2:16 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: Hey, everybody.
MR KIRBY: Just a couple things at the top. Today, I think as you may know, the Department of the Treasury imposed targeted sanctions on two individuals in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including one current and one former DRC official. Specifically, the United States designated former national inspector for the Congolese National Police John Numbi for engaging in actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in the DRC, and Major General Gabriel Amisi Kumba for being the leader of an armed group that has threatened the peace, security, or stability of the DRC.
As a result of today’s actions, these designated individuals’ assets within U.S. – excuse me, U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them. Today’s designations follow the listing in June of Celestin Kanyama and underscore our commitment to deter behavior that undermines the DRC’s stability and democratic institutions at this critical point in its history. They also reflect our continued concerns about the violence and the lack of an inclusive agreement on an electoral timeline.
On Ukraine and the MH17 report, as you saw, we issued a statement on this earlier today. I want to reiterate, however, that we are gratified that the Netherlands and other members of the joint investigation team are objectively and thoroughly investigating the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. The team’s interim findings corroborate Secretary Kerry’s statement in the days following the tragedy and leave no doubt that MH17 was shot down by a Buk surface-to-air missile, fired from territory in eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists. We also note the JIT’s – the joint investigation team’s finding that the missile launcher was first brought into Ukraine from Russia and then moved out of Ukraine and back to Russia after the shoot-down.
And while nothing can take away the grief of all those who lost loved ones on that very terrible day, the announcement – this announcement is now another step toward bringing those responsible for this outrage to justice.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: That’s it?
MR KIRBY: Is there something more you’d like?
QUESTION: Well, I don’t know.
MR KIRBY: I mean, I’m --
QUESTION: That I would like? (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: You don’t --
QUESTION: Lunch? Lunch?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) your statement this morning?
MR KIRBY: You want to order up toppers, I’m happy to do that.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- in which he, according to you, Secretary Kerry, quote, “informed the foreign minister that the United States is making preparations to suspend U.S.-Russia bilateral engagement on Syria, including on the establishment of the JIC, unless Russia takes immediate steps to end the assault on Aleppo and restore the cessation of hostilities.”
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: What exactly does that mean? You’re making preparations to suspend unless Russia takes – I don’t quite get the construction there.
MR KIRBY: Well --
QUESTION: Are you making preparations or are you not making preparations now?
MR KIRBY: We – no, I see what you mean. We are working through steps that we might have to take to begin to suspend our engagement with Russia on Syria. We haven’t taken those steps yet, but the message to the foreign minister today was that we’re perfectly willing and able to move forward on those kinds of steps – steps that would end up in the suspension of U.S.-Russia bilateral engagement on Syria – unless we see some significant steps taken by Russia in the very near future to show that they mean what they say when they say they support a cessation of hostilities and a resumption of political talks.
QUESTION: And I don’t get – are you making preparations now or are you saying that you will make preparations to suspend unless? And what exactly are you talking about in terms of U.S.-Russia bilateral engagement? Does that include the de-confliction exercise? What does that mean?
MR KIRBY: So a couple – so on the first question, what – as I said, we’re thinking through what steps we would have to take to suspend the engagement if we need to. So while we haven’t taken any of these steps --
MR KIRBY: -- we’re certainly thinking that through and we’re making preps to do that in the very near future. Now on the --
QUESTION: And can I just – what does that mean? Like, you’re preparing to bring people back from Geneva?
MR KIRBY: Well, for instance, it could include the fact that, yes, we’ve – as you know, we have a team in Geneva, and while they’re still there we certainly communicated to them that their presence in Geneva may not be the case --
QUESTION: May no longer be required?
MR KIRBY: -- for much longer.
QUESTION: That includes the de-confliction talks?
MR KIRBY: That’s a different issue. That’s a DOD thing, and that’s --
QUESTION: Okay. So --
MR KIRBY: -- and that revolves around – hang on a second – that revolves around the fight against ISIL, and I won’t speak for the Department of Defense. I think they would tell you that they still find the de-confliction mechanisms useful in terms of the fight against Daesh. What I’m talking about is the team’s – the technical team that we have had in Geneva to work through the modalities of this latest agreement that was arrived at on September 9th. And so one of the things that – one of the steps that can be taken that would potentially lead to a suspension would be not having that team in Geneva anymore.
QUESTION: So – and does this mean that the – is another one that the Secretary would no longer be prepared to have these big weekly meetings with Foreign Minister Lavrov, or almost daily phone calls about Syria, that they would only talk about other issues?
MR KIRBY: I don’t want to rule anything in or out at this point. I mean, let’s see where this goes.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: What --
QUESTION: Hold on.
MR KIRBY: But the short answer is that we are thinking through the logic of continuing this engagement given what we’ve seen in Aleppo over the last several days, and we are also thinking through what steps – if we were to suspend, what steps would we need to take to do that and how would that be manifested.
QUESTION: Last one for me on this. I don’t know if you’ve seen this statement from Senators Graham and McCain about this statement and this threat. It’s extremely sarcastic. I won’t read the whole thing, but, “Finally a real” – here’s part of it: “Finally a real power move in American diplomacy. Secretary of State John ‘Not Delusional’ Kerry has made the one threat the Russians feared most – suspension of bilateral talks.” It goes on to say, “What does this mean? No more lakeside tete-a-tetes at five-star hotels in Geneva, press conferences in Moscow. We can only imagine that having heard the news, Putin has called off his bear hunt and is rushing back to the Kremlin to call off Russian airstrikes,” blah, blah, blah. “After all, butchering the Syrian people to save the Assad regime is an important goal – Russian goal. But not if it comes at the unthinkable price of dialogue with Secretary Kerry.”
They’re clearly unimpressed with this. What do you – what’s your --
MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that statement.
QUESTION: One, is that appropriate?
MR KIRBY: That’s the first I heard of that statement. But look, I think – look, the Secretary addressed this, some of this criticism the other day in Cartagena. And I think I’d point you back to what he said that day. We – we’re not apologetic here for, as he said, going the last mile to try to achieve a diplomatic solution here. Because we continue to believe that more violence, more war, more bloodshed, is not the answer, and that the best way to end the civil war is to get the two sides back together again in Geneva. That can’t happen when the opposition’s being bombed and when civilians are being killed and hospitals are being struck, as they have been in just the last 24 to 48 hours. And so there’s nothing that the Secretary’s going to apologize for, congressional criticism or not, about talking to the Russians, who have the most influence on Assad, to try to get this to stop. But as he also has said, his patience is not limitless. And I think you can tell from his comments in recent days and certainly this readout today that that patience is wearing extraordinarily thin.
So it is easy to criticize the efforts that the nation’s chief diplomat is making --
MR KIRBY: -- when you aren’t – hang on a second – when you aren’t accountable for the results of those discussions and when you don’t necessarily – have thought through all the unintended consequences of more violence, more bloodshed, or military solutions in an already bloody war.
