MR KIRBY: Okay, a couple of things at the top folks, and then we’ll get right at it. Are you guys ready? Today the U.S. Department of State is pleased to hold the inaugural U.S.-Qatar Economic and Investment Dialogue here in Washington.
The Secretary and Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew launched the event with their Qatari counterparts, Foreign Minister Dr. Khaled Al-Attiyah, Minister of Finance Ali Al-Emadi, and with the CEO of the Qatar Investment Authority Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani.
Qatar is a key strategic partner of the United States and the two countries work closely across a range of issues. This inaugural U.S.-Qatar Economic and Investment Dialogue will highlight the close cooperation between the United States and Qatar and establishes a mechanism to further strengthen commercial and economic ties in coming years.
On Indonesia, as you may have heard my colleague at the White House talk about a little bit ago, President Obama will welcome Indonesian President Widodo to the Oval Office today. The Secretary will participate in the President’s bilateral meeting. In this meeting, both presidents will discuss the breadth of our bilateral relationship and global and regional issues such as climate change and maritime security. The President will also discuss ways we can expand cooperation, including on maritime and energy issues.
As Secretary Kerry said during Foreign Minister Marsudi’s visit in September, U.S. and Indonesia relations are strong and expanding. Indonesia’s example as a large, pluralistic democracy with a tradition of tolerance is very important as is its leadership on regional and global issues.
And finally, we would like to express our deepest condolences to all those affected by the magnitude 7.5 earthquake epicentered in eastern Afghanistan, particularly to the families of those who have died or were hurt. Our thoughts are with all those affected by this tragedy in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and throughout the region. We applaud the efforts of those who are working to bring relief to those in need, and the United States is in touch, of course, with governments throughout the region. We stand ready, as always, to provide assistance at this difficult time.
With that, Brad, over to you.
QUESTION: I wanted to pick up where we left off last week, and it was Friday and I think it was right as the Syria meeting broke. Can you give us any more indication of what this broader meeting that the Secretary spoke about last week will look like and who that’s going to involve, what more subjects might be added to it?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have more detail today, Brad. You heard the Secretary talk about this last week. There will be a follow-on multilateral meeting. It could happen as soon as perhaps the end of this week. Details are still coming together, so I really don’t have much in terms of specifics to offer you today except to say that, as the Secretary said himself last week, it’s important to continue this dialogue, these discussions toward trying to arrive at the modalities of political transition.
The Secretary believes that the momentum is moving in the right direction. And that’s why it’s important in his view to continue to meet with the partners in the effort. But again, who’s – when it’s going to be, where it’s going to be, who’s going to be at the table – I think all that’s still being worked out.
QUESTION: So is the inclusion of Iran being considered at this point, or it’s not on the table?
MR KIRBY: At some point, obviously – and the Secretary’s talked about this – we know there’s going to need to be a conversation with Iran towards the end of a political transition there, towards that end. I don’t want to get ahead of specifics in terms of future meetings except to say that, obviously, at some point we know there’s going to have to be a dialogue with Iran.
QUESTION: It doesn’t sound like you’re actively considering it for this meeting, then?
MR KIRBY: I don’t want to speculate one way or the other, Brad. I’m just not ready right now to talk about what the next iteration of these meetings is going to look like. At some point, the Secretary has made clear, Iran’s going to have to be made part of this discussion. Now when that’s going to be and where that’s going to be and under what context, I think it’s fair to say that all that is still being worked out.
QUESTION: Would it be fair to say you’re not ruling it out, though, for this meeting because this —
MR KIRBY: I’m not speculating one way or the other, Arshad, in terms of who’s going to be at the next iteration of the meeting.
QUESTION: And then just on the actual modalities, as you call them – which is a somewhat difficult word for most people – but the plan, if you will – is this something you are drafting with the participation of both the Syrian Government and the Syrian opposition, or is it something that you among the participating countries are devising and then are going to take to them?
MR KIRBY: Okay, let me try to answer this without using the word “modality.”
QUESTION: Yes, thank you.
MR KIRBY: I actually think it’s a great word – (laughter) – and fits pretty perfectly into this, but I’ll try to find a different way to characterize it. So Brad, I mean the – it’s not as if we’re at this point where people are putting pen to paper to describe the plan for a political transition right now. There are a lot of stakeholders in this process. And the Secretary has been working very hard to meet and discuss with all of the stakeholders at some point or another – and will continue to do so – to solicit their views and their inputs, and to offer ours as well. And those discussions are ongoing. They happened in Vienna last week. They will happen again, I think, very soon in another multilateral setting. But it’s not like people are sitting down writing this out right now and that we’ve got some sort of draft document that everybody is going to kind of edit, collectively edit.
That said, obviously, it’s important to be able to describe what a political transition in Syria will look like, could look like, should look like. And because there’s multiple stakeholders in this process, you want to make sure that you get everybody’s views in terms of moving forward on something that could actually have a chance at working. I don’t want to get ahead of that particular process, and who is all going to be included at what stage as we get closer to there, but obviously —
QUESTION: I’m asking —
MR KIRBY: I know. Obviously, for it to be successful and for it to be enduring and for it to be – to have – to produce the result we want to see produced, which is a unified, whole, pluralistic Syria, we know that the opposition groups, for instance, will need to be brought into the process. And clearly, whatever is decided, at whatever point it’s decided, the regime itself has to comply.
So I don’t want to get ahead of steps in terms of who and where and when, but the Secretary is more than mindful that this is a complicated process. It’s going to take some time. And it will inevitably involve some compromises by everybody as we get there. Does that answer?
QUESTION: Couple of things, and if you would also refrain from the use of “modalities,” I’d be very grateful.
MR KIRBY: You mean I can’t use it with you either?
