John Kirby Spokesperson Daily Press Briefing Washington, DC November 20, 2015

Read Time35 Minute, 41 Second

2:46 p.m. EST

MR KIRBY: Okay, everybody. I know everybody’s following the major story today out of Mali, so I do have some updates for you. And information is literally still coming in. Malian authorities report that the security incident at the Radisson Hotel has concluded. Our embassy there is lifting its recommendation for U.S. citizens to shelter in place. However, the embassy continues to urge all U.S. citizens to minimize movement around Bamako and be vigilant of their surroundings. And they want them to continue monitoring local media for updates and adhere to instructions of local authorities.

We would also like to take this opportunity to thank Malian and other first responders and security forces who responded to this attack so promptly and quickly and helped rescue so many, and that would include members of the U.S. military who happened to be at the site at the time and chipped in to assist first responders in moving people to secure locations. I can confirm that all the chief of mission personnel who were at the hotel at the time of the attack are accounted for and are in a safe location. I don’t have any information to corroborate reports concerning the number of U.S. citizens in the hotel. About a dozen Americans, including chief of mission personnel in that dozen, were rescued.

The embassy in Bamako is providing all appropriate consular assistance, as you might expect. I have no U.S. injuries or deaths to report at this time. We’re working to verify the safety and security of U.S. citizens there in Bamako. We’re still working through that process right now. The embassy, as I said, is returning to normal duties, but again, urging everybody to be vigilant.

There is one rumor I’d like to put to rest. There was a rumor, I think, in some press reporting that a U.S. diplomatic-plated vehicle was somehow used or involved in the attack. That is not true. There was, in fact, a diplomatic-plated vehicle at the hotel at the time of the attack. It was there for a completely other purposes, driven by government employees, and the driver and passengers were able to escape without harm. So there was no involvement by a diplomatic-plated vehicle in the attack.

There’s also been some reports that the airport is closed. That is not true. I think there’s one carrier that has halted its flights in and out of Bamako, but the airport is open. There’s been no curtailment of air operations there by the vast bulk of carriers.

QUESTION: Before you go on – or do you have other stuff to get to?

MR KIRBY: Let me make sure I don’t have anything else, Matt. No, I think that’s it.

QUESTION: Well, I just want to ask about the car. The – you’re saying that there was a U.S. diplomatic-plated vehicle at the hotel, but that – and that was the car that people were talking about? Or are you saying – not ruling out that another car with a non-U.S. diplomatic plate, or a U.S. diplomatic plate, could have —

MR KIRBY: No, what I’m saying is that there were rumors that a U.S. diplomatic-plated vehicle was used in the attack, or involved in the attack, by the attackers. That is false.

QUESTION: What was it?

MR KIRBY: There was a U.S. diplomatic vehicle on the site driven by government employees that were there for official business.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: And they were able to escape and their – the driver and passenger were able to escape without harm. We have no evidence that a U.S. diplomatic vehicle was in any way involved in the attack.

QUESTION: Right. I missed the report that said it was a U.S. diplomatic plate. But what about any diplomatic plate? Or do you know?

MR KIRBY: I don’t.

QUESTION: Oh. Okay and then the —

QUESTION: Did they escape on foot and leave the car at the scene?

MR KIRBY: They escaped in the vehicle.

QUESTION: In the vehicle?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: And why – what was going on there that they were at this hotel?

MR KIRBY: Well —

QUESTION: Was it a meeting, or were they just there for cocktails or something?

MR KIRBY: No, no, no. These are – they – no. No, as you know, Matt, there are sometimes diplomatic personnel that are on temporary duty to one or other missions around the world. And it – oftentimes hotels serve as lodging.

QUESTION: So they were staying —

MR KIRBY: So it was lodging.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: And they need transportation to and from to get to work and that kind of thing, and so —

QUESTION: Gotcha.

MR KIRBY: — this was a passenger van that was used to help transport people to and from as they needed to do their business. But they were – as far as I know, they were there simply because of lodging.