QUESTION: John, what does it mean – what does it mean when he says “the unacceptable delays of humanitarian aid” unless he stops immediately, unless he proposes immediately? Like, what does that mean? I mean, it sounds like an ultimatum and it sounds like he’s expecting a result. So what is his definition of “immediately”? That’s the first one.
MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to give you a time stamp on that. Immediately means now. We want to see results now. I mean --
QUESTION: But does he have an idea in his mind about how long he’s going to give this before he actually makes good on this – these threats or --
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to give you a time stamp here or a number of hours or days, but I can --
QUESTION: What --
MR KIRBY: -- I think you can tell – I think you can tell from the tone of this readout that he’s not prepared to let the situation go on for very much longer before we have to take the steps we need to take --
QUESTION: What --
MR KIRBY: -- to begin suspending --
QUESTION: Wait, I have another.
MR KIRBY: -- engagement. But I’m not going to – I just don’t think, in the wake of this phone call, and the very clear message that we sent to the Russians, that it’s useful for me to --
QUESTION: Did he give --
MR KIRBY: -- put a date on the calendar.
QUESTION: -- without saying it, without telling us, did he give Foreign Minister --
MR KIRBY: He made it very clear --
QUESTION: -- did he give Foreign Minister Lavrov a timeframe in terms of when he wants to see this or the cooperation would start to be suspended?
MR KIRBY: He made it very clear to Foreign Minister Lavrov that we needed to see steps immediately. We needed to see steps now.
QUESTION: No, I understand. But even if you’re not going to --
MR KIRBY: We needed to see real commitments.
QUESTION: -- even if you’re not going to tell us how long that is, did he give Foreign Minister Lavrov a specific timeframe in which he needed to see that?
MR KIRBY: He was very clear about our expectations in terms of the immediacy of the actions we need to see.
QUESTION: Now, if you’re – if you start suspending, as you say, this type of cooperation, given what Secretary Kerry has said about the ugly alternatives, where does that leave you in terms of discussions in this Administration? What is the level of discussion in terms of some other options, including possibly supporting the allies giving more weapons to the opposition? Because if you stop any pretense at a ceasefire, that would suggest that there’s no hope that they’ll be able to end this bombardment.
MR KIRBY: Without getting into the details and specifics of interagency discussions, what I can tell you is that interagency conversations about other options and alternatives that might be available to us and to our partners continue and --
QUESTION: And that would include?
MR KIRBY: -- I’m not going to get into specific details of them. But obviously, this is a discussion that we continue to have inside the interagency. But I’d also point out, as the President has said and as Secretary Kerry has said, none of those options are better for the Syrian people than an immediate cessation of hostilities that can be applied nationwide, the delivery of humanitarian aid, and just as critically, the resumption of political talks that can get the opposition and the regime together in some sort of format to produce a transitional governing structure.
We still believe that the best solution is political, that the best approach is diplomatic, not military. But obviously, it would be irresponsible and imprudent for this government not to continue to have rational, reasoned, deliberate, measured discussions about what our other options are, but they’re – but none of them, at least none that have been discussed so far, are being deemed by – certainly by Secretary Kerry – I won’t speak for other officials in the government – but none of them are better than the option of trying to pursue diplomacy.
QUESTION: What makes you think that the Secretary’s threat to begin to take steps to suspend cooperation if the Russians don’t act to stop the violence immediately is likely to get the Russians to actually stop the violence?
MR KIRBY: Well, I think that’s a question you’d have to ask Foreign Minister Lavrov. We know – we --
QUESTION: You made the offer. I’m asking you: Why do you think that offer would work?
MR KIRBY: I know you’re asking me, but I can’t speak for the Russians. What I can tell you is that we know, as I’ve said here from the podium many times, we know that they want a measure of cooperation between our two militaries. We know that they want the establishment of a Joint Implementation Center. And for our part, we wanted that too because we thought that that could help us advance the fight against a group like al-Nusrah in particular. So there is, we believe, an incentive on their part to have this cooperation from a military perspective, but we’ve seen nothing since the agreement was reached in Geneva on September 9th that would lead us to believe Russia is serious about meeting its end of these commitments.
So that’s my best way of answering your question. I think putting this to the Russians would also be a valuable exercise.
QUESTION: But you’re making an offer even though you’ve seen nothing to suggest that they’re going to take it, and I don’t understand why you’re still leaving this one last chance, if it is a last chance and if you don’t give them another opportunity next week or next month, to do this. I just don’t understand why given what you have yourselves seen. And the Pentagon accused them of having carried out the bombing on September the 19th, correct, because of the two Su-24s that were right over the aid convoy site. You have seen an intensification of air and ground bombardment of Aleppo over the last five days. I don’t understand why you believe – you believe – there’s any reason why the Russians would seize on what you say is their desire for military cooperation with the United States or intelligence-sharing when they have, in your own words, shown no reason to make you believe that.
So why are you doing this?
MR KIRBY: I --
QUESTION: Why not just say it’s over?
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that we believe that this would change their calculus. I don’t know whether it will or it won’t, and neither does the Secretary. The purpose of the call today was to express our deep and grave concern about what’s been happening in just the last several days, let alone what happened last week, and that given what we’ve seen on the ground and in the air around Aleppo, we – unless something dramatically changes very, very soon in terms of their willingness to take the kinds of steps to get to where we agreed we would be in Geneva on September 9th, unless we see something extraordinary, something significant very, very soon, we are going to have to take those steps to suspend our bilateral engagement on Syria. And that’s not an insignificant move for us. The purpose of the call today wasn’t to express an aspiration that they’ll suddenly see the light and do the right thing. It was to say, we haven’t seen you do the right thing – in fact, quite the contrary as Russian jets continue to fly over Aleppo and continue to strike opposition and civilian infrastructure. Not just Syrian jets, Russian jets. And it was, I think – and you can see it in the readout and certainly speaking for the Secretary, a measure of his frustration that he had to place this call today and deliver that very tough message to Foreign Minister Lavrov.
QUESTION: And do you – can you foresee any options that the U.S. Government could take, short of full-scale warfare and invasion, that would actually stop the Russian/Syrian onslaught on Aleppo?
MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not a military tactician. And as I said, I – the Secretary’s --
QUESTION: You were.
MR KIRBY: No, I wasn’t. I was just a spokesman in the Navy. I would never count myself as a tactician, and I wouldn’t speak for specific military tactics in any case, because here at the State Department, the Secretary is still committed to a diplomatic solution. And again, without getting into specific other options, as I told Elise, there are other options that don’t revolve around the act of diplomacy that the interagency has discussed and has talked about, and those discussions are ongoing.
