2:21 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. A couple things at the top here:
Today, Deputy Secretary Blinken met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk. During their meeting, they discussed Ukraine’s reform efforts, U.S. support for Ukraine, prospects for U.S. investment, and of course, the implementation of the Minsk agreements. The Deputy Secretary encouraged continued progress on reforms and reaffirmed our strong support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In that same vein, we want to welcome today’s U.S.-Ukraine Business Forum co-hosted by the Department of Commerce and U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This Washington event is an opportunity for high-level government and business leaders from both countries to emphasize our important bilateral commercial relationship, and discuss ways to improve trade and investment opportunities between the U.S. and Ukraine. U.S. private sector leaders will have the opportunity throughout the day to discuss efforts to improve the business climate, and Ukraine and Ukrainian Government leaders will also share their progress on the implementation of their robust economic reform agenda and detail their vision for Ukraine’s economic future.
On Libya, the United States Government welcomes the July 11th initialing of the final draft political agreement at the UN-led talks in Morocco, which is an important step toward the creation of a government of national accord. The agreement offers the Libyan people the best path forward to peace and stability. We call upon all Libyans to unite now and to join in supporting this agreement in the interest of their country and in Libya’s common future. The United States stands ready to support the implementation of this agreement to help ensure a government of national accord and the new institutions that comprise it function effectively for – and to – and the new institutions that comprise it function effectively and for the benefit of the Libyan people. We express our deep gratitude to the Kingdom of Morocco for its leadership hosting the UN talks and to all of those participating in this process.
Just a statement on Boko Haram: The United States strongly condemns this Saturday’s horrific and indiscriminate Boko Haram suicide attack on the Grand Marche in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena, as well as attacks in Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria over the past two days. Boko Haram’s targeting of defenseless men, women, and children highlight the group’s savagery and total disregard for the sanctity of human life. We extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the soldiers, government officials, and civilians killed, and we hope those who were injured recover quickly. The United States also praises the security forces of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria for their timely responses to these cowardly attacks on innocent civilians. The United States continues to support the governments and people of the Lake Chad Basin region in their ongoing struggle to degrade and defeat Boko Haram.
And with that, take questions. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I wanted to start with Iran. Obviously, it’s been done in some detail at the White House, but if there is a need to extend the talks, how long would the JPOA be extended? And is there a limit to the number of extensions that we can expect in this process?
MR KIRBY: I think the way I’d put it to you is that it’s our expectation that the JPOA will remain in effect. And I don’t have a time limit on that for you, but our expectation is it will remain in effect.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: The Russian --
QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran?
QUESTION: Oh, yeah.
MR KIRBY: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: A couple more on Iran. First of all, was there any change today? It seems like much earlier in the day, there was more optimism about a possible announcement today. There was the initial tweet from President Rouhani which mentioned the deal as a victory for diplomacy and then later, that even changed to “If there is a deal.” Was there something that happened in Vienna during the day that caused negotiators to pull back? And then I have a second question.
MR KIRBY: I don't know that I would characterize negotiators as pulling back. I can’t speak for President Rouhani’s Twitter activity. That’s for him to speak to. But we’ve been nothing but pragmatic about this from the very beginning, Pam, and that’s that we’re taking this day by day. So I’m not aware of any pullback. I can tell you there’s been genuine progress made. I think Secretary Kerry believes that – and he says as much – that we’re close. But there still remains some sticking points, some issues that still need to be resolved. And so we’ll just – we’ll see where they go. But our focus is on what’s going on inside the negotiating room.
QUESTION: What’s State’s reaction also to President Netanyahu’s decision to Tweet in Farsi in what appears to be an effort to persuade people in Iran that this could be a deal that would be bad for them in the long run. And also, has there been any effort to reach out to him directly concerning these responses?
MR KIRBY: You mean his Twitter activity? Look, I – again, I wouldn’t speak for President Rouhani’s Twitter account. I won’t – and how he uses it, and I’m not going to speak for Prime Minister Netanyahu and how he uses it. We have said from the very beginning that there’s going to be many voices in this process. There has been – there is today, and if we get a deal, there will be many voices on all sides going forward. I think it speaks to the importance of the deal itself and the significance of it. So I – we’re not taking a position on any one other leader’s particular Twitter activity with respect to what’s going on. Secretary Kerry is focused very, very keenly on what’s going on in the negotiating room and on working through these issues that still – that are still outstanding.