Yeah.

QUESTION: John, you said that U.S. military helped move people to safe locations. Could you detail other ways in which U.S. diplomatic or military personnel were involved?

MR KIRBY: There were – there was no active involvement that I’m aware of by U.S. military or U.S. Government personnel with respect to dealing with the attack itself. It was Malian forces who did the preponderance of the work here. Now it’s just wrapping up, so, I mean, I don’t have a list of everybody that was involved. But it’s my understanding that there were some U.S. military personnel in Bamako, again, for other reasons, and that one or perhaps others of them – at least one I know of – that assisted in helping just simply move people, physically move people that were trying to escape the hotel and get them to a secure location. But not involved in the actual operation to go against the terrorists.

QUESTION: Okay. And —

MR KIRBY: And I’m sure more information will come out in the future about how this transpired. Again, this is all just happening, or just concluding, and so I just don’t have more detail.

QUESTION: Yeah. When you say the chief of mission is accounted for, was he or she at the hotel?

MR KIRBY: No, he – no, the —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: Our ambassador was not. This was – as I said to Matt, this was largely people that worked in the mission, but that were staying at the hotel.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I ask: Do we have any information on whether this attack is linked to ISIL, or is it too early to say?

MR KIRBY: All I can tell you is that an al-Qaida-affiliated group has claimed responsibility. I’m not in a position to confirm the veracity of that claim, and so I think it’s too soon to tell right now.

Said.

QUESTION: John, is it true that it was led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who was responsible a couple years ago for the attack on that oil facility? Is it the same person from al-Qaida in the Maghreb? Is it —

MR KIRBY: I simply don’t have —

QUESTION: Do you have any confirmation on that?

MR KIRBY: — more details about the claim of responsibility. It’s an al-Qaida-affiliated group.

QUESTION: Al —

MR KIRBY: Al-Mourabitoun —

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: — claimed responsibility for the attack. It’s an African jihadist group that’s affiliated with al-Qaida. I just don’t have more information on that. And again, I’m not in a position at this stage to confirm the veracity of that claim. I think this all just happened – the Malian Government will be investigating this and we need to let that work continue.

QUESTION: But you can’t confirm or deny that it is Mokhtar Belmokhtar? Because there were rumors that he was killed a couple years ago, or a year ago, or something like this.

MR KIRBY: I —

QUESTION: But he keeps reemerging.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any additional information about responsibility, Said. I just can’t.

QUESTION: John?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just to clarify the numbers: So about a dozen Americans —

MR KIRBY: Were rescued.

QUESTION: — were rescued from the hotel, and they —

MR KIRBY: Some of those were mission personnel.

QUESTION: Some, but not all. Some were not —

MR KIRBY: That’s correct.

QUESTION: — involved with the mission. And separately, the chief of mission’s safety has been established.

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: The chief of mission was not there?

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: As I said at the outset, all chief-of-mission personnel are accounted for, are – and are in a safe location.

Yeah.

QUESTION: John, in fact, because al-Qaida was out of the picture in recent days or months and other groups, like in Paris and others, they were attacking innocent peoples, is that because al-Qaida now wants to come on the headlines? And where are they now? Where they have come from and —

MR KIRBY: I am – I’m a spokesman for the State Department. I’m not a spokesman for al-Qaida, so I wouldn’t begin to try to – I wouldn’t begin to —

QUESTION: Thanks for explaining that to us. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: No, I mean, it’s a – I – the premise of your question is that I should somehow be able to speak for their intentions and their attempts to get publicity, and I won’t do that. There’s no excuse, no rationale for this kind of violence, no matter who’s responsible and no matter how it turns out the claim is. And whether it’s this al-Qaida-affiliated group or some group that’s doing this completely separate and distinct from al-Qaida, I don’t know. And I wouldn’t begin to try to speak for their motives. It’s obviously reprehensible, and we’re going to work with Malian authorities to the degree that they want our help and assistance in helping in the investigation and any other way that they can use help to bring these people to justice.