QUESTION: No, no, we’re going to ban —
QUESTION: Only when you —
MR KIRBY: I really did not —
QUESTION: We’re going to ban that word.
MR KIRBY: I did not realize that this word was so problematic.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the word “modalities”?
MR KIRBY: I beg your pardon?
QUESTION: That’s not what it means.
MR KIRBY: What’s that?
QUESTION: Why is that objectionable?
QUESTION: Try getting it in a quote in your story.
QUESTION: Oh, I see. Okay.
QUESTION: So —
MR KIRBY: I think it’s eminently quotable. I do not understand it, but go ahead.
QUESTION: So here’s – question one. Some of your allies, notably the Saudis, are very explicitly opposed to the participation of Iran in such talks. The Saudi foreign minister about three weeks ago at UNGA made this very clear in talking to reporters. Have you sensed any diminution in the opposition of your partners, such as Saudi Arabia, to the possibility of eventual Iranian participation, whenever that might be?
MR KIRBY: I won’t speak for other nations and their views about what a political transition process needs to look like or who needs to participate in that. I think that’s really for them to speak to, and the Secretary would want us to respect their right to do that. It is clear, and we’ve talked about this many times, that not everybody has the same view on what a transition should look like – how long it should take, what role does Assad play in it, what role does the opposition play in it. All of these things are issues that need to be continued to discussed and need to be hashed out. That’s why, back to Secretary Kerry and what he said just a few days ago, it’s important to continue to have these discussions and to continue to bring more and more stakeholders into the process so that these differences can be ironed out and can be – and can – we can try to arrive at some sort of process, some sort of plan that can be not only digested by everybody, but can be actually effectively carried out. So I won’t speak for the Saudi Government. That’s – this is – their views are for them to speak to. We understand that not every player in this has the same exact views, and that’s why – because there are still differences of opinion, that’s why meetings such as the one we had last week in Vienna are so important, and meetings that I know will be coming up in the near future are important as well.
QUESTION: Is it still your position that Assad has lost legitimacy to lead Syria?
MR KIRBY: Yes, nothing’s changed about our position on Bashar al-Assad.
QUESTION: So – okay. So your view would be that he can’t have a long-term leadership role in Syria. Is that fair to say?
MR KIRBY: That is correct.
MR KIRBY: In fact, you may have seen the readout from our discussions in Saudi Arabia, in Riyadh, with Saudi leaders. I mean, we put that very much clearly in the readout of those meetings, that the Secretary and the Saudi Government agree that there can be no future for —
QUESTION: Can (inaudible) candidate in any future election?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into hypotheticals here, Dave. We’ve made —
QUESTION: Well, he’s not going to be leader. Part of the transition process might be an election, and you say he can’t be leader anymore. So it’s kind of implied, isn’t it?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to make implications on hypothetical ways at what a political transition could look like. I mean, so let’s not get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made – decisions about elections, for instance. But it is fair to say nothing has changed about our view that he has lost legitimacy to govern Syria, that he continues to brutalize his own people, and that what we need is a government in Syria that is not led by Bashar al-Assad and that is responsive to what are – there’s no doubt – desperate needs of the Syrian people, and that’s what the focus is.
QUESTION: So as you said, the talks are about people with differing views on this coming together on the modalities of the way forward.
MR KIRBY: Good word.
QUESTION: You also said that compromises would have to be made in that process. Are you one of the countries that might be prepared to compromise?
MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made, but I think there are a wide range of views, obviously. And not everybody is —
QUESTION: But you’re not a mediator in this process. You’re one of the countries that has views.
MR KIRBY: That’s correct. That’s correct. And there are – obviously, not all nations are widely disparate on this. I mean, many of our European allies have taken very much the same position that we have taken. So it’s not like everybody involved has got widely different views here, but there are some different opinions and perspectives on what a successful transition means and what that looks like. And that’s why, again, it’s important to have these discussions and try to arrive at a consensus view.
QUESTION: One other one on this. The Assad government has been an extremely useful ally to Iran for many reasons, not least an ability to project its power to support Hizballah. What makes you think that the Iranians would wish to take part in a conversation where it is your view that Assad – their client – has to go over the long run? What makes you think that they would be willing to jettison him and take part in such a conversation now?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, the question implies that we’re at that point, and I don’t know that that’s correct. And —
QUESTION: At what point? I’m sorry, the point —
MR KIRBY: At a point that you’re going to have an active discussion with the Iranians right now. And I don’t want to, again, speculate one way or the other that we’re at that point. They are a stakeholder in this process; they do have a relationship with the Assad regime. They do have a relationship inside Syria. We’ve been very honest about our views of that relationship and their continued – Iranians’ continued support for terrorist organizations like Hizballah and how problematic that is for not just Syria, but the region.
So there are real issues here with Iran with respect specifically to Syria, as well as the region. And as the President noted, as Secretary Kerry has said, we know that at some point, if a political solution is going to be found and if a political solution can be successful, you’re going to have to have a conversation with Iran about this. I just don’t want to get ahead of when or how that would occur.
And in – to your question about Iranian motivations, I mean, I think that’s a great question to pose to Tehran – I mean, in terms of where their heads are in – with respect to the future in Syria and with respect to the degree to which they would be willing to have a meaningful conversation about a political transition. Clearly, we know that conversation’s going to have to occur.
QUESTION: John, can I – could I just follow up on —
QUESTION: When did – one real quick. When did this notion of belligerence shift to stakeholders? I mean, if Iran is fighting, killing, and dying in Syria, now it sounds like they’re a member of a corporate board that would decide the future of the country. They are a belligerent in a civil war. Now – why does that give them stakeholder status now?
MR KIRBY: Okay, so you don’t like modality, and now we don’t like stakeholder.
