Daily Press Briefing – October 27, 2015

Read Time56 Minute, 29 Second

2:07 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. A couple of programming notes here at the top. First, I want to make sure you’re all aware that the Secretary will be delivering a speech tomorrow at 2 o’clock on United States policy toward the Middle East. The speech will be delivered at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as part of the launch of the organization’s – of that organization’s Arab World Horizons Project. And of course, the Secretary’s speech is open to the press and will also be livestreamed on state.gov.

For travel —

QUESTION: Do you have any idea about how long that speech about U.S. policy in the Mideast is going to be? Will it be a short speech or a really long speech?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s a normal-sized speech. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You can’t say —

QUESTION: For —

QUESTION: Is he going to say anything new, or do we need to cover it or what? (Laughter.) I mean, I’m being serious. I’m serious.

MR KIRBY: I just told you how to cover it and I invite you at 2 o’clock to either go and listen to it or log on and listen to it.

QUESTION: Will he actually explain to those of us who are curious what the U.S. policy toward the Middle East is?

MR KIRBY: He will talk —

QUESTION: He will? Okay.

MR KIRBY: He will talk in this speech about U.S. policy in the Middle East. And it’s a region, obviously, that is of great concern particularly these days and lots to talk about.

QUESTION: Will there be a briefing tomorrow?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’ll still brief. I’ll probably have to adjust the time though. I’m not going to brief at 2:00 while the President – or the Secretary is speaking, but certainly I plan on briefing, most likely before.

I also want to announce this upcoming trip. Secretary Kerry will travel to Austria, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan from the 28th of October to November 3rd. While in Vienna, the Secretary will hold bilateral and multilateral meetings with foreign counterparts to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. The Secretary will then travel to Bishkek, Samarkand, Astana, Dushanbe, and Ashgabat to conduct bilateral discussions with senior government leaders in each country. This will be the Secretary’s first visit to Central Asia and the first-ever visit by a U.S. Secretary of State to all five Central Asian republics in the same trip.

In Bishkek, the Secretary will participate in the opening of the new campus of the American University of Central Asia and dedicate the new chancery of the U.S. embassy.

In Samarkand, the Secretary will participate in a joint meeting with the foreign ministers of all five countries. This meeting, a new format for dialogue between the United States and the Central Asian republics, known as the C5+1, will allow the Secretary and ministers to discuss regional and global opportunities as well as challenges.

In Astana, the Secretary will participate in the fourth meeting of the U.S.-Kazakhstan Strategic Partnership Dialogue and deliver remarks on Central Asia’s role in addressing global issues.

While in Ashgabat and Dushanbe, the Secretary will discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues of mutual interest with senior government officials.

So with that, I’ll take questions.

QUESTION: So before we get to the Austria stuff, which I’m sure you’ll get a lot of questions about, I just – the C5+1?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Really?

MR KIRBY: Really.

QUESTION: You couldn’t come up with – no one could come up with something better?

MR KIRBY: It works. It’s basic, it’s simple.

QUESTION: U.S. and the ‘stans or something?

MR KIRBY: Yesterday you guys were beating me up over the use of the word “modality.”

QUESTION: I was not here yesterday.

MR KIRBY: I’m trying to abbreviate. C5+1, I think it works quite well.

QUESTION: All right. So does that mean – are we going to go down the alphabet now from – are we going to have a D5+1, E5+1 at some point?

MR KIRBY: There very well may be such an effort afoot.

QUESTION: “C” for Central Asia?

MR KIRBY: Huh?

QUESTION: “C” for Central Asia, or is it just C – C was the term?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, Central Asia.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: Central Asia. C, Central Asia.

Yeah.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: C —

MR KIRBY: That’s the general gist of it.

QUESTION: Okay, onto Austria. So do you know who yet – do you know yet whom – with whom he will be meeting?

MR KIRBY: As I talked about yesterday, this – there will be bilateral and multilateral discussions in Vienna on Friday, and the participation is very much still being worked.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Who has been invited?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into specific invitations at this point. It’s – except to say, and I’m mindful of some press reporting out there recently, that it’s important for us, and we’ve said this all along – the Secretary has talked about the need to make sure that key partners are in these discussions. And as I said yesterday, there’s a series of bilateral discussions that are going on – some involve the United States, many don’t – as well as multilateral meetings that continue to occur – some involve the United States, some don’t. The Secretary wants to encourage these kinds of conversations and discussions as we continue to look for solutions to what is a difficult political situation in Syria, and a transition that can be enduring and lasting and lead to a better government for the Syrian people.

As such, in looking for different multilateral settings and for the right key partners to be present, we do expect in this case that Iran will be invited to participate.

QUESTION: Sorry, you used the word “key partners.” Does that mean that the Administration considers Iran to be a key partner?

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but I just mean that you need key – as I said yesterday, there are many stakeholders in Syria and what’s going on. Iran, though we do not certainly by any means approve of the destabilizing activities that they continue to pursue in Syria, recognize that and always have recognize, that at some point in the discussion moving towards a political transition we have to have a conversion and a dialogue with Iran. And so I wouldn’t call them a partner necessarily. But obviously, there are many stakeholders in this, and so we do anticipate —

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: — that Iran will be asked to participate. Now, whether they come or not, that’s up – that’s up to Iranian leaders.

QUESTION: In the —

QUESTION: I just want to make sure when you – so when you used the word – phrase “key partners,” you’re not – I mean, Iran is clearly, whether one likes it or not, a player or an actor in the whole Syria —

MR KIRBY: Iran – well, let me put it this way —

QUESTION: But do you consider them to be a partner, key or not? I mean, the key —

MR KIRBY: They —

QUESTION: It would seem to me your key partners would be the Saudis, the Turks, and others, people who are in the Friends of Syria group, not necessarily those who – like not necessarily Russia and Iran.

MR KIRBY: What I would say, Matt, is that they could be. They could be.

QUESTION: A key partner.

MR KIRBY: With respect – yes, with respect —

QUESTION: But they are not now?

MR KIRBY: I would not describe, based on their activities now, that they are certainly acting in partnership with the international community with respect to Syria, Matt. But they could be. These are decisions that Iranian leaders have to decide to make.

