are flaws in that process we have noted, that we have conveyed our concerns about to Burmese leaders, and we're just - we're going to continue to watch this.

QUESTION: But are you going to deal with him? Do the - are the sanctions any impediment to your dealing with him?

MR KIRBY: Again, I think that's a better question for the Treasury Department, which maintains the list and does the assessment about who's on it and who's not. I have seen nothing that says this individual is going to be taken off that list. But again, you'd have to talk to Treasury about that.

QUESTION: Do you think --

QUESTION: The question --


QUESTION: The question is whether or not - I mean, he's going to be the vice president of the country. Presumably, your diplomats - not the Treasury Department - are going to have to make a decision about whether this guy is to be dealt with as a legitimate and a credible senior Burmese government official. Has there been any --

MR KIRBY: I don't have any announcements or decisions to read out today.


MR KIRBY: We're going to - we have made our concerns known about this individual and this process, quite frankly, and we'll monitor it going forward. And if we have - if we reach a decision point one way or the other, well, then we'll talk about that at that time.

QUESTION: John, can I --

QUESTION: John, I actually had a question. I'm on deadline.

MR KIRBY: Hang on, hang on, hang on.

QUESTION: One on Russia.


QUESTION: I'm actually on deadline. Could I ask you my question, please?


QUESTION: It goes back to the President's interview with The Atlantic magazine. Let's stipulate first that the President can say whatever he or she wants. The first question I have is: Did Ambassador Barzun have a particular message for his British counterparts in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about the President's description of David Cameron's state of mind, to-do list, agenda in that interview? We do know that he had conversations with people in the FCO.

MR KIRBY: I'm not aware of any specific discussions that have been had between our posts and embassies and foreign governments or foreign leaders in the last few days specifically with respect to this article. I'm simply not aware of any.

QUESTION: So you're not aware that anyone has contacted any officials in any of the embassies, whether in London or in Paris or in Rome, about the tenor of the President's comments?

MR KIRBY: I am not aware of such discussions.

QUESTION: There are some who are suggesting that perhaps the President was a little too frank by half. Couldn't it be argued that if other countries actually understand the President's worldview and how he views the U.S.'s role in trying to help resolve problems, that it actually might be more useful?

MR KIRBY: What's the question?

QUESTION: Wouldn't it be more - wouldn't it be more helpful for the U.S.'s allies and enemies to understand exactly where the U.S. is coming from, for example, on how to intervene in Syria, that perhaps going in unilaterally might not be good, not just for the U.S.'s national security interests but for its standing in the region?

MR KIRBY: But I mean --

QUESTION: The President was roundly criticized for not launching the airstrikes after the chemical weapons attack at Ghouta, and in the article the President went on to explain why he decided after having first decided to launch the airstrike to then cancel the airstrike. Isn't it more useful for the international community to understand the President's thinking on something of such magnitude?

MR KIRBY: I think they - look, first of all, I'm not going to re-litigate an interview that the President had with an external media outlet, so let's just put that aside for a minute.


MR KIRBY: And the White House should speak to this, as appropriate.

MR KIRBY: But secondly, foreign leaders all around the world know exactly where we are on foreign policy objectives because we are so transparent about what we're trying to do around the world and because we have so many posts and embassies and great, qualified diplomats who are able to communicate U.S. foreign policy goals and objectives with the host governments with which they work. I mean, that's the art of diplomacy. That's the act of statecraft. And we do that every single day and we do it in ways big and small, in many ways that nobody ever gets to see. The Secretary is on the road right now, as you and I speak, on his way to go deal with significant issues in the Middle East. Syria, Yemen, Libya obviously are all on his agenda.

So there are tangible, practical, hold-in-your-hand ways that foreign leaders around the world can easily ascertain what the United States foreign policy objectives are and how we're going after them.

QUESTION: So would it be fair to say that the U.S. Government sees the complaints from former members of David Cameron's government, for example, or current members who don't want to be named, complaining about the harshness with which the U.S. seems to view the UK?