But it should be also no secret to anybody that al-Qaida offshoots continue to exist and to metastasize in Africa and in the Levant and in the Middle East, and that’s why we are so – you just heard from Brett McGurk specifically about ISIL. That’s why we’re working so hard in the international community to find ways to combat groups like this. But again, what their rationale was I couldn’t begin to tell you, other than just to sow terror and fear, which is what groups like this are all about.

QUESTION: Can I ask one question?

QUESTION: Finally – I’m sorry. Finally, let me ask: Many people are asking, all these groups, where they are getting the financing, arms, and who is supporting them, financing them, and also training them, and who is buying their oil or arming them?

MR KIRBY: Goyal, again, that’s a – I couldn’t possibly begin to answer that question. We know there are multiple sources of financing and resources for groups like this. It’s regrettable, but they do have streams of revenue and obviously have the ability to attract people to their cause. That’s something that we’re working very hard to combat. But I couldn’t begin to give you the balance sheet on how this group that claims responsibility for it or any other terrorist group does that.

What’s important to us is that we continue to work inside the international community to combat all those areas of sustenance for terrorist groups. It’s hard work, but we’re going to stay at it.

Ros.

QUESTION: In terms of the larger relationship between the U.S. and Mali, there is no military aid going to Mali because of the coup from three years ago. So how much assistance can the U.S. Government legally provide to Mali – one, as it tries to investigate this attack; and two, as it tries to guard against other possible attacks? This government has been dealing with Islamist groups since before 2012.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I’d say our relations with Mali have been strong for decades and have been based on shared goals of strengthening democracy and reducing poverty. Our interests in Mali include promoting stable democracy and improved governance, promoting regional security by combating terrorists and traffickers, reducing chronic vulnerability by improving social development, increasing sustainable livelihoods, and encouraging growth and opportunity. It’s a relationship that we’re going to keep working at.

Mali remains a willing U.S. counterterrorism partner. The United States resumed initial security assistance cooperation with Mali in 2014 with an emphasis on institution building, civilian control, justice service delivery in the north, and respect for human rights. And so our – the State Department’s anti-terrorism assistance program offered an initial crisis management seminar for senior Malian officials involved in planning responses to terrorist incidents, and I think you can see some of that pay off in the way they responded today.

I would also note here that they are one of six countries participating in the President’s Security Governance Initiative announced at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. And that initiative focuses on the management, oversight, and accountability of the security sector at the institutional level. So —

QUESTION: John, what did you call it? Security Governance?

MR KIRBY: Security Governance Initiative announced at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

QUESTION: And then one more. In terms of the 10,000 or so UN peacekeepers that are in country, of which the U.S. has been a part of this current mission, do you think that this mission – you meaning the U.S. Government – is doing enough to help stabilize and secure Mali? Or do other steps need to be taken in order to prevent future attacks such as what we saw today?

MR KIRBY: Well, three things. One, it’s – we still believe it’s an important mission. Two, we’re going to continue to support it. And then three, in the wake of an attack like this, I won’t speak for the UN and what they will or won’t do in terms of re-examining the mission, but it’s always —

QUESTION: But as someone who has contributed blue helmets —

MR KIRBY: What’s that?

QUESTION: But as someone, a country, that has contributed blue helmets —

MR KIRBY: In the wake of an incident like this, once you have investigators go through it and work their way through, you often learn things, lessons learned that might affect the way you change your counterterrorism posture, operations, resourcing, whatnot, going forward. And that could very well be the case here. I think it just happened today. Nobody is going to leap to any rush judgments here or rash decisions. We need to let the authorities continue to work through the scene, let the investigation conclude, and then we’ll go from there.

But I won’t speak for the UN. It’s just common practice in most countries when you have an incident like this to examine what happened and then make adjustments as you need to do going forward.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

QUESTION: Can we – I want to just make sure that I – we understand one thing correctly. What you said when you were talking about the role of U.S. military forces who happen to be there, was that some number at least one helped hostages get to safety.