QUESTION: Well, modality’s a —
QUESTION: I like the word belligerent. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Nobody – nobody’s turning a blind eye to, as you put it, their belligerent actions in Syria. I wouldn’t disagree with that. We don’t disagree with that in terms of that – using that phrase or characterizing their efforts in Iran in that way. Wouldn’t disagree with that at all. And we have long been honest and open about our concerns about what they’re doing to prop up Assad and to continue the violence against the Syrian people. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t – well, in fact, in a way it ensures that they are also a stakeholder in whatever process happens in the future.
QUESTION: But that just basically says any country that decides to meddle in this conflict, get actively engaged, kill in this conflict, gets a seat at the table in deciding the future of it.
MR KIRBY: That’s not what it says.
QUESTION: It doesn’t?
MR KIRBY: It says that at some point we know there’s going to have to be a dialogue with Iran about what happens in Syria. And they —
QUESTION: Give them what they want – some element of control over the future of a country that has had tremendous strategic importance to it?
MR KIRBY: Not necessarily. I mean, it depends on what this political transition looks like. So again, it’s about having meaningful discussions towards an ultimate end of a political solution that results in a government that’s responsive to the Syrian people. That’s what we’re after. Iran has yet to show a willingness to arrive at that end, but that doesn’t mean that at some point having some sort of dialogue with Iran over that outcome should be ruled out. And it doesn’t mean just because you’re – I mean, the whole purpose of diplomacy is to talk to and to try to arrive at differences with those who you sometimes violently disagree with. That’s the whole purpose of diplomacy.
QUESTION: Did you read today’s article by former President Carter about the five powers (inaudible)?
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry. About the —
QUESTION: Did you read the article written by former President Carter on resolving the serial – the Syria issue by —
MR KIRBY: I did not, no.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me follow up on something that you mentioned a little while ago. Assuming that Syria is represented by different groups, different – representing different constituencies in Syria, the Assad regime definitely represents a certain constituency in Syria. The minorities, Christians, even a portion of the Sunnis look at the Syrian regime as their representative, in particular at Bashar al-Assad. Why should Bashar al-Assad be complex nixed out of the process, considering that he controls the larger portion on the ground, proudly asserting themselves as the major power in that conflict on the ground? Why should Assad be nixed out of the process?
MR KIRBY: Nobody said that there wouldn’t be a role for Assad or for the institution of his – institutions of his government in the transition. What we’ve said – the Secretary has been clear that it could be that he goes on day one, it could be that he goes on day six or at whatever point after that. I mean, it’s just that a meaningful transition can’t leave him in power. But nobody has said that there’s no role for him or his – or the institutions of his government in terms of the transition process.
QUESTION: John, what if there is – through some hideous circumstances, you have completely transparent elections and so on, and Assad is elected? What happens then?
MR KIRBY: That’s a great hypothetical that I’m not going to engage in.
QUESTION: What makes you think it’s hypothetical? Because you do have a large portion of —
MR KIRBY: You’re talking about elections that haven’t – I mean, nobody is talking about holding elections right now, so —
QUESTION: Well, I mean, he talked about holding elections just yesterday.
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate on hypotheticals, Said.
QUESTION: John, you said that day one, day six, he can leave at some point. Do you have an official position on this?
MR KIRBY: On what?
QUESTION: I mean, how long should this transition period take long? I mean, for example, Turks are suggesting six months. So do you have an official position about this long – the duration of the transition period?
MR KIRBY: What we want to do is have meaningful discussions about the modalities of a successful – and I’d like to see that quoted – a successful political transition.
QUESTION: “Modality” is an English word. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I’ll use air quotes – “What he described as ‘modalities.’”
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think it’s English.
QUESTION: Actually, French.
QUESTION: Syria knows it, apparently, after today.
MR KIRBY: We – what we want to see is a successful political transition. And as I just said to Arshad, not everybody agrees on what that’s going to look like. And that’s why it’s important to have these discussions – the ones we had last week and the ones that will be coming up in the future – to try to arrive at exactly what a political transition – a successful one – needs to look like. And so if you’re asking me do we have an exact position on numbers of months, numbers of days, numbers of weeks, the answer is no, we haven’t arrived at that right now. That’s why we’re having these discussions. I mean, if we already had – if we already staked out a position, there’d be no reason to sit down and to continue to talk to people about this.
QUESTION: Did you discuss this duration at the meeting? Or I mean, you didn’t present your position. How about the others? Others that presented —
MR KIRBY: Well, you’d have to talk to them.
QUESTION: No, the – in terms of – because the Secretary said that the direction is very hopeful. I’m trying to understand, what was the main topic during the discussion? What was the main issue that you discussed? The duration or the elections? At least —
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the specifics on those kinds of discussions. I think you can understand that we’re not going to read out every detail of these meetings. But it’s fair to say that a major topic of discussion was the transition itself and looking at the various pieces of it to see which ones made the most sense and which ones could the largest group of people agree on. And they’re going to continue to have those discussions, and I suspect there’ll be more representatives at the table as these discussions go on. Because there are a lot of stakeholders in the process here that we want to make sure that have a chance to voice their perspectives.
MR KIRBY: Well, remember, this actually has its roots in the meeting in Doha back in the summertime between the U.S., Russia, and Saudi Arabia. And then as discussions went further and went on, more and more partners, more and more other nations became party to the discussions. When we were at the UN General Assembly just a few weeks ago in New York, the Secretary hosted no less than three multilateral meetings. And the second one had more people at the table than the first one. And the – I think you can expect that that will continue.
QUESTION: John —
QUESTION: John, so without going into the details of what has been discussed in the meeting on Friday – I’m just picking up what you just said already – can you tell us what was agreed upon, to the degree that you are quite hopeful, that in the next meeting that you’re trying to organize now, that progress happen apart from the agreeing on the transitional period that Assad should be part of, et cetera?