MR KIRBY: Well, first of all - and we talked about this a little bit the other day in respect to another question - there is a special relationship between us and the UK and a deep and abiding not just alliance, but friendship. And nothing is going to change that. I can't speak for anybody who might have a specific view about that article or the comments that were expressed in that article. And as I said, I'm not going to re-litigate that story. We have - I mean, we have strong relationships around the world that we're going to continue to foster and continue to try to improve. And as I said, we do that in a very direct way every single day. And if people want to express their opinions about this article, they're certainly free to do that. I mean, it is an article in a magazine, so it's out there.

But what we're doing, what we're focused on here, is advancing the President's foreign policy objectives around the world. That's why Secretary Kerry is not here today and on the road, and that's why so many people here at the State Department today, right here in Foggy Bottom, are working doggedly to try to make sure that we're looking after the interests of the American people.

QUESTION: John, can I --


QUESTION: Can I just point out that you can say all you want that foreign governments and foreign leaders should know and have all the evidence before them to know exactly what U.S. foreign policy strategy is, and that it is - you're the most transparent, or whatever, in describing - in describing them.

MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But they don't feel that way, and a lot of people in our position here don't think that it's completely transparent or transparent at all.

MR KIRBY: Really?

QUESTION: There are many - there are many areas in the world where U.S. policy --

MR KIRBY: Well, now that's an interesting charge.

QUESTION: -- where U.S. policy is not clear and is not transparent. And people --

MR KIRBY: Well, look, if --

QUESTION: And the magazine article that you're talking about here reflects a lot of that.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, to the degree it's not clear, maybe that's my fault.

QUESTION: Well, no, it's not just you.

MR KIRBY: But --

QUESTION: I mean, it's --

MR KIRBY: It's not just me? But it is me? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, it's not you. It's the White House. I meant - when I meant you it was the --

MR KIRBY: No, I get it. I get it. Hey, look, I get it. I get it.

QUESTION: It was the "you" meaning the entire Administration.

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second. Hang on. You just lobbed a bunch of charges here, so --

QUESTION: Well, listen, U.S. foreign policy has often thrived on a lack of transparency and vagueness. It's just a fact: it has.

QUESTION: Take, for example, Kissinger's secret trip to China. There wasn't a whole lot of transparency there.

MR KIRBY: I'm not at all --

QUESTION: I mean, we can go back --

MR KIRBY: Wait, wait, wait.

QUESTION: We can go back to a hundred years or more.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Well, I mean, I'm not going to re-litigate a hundred years of foreign policy.

QUESTION: No, and I'm not asking you to. And I just think that you come out and make a broad statement about how you're - everyone should - no foreign leader should have any problems understanding the goals of U.S. foreign policy because you're incredibly transparent. And I just - you can say that, but it can't go unchallenged because a lot of them don't think that.

MR KIRBY: I like it when you challenge me, Matt. But that doesn't mean that I agree with you, and I don't agree with you on this. Look, I mean, are you saying --

QUESTION: Okay. You don't think that people are confused about what U.S. foreign policy objectives are?

MR KIRBY: I - look, there are constant discussions we have every day with foreign leaders about what we're trying to achieve. And I can't - I'm not going to lie and say that there isn't disagreement.


MR KIRBY: That people don't necessarily see things the same way we do, or that people - that there's some - maybe some leaders that want more information than maybe we're willing or able to give them. I mean, obviously, we have an obligation as well. And I don't know how much we've talked in this room about operational security in light of the - making all those emails public. We have an obligation to protect sensitive information, and that's how you look after the American people.

But in general and in the main, the art of diplomacy and achieving foreign policy objectives is through conversation and dialogue and as much transparency as possible. And don't sit here and tell me that this is not a transparent institution here at the State Department. I mean, we brief every single day. You are able to come in here every day and harangue and harass me, and I keep standing up here and taking it because that's what we do. We are accountable to not just the American people, but to people all around the world for what we're doing.

QUESTION: You - yes, you --

MR KIRBY: And we're not afraid to answer these tough questions.

QUESTION: Well, when you answer the questions, though, you don't often give substantive answers.

MR KIRBY: I give you --

QUESTION: Like you say - how many times in the last month, how many times in the last - this week alone have you said, "I'm sorry, we're not going to get into the details of our diplomatic conversations"?

MR KIRBY: There are things we need to protect, but they're diplomatic conversations that we're having with foreign leaders. So back to your original charge that they don't know what we're thinking, they do because we're sitting down and talking to them. And it does us little good in the end to go then and read out every single detail of every conversation to you, the press, as we have them because it might render - it might render moot the entire discussion.