MR KIRBY: One that I know of. Yeah.

QUESTION: One that you know of.

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: But none were actually involved in fighting against the hostage takers, to your knowledge?

MR KIRBY: To my knowledge, that is correct, Arshad.

QUESTION: Yeah. But —

MR KIRBY: I would refer you to the Defense Department. I think that they’re – that’s what they’re saying as well. But to my knowledge, no.

QUESTION: And they just happened to be at the hotel?

MR KIRBY: I understand – my understanding is they happened to be in Bamako and, obviously, some of them were either at the hotel or very close by in order to have – in order for at least one of them to have helped assist, they must have been in the vicinity, obviously. But I simply don’t know. I think the Pentagon said there was about two dozen in Bamako.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: But where exactly they were and what they were doing there, I wouldn’t be able to speak to.

QUESTION: And then the last one on this. To your knowledge, those that did go to help hostages get to safety, was that something that they were sort of ordered to do in some organized fashion, or was that just something that they chose to do on the ground because they were there and thought they could help?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s the latter. I have seen nothing at all in traffic today, in conversations I’ve had that this was some sort of ordered or directed. This is just U.S. service personnel – at least one of that I know of – who do what they do so well, which is run to the sound of guns and try to help. And that’s what my impression is of what happened.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we –

QUESTION: Just one last follow-up on that then? Is there any suggestion – I know it’s the early days, but was there any suggestion, to your knowledge, that the presence of U.S. personnel in the hotel was a factor in it being chosen as a target, or was it just randomly there?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: I simply don’t know that.

QUESTION: Can we move on? Yes? Do you have any travel by the Secretary to announce?

MR KIRBY: I do not.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, do you expect him to be having Thanksgiving – spending Thanksgiving week in the United States?

MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary is looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with his family.

QUESTION: The beginning of the week, then?

MR KIRBY: I do not have —

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: I do not have any travel to announce at this time.

QUESTION: Well, as you will probably know, it’s been reported elsewhere that the Secretary is leaving. And one of the places —

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: — where it’s been reported that he’s going to be is Israel. And I wanted to ask you about something that came up at yesterday’s briefing but – which had, I think, literally just happened a little while ago, and that was the killing, the murder of this college student from Massachusetts. Do you have any more – American citizen college student. Do you have any more – anything to say – more to say about that than you did yesterday?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything additional to say. Obviously, the Secretary was deeply saddened to hear of the death and we’re, obviously, concerned by it. And we’re going to continue to monitor the situation and the circumstances as best we can. And our hearts and prayers obviously go out to the family.

QUESTION: You do – and I know you don’t like to play the – or get into kind of name calling, but you do think that he was killed in what was a terrorist attack, right?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think that I’m in a position to characterize the circumstances right now. But again, we’re mindful of what happened. The Secretary sends his deepest thoughts and condolences to the family. I don’t have —

QUESTION: Right, but you don’t think it might have happened in some kind of a robbery gone bad or something, do you? You believe that it wasn’t just a – was it just a run of the – I don’t want to say run of the mill – a criminal act? Because it’s certainly not being looked at that way.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, thanks. This is what I was looking for. Yeah, thank you for prompting. We do believe the – about the death of Ezra Schwartz, an American citizen from Massachusetts, who was murdered in a terrorist attack on Thursday while in Israel to pursue his studies. Again, we extend our deepest condolences to the victim’s family, friends, and community as well as the family and friends of the four other people killed in yesterday’s tragic events. The Secretary is also concerned about the five other American citizens who are victims of the attacks and wishes each of them a full and complete recovery.

We continue to condemn in the strongest possible terms these outrageous terrorist attacks. These tragic incidents underscore the importance of taking affirmative steps to restore calm.