MR KIRBY: I think I’d leave it where the Secretary left it after the meetings in Vienna, that they were productive conversations, that they were helpful, that there’s still more work to do, but that the tone and the tenor of the discussions certainly led him to believe that there was some momentum building here towards what a political transition can look like. And – but he also said that’s why it’s important to keep this momentum going and to continue to have these discussions.
I – I won’t get in – I won’t get any more specific than that.
QUESTION: John —
QUESTION: John —
QUESTION: I mean, if you don’t have leverage over the Iranians or the Russians, many people believe that actually it’s President Putin who will call the shot in the end, and you don’t have much trust in him. Do you believe that this process can go on and on and on and it’s really ultimately up to President Putin to make a final decision on whether Assad will stay or will go?
MR KIRBY: It’s not going to be up to one country or one leader in one country here. It has to be done multilaterally, and that’s why the Secretary is pursuing the approach that he’s been pursuing here in terms of these discussions. You also talked about trust. This isn’t about trust. This is about coming together to try to reach a consensus view on what an effective political transition can look like in Syria. And that’s complicated. And that’s going to be difficult to achieve because there are so many people involved and because we have an ongoing civil war, because Assad continues to barrel bomb his own people, because there are millions of refugees still leaving Syria and the region for Europe. There’s a lot of complicating factors here.
So this is not just about trusting one person’s word over another. It’s about achieving in deed, in action, meaningful measures that can lead to what needs to happen, which is a transition away from Assad and to a better government in Syria that’s responsive to all the Syrian people. And because it’s so hard, because it’s so complicated, there have been many, many discussions – and not all around the table, by the way. I mean, there’s a lot of telephone diplomacy going on – certainly by the Secretary but also by his counterparts in other nations. And a lot of discussions are going on that aren’t being done in front of the – at camera sprays in major cities. And I think you can expect, because this is so important to get at, that those discussions are going to continue.
And then that’s, I think, the final point I’d like to make here is, the stakes are real high for what happens in Syria. And you, in your question, said something about going on and on and on – I won’t speak for other nations, but I can tell you that Secretary Kerry certainly has a sense of urgency about trying to get at a political transition in Syria. We believe the violence needs to end. The brutality has to stop. The Syrian people deserve a country that they can call home and they can be safe and secure and stable and have a prosperous future. It needs to be unified; it needs to be whole; it needs to be pluralistic. And that’s going to be tough to get to. But it doesn’t mean that we’re just content with talking and talking and talking. Yes, there’s a matter – there needs to be discussions and dialogues, and there needs to be an – we need to arrive at a plan for a political transition that can work. But it’s not as if he’s approaching this or we’re approaching this without a sense of urgency and a need to get it done as soon as possible.
QUESTION: But I didn’t imply that it was urgent or not urgent, but I understand your point.
MR KIRBY: No, I know you didn’t, but – I know you didn’t but your question —
QUESTION: I understand your point of view, but something else —
MR KIRBY: Your question gave me the opportunity.
QUESTION: — regarding the Omani mediation. Can you give us your read in or your understanding of this meeting between the foreign minister of Oman and Assad and whether they’re playing similar role that they did with the Iran nuclear talks, that they opened the channel? Are they seen as like an independent mediator that could have something that we haven’t seen from the other major players, like the Turks or the Saudis or —
MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve seen reports that – of his travel to Damascus. I think I’d let the Omani Government speak to that and what their —
MR KIRBY: I’d let them speak to their visit. That they reach out to Damascus shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody given the fact that Oman has regional concerns as well. And these are sovereign decisions that the government gets to – that governments get to make in terms of who they talk to and when and where. So I’d leave it to the Omani Government to speak to it.
I’m not aware of mediation efforts here. Again, what we’re trying to do is continue to foster a meaningful dialogue to get at a tangible, practical, and eventually successful political transition in Syria.
QUESTION: Have you sent any message to President Assad with the Omani foreign minister? And is this visit coordinated with the U.S. or not?
MR KIRBY: I would – (inaudible) again, I’d leave this to the Omani Government to speak to, and we don’t talk about the details of our diplomatic discussions.
QUESTION: I have two more on Syria. Russia announced today that Mr. Lavrov has talked to Secretary Kerry today.
MR KIRBY: They did.
QUESTION: Any readout for —
MR KIRBY: They speak frequently. And today’s discussion was obviously centered on the Syria crisis and on the importance of arriving at a political transition in Syria. And they certainly discussed potentials surrounding a future meeting.
QUESTION: What do you mean by “potentials”?
MR KIRBY: Just the —
MR KIRBY: They talked about the next round of discussions and what each of them had in terms of expectations for the – that meeting and future meetings, and I won’t give any more detail than that.
QUESTION: Can you say whether it included discussions, who might come, and when it might happen?
MR KIRBY: I mean, obviously, they talk – they talk a lot about multilateral settings and about potential members, potential participants. But again, I’m not going to talk about the conversation this morning in more detail. It was a short conversation and it was largely focused on the issue of political transition in Syria and about the potential for future multilateral meetings.
QUESTION: There is a meeting in France tomorrow on Syria. Will the U.S. participate in this meeting?
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry? The —
QUESTION: A meeting in Paris on Syria. Are you – will you attend this meeting or —
MR KIRBY: Secretary Kerry’s not attending that. I’ll have to check and see if there’s any U.S. representatives in it. I’d have to – I’ll take that one for the record.
QUESTION: And my last question is, after the meeting with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, in your statement you announced that the Saudis and the U.S. will intensify the support to the Syrian opposition. What kind of support are you planning to intensify, the military support or the humanitarian support? And why at this time?