QUESTION: John, you said that the JPOA continues. This was another day for which it was supposed to expire. And this might be a technical question, but how long can the JPOA stay in effect, or does it actually expire at some point?
MR KIRBY: It can stay in effect for as long as the P5+1 and Iran need it to stay in effect.
QUESTION: And then in terms of what happens if there is a deal, one thing that both the P5+1 and the Iranians have said is that the document would need to be returned to all relevant capitals, and officials would have to analyze it. And I know that there’s an interagency process here that would want to look at the deal. Would the deal be announced before that review, or could people stay in Vienna while the review is happening, and then once everyone agrees that they agree on the language, then there would be an announcement?
MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t want to get too much into the specifics and the weeds of announcements yet. We don’t have a deal right now, as you and I stand here and talk. There is going to need to be, as you would expect in something of this significance, a review in the capitals of the nations involved. And that’s an important component of this, and I --
QUESTION: But it would also --
MR KIRBY: I would not anticipate --
QUESTION: But would all sides announce before that review happens?
MR KIRBY: I would not anticipate announcements until the capitals have had a chance to look at this. But I don’t want to get into the nitty gritty here of how something’s going to be rolled out when we don’t have a deal right now.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary had consultations with the President about how much longer the U.S. and other members of the P5+1 might want to continue with these talks?
MR KIRBY: He has spoken to the President a couple of times since he’s been out in Vienna, and certainly he stays in touch with the national security advisor as things have been progressing. I’ve – I wouldn’t read out those conversations but he has certainly been very good about keeping the White House informed of progress.
QUESTION: Can you say whether he spoke with the President in the last 48 hours?
MR KIRBY: I have no calls in the last 48 with the President to read out.
QUESTION: Can you give us any more clarity on – kind of where they stand on this deal? I mean, some of us we’re losing our weekends over this, and we’re wondering – even for planning purposes, what’s – where do they stand, how many days away are they? Are the just kind of going through the fine print and changing a word here or there, or are there actually major issues that they’re still trying to resolve?
MR KIRBY: Well, without getting into the details, which I’m just loathe to do here and that wouldn’t be appropriate for me to, as I said at the outset, a lot of progress has been made. There are still some issues outstanding that need to be resolved, and I’m not going to characterize what they are or how detailed they are. But they’re obviously significant enough that negotiators still have work their way through it.
So again, real progress has been made. I think Secretary Kerry has been clear that we’re close – closer, certainly, than we’ve ever been in what’s now three years of work – even longer if you go back to 2003 when the effort first got started. And we’re just going to have to see where it goes.
QUESTION: John, can I just clarify a technical point on the JPOA?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: It’s – it’ll last as long as the P5+1 and Iran need it to, but do you need to go through any formal renewal process or is it just sort of good indefinitely now?
MR KIRBY: It’s – I mean, it’s – you don’t need a formal – we’ve done this now. You’ve seen us extend the parameters of the JPOA a couple of times in just the last couple of weeks. As long as everybody in the room agrees to that – to that – those extensions, temporary though they may be, then that’s all that’s required. And it keeps things in place, the JPOA is – it keeps – this interim agreement stays in place while they continue to negotiate. And I think everybody understands that because we are close and because there’s – we’ve come so far on this that I think everybody is of a mind to keep the parameters in place while these negotiations continue.
MR KIRBY: Are we still on Iran?
QUESTION: Related to Iran, yes. The court case of the Washington Post correspondent, there was another – there was another session Monday.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you think – would you call it – the timing of that noteworthy considering that there’s also these negotiations going on in Vienna?
MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for the judicial process in Iran and how they schedule things on the docket. Certainly, we’re aware of the reports of this latest court appearance. And for privacy reasons, I’m just not going to have more details to share. I do think it’s worth noting that about a year ago, almost exactly a year ago, when – Jason was in Vienna covering the Iran talks. So he’s very much – very much on our minds and we repeat our calls for his immediate release and for the release of Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati and for Iran’s cooperation in locating Robert Levinson.