QUESTION: But Russia is a key partner, right? He said Iran and Russia.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to go down the list of every nation and define for you the degree of partner. Russia has been a key partner on many global strategic issues, not to mention the Iran deal. And there are plenty of other issues where we can and want to and in some cases do participate or partner with Russia. Obviously, there are still issues where there are sharp differences with respect to Russia and our relationship with Russia, Ukraine being one – hang on a second – Ukraine being one. And clearly, we want to see a more constructive role by Russia in Syria.

So could Russia be a key partner with the international community with respect to a political transition in Syria? Absolutely, they could be. That is why we’re having these discussions. That is why there’ll be another round in Vienna on Friday, and I suspect you’ll continue to see more such multilateral settings to discuss the situation in Syria. And the participants, as I said yesterday, will vary from time to time. And that’s okay as long as the discussions are progressing and as long as some progress can be made towards achieving a political transition.

Lesley.

QUESTION: But —

QUESTION: And John, who would extend this invitation to Iran? Would it be the U.S. or would it be Russia?

MR KIRBY: I’m not at liberty to say how or – an invitation would be expended – extended. I’m just going to tell you that we anticipate that Iran will be invited to attend.

QUESTION: Well, the meeting is coming up, so better hurry on that one.

MR KIRBY: Thanks for the advice, Justin. I appreciate that.

QUESTION: Well, that’s what I was trying to figure out. Have you invited them to this one? You expect them to be invited to discussions. Are you saying these discussions or future discussions?

MR KIRBY: Yes. If I wasn’t clear, we would – we anticipate that Iran will be invited to attend this upcoming meeting in Vienna.

QUESTION: And I understand that they have – that the Iranians have suggested a deputy foreign minister for this meeting, or has Zarif himself been invited?

MR KIRBY: Again, I would say that – as I – they are expected to be invited. How – whether they accept that invitation is up to them and, if they do accept, at what level they want to send in terms of a participant is up to Tehran.

QUESTION: Is this kind of – are you just parsing around, like, the actual invitation? I mean, have you extended the invitation and they haven’t accepted it yet? Or I mean, what it is – that they haven’t read it yet? I mean, or that they’re invited and you’re just waiting to see if they wanted to come?

MR KIRBY: I’m not parsing any words, Elise. As I said, we expect them to be invited to participate.

QUESTION: Well, what does that mean? You’re inviting them or you already invited them? Which is it?

MR KIRBY: If I said – I said that we expect them to be invited. That would connote, I think, that it hasn’t happened yet.

QUESTION: Save the date then?

QUESTION: But you’ve already kind of floated the idea with them about whether they would come, so are you waiting to extend as to the actual official invitation?

MR KIRBY: I think I’m just going to leave it where I left it.

QUESTION: Well, can I follow up on my question? Is this an agreement with everybody who’s coming, including the Saudis, that the Iranians are to be invited?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, multilateral setting, many different perspectives. There’s been lots of discussions about participants, multilateral discussions about participants. And again, I think the fact that I can tell you that we expect Iran to be invited to participate, I think that fact speaks for itself in terms of – in terms of the awareness of other participants of their potential participation.

QUESTION: So the others have agreed then that Iran can —

MR KIRBY: I won’t speak for other countries. I can only speak for the United States.

QUESTION: But the U.S. put out the invitations.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that. I didn’t say that. I didn’t say the U.S. put out an invitation. I said it’s expected that Iran will be invited to attend, point one. Point two, it’s up to Iran to decide whether they’re going to or not, when they are asked, and if they decide to go who goes and who represents for them. And the third point I said was that there had been multilateral discussions among other participants about this aspect, and I would leave it at that. And other nations can speak for themselves in terms of their level of comfort.

QUESTION: So then where does the Secretary want this discussion to go? If Iran is included – if Iran says yes, where is this – what kind of outcome does he want from this meeting, which I know is a continuation of —

MR KIRBY: I am loath to get ahead of discussions that haven’t happened yet, Lesley. I think I would point you back to what I said yesterday, which is that you’re going to see more such meetings. The ultimate goal that everybody wants to get at – and I can’t tell you how many more meetings it’s going to take or how many more discussions are required to get at this goal. But the goal is to come up with a framework – an agreed-upon, international, multilateral framework – for a successful political transition in Syria, which is – leads to a government not led by Bashar al-Assad and is – that is representative of and response to the Syrian people. That’s the overarching goal.

And as I said yesterday, that’s a difficult task, certainly given the ongoing violence that we’re seeing in Syria and all the different perspectives that many partners and participants in these meetings have and espouse. We understand that. So I can’t tell you exactly what the outcome of the meetings on Friday are going to be or if they’re – it’s the last chapter. I rather doubt that. I think there will be – there’ll continue to be more such discussions with varying degrees of participation internationally. So we just have to see.

But coming out of this last trip to Vienna, the Secretary felt optimistic that enough progress was being made towards laying down the foundation of what a political transition could look like that he felt it was really important to continue that momentum. And that’s what this next meeting in Vienna hopefully will do, will build on this momentum.

QUESTION: So when you say that you’re looking for a framework for a successful political transition, are you talking about kind of some kind of roadmap with details about how long it would take, what kind of governing transitional body would be in there, like —

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: — a real – like you did in Libya?

MR KIRBY: Sure. Yes.

QUESTION: Like, I know that you’ve made it not the same —

MR KIRBY: Yes. I mean, it would have to be – it would have to – it’d be a plan to how would a successful political transition be implemented and effected and all the components of that. I won’t – I don’t want to get ahead of any specific items, because again, they’re still being debated and discussed and decided upon by multiple participants. But yes, it would – the essential components that you would expect to see in a government transition.

QUESTION: And also, I want to go back to something we discussed yesterday, which is how the Syrian opposition, armed and unarmed, the political and the rebels, would fit into that. Because you’re talking about a framework for a successful political transition in Syria and yes, these are all the major non-Syrian stakeholders. But you’re talking about Syria. And so how – at what point do you need buy-in from the actual Syrians themselves to make this transition, to actually implement it?

MR KIRBY: Well, certainly there’s going to have to be a role for the moderate opposition, and we’ve said that from the very beginning. One of the big outcomes out of the Doha meeting in the summer was a recognition that the opposition groups need to be more united and more unified in their approach in terms of what a transition should look like and that the international community has an obligation to continue to work with them to that end. And we will and we are.