MR KIRBY: The idea of intensifying our support to the opposition and to counter ISIL fighters in Iraq and Syria is not a new one, and the Secretary’s talked about that for several weeks now that we have every effort – every intention to intensify those efforts. I’m not going to get into operational details here, but I think you’re going to continue to see the United States – our role in the multinational coalition of some 65 nations will continue to strengthen and grow.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: And the bilateral meeting with the Qatari foreign minister, can you give us a readout about the meeting, especially if they – he talked about Syria?
MR KIRBY: They certainly talked about the conflict in Syria. They also talked about events in Libya. And certainly, a focus of the discussion this morning was on the economic relationship between our two countries, not just the defense and security related issues, although they did discuss that. But, yes, they talked about the ongoing civil war in Syria and the fight against ISIL in Iraq and in Syria.
QUESTION: John, on that meeting in Paris tomorrow. Supposedly it’s the U.S. – I know you’re trying to get information – but it’s also U.K., Germany, and Saudi Arabia. Do you know why – and it’s on Syria. Do you know why Russia was excluded? And there’s the appearance that this is scheming. Are you designing a grand scheme here before the broader —
MR KIRBY: This is the meeting in Paris you’re talking about?
QUESTION: Yeah. The broader —
MR KIRBY: I think you’d have to talk to the French authorities on that.
QUESTION: Well, they invited you and – the U.S. is going to be there. U.S., U.K. —
QUESTION: They said the U.S. is going to be there.
QUESTION: — Germany and Saudi Arabia.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I said I’d get back on terms of representation. Secretary Kerry will not be there.
MR KIRBY: And as for who the French decided to invite and why, you’d have to talk to them.
QUESTION: John, in 2013 May, Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov agreed to the Geneva II after the Geneva I and it took seven months to make this happen. Do you believe that it can happen, the same thing, this time as well after these meetings, meetings, and meetings?
MR KIRBY: Do I expect what to happen?
QUESTION: This prolonged the process and to —
MR. KIRBY: I don’t know how long it’s going to take, Tolga. I don’t think anybody knows how long it’s going to take. What I can tell you – back to my previous comments – is the Secretary has a sense of urgency here as do others in the process. And we – the violence needs to end; the civil war needs to end; and there needs to be a better government in Syria.
No one’s underestimating the challenge. It’s not going to happen tomorrow, although we’d like it to happen as soon as possible. It also can’t just be quick. It has to be enduring. It has to be effective. It has to really provide the right results for a better future in Syria, and that’s going to take some time to get at.
Obviously, everybody would like this to happen as quickly as possible, but everybody also understands how difficult it’s going to be and that there are many voices in this process and that not everybody has the same view about Assad’s future in Syria, which is a key sticking point and needs to be resolved.
So all I can tell you is that we’re going to keep working this really, really hard, as hard as we can to try to get at a better outcome as soon as possible. When that’s going to be, I couldn’t begin to tell you.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
QUESTION: John —
MR KIRBY: Apparently not.
QUESTION: Just on Syria. The super – the international powers have basically so far failed to find a resolution for the Syrian conflict. But now as you see a need for Iran to play a role, I wonder what kind of role can Iran play that Russia, Assad’s bigger ally, cannot. What specific role? What kind of realistic expectations do you have from Iran to play a role that Russia cannot for Assad?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of decisions or discussions. Iran has not been playing a helpful role in the region, certainly with respect to Syria, with their support to groups like Hizballah and continued efforts to support the Assad regime. So it’s largely been an unhelpful role.
So if you’re asking me what can they do to be helpful, stop supporting the Assad regime, stop supporting Hizballah, and agree to work towards a successful political transition. But we’ve long recognized that at some point we’re going to have to have discussions with Iran about that. And whether Iran’s willing to change their behavior in Syria is up for them – that’s for them to speak to. But I think everybody clearly understands that at some point there’s going to have to be that discussion, that conversation.
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
MR KIRBY: Are we ready to leave Syria?
QUESTION: Yeah, change of topic.
QUESTION: One final on Syria, on Iran.
MR KIRBY: Wait.
MR KIRBY: All right, hang on. So clearly we’re ready to move on. We’ve got one more question on Syria and then we’ll move on.
QUESTION: Will you talk to Iran before they accept the principle of the Geneva declaration or —
MR KIRBY: I don’t know, Samir. I don’t know what – again, we’re just not at that point right now. And it’s – your question, though a good one, is farther afield now than where we are in the process. What we’re really trying to get at is what a political transition can look like that can be successful, which means we want to get as many people with a view and a perspective and an interest to come to agreement on what that needs to look like. This is – and really, I understand the interest in each of these meetings because they’re not insignificant.
But one thing that you all have to remember is that there are going to be more of these discussions, as there needs to be, and it’s an iterative process that the Secretary is committed to staying at – because it is that important and the stakes are that high. And while each one on its own is important, as the next one will be, there will be one after that and probably one after that, and who knows how many more, until we can really reach a – the ultimate goal here. We’d all like it to happen as quickly as possible, but as I said, it’s more important that it happens and it happens well than that it happens quick. Otherwise it’s not going to be enduring; it won’t be sustainable, and Syria just begins to implode, and nobody wants to see that happen.
So I don’t know the answer to your question. All I know is that this is work worth doing, and it’s worth doing right, and that’s what the Secretary is committed to.
QUESTION: Hasn’t it already imploded? I mean, the country is in multiple sectors controlled by —
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, I’m not going to get into a definitional debate over “implode” here, but obviously things are chaotic in Syria and things are desperate and they’re very bad, and that’s why I said the Secretary has been very clear about that the violence needs to stop. But I also think the Secretary believes that if the international community can marshal its efforts and its leadership and come together and effect a successful political transition, Syria can be saved from implosion, it can be saved from complete and total failure here.
So I wouldn’t say that we’re at that point right now of implosion, Arshad, but we could certainly get there if the international community isn’t willing to continue the work that it has so far proven willing to do.
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: Can we go?