QUESTION: Do you – these other five Americans that you mentioned were all wounded yesterday, or is this over the course of —

MR KIRBY: No, it’s the same – same attack.

QUESTION: This seems like an awful lot of Americans to be killed or injured, no?

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s obviously disconcerting. I – we don’t want to see that. I – I – if you’re asking me if I could draw a line of causation here or intent or motive, I can’t.

QUESTION: All right. Well, the student from Massachusetts was killed in the West Bank. And I’m just wondering if there was any – if – have you been in touch with the Palestinians about this?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any direct communication with the Palestinians over this particular —

QUESTION: How about with the Israelis?

MR KIRBY: We have – there has – we’ve had communications with the Israelis about it, yes.

QUESTION: To – can you say what kind of communications?

MR KIRBY: At various levels I would just say.

QUESTION: No, no, but I mean for what? To, I mean, just – details or have you – what happened?

MR KIRBY: To discuss the incident with them and to get their views and perspectives.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, Said.

QUESTION: Follow-up on that. Do you know, were they dual citizens? I mean these five Americans that were attacked.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Don’t know.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: And the person who was murdered, was he – do you know what he was doing where he was killed?

MR KIRBY: I don’t.

QUESTION: Or was that where he was working maybe with Israeli army soldiers and so —

MR KIRBY: I don’t have that level of information.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any comment? Today 87 Palestinians were injured today, many of them by live ammunition. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those reports, Said.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: Obviously, look, you guys have access sometimes to information here that I don’t. I haven’t seen those reports but —

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: — nothing changes about what we said before about wanting to have calm restored and violence to end.

QUESTION: But I mean, this has been – this happened like many hours ago and so on, and so reports have been all over the place that in these confrontations with the Israeli army – whether in demonstrations —

MR KIRBY: We’ve condemned – we continue to condemn the violence, Said, and want it to stop.

QUESTION: And my last question. A couple of days ago, 450 new housing units were announced in Ramat Shlomo. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Our longstanding position on such actions in East Jerusalem as well as in the West Bank is clear. We view this kind of activity as illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace. We remain deeply concerned about Israel’s current policy on settlements, including construction, planning, and retroactive legalizations. We remain unequivocally opposed to these kinds of unilateral steps that seek to pre-judge the outcome of negotiations. The President has made clear that the parties must demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to a two-state solution.

Contentious actions, such as the announcement – this announcement, demonstrate just the opposite. They’re going to have detrimental effects on the ground, increase already heightened tensions with the Palestinians, and further isolate Israel internationally. At this sensitive time, we call on all parties to redouble their efforts to restore trust and confidence, promote calm, and return to a path of peace. Okay?

QUESTION: Staying on Israel, Jonathan Pollard was just released from prison. He’s expressed an interest in traveling to Israel, though, of course, the terms of his parole wouldn’t allow him to leave the country. I know the White House has weighed in a little bit on this, but can you say whether there are any discussions with Israeli officials about whether a loosening of these parole conditions might be in order?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not aware of any such conversations, and as you rightly said, the White House has already expressed their view that the Justice Department’s going to handle his release on parole according to standard procedures and that he will be subject to the general travel restrictions which apply to all parolees. DOJ will have more details on that.

QUESTION: Sorry. I just want to go back on the – your answer to Said on the questions. You said that the latest – this latest announcement will further isolate Israel. And I’m just – it may very well, but I’m wondering, is that your message today simply because you were asked the question about those settlements? Because I – there’s no question – you haven’t said anything about the Palestinians being isolated because of massive – or a large spate of attacks, including on five or six American citizens, one of whom died just yesterday. And I —

MR KIRBY: I think we’ve been exceedingly clear about the degree to which this violence is doing nothing to help us get to peace and to eventually a two-state solution. So yes, I stand by what I said in terms of the – there’s a difference here between settlement activity, which we continue to consider illegitimate, and we’ve said before that it’s not doing anything to get us to a two-state solution and that it could continue to isolate Israel internationally. That’s not a new statement. It’s – and while we don’t want to see settlements, it’s not the same thing as wanton violence like we’ve seen in this case. And we have been —

QUESTION: Well, clearly not, but —

MR KIRBY: We have been, I think, very strident about the danger of increasing violence, continued violence, to not just peace and stability there but to the ability to achieve a workable, sustainable two-state solution.