I can’t tell you, Elise, exactly when or under what circumstances you’ll see opposition groups unified to that point and able to speak with one voice at a table or in any other venue. Obviously, that’s a key part of this. You talked about – your question, you talked about a framework. Well, one of the pieces of a framework to get to a transition is exactly that, to be able to be inclusive of and considerate of the opposition groups and their desires and their needs. And we’re going to get there.

Are we there right now? I don’t think so. But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t talking to and continue to have a dialogue with various opposition groups. Special Envoy Ratney continues to have – and will do so, continue to have – discussions with various opposition leaders as we continue to move forward on this process.

QUESTION: Can you assure the Syrians that you’re not just going to kind of agree to a plan with these major stakeholders, which I would assume would have to have buy-in from the Syrian Government if you’re going to have this transition from an Assad-led government, that you’re not just going to have this plan and hand it to them and say this is how – this what you’re supposed to implement?

MR KIRBY: Yes, I can assure you of that.

QUESTION: John, you said that the Secretary will be leaving tomorrow. The meetings will be held Thursday or Friday?

MR KIRBY: I think they’ll – again, the schedule’s still being fleshed out. My understanding is the key meetings will be on Friday, but I can’t rule out that there may not be some preliminary discussions on Thursday.

QUESTION: John —

QUESTION: So the total that you expect is still roughly a dozen?

MR KIRBY: I think that’s about —

QUESTION: Or more?

MR KIRBY: I think that’s about right, Matt. But again, when I have more that I can say —

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: — about participants, I will.

QUESTION: And then the other thing is a lot of the questions that you were being asked was that you have – it’s – who actually does the inviting for this? Or does it depend on who the invitee is?

MR KIRBY: I think that’s —

QUESTION: I mean, say, who would you – I mean, is it the host, the Austrians, who would do the inviting?

MR KIRBY: I think – let me – I know where your question’s going. When you’re getting at multilateral settings at this level and of this importance, I think it’s fair to say that various —

QUESTION: People —

MR KIRBY: — stakeholders in these discussions have their – have ideas about whom they would want to be participating, and those discussions are ongoing. And it’s sort of a multilateral approach to the invitations themselves.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. So would it be fair to assume that the core four of this, the people who met last week – U.S., Russia, Saudi, and Turkey – would be doing the inviting for the people that – for the countries that they —

MR KIRBY: I would say certainly those four core countries, as you put it, that met last week, have all had an opportunity to voice their views about who should be participating.

QUESTION: Right. But they would – once there is a consensus on who should participate, those countries would ask their – the countries that they wanted – that they have a particular interest in —

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that it’s that cut and dry, but you’ve got the basic idea.

QUESTION: All right. What is it, an Evite, Paperless Post? What – how does it —

MR KIRBY: I —

QUESTION: Is it people can bring –

MR KIRBY: At the risk of using – at the risk of using a word that I know the Associated Press hates, I don’t know the exact —

QUESTION: Modality?

MR KIRBY: — modalities of the invitations.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. And the last one from me on this whole thing —

MR KIRBY: I just wanted to say it one more time.

QUESTION: — this meeting is being held in Vienna. Does this mean that Vienna has now, at least in the Secretary’s mind, overtaken Geneva as the spot, the most valuable venue for —

MR KIRBY: The Secretary values the importance of both cities and the leadership in both countries in terms of helping us arrive at diplomatic solutions to very thorny national security problems.

QUESTION: John, Russia wants Egypt to participate in these meetings too. Do you want Egypt to be part of —

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into specific – I addressed Iran, because there had been some press reporting this afternoon about Iran’s potential participation. I think you got to understand that I’m just not at a point now where I can speak to or will speak to each and every possible participant and who wanted whom at the table. When we have more information about the agenda and about participants, I will provide it.

QUESTION: The report – just to be clear, and I know we’ve gone over this – said that they had already been invited. And you’re just saying that’s not true. You’re saying they will be, but you’re not, in stating that, actually issuing the invite yourself right now.

MR KIRBY: I think I’m going to leave it the way I did 10 or 15 minutes ago.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: That we anticipate that they will be asked to participate.

QUESTION: Are we going to keep talking about this —

QUESTION: Or will – or were?

MR KIRBY: We could, Justin, but I think —

QUESTION: We can keep going.

QUESTION: The bottom line is the United States is not doing the invitation or the asking to Iran, right?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about who’s asking whom to the event.

QUESTION: So you don’t know whether it has been asked or not.

MR KIRBY: I’m just telling you that we anticipate Iran will be invited to participate —

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: — in these discussions on Friday.

QUESTION: The thing is is that you don’t know that they haven’t been invited.

MR KIRBY: I’m just going to leave it where I left it.

QUESTION: Right. Okay.

QUESTION: What sort of role do you expect Iran to play in these – in these discussions? I mean, you expect them to have an active role? Yesterday I believe that you thought that at this stage you wouldn’t expect Iran to have an active —

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t think I —

QUESTION: — some active discussions —

MR KIRBY: I don’t think I put it – right. I don’t think I put it quite that way.

QUESTION: I’m going to have to – yeah. You used “active” in that sentence yesterday.

MR KIRBY: Look, first of all, when an invitation is proffered, it’s up to Iran to decide whether to accept it. And as I said earlier, it’s up to them to decide, if they are going to accept, who they’re going to send. And it’s certainly up to Iran about how active they want to be and constructive they want to be in that discussion. I mean, obviously, there would be no – there wouldn’t be an interest in having them participate if there wasn’t a general desire by the international community for them to play a constructive role in terms of achieving a political transition. But the – how they participate and at what level and how energetically and how constructive, that’s going to be up to Iranian leaders to determine.

QUESTION: John, last question from me. Do you expect Saudi Arabia to attend, since Iran is invited?

MR KIRBY: I appreciate your effort to try to get me to give you the invite list. When I have more —

QUESTION: If Saudi Arabia was attending the —

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, we could go down the list of countries in the world, if you want —

QUESTION: Paraguay.

MR KIRBY: — but I am —

QUESTION: Suriname. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: — I – when I have more —

QUESTION: Madagascar.

MR KIRBY: When I have more about participants – thank you, Matt, for the geography lesson – when I have more about participants, I will provide it.