Are we good on Iran? Iran? No?
MR KIRBY: I promised this man.
QUESTION: Yeah, the --
MR KIRBY: Another Iran question?
MR KIRBY: I would point you to the Iraqi Government – this is an Iraqi-led operation – to speak to the participation of these Popular Mobilization Forces and certainly Tehran for the degree that they are or are not facilitating. I do think it’s important to remember a couple of things. This is an Iraqi-led operation, as it should be. And so we’re going to let them speak to the progress of it. And then on the Popular Mobilization Forces, and I mentioned this a week or so ago but I think it bears repeating: About 80 percent of these Popular Mobilization Forces, or Shia militia as they are otherwise known, are not at all connected to Tehran or the Iranian regime. They’re Iraqi citizens proud of their country and wanting to chip in and fight. And what we’ve said from the very beginning is that all the forces arrayed on the ground against ISIL in Iraq need to be under the command and control of the Iraqi Government. And that’s what we’ve seen with the vast majority of these Shia militiamen.
So I think it’s just important to keep a little context in here. When we talk about Shia militia fighting here or fighting there, there’s this automatic sort of connection drawn to Tehran, and that’s just not the case mathematically.
QUESTION: Iraq? The same topic.
MR KIRBY: Yeah. I promise that I won’t forget you.
MR KIRBY: I know you want to talk Russia, but --
QUESTION: Thank you, John.
MR KIRBY: -- he got me on Iraq, so we’re going to stay on Iraq for just a second. I won’t forget you.
QUESTION: Thank you, John. Today four F-16 jets were delivered from the United States to Iraq.
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: That’s what Iraqi Government announced it. If I remember well, it was like last week or two weeks ago you told us that because of security concerns, Iraq wasn’t ready to receive those jets. What happened in Iraq that it is ready now to --
MR KIRBY: Well, you should talk to Prime Minister Abadi and his government. I mean, these are his aircraft. And you’re right, when we talked about it last time, I think there was still – there was still no final decision to move them out there. But they have been moved; you’re right. The Iraqi Government has announced that and I think it’s for them to speak to their issues.
QUESTION: Are you concerned about the security situation, that these advanced aircraft might be taken by militant groups such as ISIS, or aren’t you concerned about that?
MR KIRBY: Of course we’re concerned about the security situation on the ground, and not just with respect to aircraft but any other equipment that could be damaged or absconded with by ISIL. F-16 jets are a little bit different. I mean, that’s – ISIL has no air force and has no capability or ability to fly advanced fighter aircraft, but the security situation of course remains a concern to us throughout Iraq. And that’s why we’re working so closely with the Iraqi Government to assist them and advise them in this effort. But the decision to return them and to have them rejoin the – or join the air fleet in Iraq is for Iraq to speak to.
QUESTION: Are Iraqis flying the aircraft or Americans?
MR KIRBY: I’d just – I can just tell you that the aircraft are there. I’d point you to Iraq to – in terms of how they’re being manned. They’re not being – they are Iraqi aircraft and they will be – if they are going to be flown in combat over the skies of Iraq, they will be flown by Iraqi pilots.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: That make sense?
QUESTION: Staying on Iraq?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: On the F-16, if you remember a couple years ago during the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – that the Kurds were concerned about delivering these aircraft to the Iraqi Government due to the concerns that this is going to be used for the internal conflicts. Is there any assurance attached to this deal with Iraq that this is not going to be used against any internal conflicts, or it is on Iraqi Government to do whatever they want to do?
MR KIRBY: Well, these are – these aircraft belong to the Iraqi Government to be used for their self-defense, and that’s certainly our expectation that that’s what they’ll be used for.
QUESTION: There’s not any assurance that this is not going to be used for any internal conflicts? Because that was the --
MR KIRBY: The internal conflict in Iraq right now is ISIL. That’s the internal conflict inside Iraq, and I’m going to let Prime Minister Abadi speak to how he’s going to use his security forces to combat that threat. And that’s what these aircraft are designed to do and that’s what – that’s why they were provided.
QUESTION: But John, that means 100 percent Iraqi Government in control of how they’re going to use this. I mean, it is – there is not anything, any restriction by the United States.