QUESTION: Yeah, please. Yeah, I’ve got —
MR KIRBY: You guys tell me.
QUESTION: Today the Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a speech on the occasion of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and he said that he lives by the sword – he must live by the sword – and that Israel must control the territories for the foreseeable future. Does that mean the end of any possible process from your point of view, so the end of the two-state solution?
MR KIRBY: I didn’t see the prime minister’s speech, so again, I’m not going to comment on —
QUESTION: This is all over the place. That’s exactly what he said.
MR KIRBY: Hang on a second. No, you’ve got to give me a chance to come back at you here.
QUESTION: Okay, go ahead.
MR KIRBY: So look, I haven’t seen his comments, and as I said last week, I’m not going to get into the business of parsing everybody’s statements, one way or the other. As you know, the Secretary met with the prime minister in Berlin last week. Over the weekend he met with President Abbas. He met with King Abdullah of Jordan. You’ve seen Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments on Saturday evening, which the Secretary welcomed.
QUESTION: So you saw those, but not today’s?
MR KIRBY: I haven’t, no.
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Okay, okay.
MR KIRBY: Now you made me lose my train of thought.
QUESTION: Can we go to the Secretary’s response?
MR KIRBY: So wait, just hang on a second. What we have said is what we want to see from both sides are words and actions which can contribute to a restoration of calm and an end to the violence, and that is exactly where the Secretary’s head is right now.
QUESTION: Is the Secretary satisfied by the response of the Palestinian – well, just by the response to what he announced in Amman and what Prime Minister Netanyahu said in his written and YouTube statement on Saturday – on Saturday night?
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, what was the —
QUESTION: The question is: Is the Secretary satisfied by the response to what he announced in Jordan and what the prime minister then later said in his statement?
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: So there has been more violence, however, since those events. At least two more Palestinians have been killed. At least one more Israeli citizen, I believe, has been killed. And so it hasn’t led to any immediate easing in the violence, one; and two, the Palestinians have – at least the Palestinian Authority has reacted quite negatively to the notion of 24/7 cameras, saying that they fear that the Israelis will simply use this to surveil their people and arrest those who they think may be troublemakers, whether they are or not. So why is he satisfied when the violence hasn’t been reduced quickly and when the Palestinians – at least, their foreign minister and Saeb Erekat – seem quite hostile to the idea of the cameras?
MR KIRBY: Well, that he’s satisfied with his comments should be self-evident, because he made them. That he’s satisfied with the prime minister’s comments – I think that’s beyond dispute. He welcomes the comments the prime minister made Saturday night as useful. But that he is – that he welcomes those comments or that he’s – and he’s satisfied by those statements doesn’t mean that he is satisfied by the potential for more violence and by the actual events of the last couple of days. I mean, he also said on Saturday – and I know you heard him say that the violence has to stop, that there’s no – there can be no excuse for the taking – the deliberate taking of innocent life – that it needs to stop. And so he remains concerned about reports that he continues to see about violence there and, as I said earlier, wants all sides to do what they can to try to bring it to an end.
So yes, satisfied by the productive discussions he had, by the statements that were given, but certainly not satisfied that we’re near the end of conflict here just in terms of Israel, West Bank, and especially Jerusalem.
QUESTION: How about the Palestinian response to – particularly to what he described as the excellent suggestion from Jordan’s King Abdullah for the video monitoring? I mean, I realize that Israel has overall control of the site. I realize that Jordan is the custodian of the site. But most of the people, I would imagine, who pray at the site are Palestinians. I mean, I’m sure there are non-Palestinian Muslims who go there, but most of them, one would imagine, are Palestinians. So presumably, they should have some kind of a voice here, and it doesn’t sound like the Palestinian Authority is – I mean, it’s clear that they are very hostile to this idea of cameras. So —
MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll let the Palestinian Authority speak for itself. I can tell you that, broadly speaking, the Secretary found his conversation with President Abbas to be helpful and to be constructive, and he was grateful for the opportunity to have that discussion. So I’ll let them – let those Palestinians who have a different view on the closed-circuit television camera coverage that we talked about – I’ll let them speak to that. But the Secretary continues to believe that it was a very helpful suggestion by King Abdullah and that it will help increase the prospect for transparency from all sides and for all sides to have this kind of footage available for the public to see 24 hours a day. That’s – that has the potential to be useful, I think, in terms of at least increasing the transparency about what’s going on and potentially, hopefully, having a persuasive effect on discouraging any more violence.
QUESTION: One last one from me on this, if I may. The Secretary had said that there would be technical discussions fairly soon between the Jordanian Waqf and Israeli authorities about the cameras. We are quoting an Israeli official today as saying that the idea would be that the footage would be available to the Israeli Government and to the Jordanian Government but says nothing about it being publicly available. So that’s one question: Is it publicly available or not?
The second question is: Is it just for the Israelis and the Jordanians? The – or might the Palestinians also be able to see it if it’s not available widely to the public?
And last – and I know you’re not a direct party to those talks, but you’re clearly deeply involved in the process – have the talks actually begun yet, the technical talks?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I’d have to refer you to Israeli and Jordanian authorities about whether their technical teams have started to discuss this or not. I truly don’t know. Our understanding coming away from the weekend’s meeting – discussions were that the technical teams would get together very soon. Again, I just don’t know if that’s happened or not.
It’s also our understanding, and the Secretary talked about this, that it would be – that this footage – this live, streaming footage – would be available to the public 24/7. That’s our expectation.
QUESTION: John, just a quick follow-up. The Israeli Government said that it is considering stripping 80,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites from their identity card, basically cutting them off outside of the wall – people in the neighborhoods of Beit (inaudible) and so on. Do you have a comment on that? Does that amount to some sort of ethnic cleansing from Jerusalem?
MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not – again, I’m not going to get into debates over terminology here, Said. We’ve seen those reports and, again, I would just reiterate the importance we said of all sides – our expectations of all sides that they’ll avoid provocative actions and rhetoric and begin to work cooperatively to restore calm.
QUESTION: That’s not a —
QUESTION: John, do you regard (inaudible) as a provocative action or provocative rhetoric?
MR KIRBY: I’m just – I’m going to leave it at what I just said.
QUESTION: But rhetoric aside, just the idea of stripping tens of thousands of people of the right to move about where they currently move about, work where they may currently work, travel where they may currently travel – is that something that – provocative or not, is that something you just oppose because you think it’s wrong?
MR KIRBY: If it was true, it would certainly be of concern to us.
QUESTION: Could you comment about the visit of Secretary Kerry to Kazakhstan for next week? Namely, it will be 2nd of November. Your comment, please.
MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything to read out specifically with the Secretary’s schedule, and as soon as we do, we’ll let you know. We just don’t have any travel to announce today.
QUESTION: On Bangladesh. In next few – in recently weeks, ISIS has claimed responsible for several terrorist attack inside Bangladesh, including killing of an Italian aid worker. Do you have any – do you know how much penetration ISIS has inside Bangladesh?
MR KIRBY: Well, we certainly note with concern ISIL’s claim of responsibility for the attack. And, as we have elsewhere, we take those claims seriously. We’re working closely with the Government of Bangladesh and key partners to assess who is responsible for these attacks and to help bring them to justice.
QUESTION: Is their presence in Bangladesh a serious one? Is —
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Their presence inside Bangladesh a real one?
MR KIRBY: I’m – it’s difficult to say the degree to which ISIL is or is not operating in Bangladesh. I’m not at a position where I can make that determination. But there’s an investigation going on right now that we want to – if there’s a need to be helpful, we want to be helpful. It’s by law enforcement authorities there in Bangladesh to confirm responsibility. It’s up to them to do this. But I think it’s prudent for us to take ISIL claims seriously, and we do. But I just don’t have anything specific to give you in terms of actual responsibility for it. We just let – we need to let the law enforcement agencies there in Bangladesh investigate this and come to their own conclusions.
QUESTION: I have one more on South Asian country Nepal, where some violent protest is going on the last few weeks after the new constitution came in. These people, who are mostly from the foothills of Himalayas called Terai, are saying that the new constitution is not inclusive enough, it doesn’t protect their interests. Do you agree with their viewpoint, and are you in touch with anyone in the Nepal Government?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to take a position here from the podium about internal Nepali politics, but we’ve been clear that we obviously support the right of citizens to peacefully protest and we don’t want to see any such protest activity disrupted by violence or to become violent. That’s manifestly unhelpful, I think, to not only the safety and security of citizens but to moving politics and a government forward. So we certainly have seen these reports. We note them with concern, obviously, and we want to see peaceful protest be able to continue and not to be disrupted by violence.
QUESTION: John, you mentioned on the top of the briefing that between maritime security will be the topic in the meeting between Secretary Kerry, President Obama, and Indonesia President Widodo. Given the fact that Indonesia is an advocate for a binding code of conduct regarding the South China Sea disputes, do you have any indication that a binding code of conduct could be reached in the coming ASEAN summit in November, and do you have anything planned – anything to – new to announce regarding the U.S. plan to patrol in the disputed waters?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything specific on ASEAN, and I wouldn’t get ahead of the agenda for that meeting now. I wouldn’t do that. So I’m not in a position to speculate one way or another about the possibilities for a code of conduct to specifically come out of that meeting.
And as for your second question, I don’t have anything to add with respect to continued press reports about freedom of navigation operations by the U.S. Navy in and around these reclaimed artificial islands. So I would point you to the Pentagon for that. I just don’t have anything to update you on that.
QUESTION: Another focal topic of the meeting is TP – I’m sorry.
QUESTION: It’s actually on that topic of —
QUESTION: South China Sea?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know, she was beating you out by yelling. I don’t – (laughter.)
QUESTION: It’s actually just been reported that U.S. defense officials are saying that —
MR KIRBY: I didn’t think that that could come out of – that was pretty – it was pretty good power projection. Yeah.
QUESTION: It’s just being reported that U.S. defense officials are saying that they will be sending warships to the —
MR KIRBY: Who?
QUESTION: The U.S. Navy will be sending warships to navigate within 12 nautical miles —
MR KIRBY: Who says this?
QUESTION: U.S. defense officials, within 24 hours.
MR KIRBY: Anonymous defense officials are saying this, you mean?
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: Do you have a comment on that? Are you —
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to comment on anonymous claims by defense officials one way or another. Look, this is a military matter – this idea of what we call freedom of navigation operations. It’s routine. As a former naval officer, I can tell you I did it many, many times myself. It’s one of the reasons you have a navy, to be able to exert influence and to defend freedom of navigation on – in international waters. But where they will do them and how they will do them and with what resources they will do them, that’s for the Pentagon to speak to and I simply won’t speculate.
QUESTION: Are you in touch with Chinese officials about the potential of navigation (inaudible) or —
MR KIRBY: Well, again, this is a military matter. But more broadly, you don’t need to consult with any nation when you are exercising the right of freedom of navigation in international waters. The whole point of freedom of navigation in international waters is that it’s international waters, and you don’t need to consult with anybody to do that. That’s the idea.
QUESTION: Except when they think it’s not international waters and they claim it as their own, then —
MR KIRBY: If it’s international waters, it’s international waters, Brad. You don’t need to talk to anybody.
QUESTION: I understand, but even if you have the moral high ground, in your own view, on this, if they don’t think it’s international waters, there is the potential for an incident if they judge your intrusion or entrance into that area to be an aggressive act. Is that not correct?