QUESTION: Right, but that's not transparency.

MR KIRBY: It might actually put the diplomatic initiative and effort under more pressure.

QUESTION: But that is not transparency.

MR KIRBY: It is.

QUESTION: Diplomacy --

MR KIRBY: It is as transparent as we can be.

QUESTION: Diplomacy works when it's - because it's - when it's secret.

MR KIRBY: Some, yes.

QUESTION: Pretty much all of it.

MR KIRBY: Some. But secret from whom? From you?

QUESTION: From the world at large.

QUESTION: Yes, yes. From us. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Yes, exactly.

QUESTION: From us, but also from --

MR KIRBY: Exactly. Secret from you.

QUESTION: But also from a great deal of foreign leaders. And no one is saying you're not - you're not more transparent than North Korea or something like that. No one is saying that.

MR KIRBY: But you said we are not transparent.

QUESTION: You're - no.

MR KIRBY: You didn't make it comparatively.

QUESTION: I'm not saying you're not transparent at all.

MR KIRBY: You said we're not transparent.

QUESTION: You're talking - you're - but you're boasting about the fact that you're incredibly transparent --

MR KIRBY: We are.

QUESTION: -- and that everybody knows what you're doing. Well, I just don't think that's the case.

MR KIRBY: I said - now you're exaggerating my quote. I said there's no reason for foreign leaders not to know - not to be able to charge they don't understand American foreign policy because we do explain it as best we can, and we are transparent, and we do energetically advance our interests, and we do it openly and candidly and honestly, and this forum is one of the ways in which we do that.


QUESTION: Can I change topics and possibly get a transparent answer from you? (Laughter.) On Middle East --

MR KIRBY: Wow, you just --

QUESTION: The Israeli-Palestinian issue.

QUESTION: I got money - I got money on this. (Laughter.) Let's see how much - how transparent your answer is going to get.

MR KIRBY: You just inured yourself to me.

QUESTION: Now the departing - the departing secretary-general of the Arab League a couple of days ago said that he - when he spoke with Fabius - former Foreign Minister Fabius in London a week or so ago, he gave him three points for an international conference - peace conference premised on the two-state solution, that one, there will be a conference convened and by the major parts including the five permanent members and so on but will not include Israel and the Palestinians; a second meeting that will include the Israelis and the Palestinians; and the third will be a conference that would bring everybody into the fold next summer in Paris. Do you have any comment on that? Are you aware of these points? Do you agree with them?

MR KIRBY: We are aware of the French proposal, and we are reviewing it. I am not going to litigate here in front of everybody our views yet. We are still taking a look at this French proposal. I will tell you, though, without getting into decisions or analysis that we haven't made, that we continue to be committed to finding a two-state solution.

QUESTION: But in light of the latest development where the Israelis and the Palestinians are somewhat intransigent and you are unable to broker any kind of face-to-face kind of dialogue between them - the Vice President went there, he was faced with terror, he was faced obstinance by Israel - he was faced with all kinds of things. He was not able to get anywhere. In fact, there was - he complained about the settlement activities and so on. In light of this situation, why not support an international conference that can maybe bring everybody into line on this issue?

MR KIRBY: Again, we've made no decisions about the French proposal. We're reviewing it. We - nothing has changed about our commitment to what the end game here ought to be, which is a two-state solution. And I won't get ahead of where things may go or what policies may be pursued. Again, we've been very clear about what we want to see.

QUESTION: I understand. But my last point on this - I promise it's my last point - when presidential hopefuls get up and say that maybe the occupation ought to stay on for another 30 years and 40 years, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel of this occupation that has gone on for 50 years for the Palestinians, how do you deal with such a frustrated situation when, obviously, we don't want the situation to go over a cliff or for violence to take another spike or perhaps even a third intifada and so on. I mean, what would you do to basically assure the Palestinians that there is hope at the end of the day that this occupation will end?

MR KIRBY: We want - what we've tried to do is express to everybody on all sides of this that we want to see a viable two-state solution emerge. But in order for that to happen, everybody has to take affirmative steps to help us get there, to ratchet down the violence, to ratchet down the incitement of violence, and to try to restore a sense of calm so that meaningful progress can be made in that regard. And that's - we've been extraordinarily consistent about what we want to see there and that requires a good measure of dialogue, of productive dialogue between the two sides as well.