QUESTION: John, this is a follow up to Elise’s question concerning the moderate Syrian opposition. You indicated they would have a role at some point. Do you anticipate an invitation will be extended for Friday’s talks?

MR KIRBY: When I have more about participation that I can offer you, I will do so. I alluded to one other country in particular because of press reporting this afternoon, and when I have more, we’ll provide it.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

QUESTION: When Iran receives that invitation from another power or any power, can they assume that that power offers it to them with the blessing of the United States?

MR KIRBY: What I would say is —

QUESTION: Or that you would oppose it?

MR KIRBY: Any – an invitation to Iran to participate – I think Iranian leaders can take to mean that it’s a genuine and multilateral invitation to participate.

Yes.

QUESTION: South China Sea?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: As we know that – I mean, China says it warned and tracked U.S. warship in South China Sea, and China’s foreign ministry said the action had threatened China’s sovereignty and security interests. At the same time, Beijing summons U.S. ambassador over this issue. So do you think U.S. action has some influence on U.S.-China relationship?

MR KIRBY: I think with respect to that – this particular operation, I’m going to point you back to what the Secretary of Defense said earlier today in testimony where he talked about this. And I think that’s the appropriate level for discussion of specific military operations to come from, not from me.

As for our diplomatic discussions, you know we don’t talk about that. What I can tell you is – the specifics of them, anyway – what I can tell you is that this is a matter that we have routinely raised, this issue of these claims in the South China Sea. We’ve routinely raised them with our Chinese counterparts and will continue to do so. And as I said yesterday, that freedom of navigation is a right, it’s a principle, and that regardless of this or any other specific operation, it’s a responsibility that the U.S. Navy takes seriously. Again, I’ll let them speak to the specifics.

But there’s – setting this aside, okay, the U.S.-China relationship is vitally important and one that we want to see continue to improve and to grow for the benefit of both our countries, not to mention the region. So again, without speaking to specific operations, it’s the Secretary’s desire that our relationship with China will continue to deepen.

QUESTION: But because —

QUESTION: John, can you confirm that Ambassador Baucus was summoned?

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second. Hang on. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So according to the diplomats that there were apparent differences of views between Pentagon and the White House about the wisdom of such action. So we can see the delay of matching tough words and actions. So I just curious why United States spending so many weeks to take this final decision, and did the State Department evaluate the consequence of this issue beforehand?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that, first of all, this is a military operation.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR KIRBY: And the Defense Department should speak to whatever details they wish to speak to. Again, I would point you to what Secretary Carter said earlier in testimony. You couch it as weeks and weeks to decide this. I mean, I don’t know how you could know that unless you knew when an idea was initially proffered, and that’s really something for the U.S. military to speak to.

But what I would only go back to say is freedom of navigation in international waters is an essential principle. It’s why – it’s one of the reasons why a nation has a navy, and it’s an important principle to exercise and to be able to demonstrate. And when you conduct freedom of navigation operations in international waters, they are in international waters and therefore aren’t aimed or directed and shouldn’t be construed as a threat by anybody.

QUESTION: So why is it an operation?

QUESTION: Last question. So U.S. repeated that U.S. will not take position on South China Sea, on sovereignty claims. But at the same time, we can see President Obama when he meet President Xi Jinping, and he said, “Narrow our differences; we can continue to advance our mutual interests,” as you just mentioned how important China-U.S. relationship is. But at the same time, we can see the action which is kind of very counter to the words. What is your comment?

MR KIRBY: There’s no – again, I’m not – I can appreciate you want me to talk in great detail about Navy operations in the Pacific. I won’t do that. There is no change to our policy and our position on the disputed claims in the South China Sea – none. We’re not taking a position on any of these individual claims. We do take a position on coercion – that these disputes should not be solved through aggressive actions or coercion or force of any kind.

Number three, that we want them resolved through international norms and in accordance with international law – no change, none whatsoever. Regardless of what the U.S. Navy did or didn’t do recently, there’s no change in our position. And the operating, the sailing —

QUESTION: Is that contrary – is that —

MR KIRBY: — the sailing of Navy ships in international waters doesn’t change that one iota, not one.

QUESTION: John —

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — can you confirm that Ambassador Baucus was summoned to a meeting in China in protest of this?

MR KIRBY: As you know, we don’t confirm the details of diplomatic conversations.

QUESTION: Sometimes you do.

MR KIRBY: The —

QUESTION: When meetings take place. I mean, I’m not asking you to say what they talked about.

QUESTION: I mean, yes, there have been plenty of times from that podium even you have said when an ambassador has gone in and met with a foreign minister. I mean, just because you guys don’t like the reason that they were called in – I mean, he was called in. (Laughter.) Why can’t you say that he met with the ministry today?

MR KIRBY: We don’t discuss the details of diplomatic conversations, but what I will say —

QUESTION: Unless you want to.

MR KIRBY: What I will say is that this is a matter we have routinely discussed with the ministry of foreign affairs in Beijing and will continue to do so.

QUESTION: Including today?

QUESTION: The Chinese foreign ministry has called this a provocation. Were you surprised by the tenor of the response from China given that you continue to assert that it’s a right, it’s freedom of navigation, it’s universal principle, and this and that?

MR KIRBY: All I can – I can’t speak for China and what they interpreted it as or not. I can just tell you that, as I said yesterday, this is a fundamental principle, and regardless of – and again, I’m not going to speak about details here, operational details – it’s a fundamental principle. And you’ve heard me say before that freedom of the seas is not just for whales and icebergs, right? And this is about freedom of the seas.

QUESTION: Okay. But I’m not asking you to speak about the Chinese position. They said it’s a provocation. It – the Secretary of Defense said it happened.

MR KIRBY: They can speak for themselves on how they viewed the operation. I can only tell you that from our perspective, the Secretary – Secretary Carter certainly made clear that U.S. military forces will fly, sail, and operate in accordance with international law, as they need to, to properly defend our national security interests.

QUESTION: Right, but the question is: Were you surprised or taken aback somehow by the Chinese reaction to this action —

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: — which we – no? No, you – okay.