MR KIRBY: I think – look, I – you’re asking me to get into – as, again, you always do – try to get me into the machinations of Iraqi Government. The aircraft are designed and were purchased by Iraq for their self-defense. The fight inside Iraq right now is against ISIL, and that – our expectation is that if and when they start flying missions and combat sorties in Iraq, that’s what they’ll be used for, not to go after – not to contribute to any sectarian issues inside Iraq.
QUESTION: One more on that. Couple minutes ago you mentioned that the Popular Mobilization Forces, that they are Iraqi citizens, of course they are Iraqi citizens, and most of them, they are under control of the Prime Minister Abadi. Does that mean that you are not concerned by the reports talking about that they have the U.S. tanks and all of the other equipments you delivered to the Iraqi Government being used by the Popular Mobilization Forces? Is there any restriction that they are not allowed to use the equipments you delivered to the Iraqi as assistance?
MR KIRBY: You’d have to refer to the Iraqi Government for the --
QUESTION: But there’s no restriction --
MR KIRBY: The support that we’re giving to – I’ll say this again – Iraqi Security Forces is done through the Government of Iraq in Baghdad, by Prime Minister Abadi. That assistance, which continues to flow, is getting to Iraqi Security Forces as they see fit. And I’ll let the Iraqi Government speak to how they’re distributing and apportioning it, okay?
QUESTION: I’d like to ask you about the progress or where we’re at with basing agreements with North African countries. There was an article in The Wall Street Journal suggesting that this was a priority or becoming a priority.
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to detail ongoing efforts to counter ISIL. We continue to cooperate closely with countries in North Africa, the Sahel, and Europe, which share our concerns about threats that are emanating from Libya specifically. Our security efforts against ISIL prioritize mutual cooperation with our partners and are based on full respect for their sovereignty.
We’ve also always said we’re concerned about the growing threat from terrorist groups inside Libya, to include ISIL and ISIL-affiliated groups, which underscores only more the importance of reaching a political solution. Going back to what I said at the outset, we welcome this July 11th political agreement so – and that’s really where the long-term focus is going to be. But I’m not going to get into detailing all the manner in which we are working with countries in the region to combat ISIL.
QUESTION: But overall, I mean, recently President Obama declared that Tunisia was a non-NATO ally, which is seemingly a move towards greater cooperation. So in the region more generally, can you speak to the move towards – apparent move towards greater engagement on the military front?
MR KIRBY: Well, look, being declared major non-NATO allied allows for some training opportunities and for some foreign military sales of a limited nature. So it will help us improve our cooperation and coordination with Tunisia, and so we look forward to that. We look forward to that.
Wait, I promised this gentleman. He has been very patient. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. Russian military forces recently marked new boundary line with breakaway South Ossetia, and the portion of a BP-operated pipeline is now out of Georgia’s control. I wonder if you have any comment on that, please.
MR KIRBY: Well, our position on South Ossetia and Abkhazia remain clear: These regions are integral parts of Georgia. We reaffirm our strong support for Georgia’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence. We once again urge Russia to fulfill all of its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement to withdraw its forces to pre-conflict positions, to reverse its recognition of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, and to provide free access for humanitarian assistance to these regions.
MR KIRBY: I would refer you to the Justice Department for matters of law enforcement. I don’t have anything for you on that.
QUESTION: But with respect to the extradition, that would still go to Justice?
MR KIRBY: Yeah. I would refer you to the Justice Department for this. Obviously, we’re deeply concerned by the escape of Mr. Guzman. As you know, he faces multiple drug trafficking and organized crime charges here in the United States. His swift recapture by Mexican authorities is a priority for both the Mexican and the U.S. governments. And reflective of that shared purpose the U.S. and Mexican attorney generals discussed the matter on the 12th of July and agreed to focus all available resources on his recapture. But as for specifics, I’m going to refer you to the Justice Department.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: In Afghanistan there are reports that the leader of ISIL in Afghanistan, Hafiz Saeed Khan, may have been killed in a U.S. drone strike on Friday. It’s not confirmed. Has the U.S. Government confirmed whether or not Mr. Khan is alive or dead?
MR KIRBY: I have nothing to confirm and I would point you to the Pentagon.