So look, again, I'm not going to speculate one way or the other about what the future holds in terms of process, but I can tell you that our policy has remained unchanged, and our goals and what we'd like to see for the betterment of everybody there in the region has absolutely remained unchanged. And you're going to see Secretary Kerry continue to work at this every day that he remains Secretary of State.


QUESTION: But don't you see that the U.S. policy in that area on the subject over the years has failed? Is it time to give the Europeans a lead in this?

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: We are all talking about two-state, we are all talking about there being - you go back years and years and --

MR KIRBY: The international community has remained focused on this, not just the United States. And we're not going to change our deep and abiding interest in seeing a two-state solution as a result. But your question sort of presumes that there's some sort of handoff here or that --

QUESTION: No, the question isn't --

MR KIRBY: -- or that the Europeans need a turn. Now, wait a second. What needs to happen is both sides need to take the affirmative steps they need to take - they need to take - to reduce the violence, restore a sense of calm, stop the incitement to the violence itself, and to try to prove that they are willing and able to advance a two-state solution. I mean, it has to start with them.


QUESTION: The Russian foreign ministry says Russia has repeatedly requested information about the investigation into circumstances of Mikhail Lesin's death, and the foreign ministry says U.S. authorities have not provided any substantive information on the subject. It's been four months since Mikhail Lesin was found dead in a D.C. hotel. Do you know why it's taking so long to provide that information?

MR KIRBY: I'm not going to speak to an ongoing criminal investigation. What I can tell you - I mean, I've seen those comments. What I can tell you is that my understanding is that the Metropolitan Police Department is still investigating this, that they have provided information to the Russian Government. We have at the State Department tried to help facilitate those conversations and will continue to do so appropriately. But my understanding is that information has been provided and shared and I am sure will be appropriately going forward.

QUESTION: Information on the investigation into his death?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, to the degree that they - to the degree that they can and they're able to, my understanding is that they are.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: It's an ongoing investigation by the Metropolitan Police Department.

QUESTION: Do you know why --

QUESTION: So no - so you're not aware that they've determined --

QUESTION: You said --

QUESTION: -- that he was killed.

QUESTION: They have not determined that --

QUESTION: Or that a crime may have committed - been committed.

MR KIRBY: Okay, okay. I used the word "criminal investigation" inappropriately. It is a investigation by the Metropolitan Police Department. Let me correct my transcript right now. That investigation is ongoing and I'm not going to get ahead of it.

QUESTION: Do you - are you saying that the U.S. intends to stay in contact with Russian authorities on this investigation?

MR KIRBY: My understanding is - I cannot speak for the police department. My understanding is that they have shared information with the Russian Government and that we have helped facilitate the sharing of that information, and I would fully expect that that would continue going forward.

QUESTION: What kind of information?

MR KIRBY: I'm not going to get into that.

QUESTION: You won't say that?

QUESTION: Can you --

MR KIRBY: I'm not going to get into that, and I think you can understand why I wouldn't.

QUESTION: Can you - just so we're clear, because they are - I think it was the Kremlin spokesman who was saying that they had not gotten substantive information. Can you at least address whether the D.C. authorities' public statement yesterday from the coroner's office and from the police that this man died from blunt force trauma or blunt injuries has been conveyed to them kind of officially or formally?

MR KIRBY: I don't know. You'd really have to refer to - I'd refer you to the Metropolitan Police Department.

QUESTION: And in a case like this - and I honestly just don't know the answer, but it would - in a case like this, does the State Department typically just try to put the other government directly in touch with the local law enforcement authorities?

MR KIRBY: There is an - in this particular case, as I understand it, there is an avenue of direct communication between the police department and the Russian Government. I don't know what form that takes. I don't know who that is. Again, you'd have to talk to the D.C. police.

QUESTION: So you guys don't want to be in the middle of that.

MR KIRBY: There's no reason for us to be. And we have helped facilitate that connection and will do so going forward if it needs to be, but that connection exists and it's important for it to.

QUESTION: And then last thing: Do you have any information about why Mr. Lesin was here in the United States, what he was doing? Did he have a visa to be here? Do you know anything about why he was here?