I mean, again, it would be irresponsible for this government not to think about those things and not to try to work through the calculus on other options that are outside diplomacy. But again, not to be redundant, I mean, the Secretary and the President both believe that none of them are better in the long run for the Syrian people than trying to get a diplomatic solution now and a cessation of hostilities today.
QUESTION: Is this --
QUESTION: John, can I just --
MR KIRBY: Hang on, guys. Hang on. I’ll go to Said, then I’ll go to you, Michael.
QUESTION: Is this warning restricted to the September 9th agreement? I mean, you can still cooperate on other stuff, right?
MR KIRBY: No, I think the – I think --
QUESTION: Or is it the whole Syria thing?
MR KIRBY: I think my readout was clear. This was U.S., Russian --
QUESTION: I don’t understand it. So is it pertaining to the truce or the (inaudible) or everything else is --
MR KIRBY: To suspend U.S.-Russia bilateral engagement on Syria.
QUESTION: On Syria, period.
MR KIRBY: Just right in my readout, U.S.-Russian bilateral engagement on Syria.
QUESTION: So basically this is – are you issuing an ultimatum that you may engage in other than diplomatic activities?
MR KIRBY: You can characterize it how you want. I think the Secretary was very direct about what our expectations are.
QUESTION: Now, the Russians are claiming – the Russian foreign ministry say that Mr. Lavrov told the Secretary that al-Nusrah and other groups – many other groups – are continuing with their assaults on government forces and so on, and that needs to stop. Could you confirm that that actually --
MR KIRBY: I can’t confirm that he said that specifically, but he has said in the past that we know that in some cases the opposition themselves have conducted attacks and violated the cessation of hostilities, and clearly Nusrah, which is outside the agreement altogether, has certainly not slowed offensive actions and terrorist attacks.
QUESTION: John, I’d just like to take another crack at Arshad’s question. If you’re going to get any kind of agreement, you have to have some leverage, and that can be positive and negative reinforcements. So you’ve said what’s in it – the agreement for the Russians is the possibility of military collaboration, this Joint Implementation Center. That’s something they want. But what I don’t think we have heard here is, so what are the consequences for Russia if this agreement falls through beyond some interagency discussions about options that have not yet been chosen? What are the consequences for Russia other than Secretary Kerry won’t talk to them on this particular issue going forward?
MR KIRBY: The consequences are that the civil war will continue in Syria, that extremists and extremists groups will continue to exploit the vacuums that are there in Syria to expand their operations, which will include, no question, attacks against Russian interests, perhaps even Russian cities, and Russia will continue to send troops home in body bags, and they will continue to lose resources – even, perhaps, more aircraft. The stability that they claim they seek in Syria will be ever more elusive, and it’s hard to imagine how a continued war – not just a civil war now, but increasingly more violent extremist activity in Syria – can be in the interest of a nation that says, that claims, and has claimed publicly time and time again that what they want to see is a whole, unified, pluralistic Syria and a stable Syria, a secure Syria, a Syria where they want to continue to have a defense relationship and a presence. So that’s what’s in it for them.
QUESTION: Well, when you say – just a quick follow-up – when you say that extremists will exploit the vacuum and that could include attacks on Russia’s cities and Russia could send its troops back in body bags, that also could suggest that perhaps the rebels could start sending home their troops in body bags.
MR KIRBY: It’s going to mean, again, more violence, more war, and you can expect casualties on both sides of this. But the question was what’s in it for Russia to meet its obligations under I don’t know how many different agreements, but specifically the one from September 9th in terms of seven days of reduced violence, humanitarian access. So the question posed to me was what’s in it for Russia, and that’s what’s in it for Russia --
QUESTION: Well --
MR KIRBY: -- aside from the fact that they also want to see a measure of U.S. military cooperation.
QUESTION: Right. But they clearly don’t care that the civil war is continuing because they’re helping to continue it. So it sounds like what you’re saying is that the consequences for Russia is that this is going to become more of a quagmire for them, and you’ve maintained that they don’t want to stay there indefinitely. So you said that the --
MR KIRBY: No, I didn’t say that.
QUESTION: No, you all – you, the Secretary, a lot of people have said that the Russians don’t want to stay there forever, and what I’m saying is you’re – it sounds like you’re suggesting that the consequences for Russia is that this will become a quagmire, that staying in it longer is not in their best interests.
MR KIRBY: What I – first of all, they have had a long-term presence in Syria. I don’t think anybody expects that they’re looking to end that presence. So it’s not that they --
QUESTION: No, I mean stay – when I mean stay there, I mean in this current configuration where they’re heavily engaged in a military intervention.
MR KIRBY: Well, again, those are decisions they have to make as a sovereign country. My point is the question was what’s in it for them to comply with this – what’s in it for them to meet their obligations, to move forward with a JIC, and get the cooperation that they want? What’s in it for them in terms of – or what happens to them if they don’t do that is that they’ll end up being, yeah, more deeply involved in this, and the war won’t stop. Opposition groups are certainly not going to pull back, extremist groups are likely going to expand and take advantage of the chaos, and the war will continue. And more Russian resources will be expended, more Russian lives will be lost, more Russian aircraft will be shot down, and they – and this will go on.
QUESTION: John, those are all consequences that you foresee would be imposed by the situation in Syria. Are there consequences that the Obama Administration is prepared to impose on the Russians for their failure to uphold the agreement? You can imagine economic sanctions, there could be military support to – is the Administration in principle prepared to impose its own consequences for the collapse of this agreement?
MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for the entire Administration here, but what I can tell you is – what I will tell you, Michael, is that --
QUESTION: What’s the policy?
MR KIRBY: -- we have – the policy is we continue to support a diplomatic solution to this rather than a military one. But that doesn’t mean that as a government – and certainly, I can only speak for the State Department and Secretary Kerry – that we – that doesn’t mean that we aren’t still discussing other options and alternatives that might be available to us. It’s just that we continue to believe that none of them are better than trying to get a diplomatic solution to this. Obviously it’s been elusive, and it has been extraordinarily frustrating to see it be so elusive, which is why the Secretary made this phone call to Foreign Minister Lavrov today. But I’m not going to speculate about if, then what, and what might happen going forward.
Moscow has a decision to make. They have had many decisions to make over many, many months, of course, but right now they have a decision to make, and the Secretary laid that decision before them.
QUESTION: So --
MR KIRBY: It is: show that you’re willing to take an extraordinary, significant step to reduce the violence. And one of the – and the step that the Secretary talked about – and you heard him talk about it in New York last week – was keep Assad’s air forces on the ground, show – I got you. I know – I got you. I’m going to get to you, because I had no doubt in my mind that you were going to want to ask a question today. But show those extraordinary steps so that we can start to build the confidence necessary to actually implement the agreements that we’ve reached.
QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up on the consequences?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: One of the things that the Secretary said – or that you said in your statement about his – in your readout of his conversation was – he talked about how the United States and its allies would hold Russia responsible for the situation, including the use of incendiary and bunker-busting bombs in an urban area. So is it your view that the use of incendiary and bunker-busting bombs in an urban area, where civilians are still largely present, could be construed to be a war crime or a violation of the international laws of war?
MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary has spoken to this and has acknowledged that the use of those kinds of weapons against civilian populations is in fact a violation of international law, as is the use of chlorine gas against innocent people, as is the bombing of hospitals or aid workers. I don’t think there is any doubt about that. Now, I think I know where you’re going here, in terms of holding responsible. I’m not going to speculate about how, when, or in what way Russia will be held to account for what it has not only permitted, but assisted the Assad regime in doing. But when we say they’re responsible, we mean it. But I’m not going to get ahead --
QUESTION: So you’re suggesting --
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made yet.
QUESTION: I get it, but something that has happened is that the French foreign minister today said that he was trying to introduce a resolution at the Security Council calling for an end to the violence in Aleppo and saying that those who didn’t support that would – could be construed as aiding in war crimes, or deemed to. Would the U.S. Government support such a resolution, even if the Russians would, presumably, veto it, that sought to refer Syria to the ICC so that Russia maybe could be actually held responsible in a court?
MR KIRBY: Well, we’re aware of the French proposal and I think you can imagine we’re reviewing it and looking at it. I don’t want to get ahead of any determination that we might make one way or the other. I think, obviously, aside from that proposal, we have been nothing but clear and forthright about our views about what’s been happening, particularly in the last week to 10 days, and who we hold responsible for that.
QUESTION: Last one for me on this, if I may. What is – I mean, you know that Syria isn’t a state party to the Rome Statute; therefore, the court doesn’t intrinsically have jurisdiction. And you know that for – the other route, as I understand it, is for the Security Council to make a referral, which seems most unlikely given that Russia has a veto and has vetoed other Syria-related resolutions. So what is the utility of going down that path? Is there an obvious benefit to going down that path or is it just kind of a fool’s errand because they’ll just veto it?
MR KIRBY: I think it’s just too soon to know, Arshad. I mean, the proposal was just made. As I said, we’re looking at it and reviewing it and I’m sure we’ll have an opinion in coming days on that. I just don’t want to get ahead of the process here. At the very least, though, you can see how the international community is becoming more galvanized here about what’s happening. And the form and the mechanism that that takes I think has yet to play out, but clearly, what’s happening in Aleppo has the world’s attention, and rightly so. Absolutely rightly so.
QUESTION: John, two – very briefly to clarify things. You accepted the premise of Arshad’s question, which is that your statement said that United States and its partners will hold Russia responsible for the situation. It doesn’t actually say that, but I want to make – do you intend it to mean that? It says the U.S. and its partners hold Russia responsible, which stops short of saying that you’re going to find – try and go bring some accountability for the actions that you say they’ve committed. Do you mean to say, and does the Secretary – did the Secretary tell Foreign Minister Lavrov that the U.S. and its partners will seek to hold Russia responsible/accountable for what you say they’ve been doing?
MR KIRBY: I didn’t mean to get caught up in a --
QUESTION: Well --
MR KIRBY: -- tense issue here, but --
QUESTION: Well, no, it’s not just a tense issue. It’s, I mean, you can --
MR KIRBY: The statement says we hold them responsible.
QUESTION: Yes. Does that mean you --
MR KIRBY: How that will be manifested I don’t --
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: But – but --
MR KIRBY: There haven’t been any decisions made about that.
QUESTION: And then – and then secondly, you said a few minutes ago that the interagency – within the interagency there are other options that don’t revolve around the act of diplomacy – terms of – and I just want to know, is one of those options walking away, simply abandoning support for the opposition? Or is that off the table like what we heard – boots on the ground were off the table for many, many years, which turned out not to be the case?
MR KIRBY: I just don’t find it useful to get into speculating about what other options are under consideration.
QUESTION: Well, no, no --
MR KIRBY: I know.
QUESTION: Whether it’s under consideration or not is --
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to put anything on or off the table today.
QUESTION: What does outside that don’t revolve around the act of diplomacy mean? I mean, that either means walking away or it means more --
MR KIRBY: I think I’m going to leave it where I put it.
QUESTION: No, I mean, there’s diplomacy and there’s – well, I guess he’s right. There’s diplomacy, war, and nothing. So if you’re saying there’s other diplomacy, then the other two options are doing something more robust military, whether that means some kind of intervention or allowing the allies to be armed, or sitting around and doing nothing. Are you saying that sitting around and doing nothing is an option?
MR KIRBY: Obviously, we’re committed to doing as much as we can to try to stop the civil war and to stop the bloodshed. Again, critics can, will, have, and will continue to argue the efficacy of those efforts. Obviously, we’re not content, we’re not satisfied --
QUESTION: I’m not talking about the efficacy of the efforts.
MR KIRBY: Let me --
QUESTION: I’m saying that when you say there are options other than diplomacy, that would suggest that you mean more robust military options, and when I say military I don’t necessarily mean bombing or troops or any of that. I’m saying, like, a more kinetic --
MR KIRBY: Again, I just don’t think it’s useful for me to talk in any more detail about the kinds of discussions that we continue to have about what our options are. We still believe that the best one is diplomacy, that the best solution is political, that what needs to happen is creating the kinds of conditions where the opposition and the regime can resume the talks that have thus far failed to get to a – to get to that political solution. And beyond that, I just don’t think it’s very prudent or responsible for me to comment.
QUESTION: Just – I just have one more. When you said that we hold them responsible – just to go back to the legal issue, to the responsibility – when you say you hold them responsible, does it – are you saying that in a legal sense or in a moral, diplomatic sense?
MR KIRBY: I didn’t know that there was a different way of looking at somebody’s responsibility.
QUESTION: There is a – of course there is. You sit there all the time up from the podium and you say, well, that would get us into a legal determination which I don’t – you know what I mean? You’re always invoking that.
MR KIRBY: When we say that we’re holding them responsible, we mean within the universe of what that means. So is it moral? Absolutely it’s moral. And could there be some sort of legal ramification to that responsibility? Yeah, there could be.
QUESTION: But that – when you say that, that’s different than suggesting that you hold them legally responsible and you’ve contacted your lawyers and you’ve done – yes, it --
MR KIRBY: We’re not – I – I know you would like a lot more clarity on this than I’m going to give you today, but when we say we’re – we hold Russia responsible, we mean what we say. Now, I’m not going to speculate about the ramifications or consequences down the road of that.
QUESTION: But you’re not saying what you mean, though.
MR KIRBY: No, I’m not. I’m not going to go into any more detail on it than I have today, as much as I know you would like that. When we say we hold them responsible, we hold them responsible, in the entire universe of what that means, whether it’s morally or potentially legally.