QUESTION: Then a larger question. Given that the Afghan military is still in the process of trying to fully take control of its own security, how concerned is the U.S. Government about the fact that a branch of ISIL may have actually taken root inside their country? And what guidance, advice is the U.S. Government providing to Mr. Ghani’s government on dealing with this additional threat?
MR KIRBY: Sure. Well, look President Ghani has made very clear his concerns about the potential growth of ISIL inside Afghanistan. They are concerns that we share with President Ghani. And as a natural outgrowth of or an integral part of our advise and assist mission inside Afghanistan is to help them further develop their ability to conduct counterterrorism operations. And I’d – I think it’s worth reminding everybody that they are in charge of the security situation inside their country. They are fully in control of security operations. But we’re going to – we’re obviously – the Resolute Support Mission is about helping them improve and sustain themselves particularly in a counterterrorism environment, and we continue to work with them on that, to include the threats posed by – potential threats posed by ISIL inside the country.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. Government looking at trying to provide other supports through the lines of effort that General Allen has repeatedly described to try to demystify or debunk the message that ISIL inside Afghanistan may be trying to deliver to the Afghan people?
MR KIRBY: Well, a big part of – I mean, one of the lines of effort and a big part of it is, of course, the messaging aspect of it. We just opened the Sawab Center in UAE which we believe will be an important arrow in the quiver here on the communications side. We also are mindful of the challenges inside the communication environment to counter this brutal propaganda of theirs. It is a – while ISIL continues to focus mostly on Iraq and Syria, we know they want to metastasize to other places. We talked about North Africa a little bit ago and Afghanistan. And so certainly, the line of effort and the effort in communicating against this narrative certainly extends to places like Afghanistan.
QUESTION: What – back to ISIL efforts – anti-ISIL efforts, John. Last week, you said that you cannot confirm on the – any agreement which will – which was reached with the Turks on the use of ��ncirlik Air Base for the – conducting attacks against ISIL. Is this still the case? Do you have any update that you can --
MR KIRBY: I do not.
QUESTION: -- share with us on this issue?
MR KIRBY: I do not have anything new to talk about.
QUESTION: Because the meetings last week – it lasted two days, it was huge U.S. delegation – so I’m wondering what was the concrete result of this meeting?
MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, I think it’s important to remember that we’ve had a continuing dialogue with the Turks about their contributions in the counter-ISIL effort. And these meetings were a simple outgrowth of that continued dialogue. And I don’t have any announcements to make as a result of it. But General Allen and those of the U.S. delegation that were there found the discussions fruitful and constructive, and we continue to want to partner with the Turks as they continue to contribute to the coalition. And as I’ve said before, we’re not unmindful of the sacrifices that they have made, the work that they have done, particularly handling so many refugees from across the border.
QUESTION: So when you say constructive talks, do you mean the Turks have made you concrete promises that they will take on ISIL, they will be a more active participant --
MR KIRBY: They --
QUESTION: -- a more active one?
MR KIRBY: Well --
QUESTION: Because they haven’t been as active as, say, other powers like Canada, like your NATO allies, or even UAE or – they haven’t flown jets to bomb ISIS or --
MR KIRBY: So I’m not going to get into – I don’t have any announcements based on the meeting that was – that had just occurred. As I said, this meeting was an outgrowth of a continued dialogue with Turkey.
The other thing I’ll say is their contributions haven’t been insignificant at all. They’ve agreed to host a train and advise site there inside Turkey, and they’re trying to do more to deal with the flow of foreign fighters across their borders. And as I said, they’re lifting a pretty mighty hand when it comes to taking care of refugees inside the country. The other thing I’d say is every coalition member has to bring to the coalition what and when they’re willing – every single member. It’s not a coalition of the willing if contributions are being legislated from this capital or any other capital. So it’s for the Turks to decide and the Turkish Government to decide their contributions. And they are contributing and we are grateful for that.
QUESTION: Again on Islamic State, the Syrian Observatory is reporting this morning that two senior ISIL leaders were killed in a strike in northeast Syria. It gives their names as Abu Osama al-Iraqi and Amer al-Rafdan. Do you know anything at all about them?