QUESTION: Do – is there any thought about what you can actually do to try and reduce the tensions beyond – and reduce the violence beyond what the Secretary did when he was in Jordan last time trying to get these – and the – trying – the steps that he got the Israelis and the Jordanians to agree to as regards to the Temple Mount? That doesn’t seem to have – they don’t seem to have worked any magic, they don’t seem to have decreased the tensions, and I’m just wondering, is there any thought to trying to do more to get them down?

MR KIRBY: They were never intended to work magic.

QUESTION: Well —

MR KIRBY: I don’t think anybody who —

QUESTION: Well, I mean, that’s not what I meant. I mean, I wasn’t – that was a bad —

MR KIRBY: Well, your words. I’m just repeating them.

QUESTION: Well, I know. I mean —

MR KIRBY: They were not intended to work magic —

QUESTION: They haven’t – the tension hasn’t gone down.

MR KIRBY: — and – you’re right, the tension hasn’t gone down, and the Secretary continues to be concerned about that and continues to urge all sides to take appropriate steps to do that. I mean, nobody understands how complicated and how challenging this is more than Secretary Kerry —

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: — and I think you can expect that he’s going to continue to work at this very, very hard. But though we have not seen a decrease in the violence from our last trip to the region and from the agreements he got from both Israel and Jordan, I don’t think the Secretary would even intend to tell you that he expected immediate results as a result of this. It’s going to take work on all sides, not just us.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: And he’s going to stay at it and he’s going to continue to press his concerns with leaders in Israel and Palestine.

QUESTION: All right. This will be my last one. And I’m just wondering, does the Administration believe that settlement construction and building in East Jerusalem contributes to the violence that we have seen – that that might be a factor in motivating Palestinians?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – you’ve heard the Secretary talk about this – that you have to look at a range of activities that aren’t contributing to getting us back to a two-state solution. And I don’t – and I think the Secretary has been clear he’s not drawing a line of causation between settlements and the violence.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: So he’s been very clear about that.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Has the plan to put cameras on the Temple Mount been dropped, or is it just slow to implement?

MR KIRBY: It’s not been dropped as far as we’re concerned. The authorities and technicians in Israel and Jordan are supposed to be working this out. I don’t know the status of that. You’d have to talk to them. But as far as we know, there’s been no intent, no effort, no decision to not move forward with that.

Barbara.

QUESTION: Is the aim of trying to reduce tensions not only to stop the violence, but to maybe create an atmosphere where you can restart a conversation about some kind of a peace process? Or is Mr. Kerry’s plate full with trying to solve the Syria conflict?

MR KIRBY: Secretary Kerry’s plate is very full on a lot of fronts, but he doesn’t believe that it’s so full that he can’t continue to work at this issue specifically. And obviously, it’s difficult to have a meaningful conversation about a potential two-state solution when there’s still such violence going on. And so our immediate focus is right now trying to get the violence stopped, get calm restored, so that adequate space can be – political space can be created for discussions – meaningful discussions going forward on a two-state solution can occur. But it’s difficult to get there to have a discussion about that when people are still being killed.

Yes, in the back there.

QUESTION: Can I switch to counter-ISIL?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know, can she? Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. President Hollande said earlier this week that he wants to meet Obama and then Putin to kind of have a grand coalition, and you – we just had Brett McGurk here talking about the coalition that already exists against ISIL with 65 countries. Putin is going to Russia – to Iran and meeting with the supreme leader, and also seems very interested in trying to become part of this grand coalition. How do you see that they might mesh, or are you all preempting in a way Putin being involved with the meeting with all the ambassadors next week?