QUESTION: So that would suggest that you’ve done a legal determination and you’ve found that they are legally responsible.
MR KIRBY: No, it doesn’t. It means that we hold them responsible.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: During the first few days of the ceasefire – the beginning of the ceasefire – the rebels had carried out over 300 ceasefire violations while the Syrian army actually stopped the strikes. Those were the first few days. This – Syria’s second largest rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham, just came out and right away refused to abide by that ceasefire, and this was before the U.S. bombed the Syrian military – admittedly, by mistake – before – and then the humanitarian convoy was hit, which the U.S. blamed on Russia and Russia vehemently denied having done that. Looking at the events that followed the ceasefire, how is it fair to say that Russia is solely responsible for the failure of this deal?
MR KIRBY: Because – and we’ve said this many, many times – they have influence on Assad. I didn’t make that up.
QUESTION: Are you saying that you don’t influence with the rebels?
MR KIRBY: We do, and so do some of our allies and partners as well. And we’ve also been honest about the fact that the opposition hasn’t in every case and in every situation, on every day, met their obligations under that ceasefire arrangement. We’ve been honest about that.
The difference is the Russians aren’t being honest about what’s going on and about the degree to which they are supporting Assad and assisting him in this continued siege of Aleppo. I didn’t make it up that they have influence over Assad. They’re the ones who have asserted that they have influence over Assad. They’re the ones with a long security and defense relationship. They’re the ones with a base in Syria. We don’t have a base in Syria.
So it’s been pretty clear since the beginning of this that of all other nations, Russia has the most influence on Assad, and one of the reasons we know that is because back in February when the cessation actually was first announced, for about six to eight weeks we did see a significant reduction in violence, something to the tune, depending on your estimates, of – let me finish – 70 to 80 percent, and that was because we saw Russia use that influence on Assad to a greater good, which they have not – not only not proven willing to do in the last week to 10 days, actually actively assisted him to the contrary.
QUESTION: And if the U.S. does have influence with these rebel groups, why the hundreds of ceasefire violations? Why did that happen?
MR KIRBY: We have influence over some, not all. We have – there are --
QUESTION: The second largest rebel group just refused to abide by that deal.
MR KIRBY: There are other nations that have influence. And again, we have admitted that not all the opposition groups on every single day --
QUESTION: Can you --
MR KIRBY: -- completely abided by it, and we continued to work with them to that end.
QUESTION: Can you admit that part of the responsibility for the failure of this deal lies with the rebels and with the U.S. for not being able to separate the rebels from al-Nusrah, specifically in Aleppo, and for not getting everybody to abide by this ceasefire?
MR KIRBY: I think we’ve been nothing but honest about the fact that there have been violations of the ceasefire and the cessation of hostilities on all sides. I – we – the Secretary has said that I don’t know how many times. So I don’t know --
QUESTION: But right now Russia is being --
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to be sure – I’m not sure that anything I can say today is going to be expand on that.
QUESTION: -- held solely responsible for the deterioration of the situation. Is that fair?
MR KIRBY: What I said was they’re responsible for this situation, the one we’re talking about here in terms of continued attacks on civilian infrastructure, hospitals, and innocent civilians in and around Aleppo, the siege of Aleppo.
QUESTION: But they say – just – John, they do say that they’re going after Nusrah and terrorists. And you say to that?
MR KIRBY: It’s not -- that’s not what’s happening. That’s what we say to that.
MR KIRBY: They’re hitting --
QUESTION: Can I ask --
MR KIRBY: They’re hitting hospitals. They’re hitting civilian infrastructure. They’re hitting the headquarters of the White Helmets. Now, so what we’re seeing them hit is not Nusrah, and where we’re seeing them bomb is not where we know Nusrah to be. And this is a – this has been a pretense that Moscow and Damascus has been proffering now for many months. Well, if you’re going to go after terrorists --
QUESTION: Do you think they’re trying to take Aleppo?
MR KIRBY: Fine, you want to go after terrorists. If you’re going to do what you say you do, then show that you’re going after terrorists, and they haven’t done that. There have been times when they have, but they have also, under the pretense of going after terrorist groups – presumably al-Nusrah – they have hit what are clearly civilian targets.
QUESTION: So you think they’re trying to take Aleppo?
MR KIRBY: I think you can only conclude from the military activity that we’ve seen that the siege of Aleppo persists and it’s --
QUESTION: It’s eastern Aleppo, part of Aleppo, because larger Aleppo is not under siege.
MR KIRBY: All you can do from – all you can conclude from what we continue to see on the ground is that the regime wants to take Aleppo back.
QUESTION: Is the Administration committed to making sure that eastern Aleppo or this particular area of Aleppo does not fall into regime/Russian hands?
MR KIRBY: Obviously, we don’t want to see the regime --
QUESTION: I know you don’t.
MR KIRBY: -- acquire any additional territory as per – as laid out in the cessation of hostilities agreement. I’m not going to speculate about actions, decisions, consequences, down the road.
QUESTION: Down the road means – by some estimates, it could fall in, like, the next five days.
MR KIRBY: The Secretary was clear this morning in his phone call to Foreign Minister Lavrov about the sense of urgency that we have here on the United States side with respect to what we want to – what we need to see them do.
QUESTION: The U.S. has expressed grave concern over what Saudi Arabia is doing in Yemen by hitting civilian targets there. Why isn’t the U.S. cutting – threatening to cut ties with Saudi Arabia?
MR KIRBY: We have – the Secretary talked about this when we were in Jeddah a few weeks ago. We have been honest with the Saudis about our concerns over the lack of precision in some strikes, and we’ve talked to them about the importance of conducting investigations into those strikes. And we know that – excuse me – that they continue to do that, to investigate. But --
QUESTION: But that’s far from threatening to cut ties.
MR KIRBY: It is the --
QUESTION: Congress just approved a sale of $1.1 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia – the Senate.
MR KIRBY: That’s right, because we have a strong defense relationship with Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia is under attack from --
QUESTION: Even though they’re hitting hospitals, schools in Yemen.
QUESTION: At the moment you have a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Excuse me. Saudi Arabia is under attack from missiles that are finding their way into Yemen with the help of Iran that are raining down on Saudi --
QUESTION: And Saudi Arabia is targeting --
MR KIRBY: -- Saudi – Saudi citizens, and they have a right to defend themselves. Now, we have – I have stood up here I don’t know how many times and talked about our concerns about the precision or lack thereof in some of these strikes and our concerns about that, and the Saudis have taken our concerns seriously. This is a different situation, and I think comparing what’s happening in Yemen to Syria is a ludicrous exercise.
QUESTION: But Saudi Arabia is doing there what Russia is accused of doing in Syria, so I’m --
MR KIRBY: No, no.
QUESTION: How is that consistent?