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: Do you know, have you heard of these people?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything for you on that, and again, I’d point you to the Pentagon for those kinds of updates and assessments. Once again, you guys have your iPhones and I don’t, so – (laughter). Yeah.
MR KIRBY: Well, we’re certainly disappointed by that, by the fact that this humanitarian pause wasn’t able to be effected. There was, I think, some humanitarian aid that was able to get in and to get distributed, so obviously, that’s a good thing, but certainly not anywhere near as much as what needs to happen. And as I said, Secretary Kerry is disappointed that this humanitarian pause wasn’t able. And as I said, that Secretary Kerry is disappointed that this humanitarian pause wasn’t able to be effected.
QUESTION: Was there any effort made by the U.S. to try to persuade the Saudis to observe the ceasefire given that they were – they seemed to be unwilling to observe it from the outset?
MR KIRBY: Well, I think there wasn’t – the humanitarian pause really didn’t take root on either side, and again, we’ve made clear two things. One, this is a UN-led process, as it should be. We support that process. And we also have repeatedly called for restraint on all sides, by all parties. So again, Secretary Kerry is disappointed to hear that the pause didn’t – wasn’t effected. And while we are glad to see some humanitarian aid get it, it wasn’t near enough to deal with the real crisis on the ground.
QUESTION: Given – more broadly, given the length of how long this conflict has gone on and the failure so far of UN-led efforts to stop it, I mean, is there any discussion within the building to either put more pressure on the Saudis to change their tactics or to be a little more willing to negotiate, or is there any kind of, I don’t know, talk about, in that case, scaling back U.S. assistance with the Saudis, either?
MR KIRBY: I’ll say it this way, that senior U.S. officials remain in close contact, and close and regular contact with the Saudi Arabian Government on a wide range of issues related to Yemen. Our ambassador to Yemen, who is currently based in Jeddah, continues to actively engage with a wide group of Yemenis and international partners about Yemen. So there is regular, constant dialogue with the Saudis. And again, we’ve continued to call for restraint and a humanitarian pause so that what really needs to happen is getting this humanitarian assistance in, and nothing has changed about our intense focus on that.
QUESTION: John, can I just follow up on Yemen?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Given that the UN has declared the humanitarian crisis there sort of – that they have graded it at the worst possible level, is there any concern in this building, given that people are starving, that the U.S. is going to be seen as complicit in what’s happening, given that you are providing such a great level of support to the Saudis – intel, refueling, that sort of thing?
MR KIRBY: There’s some limited support that continues for Saudi air operations, but as I said, we continue to want this to be resolved politically and peacefully. And the U.S. continues to provide financial support to humanitarian organizations as they continue to try to get aid where it can go. What needs to happen is a humanitarian pause, like the one that was called for on the 10th, to actually be observed by all parties – by all parties – so that the assistance can get in. And again, we’re going to – nobody’s losing focus on it here. We’re going to continue to monitor this as closely as possible.
QUESTION: Separate from the question of perception out there of U.S. complicity, and we’ve heard many officials in this building talk about radicalizing factors and this is sort of a textbook situation for that, so my precise question was: Is there concern about that?
MR KIRBY: Concern about?
QUESTION: The potential for radicalization and the prospect that the U.S. will be seen as complicit in the suffering of ordinary Yemenis.
MR KIRBY: There’s certainly concern about radicalization. I mean, that’s – we held a Countering Violent Extremism Summit here a couple of months ago. That’s obviously a key focus here at the State Department, a concern about that. And we’re not unmindful of the fact that extremism can tend to grow in areas where – which are ungoverned or unstable. And certainly, in this case you’ve got millions who are in need of humanitarian assistance. And again, the United States is a leader in terms of humanitarian assistance operations and support, and we have been a stalwart supporter of the UN process to try to bring about a political solution here in Yemen, which is what really needs to happen.
QUESTION: John, does the Administration though not see any kind of contradiction at all between your support for a political peaceful solution and – on one hand, and on the other hand your close support for the military operations of one of the aggressors in this conflict?
MR KIRBY: A couple of things to point out. One is the Saudis were requested by the Government of Yemen – they were asked to come in to conduct these kinds of air operations. The support that they’re getting from the United States is limited in nature; yes, it continues.