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: Yeah, John, but the U.S. hasn’t done this kind of operation in the past three years, so why now? And especially sending a destroyer warship this time – this lead people to question your motivation. Are you trying to change the status quo in South China Sea, or what are you trying to change?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak about the details of military operations. I would refer you to my colleagues at the Defense Department. I would only point you back to what I said yesterday – that exercising freedom of navigation is an essential principle and one of the – and one responsibility of the United States Navy.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Daniel Russel said after President Xi’s visit, he actually praised President Xi’s commitment to South China Sea about the no-militarized – no militarization in South China Sea and peaceful resolution to solve the problems. So by doing this, isn’t this going to undermine the outcomes of the two leaders’ summit?

MR KIRBY: There’s no reason that U.S. Navy operations in international waters, in accordance with international law, should have any negative effect on our relationship with any country around the world.

Yes.

QUESTION: John —

MR KIRBY: Go ahead, Janne.

QUESTION: Yeah, John, on that, please. South Korea and Japan and China will hold trilateral summit talks next week. What is the United States view of these three lateral summit talks?

MR KIRBY: Well, we – I mean, just in broad terms, Janne, we welcome conversations and opportunities for nations, those three in particular, to get together and discuss security issues. So, I mean, we’re very supportive of this, but obviously the goals and agenda is for those three nations to speak to. But we continue to believe that strong and constructive relations between all of those states will eventually and could support – should support – regional peace and prosperity.

QUESTION: On Six-Party Talks, do you have any time frame for the resumption of Six-Party Talks or —

MR KIRBY: No I don’t.

QUESTION: — do you have – does the United States have a – to end North Korea nuclear deal before the end of this Administration?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t have anything —

QUESTION: You don’t —

MR KIRBY: — in detail to speak to with respect to that. As we’ve said all along, we want to see the complete, verifiable denuclearization of the peninsula. The onus is on the North Korea to begin to, in not just word but in action and deed, show their commitment to that. And they’ve yet to do that so far.

Yeah, Pam.

QUESTION: One more on South China Sea. I know you said that you won’t confirm the diplomatic conversations, but can you say if China filed a formal protest? And if so, what was the U.S. response?

MR KIRBY: I would let the Chinese speak to the degree to which they did or didn’t protest —

QUESTION: Well, what about the U.S. response?

MR KIRBY: I’m not – I think I’m going to just leave my answer the way it was. I’m not going to speak to the details of diplomatic conversations regardless of the degree to which I may or may not have done it in the past, but it is an issue. The South China Sea writ large and the issue of claims and the issue of militarization of reclaimed features is something that Ambassador Baucus routinely talks to Chinese authorities on, and I suspect that those conversations will continue.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Can I come back to Syria for a second? I am sorry, I meant to come over for a briefing for a long time, but it’s been a very busy time.

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s great to have you back.

QUESTION: Thank you. On Syria, on Russia, I think I just heard you refer to Russia as a partner or a potential partner in resolving the Syrian situation, correct?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: So does it mean that your previous critical attitude towards Russia has been doing in Syria for the past few weeks has changed?

MR KIRBY: No, not at all.

QUESTION: No? How do you square the two?

MR KIRBY: Well, even the – even countries that are completely aligned on many issues can disagree on others. And there are issues where we share common concerns with Russia, and there are issues where there has been and we hope will continue to be good cooperation, and I would just point you back to the Iran deal and the very helpful role that Russia played in achieving that.

That doesn’t mean that though we can partner with Russia on one thing, that we’re going to have significant differences of approach in others. Nothing has changed about our concerns – let me finish, now. You asked a question. Nothing has – nothing has changed about our significant concerns about what Russia is doing in Ukraine, and we’re not turning a blind eye to that either. And obviously, we continue to have concerns about Russian military support for the Assad regime in Syria. As the Secretary has said, if Russia wants to play a constructive role against ISIL in Syria, well, then that’s a conversation we’re more than willing to have – an opportunity where there could be some measure of partnership. But we aren’t there yet. If you just look at what they’re hitting and where they’re continuing to focus on, obviously, we’re not there yet.

There is also an opportunity here – back to Matt’s question about vernacular, there is an opportunity here for there to be a partnership with respect to getting at a political transition in Syria. Are we there yet? I don’t know that I would describe it quite like that, because these discussions are still ongoing. But obviously, you guys have seen the many readouts that I issue when the Secretary speaks to Foreign Minister Lavrov, and I know that the other side does the same thing. There continues to be an ongoing conversation and dialogue between Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Kerry about the political situation in Syria and about what options there can be for a transition.

QUESTION: Do you know when the last one was? Was there one today, or was the last one yesterday?

MR KIRBY: There was one yesterday, and I think I talked about that from the podium.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. But there wasn’t one today.

QUESTION: But there wasn’t – hasn’t been one today?

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: At least so far.

MR KIRBY: At least so far.

QUESTION: So John, if I may pursue this line of questions —

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: — you keep talking about partnership in the political transition. The Russians keep talking about partnership in fighting ISIS. And their – actually this multilateral coalition of fighting ISIS with the participation of Iran and other regional players – Egypt and others – was originally their idea. Are they partners for you in fighting ISIS?

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: No, they’re aren’t. Are they potential partners in fighting ISIS?

MR KIRBY: It’s going to be up to the Russians to determine the degree to which they’re serious about going after ISIL. They’ve not proven serious about doing that so far.

QUESTION: Are they still proceeding from the position of – from a position of weakness, in your eyes, in fighting ISIS?

MR KIRBY: They’re not fighting ISIS.

QUESTION: They are. Oh John, I mean —

MR KIRBY: There’s very little evidence that they’re going after ISIL inside Syria. If they want to play a constructive role in that effort, then again, that’s a conversation we’re willing to have. At the same time, there needs to be and there is and there will be discussions on a political track – there has to be – on trying to achieve a political transition in Syria, because ultimately, that’s the answer to the civil war and that’s the answer to stability in the country writ large. And that’s a harder thing to get at, and that’s why we’re having these continued meetings and continued discussions.

QUESTION: But you don’t —

QUESTION: When you say that you – they are proceeding from a position of weakness, I assume that you mean that you are proceeding from a position of strength. What have you achieved in the last couple of years by sitting in Syria and Iraq from position of strength? What are your major achievements —

MR KIRBY: I have talked —

QUESTION: — in fighting ISIS?

MR KIRBY: I appreciate where your question’s coming from, though the premise of it is completely false. And I have talked about —

QUESTION: That would tell us that you don’t really appreciate it.

MR KIRBY: I’m trying to be polite. Look, I’m not going to —

QUESTION: It’s not obvious.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to take the next 10 minutes to go over the progress that we’ve made against ISIL over the last year-plus. I have talked about it. I can refer you to my past transcripts about this. Unquestionably, the coalition – and it’s not just the United States, by the way. It’s 65 nations involved in coalition operations against – on multiple lines of effort against ISIL, and there has been progress. Is it over? No. ISIL remains a determined, lethal enemy.

Now look, wait. You’re not listening and I want —

QUESTION: I’m listening. I’m listening.

MR KIRBY: No, you don’t – you don’t appear to be.

QUESTION: I’m taping on —

MR KIRBY: You don’t appear to be, and I think this is important context.

QUESTION: I’m taping on two devices.

MR KIRBY: We are working very hard against ISIL, and there’s a lot of work left to be done. And if Russia wants to play a role in that, so much the better; let’s have a talk about that. But so far, when you just look at the vast majority of the targets they’re hitting, they’re hitting opposition groups and not terrorist organizations and not ISIL specifically.

QUESTION: But you don’t think that the Russian operations on the ground have given this new momentum to the desire to kind of get together more urgently for a political solution?

MR KIRBY: There’s a lot of factors that have gone into the President’s decision and certainly Secretary Kerry’s support for that position that we need to intensify our efforts against ISIL. That —

QUESTION: But you’ve been doing that for months though, and it does seem in the recent weeks as Russia has increased its presence and started launching airstrikes, that now Russia has kind of seized this momentum and along —

MR KIRBY: No, I would not – I would not —

QUESTION: — along with you guys – let me finish – along with you guys to get together this meeting. I mean, it definitely seems as if the urgency has come from the Russian actions on the ground, not – respectfully – anything you’ve done.

MR KIRBY: No, I would disagree with that, respectfully.

QUESTION: Okay, okay.

MR KIRBY: The Syrian regime as – and I’ve talked about the increasing fragility, and that’s what we believe prompted Russia to act militarily inside Syria, was reacting to —

QUESTION: Right. But they’ve solidified him and now he’s – right.

MR KIRBY: — wait a second – reacting to increasing fragility of the Assad regime. And what they’ve done is embolden Assad and now made it easier for him, and we’ve seen continued now action against opposition groups and civilians continue to be killed by the regime. And we’re also seeing as a result of these military activities more and more refugees flowing out of Syria. I think the refugee crisis in particular has certainly had an effect on increased efforts and desire to intensify our work against ISIL inside the country.

But our focus militarily is against ISIL – always has been, remains that. Politically what needs to happen is a transition in Syria, and supporting the Assad regime as so far military Russian activities – yeah, military Russian activities has done, is not going to get us any closer to that.

QUESTION: I —

MR KIRBY: That said – hang on a second. That said, it doesn’t mean that – and I’ve said this before – that there shouldn’t be a concerted effort to try to get at that political transition and to have conversations with Russia bilaterally and multilaterally to that end.

Now, obviously, how and – how Russia reacts to that and the degree to which they want to be helpful in a political solution, well, that’s up to them to speak to. But I would tell you that the Secretary views positively the fact that he continues to have meaningful conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov on this and will do so again at the end of this week.

QUESTION: Will the foreign minister be there on Friday?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak for another nation and their participation. It is our expectation that Foreign Minister Lavrov will be there.

QUESTION: Is – does the —

QUESTION: One absolutely last thing that I wanted to ask you about this, and in the context of what you just said. Why did you bomb the power station in Syria? If you say your military efforts are exclusively focused on ISIS, if you say you want to stop the flow of refugees, why did you bomb a Japanese-built power station in Aleppo, destroyed it, creating additional hardships for the Syrians and probably causing some additional refugees to leave the country?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to talk about specific bombing raids or operations. And don’t look at it that way. Now, I’ve told you before I’m not going to get into military operations from this podium. That’s a great question for the Defense Department. But let’s talk about the thousands and thousands of other operations that have been done in Iraq and Syria supported by the United States and United States air power as well as other coalition members against targets on ISIL. I’m not going to be in a position, and I wouldn’t begin to be in a position, to speak to each and every target from each and every operation.

QUESTION: This subject was raised by President Putin. That’s why I’m raising it.

MR KIRBY: Fair.

QUESTION: Apparently —

MR KIRBY: But raise it – you should raise it to the Defense Department, sir.

QUESTION: Can we move a bit south?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just to Israel. I’ve got a couple but they’re really – they’ll be really quick. One is you’re probably aware that an American citizen who was a victim of an attack earlier this month died this morning. I’m wondering if you have anything to say about it – in the hospital.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, Matt, I do. Just give me a second to find it here.

We can confirm that U.S. citizen Richard Lakin died this morning of wounds sustained in the October 13th terrorist attack on a bus in Jerusalem. Obviously, we express our deepest sympathies to his family and his loved ones for their loss, and we have been in contact with his family regarding this tragic death.

As we’ve made clear in the wake of that tragic incident itself, we condemned it in the strongest terms and we continue to condemn in the strongest terms terrorist attacks such as this one. We remain deeply concerned, obviously, about the tensions, and we continue to urge all sides to take affirmative steps to restore calm.

QUESTION: Okay. When the Secretary – well, when the Secretary was in Jordan and he announced this camera, the CC – closed circuit television or whatever it’s going to be, the cameras at the Temple Mount —

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: So the Jordanians have welcomed this. The Israelis have welcomed it. Waqf has welcomed it. The only people who don’t seem to be too thrilled about this idea are the Palestinians. Is this a disappointment to you? Do you think that this is a mistake, them not embracing this proposal?

MR KIRBY: I think we’d let the Palestinian Authority speak for themselves in terms of —

QUESTION: Well, they have spoken and they say they think it’s a trap.

MR KIRBY: I’m going to let – we’ll let them speak for themselves. The Secretary talked about this over the weekend. He described it as a potential game changer. He still believes it can be exactly that because of the increased transparency that would proffer to allow all sides to see what’s going on. So he’s fully in support of the installation and the use of these cameras.

QUESTION: Well, okay. But I’m not asking you to speak for the Palestinians. I’m asking you to respond to find out whether or not you are disappointed or angry or whatever —

MR KIRBY: I think we’ll let —

QUESTION: — at the fact that they have not said that they are pleased with this idea. And quite the opposite, they said they’re suspicious of it because they think that it’s aimed at spying on them essentially.

MR KIRBY: It’s not aimed at spying on anybody. It’s aimed at increasing transparency. So there’s no reason for anybody to be suspicious about the use of closed circuit cameras —

QUESTION: Okay. So you —

MR KIRBY: — any more than when you go shopping at Target or Wal-Mart and you’re walking through the parking lot, there are cameras. And all that is to the betterment of good order and safety, and so there’s no reason for anybody to be suspicious of it. I’ll let them speak for what they feel of it. Nothing has changed —

QUESTION: Okay. I’m not asking you to speak to that.

MR KIRBY: I know that. But you want me to characterize it, and I won’t do that in terms of characterizing their attitudes toward it. There’s no reason for anybody to be suspicious of this particular idea, and the Secretary continues to believe it could be very, very helpful.

QUESTION: Okay, all right. Did the Secretary actually raise this with President Abbas when they met in Amman?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary talked to President Abbas about a range of things that —

QUESTION: Including the camera?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the specific details of that discussion, except to say he discussed with him a range of issues that he believed would be helpful in restoring calm and ending the violence.

QUESTION: Do you know if the Secretary spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu about the camera idea when they met in Berlin on Thursday?

MR KIRBY: Yes, he – of course he did, because I mean, the prime minister —

QUESTION: He did.

MR KIRBY: — later came out and said that he was in favor of it.

QUESTION: Right. But there were conversations post-Thursday – phone conversations that he had —

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to get into details of every conversation.

QUESTION: Well, can I ask one on this? I mean, so you had very specific things that you were looking for the prime minister to do in terms of this camera, making this announcement about the status quo and the Temple Mount and such, but you were also looking for President Abbas to take certain steps to try to end incitement and speak out in terms of violence against innocent civilians. Do you think that President Abbas has taken enough leadership in terms of trying to put an end to this kind of violence?

MR KIRBY: We continue —

QUESTION: At least in his public statements?

MR KIRBY: We continue to want all sides, as I said earlier, to —

QUESTION: That’s not – wasn’t my question.

MR KIRBY: I know that’s not your question. We want all sides —

QUESTION: You got – you want both sides to take steps, and you specifically saw —

MR KIRBY: — to take steps to ratchet down the violence and restore calm.

QUESTION: You specifically saw a step by Prime Minister Netanyahu, whether the —

MR KIRBY: Which we welcomed.

QUESTION: Which you welcomed, but I don’t see you welcoming any steps by President Abbas, maybe because that’s – he hasn’t taken any?

MR KIRBY: I’m going to leave it the way I said it.

QUESTION: Well, if you’re going —

MR KIRBY: We want all sides to take affirmative actions —

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry —

MR KIRBY: — in word and in deed.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry specifically called on Palestinian leaders to speak out against incitement. Have you seen these statements?

MR KIRBY: I would just say we continue to want that as the goal. We want —

QUESTION: Well, by saying that you continue to want that, that would suggest that you haven’t seen it.

MR KIRBY: I think it’s something that we want to see continuously observed, which is a continuous effort —

QUESTION: Well, are you seeing that now?

MR KIRBY: We want to see a continuous effort by all sides —

QUESTION: Well, are you seeing a continuous effort?

MR KIRBY: We want to see a continuous effort by all sides going forward. I’m not going to get into – just like I said yesterday, I’m not going to get into characterizing each and every incident and each and every word that’s uttered. What – the reason he went on the trip —

QUESTION: I’m not asking for like – I’m not asking for a specific statement that he made, because I can’t point to any specific statements that he made. I’m asking if you see a concerted effort by President Abbas to put an end to this incitement.

MR KIRBY: We would continue to find helpful statements on all sides that help lead to the discouragement of violence and a restoration of calm.

QUESTION: John, couple weeks back I had asked – you weren’t here. I asked Mark, though – this was about UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency, and some of its employees who – some – a group found that – them posting inciting – incitement kind of stuff on their social media pages. You said that – or Mark said at the time that you’d be looking for an investigation of this by UNRWA. There was an investigation, and in fact, some of their employees were suspended for this. Are you satisfied with the steps that they have taken?

MR KIRBY: Matt, I don’t know if I’ve got something for you on that right now.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, the reason I – maybe you could take the question. And the reason I’m asking is because that it has come to light that the spokesman for UNRWA recently – or I think over the course of the weekend spoke to a group in London or to a London-based group that is actually designated a special – is a specially designated global terrorist group by the United States, and I’m just wondering if that would fall into the same category of things that are concerning. So if you could take that question, I would appreciate it.

MR KIRBY: Things that are concerning, all right. I’ll take —

QUESTION: Well, things that are concerning about this, but —

MR KIRBY: I’ll take the question.

I’ve got time for just a couple more.

QUESTION: Different topics?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Japanese Government has overturned the decision taken by the Okinawan governor to rescind approval for landfill work in Futenma. Do you welcome this action by the Japanese Government, or do you have any comment on it?

MR KIRBY: All I would say is what we’ve said before, and that’s that we continue to work with the Government on Japan, and we – and remain committed to working with the Government of Japan to implementing the relocation of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Camp Schwab. We’re going to continue to – we’re committed to it, the Government of Japan is committed to it, and construction at the Futenma replacement facility, we believe, is the meaningful result of many years of sustained work between our two governments and is a critical step toward realizing our shared vision for the realignment of U.S. forces on Okinawa.

QUESTION: Some of the criticism is that it’s going to worsen the relationship between the central government and the local government, and that can have long-term effects in actually realizing the facility. Do you have – do you share that concern?

MR KIRBY: I think I’m going to leave it where I did. We’re going to continue to work with the Government of Japan for this relocation, which we continue to believe is vital to realignment of our force posture there.

Yeah.

MR KIRBY: Huh?

QUESTION: The Japanese minister explained why he decide that, because Japan and United States relationship will be damaged and destroyed if Japanese Government do nothing. Do you think is – is this true, for if Japanese Government in nothing doing this issue is that —

MR KIRBY: Are we still talking about Futenma?

QUESTION: Yeah, about Futenma, yeah – that U.S. and Japan relationship will be damaged or destroyed.

MR KIRBY: Do I believe that as a result of moving forward —

QUESTION: Do you think – yeah, because —

MR KIRBY: — on the Futenma replacement facility, our relationship with Japan would be destroyed?

QUESTION: If it didn’t —

QUESTION: Yeah, because —

QUESTION: If it didn’t happen.

QUESTION: Yeah. Because Japanese minister explained why he decide that, because they – Japan and U.S. relationship will be damaged if Japanese Government do nothing this case.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate or get into hypotheticals. We have an extraordinarily close relationship, friendship, partnership, and alliance with Japan that we value very, very much and we have every expectation will continue to grow and deepen and strengthen. And we’ve talked about in the past how we welcome the Japanese Government’s efforts to review their defense guidelines and to look for ways themselves to deepen that partnership and that alliance. Nothing that I can see is going to change the commitment by either nation to the strength of this alliance.

As I said before, we both are committed to this relocation. We believe it’s in the best interest of the alliance; it’s in the best interest of the U.S. military and the force posture there. And we’re going to continue to work through that. I won’t – and I’ve been very careful not to talk about internal Japanese politics. That’s for the people of Japan to speak to. What I can tell you is nothing has changed and we don’t anticipate any change in the future to our strong partnership, friendship, and alliance with Japan and the Japanese people.

Yeah, Pam.

QUESTION: There have been – did you have a follow up —

QUESTION: No.

QUESTION: Oh. There have been concerns raised among some in Turkey about the upcoming elections on Sunday, the parliamentary elections, and whether they will be free and fair. This comes after Assistant Secretary Nuland was, of course, in Turkey. What concerns did she raise while there?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to get into details of diplomatic discussions. But as we’ve said before, Turkey’s democracy matters to us. And just like we’ve said elsewhere when we’re talking about democratic elections, we want to – obviously we want to see them be free and fair and credible. But I won’t speak to the specifics of Ambassador Nuland’s discussions.

QUESTION: Follow up, Turkey?

QUESTION: Is there a specific reason why, though, picked this time for the Secretary’s trip to Central Asia, to come back to the very beginning of our briefing?

MR KIRBY: A particular time?

QUESTION: Yeah. Just —

MR KIRBY: Well, there’s this opening that we talked about of the university. And there’s an awful lot going on in the region. And when you’re talking about trying to coordinate the schedules of six nations to meet, I mean, oftentimes it’s just a matter of the logistics of scheduling.

QUESTION: Just —

MR KIRBY: But, so I mean, I think it’s really more that than anything else.

Yes, in the back there. I’ll come back to you, Matt. You’ll be the last one.

QUESTION: Turkish Government seized a prominent opposition business conglomerate, which also owns an influential media group. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: We’ve said – you’ve heard me talk about this before. We look to governments everywhere to ensure that legal enforcement activity is done in accordance with international legal standards, and that includes the full respect for due process and equal treatment under the law. We also have been very clear that we continue to urge Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold universal democratic values, values that are enshrined in the Turkish Government and constitution itself, including due process, freedom of expression and assembly, and of course access to media and information. So we continue to have the same concerns that we’ve had before in terms of the right to free media and free speech and assembly. Okay?

QUESTION: And what is your assessment about the – on its impact on elections, considering that only days left to the elections?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry. I did not understand your question.

QUESTION: What is your assessment on its impact on election, considering just —

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to prognosticate in terms of what effect it will or won’t have. I think we’ve – we – I’ve raised the concern here. We continue to raise it privately and publicly. And obviously the direction of Turkey’s government is for the Turkish people to decide, not for the United States to dictate here from this podium.

QUESTION: I’ve got two. These are from the opposite – absolute opposite spectrum. One, Saudi. The wife of the blogger who has been imprisoned and was sentenced to be flogged, and the first part of the sentence was carried out, but then it was suspended – his wife says now that she’s been told that the flogging is going to continue. Do you, one, have any comment about that? And two, since the Secretary was just in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, I’m wondering if this case – I know – well, I’m wondering if this case or human rights in general came up in his discussions there, or if it – was it all Syria?

MR KIRBY: Well, we routinely raise —

QUESTION: Yes, but —

MR KIRBY: — issues of concerns of – about human rights.

QUESTION: But did it come up on Saturday?

MR KIRBY: The focus of this Saturday’s discussions was primarily on —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: — the situation in Syria. Obviously, we’re – we remain deeply concerned by this case and we continue to call on the Government of Saudi Arabia to respect universal human rights and its international obligations, as well as to ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings that afford requisite fair trial procedures and safeguards in this and any other case.

QUESTION: All right. Okay. But your position remains that flogging is not an appropriate sentence?

MR KIRBY: Nothing’s changed about our view on these proceedings.

QUESTION: All right. And then the last one is: You’re probably aware of a lawsuit that was filed yesterday against Secretary Kerry and the State Department about gender and passport applications?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’m aware.

QUESTION: And I’m not going to let you get away with saying it’s a matter that’s being litigated so you can’t get into it because I don’t want to ask about the lawsuit. I want to ask why it is that the State Department does not have a third option or gender – right, either no gender or X – on passport applications. Why not?

MR KIRBY: I am not at liberty to discuss a matter of —

QUESTION: This has nothing to do —

MR KIRBY: No, no, Matt. Hang on a second.

QUESTION: Yeah, I just – go ahead. Bring it on. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Bring it on. I’m not at liberty to discuss a matter under litigation. What I can just tell you is that, as stated in the Foreign Affairs Manual, one’s gender is considered to be an essential element of one’s identity. I think I’d have to leave it at that.

QUESTION: Yeah, exactly. So if you do not identify with either gender that you have put down on there, what should – if that’s —

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – I can’t go any deeper than that.

QUESTION: Aside from —

QUESTION: Can you – well, can you take the question and find out if there’s a – find out what it actually is that prevents the State Department from doing this, because – or offering this option, quite apart from the lawsuit? That would be nice if you —

MR KIRBY: I will do what I can.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody. Got to go.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:10 p.m.)

Source: U.S Department of State
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