MR KIRBY: Because what we’re seeing the Russians do – and I would love to see you ask your government some of these questions. Russia Today never does that. You never poke and prod your own government. But so --
QUESTION: Oh, I do. But go on, on the first question.
MR KIRBY: Every so – so --
QUESTION: You attack me when you want to evade a question. You’ve done that before.
MR KIRBY: No, no, I’m not attacking you. I’m not attacking you.
QUESTION: Please, aside from that.
MR KIRBY: I’m not attacking you. I would just love to see your institution ask these same kind of questions of your own government – your government, which is flying aircraft over Aleppo and bombing hospitals. And it’s not imprecision; it’s specifically targeting civilian infrastructure and innocent people, innocent women and children and first responders that are trying to come to the rescue after these strikes occur. I mean, that’s deliberate, that’s measured, that is absolutely in violation of international law.
QUESTION: I’m asking --
MR KIRBY: We’re not talking about the – we’re not talking about civilian casualties that are caused by an inefficiency in the targeting process. We’re talking about, in Aleppo specifically, an effort to take that city down and to acquire --
QUESTION: And --
MR KIRBY: -- to acquire it, it in violation of the cessation of hostilities, which was agreed on by Russia – oh, by the way – in February.
QUESTION: John --
QUESTION: I am here asking you what I think are fair questions, and I have one more, if you can just --
MR KIRBY: I’ll give you one more.
QUESTION: Attacks – yes, put attacks aside --
MR KIRBY: I’m not attacking. I’m not attacking.
QUESTION: -- and just try to respond to the question.
MR KIRBY: I just am curious.
QUESTION: You are.
We are learning that Syrian rebels have received, quote/unquote, “excellent quantities” of surface-to-surface Grad missiles from, quote/unquote, “foreign states.” Actually, this is from a Reuters article. I was quoting a Reuters article. Considering how intertwined some of these rebel groups are with al-Nusrah specifically in Aleppo, how long do you think before these powerful weapons end up in the hands of terrorists?
MR KIRBY: I couldn’t possibly begin to answer that question. I don’t – I can’t confirm the veracity of that press reporting, and I’m not going to engage in speculation on a press report I can’t speak to.
QUESTION: Do you have any information about rebels (inaudible) --
MR KIRBY: Michel. Michel.
QUESTION: -- these weapons?
QUESTION: Is delivering MANPADS to the opposition is one of the options that the agencies are discussing?
MR KIRBY: Guys, I have talked about the fact that I’m not going to discuss in any greater detail interagency discussions about this.
QUESTION: Because news reports talked about this yesterday and today, saying that the U.S. is not opposing anymore providing the opposition with this kind of arms.
MR KIRBY: I’ve addressed this issue as much as I’m going to do today.
QUESTION: Can I move on?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, let’s move on. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On Iraq and Baghdad, Iraq’s parliamentary – Iraq’s national assembly last week, it removed the finance minister. And the chief of staff of the presidency of the KRG was in New York last week, and he said that the United States was concerned. He told this to the Voice of America. The United States was concerned about this move. Could you elaborate on what he meant on this issue of U.S. concern about the removal of the Iraqi finance minister and what you think generally about what the Iraqi national assembly is doing?
MR KIRBY: What I would just say, first of all, is I’d refer you to the Iraqi Government for specifics on this recent vote to remove the finance minister. Politics aside, reforms are critical to reinforcing Iraq’s progress and to putting the country on a more sustainable fiscal path. We also will continue to support Iraq in its own critical economic reform efforts. We strongly support the Iraqi people in their fight against Daesh, which is on the defensive in Iraq, and we urge Iraqi leaders to continue their efforts to that end, to defeating Daesh. That must remain and does remain our central focus, particularly at a very pivotal moment in this campaign as Iraqi forces begin to pressure Mosul, and I think that’s as far as I’m going to go on that.
QUESTION: But you don’t think, like, having so many ministers – finance, defense, interior – so many ministries without ministers is a problem?
MR KIRBY: Look, the decision to remove is an Iraqi decision and they should speak – the Iraqi Government should speak to this decision. What I’ve said in the past is we continue to support Prime Minister Abadi and his reform efforts, both political and economic. Obviously, we know that in order to enact those reforms and implement them, you need a team, you need a cabinet, and we support his efforts to fill those posts and to move his government forward. But the individual decisions about removing, in this case, the finance minister, are for the Iraqi Government to speak to. But clearly, we, more broadly speaking, continue to support Prime Minister Abadi as he tries to move the government forward.
QUESTION: But the parliament seems to be opposed to the prime minister.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: I mean, that’s why they’re removing his ministers. One interpretation of what parliament is doing is, in fact, that this is being done at the behest of Maliki, former prime minister, and he’s trying to get at the current prime minister.
MR KIRBY: I’m simply not educated enough and nor would it be prudent for me to involve in a debate – involve myself in a debate over parliamentary politics in Iraq. Democracy is hard work, it’s tough, and we understand that, and that’s why we continue to support the Abadi government as it moves forward. But these are votes, these are decisions that Iraqi politicians need to speak to.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Very quick issue regarding something called the Women’s Boat to Gaza. A boat moved in today, then I think tomorrow, another boat. It includes an American woman, a former diplomat, Ann Wright, and a colonel – a former colonel in the U.S. Army. They sent a letter to – and that’s my question – they sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry on the 14th of September requesting that he, whatever, take some action to call on Israel, to prevent Israel from doing any – committing any kind of violent acts similar to what happened in May 2010.
First of all, are you aware of this letter that was sent to Secretary Kerry?
MR KIRBY: I’m not.
QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t know whether you received it or not?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of it, Said. I can look to see --
QUESTION: Look, I think the problem is – I think they came to the State Department, met with some people.
MR KIRBY: They came?
QUESTION: I think they came to this building and met with some people over this issue.
MR KIRBY: I don’t know.
QUESTION: You don’t know. Okay. Would you urge --
MR KIRBY: I mean, I’m aware of --
QUESTION: Would you urge the Israelis not – to prevent the boats violently from docking in Gaza?
MR KIRBY: So on the flotilla itself --
QUESTION: On the flotilla --
MR KIRBY: -- I’m aware of the reports. I don’t have more information about it to share with you. But as we’ve said before, while we underscore the need for international support for Gaza’s recovery and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, we remain of the view that this assistance and the goods destined for Gaza should be transmitted through legitimate crossings and established channels. I just don’t have more information on this letter. We’ll take the question and see if we can find out more about it. I just don’t know.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: Because as you probably don’t know because you were standing up here when it happened, the House has just also overridden the veto. So it is – it’s law. And while I don’t expect you to comment on that necessarily, and the White House has done it extensively already, are you aware of, since the President vetoed the law last – vetoed the bill last week, if any countries have specifically come to you guys, embassies or here in Washington, and said that they would move to – or that they would seek to pass legislation that would – that could affect the sovereign immunity of the United States and U.S. officials abroad?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that any government has expressed an intention to do so since the President’s veto. Before the President’s veto, though, several governments – some of our European friends – who are less likely to have been affected by the intent of the law itself have expressed concerns about the issue of sovereign immunity surrounding the law. I mean, so these are --
QUESTION: Right --
MR KIRBY: -- France being one of them, expressed a concern about that.