MR KIRBY: I think that – I think this discussion about coalitions and who’s in and who’s out is being just way oversimplified. And I can tell you that in his meeting with President Hollande, the Secretary came away convinced and heartened by France’s – the commitment by the president and France to continue, if – and to intensify their efforts against ISIL inside the coalition. They are a significant contributor to coalition military operations as well as other lines of effort, and it was very clear to the Secretary coming out of Paris that those contributions would continue, and as I said, likely increase. President Hollande has said that himself.

There is a 65-member coalition fighting ISIL. That’s the coalition. And as we’ve said before, if other nations not in the coalition want to join it and to be a part of it and to focus on the fight against ISIL, well, then that’s a conversation that we’re certainly willing to have with them. But in order for that to work, every member of the coalition has to have the same focus on defeating ISIL, and thus far – you talked about Russia – we haven’t seen that same commitment. It’s inconsistent with the goals of the coalition, which is to defeat ISIL, if you’re also propping up the Assad regime and flying missions in support of the Assad regime and helping the Assad regime stay in power. It’s simply inconsistent with the core goal of the coalition itself.

If Russia is serious about this, about going after ISIL and changing the calculus of the military activities it’s conducting inside Syria, well, then that’s great and we’d be willing to have a discussion with them about how they might be able to contribute to coalition operations. We’re just not at that stage right now.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you say, what is the core goal? Is it to topple Assad, bring him down, remove him from power, or is it to defeat ISIS? Of – let’s say on the scale of one to ten, are they the same? Are they – is one larger than the other? What is the goal, sort of the core goal?

MR KIRBY: Always to degrade and defeat ISIL.

QUESTION: To defeat —

MR KIRBY: It’s been that since the coalition —

QUESTION: Okay. Because the issue of Assad keeps coming up all the time, like it’s on par with defeating ISIS. But —

MR KIRBY: What is on par?

QUESTION: I mean, like both at the same time, so to speak. You want to have Assad removed from power and ISIS defeated at the same time.

MR KIRBY: The coalition is not a – the coalition is not – was not created and was not formed – you just heard from Brett McGurk —

QUESTION: Right. I was trying to —

MR KIRBY: — walking through what the coalition is doing.

QUESTION: Yes, right.

MR KIRBY: There’s nothing in the coalition mandate to remove Assad from power. There’s a political track. There’s a diplomatic track that the Secretary is pursuing that will get us to a political transition in Syria away from Assad and to a government that can be responsive to the Syrian people without Assad. That’s a diplomatic focus.

Now, is – can these efforts support one another and be mutually complementary? Absolutely. Because if you have – ideally, if you have a responsible government in Syria that actually can issue governance on the whole country and keep Syria whole and unified and pluralistic, then you have the strength, the vitality, the foundation, good governance – and we’ve talked about this for a long time – to not only kick a group like ISIL out, but keep them out. I mean, one of the reasons they’ve been able to fester and grow inside Syria is because there’s been no governance in vast parts of Syria that they can take advantage of.

And as the Secretary said last week in a couple of speeches, I mean, there’s actually been a sort of a symbiosis created by the lack of legitimacy by President Assad. So there’s – these two efforts can be, should be, and will be mutually supportive. But militarily – specifically militarily, the coalition to counter ISIL is about countering ISIL. That’s its focus. And the missions that coalition aircraft are flying; the advice and counsel, training and assistance that coalition members are giving indigenous forces on the ground in Iraq and in Syria – all of that is designed to go after ISIL.

QUESTION: Same subject?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: This anti-ISIL fight about these 98 kilometers by Turkish border, is the Turkish troops – is one of the options to clear up ISIL from that part of the —

MR KIRBY: I’ll let the Turkish Government speak for what the Turkish military will or won’t do. I think you heard from Brett McGurk just a little bit ago about the importance of working the border issues in that area, and our willingness to continue to work with Turkey to that end. But I’m not going to speak for Turkish military participation or operations one way or the other.