QUESTION: But it remains consistent since the beginning of operations. It hasn’t --
MR KIRBY: But also what also remains consistent is our constant call of support to the UN process of political dialogue and political solution on this and urging all sides to observe restraint when it comes to – and certainly when it comes to the violence.
And in – as I said before, we’re one of the largest donors to the international nongovernmental aid agencies that are operating in Yemen. We provided approximately $188 million since fiscal 2004 in support of 18 different humanitarian organizations. So I think quite to the contrary, we’ve been very consistent – very consistent – about what we want to see happen in Yemen and what all parties really need to do to bring that about.
QUESTION: So you do not see a contradiction?
MR KIRBY: Not at all. We have been very, very consistent about our support for the Yemeni people and a political process here to solve the crisis inside the country.
QUESTION: Still on Yemen. So the Pentagon said that the U.S. is still refueling the planes, but I was wondering can you update us or remind us what are some of the other forms of assistance?
MR KIRBY: I would point you to the Pentagon when it comes to military support to Saudi Arabia.
QUESTION: Okay. Secondly, the Saudis had agreed to fully fund the flash appeal that came out. They didn’t do that, and there’s concern amongst some of the international NGOs about the lack of Saudi humanitarian support. Do you have anything to say about that? Have you noticed that? And meanwhile, while that flash appeal was seen as – recorded as fully funded, others weren’t funding it and now apparently there’s months of backlog of humanitarian assistance.
MR KIRBY: As I said, we’re one of the largest donors, and that support continues. We’re even evaluating the potential for additional contributions to the Yemen regional response. We certainly urge other nations under and through the UN certainly urge other nations to continue or to increase their ability to provide humanitarian assistance inside Yemen, but obviously these are national decisions that every country has to make. We urge others to contribute more, but again, they have to speak for those decisions themselves.
I’ve got time for a couple more.
QUESTION: International aid. Malala Yousafzai said that the international community has been “stingy” in terms of providing assistance to the more than 14 million Syrian refugees. Does the Obama Administration agree with her assessment? Can she be someone that the Administration works with the try to get other countries to step up their donations to help these people who have been displaced because of the civil war?
MR KIRBY: Well, we certainly welcome Malala’s efforts to raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis and all her good work, of course. We will continue our commitment to help international organizations, NGOs, and host governments to respond to the needs to these millions of refugees, as you noted, Roz. Our $4 billion in humanitarian assistance, including $360 million we announced just late last month on the 25th of June is helping keep millions of civilians alive right now. We remain the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to Syria. And as I said the same for Yemen, we urge all countries to contribute to the UN’s appeals for this crisis.
But I’d like to close on this one thought: While we’re going to continue to be a donor here and we want other countries to increase their contributions, what really needs to happen inside Syria is a negotiated political solution to the crisis that stops the violence and brings an end to all the suffering. I mean, that’s what really has to happen and we’ve said that from the very, very beginning. There’s got to be a political – negotiated political solution inside of Syria. That’s the real answer to meeting this desperate need by so many millions of Syrians.
QUESTION: And I take your point, but what is it that the U.S. sees is not happening by other countries? Why haven’t other countries stepped up and tried to match what the U.S. has been doing in order to try to help people. Why has it seemingly fallen on the Turkish Government and on the Jordanian Government to try to get --
MR KIRBY: And Lebanon and Egypt, too, have also --
QUESTION: Yeah, right. And Lebanon, too.
MR KIRBY: Did – yeah. I mean, look, we applaud those efforts by those four countries in particular.
QUESTION: But there’s so many other dozens of countries that aren’t doing anything. If anything, what we see in Western Europe is people looking at people who somehow have made it onto an excuse for a boat --
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: -- and are trying to cross the Mediterranean. Because many of them end up dying trying to find a place of safety. There seems to be a global lack of concern beyond what the U.S. is doing and beyond what the four countries you just mentioned are trying to do to help the Syrians.
MR KIRBY: Well, I certainly can’t speak for other nations on decisions that they’re making with respect to this, but we have been – we very much have put our money where our mouth is when it comes to support for the Syrian people, and that will continue. And the – certainly, we hope our good example will be followed by others. But ultimately, this is a decision they have to make. We will continue on our part to contribute, but also to urge other nations to do so as well.