MR KIRBY: That’s up for individual nations to decide how they will or won’t react to the exercise of freedom of navigation in international waters – international waters observed by international law, and the international law tends to be pretty specific about what is and what is not international waters.
QUESTION: Do – by saying you don’t need as a general principle to consult with anybody when you are sailing through international waters, were you meaning to imply that the United States had not consulted with China about this matter, or were you not taking a position on whether or not there had been any contacts?
MR KIRBY: No, I was simply meaning to imply that because they’re international waters, and by international law, there’s no need to consult with anybody else when you’re operating in them.
QUESTION: So you’re not saying whether or not you have consulted or not?
MR KIRBY: No, I’m not making a statement one way or the other about that.
QUESTION: Okay. Got it.
MR KIRBY: I’m simply stating the principles of international law.
QUESTION: Were there to be a conversation, would it be military to military, or would it be via this – I know didn’t say whether there was or not, but were there to be any, would that be the Pentagon or would that be you?
MR KIRBY: Again, I can’t speculate on conversations I don’t know are happening.
QUESTION: I’m asking you just the —
MR KIRBY: I understand. The point I think you’re missing is that if it’s international waters, therefore international law prescribes that you don’t need to consult.
QUESTION: I just think it would be a good precaution to have a noncompulsory conversation.
MR KIRBY: Well, I would point you to my colleagues at the Pentagon if in fact there were some, but I’m not aware of any.
QUESTION: So John, are you saying that news report that U.S. has actually consult in advance the plane to patrol in that area with the neighboring countries are false?
MR KIRBY: Am I confirming the reports?
QUESTION: You are? Yes?
MR KIRBY: No, I’m not. As I said, I think you should talk to my colleagues at the Pentagon; this is a military matter.
QUESTION: Okay. Another topic, please? Another focal topic of Widodo’s meeting with Secretary Kerry and President Obama is TPP. Although Indonesia has not made a decision to join TPP or not, what is U.S. position regarding the prospect of Indonesia become a potential member?
MR KIRBY: That’s a decision for the Indonesian people to decide, not for the United States. Obviously, we’ve made our decision fully in support of the TPP. The Secretary has talked about this many times and at length about the benefits to our economy as a result of the – of TPP, as well as the economies of so many other nations involved. We believe it’s good not just for the United States, but for many of our friends and partners in the region, and potentially broader than that. But these are ultimately decisions that each government has to make – and of course, the people that live there.
QUESTION: You will comment if they decide to join?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate one way or the other. I mean, that’s a great way of getting me involved in a decision here that is really up for the Indonesian people to make.
QUESTION: They are eligible to join. They are a Pacific nation and they can join the TPP, correct?
MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on eligibility or ineligibility, Brad. I don’t know of anything that would make them ineligible, but this is obviously for them to decide.
MR KIRBY: No, I’m not aware of any specific request for assistance. As I said at the opening, we’re certainly willing to consider any such requests should there be one.
I’ve got time for just a couple more.
QUESTION: John, just —
MR KIRBY: No, you’ve had plenty now.
MR KIRBY: No, no, no, no. You’ve had plenty.
QUESTION: Poland elections. Do you have a reaction? The new government, especially – the new government supposedly is going to be pro-NATO, they say, which is good for you to enlarge NATO presence. On the other hand, it might be difficult with the EU. So that could complicate working on the refugee crisis. So mixed feelings here? Or what’s your reaction specifically with those two issues?
MR KIRBY: I would just say this: that we congratulate the people of Poland for their successful completion of these parliamentary elections. And as we have before, we look forward to working with the new Government of Poland after the election’s results are certified and a new government is formed. Poland’s a – obviously, we have a very strong relationship with Poland and we look forward to that continuing. That’s as far as I think I go on that.
QUESTION: There have been clashes in Montenegro between the police and the protesters over the weekends. Do you have anything to add, any comment on the clashes?
MR KIRBY: I think our embassy’s already spoken to this, and we join our ambassador in strongly condemning the violence that erupted during the protests on the evening of the 24th, which we noted injured members of the police, journalists, and protesters. We also condemn the damage to property, including the Albanian embassy, which sustained some damage. So a full investigation into all these incidents are in accordance with established laws and we believe should be quickly conducted.
QUESTION: John —
QUESTION: Do you support a referendum by Montenegro people regarding the issue to join NATO?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything specific on that.
QUESTION: But in general, do you support a referendum for the people to decide for their future?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything specific on that. I mean, look, any final decision on bringing a member into NATO must be made with the consensus of all the NATO allies. That’s how the process works.
I got just time for one more.
QUESTION: Small one?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on – the Committee to Protect Journalists has said that three Egyptian journalists have been arrested and apparently held incommunicado within the last five days. If not, can you take that one if you don’t have anything?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I haven’t seen that. Obviously, if it’s true, that would be deeply concerning to us. You know what our position is in terms of the media rights and freedom. So I’ll have to get back to you on that, Arshad.
QUESTION: John, and also as a follow-up to Lalit’s question: You said that you are working with the Bangladesh Government to see whether it was an ISIS attack or not. Are you working with the Turkish Government as well for this Ankara bombing?
MR KIRBY: For the what bombing?
QUESTION: The Ankara bombing, October 10th bombing in Ankara.
MR KIRBY: What I said was if the Bangladesh Government needed help, we obviously would contribute in any way that was feasible. It’s being investigated by Bangladesh authorities as is – the Turkish authorities are investigating that and other, I’m sure, attacks that Turkey continues to suffer. And Turkey’s a key ally and a key partner, and if there’s ways in which we can be helpful, we’re certainly willing to do that.
QUESTION: They asked help?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any specific request for that.
QUESTION: And the last one: The Turkish Government took over control of a big media group in Turkey today. Do you have any statement on that?
MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that, Tolga.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:11 p.m.)
Source: U.S Department of State
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