MR KIRBY: I'm afraid I don't. I really don't. Listen, guys, I've got to go. I'll take one --

QUESTION: I've got one more on Honduras.


MR KIRBY: Okay, I'll take two more. Go ahead, and then (inaudible).

QUESTION: Yesterday Mark said that during Secretary Kerry's conversation with Lavrov, the case of the detained Ukraine female pilot came up. But my question for you is: Did the case of Russian embassy in Kyiv being attacked by protestors who are calling for the release of the pilot being discussed, and then what's your take on that?

MR KIRBY: We've seen the reports of violent protests at and around Russian diplomatic and consular facilities in Ukraine and also at Ukrainian facilities in Russia, some of which have reportedly been vandalized. We condemn any violent acts or vandalism directed at diplomatic or consular facilities, whether in Ukraine, Russia, or anywhere else in the world, and we've been consistent about that. We call on the people of Ukraine to express themselves peacefully, and we call on Ukraine's security services to continue to uphold their responsibilities under the Vienna Convention for the protection of diplomatic and consular missions.

QUESTION: Did that come up during the Kerry and Lavrov conversation yesterday?

MR KIRBY: I don't have additional information to read out from that particular conversation.

QUESTION: And then another question is on Afghanistan. Afghan news reports said that during a recent video conference between President Obama and Afghan leaders, President Obama asked CEO Abdullah not to interfere with the Afghan president's constitution powers. My question for you is: Was there any disagreement between the U.S. and Afghan regarding the peace process and the input from the CEO?

MR KIRBY: What I would tell you is that - again, without getting into details of conversations in another arm of government here - the President regularly speaks with President Ghani and with Chief Executive Abdullah to discuss security, governance, other bilateral and regional issues. We were pleased to see the recent agreement on the Afghan Government's appointment of a new attorney general, a new minister of the interior, and new leadership of the High Peace Council. We continue to support and welcome cooperation between President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah in advancing the National Unity Government's reform agenda to bring security and stability to the Afghan people.

QUESTION: Can I just --

QUESTION: No, wait a second. That wasn't particularly --

MR KIRBY: Transparent?

QUESTION: -- transparent at all, was it? You didn't say whether the United States complained to the CEO that he was interfering with the president's constitutional duties.

MR KIRBY: I'm not going to read out details from the President's call, from the --


MR KIRBY: Come on, Matt. You know I can't do that.

QUESTION: Okay. Honduras --

MR KIRBY: So your definition of transparency is I should just say everything - everything you want to know.

QUESTION: Is answering - it's answering - if the question is - well, yeah, sure, if you want to just pull the - put the book up onto the screen --

MR KIRBY: Would you like that?

QUESTION: -- that's fine. But no, I'm just saying answering --

QUESTION: I don't want to (inaudible) cables.

QUESTION: -- answering - (laughter) - but answering the question that is --

MR KIRBY: Of course we have to protect sensitive information.

QUESTION: -- asked is transparent. Anyway, that's not my --

MR KIRBY: I respond to every question that's asked of me.

QUESTION: Yes, you do, but --

QUESTION: A response is not an answer.

QUESTION: Exactly, a response is not --

MR KIRBY: You could have just stopped with "Yes, you do."

QUESTION: Anyway - (laughter) - Honduras. I asked you a couple times the - about the investigation and what you think of it into the murder of this woman activist.

MR KIRBY: I do not have an update and we are in close touch.

QUESTION: Well, it's just - and I - but the - a whole bunch of groups, people who are interested in Honduras and Latin America have written to the Secretary asking for the U.S. to explicitly support an independent investigation, not a Honduran police investigation, into this murder.

MR KIRBY: I'm not --

QUESTION: Can you --

MR KIRBY: Not aware of that.

QUESTION: -- find out if --

MR KIRBY: I'll look into it.

QUESTION: -- one, the letter's been received, and two, what your position is on --

MR KIRBY: We'll look into it.

QUESTION: -- whether you would support an independent investigation --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I just don't know. I haven't seen that letter. We'll look into it.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can you take one on Ethiopia?

MR KIRBY: Gotta go. Have a great weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 4:07 p.m.)

[1] Special Representative


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