QUESTION: Well, right. I know that people have expressed concerns about it, but have any of them come to you and said, “If this veto is overridden and this goes into – and this takes effect as the law, we’re going to consider doing something” --
MR KIRBY: That we’re going to reciprocate essentially. Yeah, I’m not aware of any – of any intention so stated specifically since the veto.
QUESTION: Okay. So if there hasn’t been that, is it just – is the Administration’s thinking that it’s just inevitable that it’s going to happen? Or were you guys just conjuring up a worst possible, worse-case scenario in the event that the veto was overridden?
MR KIRBY: No, I mean, it wasn’t – it’s neither, Matt. I mean, I can’t obviously predict what sovereign nations are going to do now with respect to this. But it wasn’t a conjuring. It wasn’t an extreme or outlandish interpretation of the effect of the law that we took. In fact, it was informed by concerns expressed by some of our allies and partners even in Europe that this --
MR KIRBY: That this law would force them to have to rethink the whole issue of sovereign immunity. We didn’t make that up. That was communicated to us by other countries.
QUESTION: I’m not suggesting that you did make it up. But I’m just wondering if anyone – I mean, that yes, they expressed concerns, but has anyone actually – has any country actually said or any government actually said that they’re going to go ahead and do it, take action commensurate with what they see as – what they see this law as having (inaudible)?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that we have received communication from any specific government that they would now move forward intentionally with a reciprocal piece of legislation. Obviously, we wouldn’t want to see that happen.
QUESTION: Gotcha. May I make a request then? Considering back a couple administrations ago, a couple years ago, the department was in the habit of giving us updates on when Article 98 agreements were signed, and I’m just wondering if it’s possible to ask if you keep track of the number of countries who have said that those might be in jeopardy now or if any of them get rescinded as a result of this veto being overridden.
MR KIRBY: Let me --
QUESTION: So I don’t know if you can. I’m just making the request now.
MR KIRBY: Got it. Let me consider it and see if --
QUESTION: Are you surprised by the size or the overwhelming majority that voted in the Senate, I mean, 97 to 1, the House is probably even a – I don’t know what the ratio is.
MR KIRBY: I don’t know either. I don’t either.
QUESTION: Are you surprised by that?
MR KIRBY: The bill had --
QUESTION: You say that --
MR KIRBY: The bill had – moving forward, it had bipartisan support. I’m not going to characterize --
QUESTION: But that’s an overwhelming bipartisan support.
MR KIRBY: 97 to 1 is a very clear and convincing --
QUESTION: Almost unprecedented
MR KIRBY: -- vote tally. I’m not going to characterize it one way or another. Obviously, we’re disappointed to see – to see what the Senate did. And I haven’t seen the reports out of the House, but if that’s true, that obviously continues to be of concern here. And it’s not what we --
QUESTION: One last question?
MR KIRBY: That’s not the outcome we wanted to see.
QUESTION: One more point on this. Are you expected that you will have some sort of diplomatic difficulty with Saudi Arabia as a result of this vote?
MR KIRBY: I think our hope would be not to, clearly. But it goes beyond just Saudi Arabia. It goes to a larger concern that we have had about this idea of sovereign immunity – not just for diplomats but for our troops, for U.S. companies that operate overseas. But certainly, our hope that the strength of the U.S.-Saudi relationship will be able to weather this, but we’ll have to see.
QUESTION: Thank you, John. On Korea, Assistant Secretary Russel has stated in diplomatic associations recently, he said that THAAD missile system should be in place as quickly as possible in South Korea. Do you have any timeframe for these?
MR KIRBY: I don’t.
QUESTION: So how quickly does the U.S. can deploy the THAAD in South Korea (inaudible)?
MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, we’re in discussions right now. The Defense Department is in discussions with the defense ministry there in the Republic of Korea. I would point you to my colleagues at the Pentagon to talk about the pace and scope of those discussions. I don’t know, and it wouldn’t be right for me to try to speculate about how fast this process is going to move along. There’s consultations going on right now, and I think we need to let that play out.
QUESTION: You mean, within this year or what?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate.
QUESTION: Also another one. North Korean embassy in Russia reported yesterday that North Korea has completed the development of nuclear weapons. So that how you response of this, their statement that they already have nuclear?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to intelligence matters from this podium. We continue to be, obviously, deeply concerned about the constant pursuit of the DPRK for nuclear weapon capabilities. Where exactly we think they are in that process, I’m simply not going to get into.
But what I will say is that with each test, and with each new provocative action, they only further galvanize the international community to take the steps necessary to put additional pressure on the regime. I understand that even with the most strident sanctions regime now in place that they still prove able and willing to continue these activities. Sanctions take time. And as the Secretary has said, Ambassador Power has said, we’re going to continue to consult with our partners at the UN on the potential for additional sanctions regimes for going forward. Now, but I just don’t have anything new to announce at this stage, and I’m certainly not going to speak to our views of where they are on the capability spectrum. Okay?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: John, quick on DPRK. So the Coordinator for the Sanction Policy of the State Department Dan Fried this morning told a Senate subcommittee that he would not argue suggestions that more Chinese nationals are under investigation for evading sanctions related to DPRK’s proliferation. Do you have any more on that? Can you elaborate on what the – that more Chinese individuals and entities are being probed?
MR KIRBY: Actually, I don’t. I don’t have any additional information that I can offer on that. Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you take that question?
MR KIRBY: I’ll take the question, but I don’t think that we’re going to be able to provide much in terms of detail on that. That wouldn't be appropriate.
QUESTION: -- Machar, and he was calling a possible armed struggle against South Sudanese Government? Do you have anything on that? Are you concerned of --
MR KIRBY: Of course. We’ve seen those statements and strongly condemn them, a statement calling for a return to war is basically what he did. The past two and a half years have proven that fighting is not going to resolve the underlying political disputes that led to conflict in the first place. We find it inexcusable that he would continue to promote armed resistance. It indicates a lack of concern for the well-being of the South Sudanese people, millions of whom continue to struggle just to survive and just as much want to see peace.
So as we’ve always said, the United States expects that the transitional government and all parties, including all leaders of the opposition in South Sudan, will avoid violence at all costs and implement the peace agreement.
QUESTION: MH17. Investigators noticed that Russia was involved in this case and the – in your statement you draw attention to this that the BUK system was tracked in from Russia and returned to Russia after shooting down the plane. Investigators also said that they identified hundred people responsible for these actions. So what is your line regarding specific role of Russia and Russian Government in that case?
MR KIRBY: Again, our assessment, which is consistent with the investigation team’s assessment in this interim report, is that the airplane was shot down by a BUK surface-to-air missile that was fired from separatist-controlled – not government-controlled – territory in eastern Ukraine. And it also makes clear that that missile system was transported from Russia into Russian-backed separatist-controlled territory in Ukraine before the incident, and then move back out to Russia after the shoot-down. And this is the result of months-long – what, 15 months? Something like that – long, thorough, impartial, credible examination of the incident. And it totally comports with what the Secretary said just a few days after the incident happened. But the investigation is ongoing. This is an interim report. We’re glad that they continue to investigate, and we look forward to seeing the results when they’re completed.
QUESTION: Just to – excuse me, just to follow up on that. I mean, what sort of, if any, next steps will you be taking? Will you bring this up with the Russians? I mean, what – I mean, if any – do you have a plan going forward now?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, it’s an interim report. I think we need to let the investigation conclude. I don’t want to get ahead of decisions right now while they’re still investigating. All the indications are, as I said, comport with what our views were of the incident, and we’ll just have to see how it plays out. Have we had conversations with Russian counterparts since this incident about our concerns about this narrative, about our views? Absolutely we have. Absolutely we have. But I’m not going to get ahead of anything yet.
QUESTION: You welcome the conclusion of the report. I – have you – are you aware of the Russian response to the conclusions?
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: And what do you make of the Russian reaction to it?
MR KIRBY: We’ve seen their response. I think we hold it to be completely without merit and absolutely not in keeping with the findings of the interim report, and certainly not in keeping with what our own understanding was even just days afterward.
QUESTION: Do you want to – I’m wondering if you can kind of look at this in a bigger context given what you’ve accused Russia of doing in Syria with its air force and what you’re talking about in terms of this report. I’m wondering if you have any larger kind of thing to say about Russian actions in these type of conflicts.
MR KIRBY: Here’s what I would say, more broadly speaking: A lot of the tensions that we’re dealing with are the result of Russian decisions. Decisions made in Moscow to destabilize areas of the European continent, to prop up a brutal dictatorship in Syria. These are Russian sovereign decisions that they also should have to speak to and aren’t necessarily being challenged by media in their own country, to face up to these decisions that they’re making. That said, I work for a man who, I think you all know, believes in the power of dialogue and diplomacy. And – and he has said many times that where there are areas where we can cooperate with Russia, we’re going to explore those opportunities. The Iran deal was one of them. And up until lately, I think we really believed that Syria was one of those; obviously having significant doubts about that now going forward. But he’s not afraid to try to find common ground where it can be had, and where we can work with Russia on things.
Obviously, Ukraine is one of those areas where we continue to have major disagreements with the Russian approach, and that is why the sanctions regime stays in place, because Minsk isn’t fully implemented, because Russia hasn’t fully implemented their side. Now, I understand there’s Ukrainian obligations on that, and we’re working closely with them towards that end, and they have implemented many steps. But Russia has significant choices and decisions to make. They’re decisions that will either further isolate them from the international community or help to facilitate a better integration with the international community.
QUESTION: Just a quick one on the Philippines. President Duterte said today that an upcoming joint naval exercise with the United States would be the last one between the two countries. His exact quote is, “I’m serving notice now to the Americans: This will be the last military exercise.” I realize this might be a DOD thing, but have you gotten – to your knowledge, has the U.S. Government gotten any notification that this is going to be the last military exercise?
MR KIRBY: To my knowledge, no. There has been no official rendering of a decision of that sort to the U.S. Government. I do encourage you to speak to my Defense Department colleagues. They might have a context I don’t have, but we’re not aware of any such decision. We’ve seen these comments, obviously, and would refer you to the president for – to speak to it.
What I would say is, broadly speaking, we continue to focus on our relationship with the Philippines and we’re going to continue to work together in many areas of mutual interest, including counterterrorism, to help improve the livelihoods of the Philippine people and to uphold our shared democratic values. Our relationship with the Philippines is broad and our alliance is one of the most enduring and important relationships in the Asia Pacific region. It has been a cornerstone of stability for over 70 years. It’s built on shared sacrifices for democracy and human rights, and strong people-to-people and societal ties, and obviously we’d like to see that continue.
QUESTION: Is it hard to do business with a country whose president, every few days now it seems, says things that presumably cause some consternation here?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, our focus is on the relationship today and moving it forward. And we continue to believe that that’s possible. Again, we’ve seen these comments, we’ve talked about them when they’re – when they have been made, but the bottom line is that we have significant security commitments with the Philippines. We’re committed to meeting those commitments and to furthering this relationship.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: I – my specific question was whether the case of Josh Holt, the American who is in prison there, was raised.
MR KIRBY: It was.
QUESTION: And you – it was. And what did the Secretary say in relation to – to the president in relation to that case?
MR KIRBY: Again, I think, without getting into too much detail, I mean, he certainly reiterated our concerns about Mr. Holt. And I think I’m going --
QUESTION: But does that concern – are you calling for the Venezuelan Government to release him or are you just calling on them to ensure that he is given due process or whatever (inaudible)?
MR KIRBY: I don’t – I just don’t want to get into too much specific detail on it here from the podium, but I can confirm that he did raise our concerns over Mr. Holt.
QUESTION: I have one – one quick one.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Have you heard anything about another American being detained in Iran? There was some stuff on Twitter yesterday about an Iranian American being detained, being charged with espionage?
MR KIRBY: Let me – I want to go back if I could, just a minute, to Matt’s question. While I won’t go into more specific detail about the conversation with President Maduro, I can tell you, just to put it on the record, that we’re obviously following the case closely, and that we continue to call on the Venezuelan Government to respect due process and human rights. But I – and I think you can – again, without going to – into more detail of the conversation with President Maduro, you – I think you can expect that that’s the same message that the Secretary relayed.
QUESTION: Okay, so – and just so I understand that, you’re not telling them that you – that you’re not urging them to release him immediately without any – without a case proceeding any further, you’re just calling on them to respect due process?
MR KIRBY: What I – that’s – what I’ve said is our policy with respect to Mr. Holt’s case, and I think I just need to leave it there.
QUESTION: Yeah. The intelligence minister from Iran yesterday tweeted that an American spy who wanted to move millions of dollars to create and launch a social network was arrested. Now, there was one that – I’m wondering if this is a new American.
MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) I don’t – I’m afraid I don’t have any additional information on this. I’ll have to take that and look at it.
QUESTION: Well, are you aware of it?
MR KIRBY: I don’t --
QUESTION: Do you know what I’m talking about?
MR KIRBY: No.
MR KIRBY: I don’t have information on this particular thing. I’ll have to take a look at it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:26 p.m.)