QUESTION: I just wanted to go to Nigeria. You mentioned earlier the sympathy for the attacks and the praise for the militaries in that region dealing with Boko Haram. We’ve got the president coming to Washington in about a week’s time, so presumably a lot of work is going into that visit. Can you sort of characterize the preparations, and with a new administration in Nigeria, the sort of sense of whether you’re getting traction, a clear focus on the agenda for that?
MR KIRBY: Well, the Deputy Secretary Tony Blinken was in Nigeria just a week or so ago. I think his view was that there is progress being made, that things are on a healthy track. But this is an important relationship we’re going to continue to work at. And clearly, the threats posed inside the region by groups like Boko Haram isn’t going away anytime soon, so it makes it all the more urgent that we continue to work with governments like that in Nigeria to try to assist them as they try to deal with these threats inside their countries, and we’ll continue to do that.
That’s why, quite frankly – one of the reasons why the deputy secretary made the trip: to reinforce our commitment, the United States commitment, to helping them as they deal with this threat.
I’ve got time for just one more. Yeah, I’ll take you.
QUESTION: Have these issues – the Yemen, Syria, the conflict in Iraq – have any of these come up in the talks, in the nuclear talks with Iran? Because they have, obviously, interests in these – the same issues as well and they’re involved in supporting different factions in all those conflicts.
MR KIRBY: I don’t have any specific sideline conversations to read out. I mean, as you might imagine, when you get a group of foreign ministers like that together for as long as they’ve been together, it’s safe to assume that on the sidelines of discussions specifically about Iran’s nuclear program, they have an opportunity to discuss all manner of security interests around the world. But I don’t have anything specific with respect to that.
Okay, I’ll take you and then that’s it.
QUESTION: I’m grateful, because you’re only giving us 40 minutes – not to give you a hard time.
MR KIRBY: I started at 2:20. It’s now five after 3:00.
QUESTION: Give or take a few minutes. So I had six questions for you.
MR KIRBY: Six?
QUESTION: I’ll whittle it down to four. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Can they be four easy ones?
QUESTION: Yeah, you give them an inch, they take a mile. Yeah. One is a question that Jeff took in June about whether State had any concerns about engaging diplomatically with the president of the national assembly, Cabello, given that he is under investigation for drug-related activities. And this – it’s not a question about the investigation; it’s a question about engaging with him diplomatically and whether there are any concerns about that. That’s number one.
MR KIRBY: Do you want me to take these in turn or you just want to give them all to me?
MR KIRBY: I’d refer you to the Department of Justice on the current – no, hang on a second. Let me finish now. Refer you to the Justice Department on any specifics about the investigation. But he is an elected official in his country. This is a country which we are beginning to have a dialogue with. When Mr. Shannon met with him, it was on the sidelines of a meeting in Haiti about economic development in Haiti. Doesn’t mean that that’s any less important, I’m just trying to put it in context. And so – and the other thing I’d say is these discussions are still at their beginning and there’s much work to do.
QUESTION: Where do things stand on the diplomatic presence issue? There was a back-and-forth with Venezuela about the number of diplomats each of you have in each other’s country.
MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update on that.
QUESTION: Okay. The conversations, the talks, as you say, are nascent. To what degree are they prompted by concerns about Venezuela’s stability? And how are they related to the talks with Cuba?
MR KIRBY: Not related to the talks with Cuba.
MR KIRBY: And I’m sorry, the first part of it was --
QUESTION: It was just wondering how much of this initiative is prompted by concerns about Venezuela’s stability.
MR KIRBY: I think the way I’d answer that is the – I mean, we’re certainly, as a general rule, concerned about stability and security all over the world, not least of which is in the Western Hemisphere itself. And look, we recognize that Venezuela is a country where we – there can be common purpose on some issues, like drug trafficking, and we want to try to explore those opportunities. But these are – these talks are at their beginnings and I don’t want to overstate them either. It’s trending in a good direction and we’re going to see if we can’t keep the momentum going.
QUESTION: But you’re not answering my question about stability.
MR KIRBY: I think I responded to your question.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: I got to go, guys. Thanks very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:05 p.m.)