QUESTION: Do you have any goal or timetable to clear up that part of the piece by the border?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any additional information to give you other than what Mr. McGurk did in terms of timing. Obviously, we all have a shared sense of urgency about the flow of smuggled oil, foreign fighters, and resources across that stretch. And it’s – everybody has a shared sense of concern and urgency about dealing with it, but I wouldn’t be able to issue you operational timetables from here, and I wouldn’t even if I had them.

QUESTION: About the smuggled oil you just mentioned and the whole oil business, many criticize the U.S. Government that it has been 14 months as this oil business has been going on, but now U.S. moves to take out many of the targets. Why it took so long to get this point to get out – take out the oil business of ISIL?

MR KIRBY: We’ve long been focused on the oil revenue that ISIL has been able to use and to have access to. I mean, a year ago, in my previous job, I talked a lot about what we were doing to get at oil collection points and some of their crude refinery or – I’m sorry, not the crude refinery, but the advanced refinery sites that they had, the temporary refinery sites.

So going after their oil revenues is not a new idea, and I wouldn’t speak to the timing of specific targets. That’s for my DOD colleagues to talk to you about when and how oil trucks are hit and with what weapons and to what effectiveness. That’s – I wouldn’t go there. But getting at sources of revenue is not a new line of effort. In fact, it’s one of the original lines of effort when the coalition was formed.

And it’s not just about – it’s not just about hitting oil trucks and refineries. There’s lots of different ways; they’re getting resources from other ways too. I mean, one of the ways – and we talked about this a while ago – that one of the reasons why ground matters to them, aside from their fantasies of being a caliphate, is that you can extort resources – financial resources – from capturing infrastructure. The Baiji oil refinery isn’t just important to them because of the oil; it’s infrastructure; it’s a way to capture human resources as well to keep an oil refinery like that going.

So there’s a lot to this, why – that’s why territory matters to them. That’s why ground matters to them. And one of the prime ways they get money is extortion and, frankly, just flat-out robbery – bank robbery. We’ve seen that too. So this is not – going after financing is not a new idea, and it’s something that we’re going to continue to pursue.

Yeah.

QUESTION: New subject, quickly. If Secretary had met with the army chief of Pakistan or not?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I talked about this yesterday.

QUESTION: And have they discussed this ongoing problem, ISILs and all these problems?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I read this out yesterday, Goyal. He met with General Sharif yesterday – yes, yesterday – and they talked about – obviously, they talked about the counterterrorism relationship between us and Pakistan.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can we stay in South Asia?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Bangladesh. Do you have anything to say about these apparently planned, upcoming executions?

MR KIRBY: Bangladesh? I don’t have anything on that, Matt. I don’t have anything on that. Let me take that for – let me take that.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on upcoming executions in Saudi Arabia, specifically the Palestinian poet Mr. Ashraf?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, we’ve seen those reports about this case. I can’t confirm specific details. The United States strongly opposes laws including apostasy —

QUESTION: Apostasy.

MR KIRBY: — apostasy laws, thank you – that restrict the exercise of the freedom of expression and religion, and urges all countries to uphold these rights in practice. These are universal rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which all governments have a responsibility to protect.

I got one more. Yeah, Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, John. On North Korean human right violations, and do you have any detail about the resolution of UN General Assembly, the Third Committee on the human rights situation in North Korea? Currently, what is the (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: On the 19th of November, the U.S. joined 111 other UN members in strongly condemning the ongoing systematic widespread and gross violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. These egregious actions include torture, public executions, arbitrary detentions, political prison camps, and the extensive use of forced labor. We encourage the Security Council to continue to discuss the human rights situation in the DPRK and to consider the relevant recommendations of the DPRK Commission of Inquiry, including on accountability.

Okay. Thanks, everybody. Have a great weekend.

QUESTION: Thank you.

About Post Author

Robert Williams

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: