printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 19, 2015



2:08 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: All right. A couple things at the top, folks, and then we’ll get going.

I know you’ve all seen reports of the brutal, gruesome murder of Khaled Assad, the archaeologist in Syria. The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms this murder yesterday of a man who dedicated his life to preserving Syria’s cultural treasures. Like so many of ISIL’s victims, his life and extraordinary work stand in stark contrast to that of his barbaric killers. These attempts to erase Syria’s rich history will ultimately fail. ISIL’s damage and looting of historic sites in Syria and Iraq which have been preserved for millennia have not only destroyed irreplaceable evidence of ancient life and society but have also helped fund its reign of terror inside those countries. As we respond to the brutality and suffering ISIL inflicts on the Syrian and Iraqi people, we continue to urge all parties in both countries and in the international community to deprive ISIL of this funding stream by rejecting the trafficking and sale of looted artifacts. All those who destroy important cultural property must be held accountable.

On Estonia, I want to express our deep concern by the conviction – about the conviction and 15-year sentence of Estonian Internal Security Service employee Eston Kovher by a Russian regional court. Kohver was seized in Estonia near the Russian border on September 5th of last year. His abduction, detention, and now conviction on baseless charges demonstrates a flagrant disregard by Russian authorities for the rule of law, and raises serious questions regarding Russia’s compliance with its international legal obligations. We are troubled also by reports that Mr. Kohver did not receive adequate legal representation from his attorney, who was appointed by Russian authorities, and that neither the public nor the Estonian consul were permitted to be present during the judicial proceedings. Once again, we call on the Russian Federation to act in accordance with its international obligations and to immediately return Mr. Kohver to Estonia.

And then lastly, I want to make a comment on the UN Relief Works – United Nations Relief Works Agency. In the United States we take for granted children’s right to education, to a public education. For refugee communities around the world, including in the Middle East, education is too often out of reach. Today, in response to a $100 million financial deficit that threatened to keep closed the doors of schools for Palestinian refugee children this fall, the United States is proud to announce a new funding of $15 million to the United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East. This contribution is part of a multi-donor effort to bridge the agency’s current year deficit so schools can open on time, ensuring quality education for a half million Palestinian refugee children in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza. This funding brings the overall 2015 contribution of the United States to nearly $350 million, 165 million of which went to the general fund to support essential services like education.

The United States has been and remains the largest and most reliable donor to the agency. We commend the agency’s senior leadership for their tireless efforts to mobilize resources and begin charting a course towards greater financial stability. We also commend the other nations that have committed, in particular Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, which contributed a total of $49 million, or almost half the amount needed to bridge the deficit. We’re going to continue to work with the agency, host governments, other donors, and Palestinian refugee communities to ensure the continuity of core services until a just and lasting solution to the plight of Palestinian refugees is reached.

Ensuring refugee children are able to go to school is something that benefits not just these children themselves; it benefits all of us. It is for this reason that the United States is also committed to helping provide education to this generation of refugee children in the Middle East, including Palestinians and Syrians, through relevant humanitarian organizations.

Now, I know there’s lots of headlines that you guys want to get to today, and I know that that last statement was a little long, but I think as we go through the headlines today and all the stuff that’s breaking that we not forget the importance of education for children. Some of us are parents, some of us have kids, some of our kids are in school, and I think we can all appreciate how important this money is and the need and the eventual hopeful result of Palestinian refugee children getting a good education.

Okay. With that, Brad.

QUESTION: Well, I’d like to get back to that because I’m interested by the very direct appeal you just made. I’d like to start with Iran, if that’s okay.

MR KIRBY: Absolutely.

QUESTION: We have a story about the arrangement that the IAEA and Iran have established for investigating Parchin and previous possible military dimensions of its nuclear program. Can you explain why this arrangement with Iran using its own experts and equipment to investigate the site was deemed acceptable?

MR KIRBY: Well, Brad, as we’ve said before, including in classified briefings for both chambers of Congress, we’re confident in the agency’s technical plans for investigating the possible military dimensions of Iran’s former program – issues that in some cases date back more than a decade.

Just as importantly, the IAEA is comfortable with arrangements which are unique to the agency’s investigation of Iran’s historical activities. When it comes to monitoring Iran’s behavior going forward, the IAEA has separately developed the most robust inspection regime every peacefully negotiated to ensure Iran’s current program remains exclusively peaceful – the overarching objective, as you know, of the JCPOA.

Now, beyond that, I’m not going to be able to comment on a purported draft document by the IAEA.

QUESTION: Can I – you describe this as parameters or logistics unique to Iran’s activities. I think previously the Secretary and others have talked about it being routine procedures. This seems different because it’s, one, unique; two, we can’t find previous examples that are similar to this, especially for a country alleged to have tried to develop nuclear weapons. How did that go from routine to now unique to --

MR KIRBY: Well, I wouldn’t amend the Secretary’s comments about this all – about this at all. I mean, unless you’ve seen every single arrangement that the IAEA has with every other country in which it has a program for monitoring nuclear activity, I don’t know --

QUESTION: We quote Olli Heinonen, who is the number two at the agency, and he recalls no such arrangement. So he – I mean, by that nature it’s even unprecedented. So it seems a bit weird to call it routine under such circumstances.

MR KIRBY: No, it’s not – it’s routine that the IAEA has these arrangements with individual countries. Those arrangements are, as we’ve said, confidential between the nation itself and the IAEA. That’s what’s routine here. And this is and remains, as I think the Secretary has described it, as a technical arrangement between those two parties. And it’s – regardless of the details, it’s not unlike, in terms of framework, the kinds of arrangements they have with other nations that have nuclear capacity.

QUESTION: While it’s between the IAEA and Iran, this arrangement has been endorsed by the P5+1; is that not correct?

MR KIRBY: As we’ve said, Brad, we are familiar with the contents, and the contents have been, as I said at the outset, briefed to both chambers of Congress. But because it is – because it’s reflective of a relationship between the IAEA and Iran, it’s not for the P5+1 to endorse or negate. It is – what we – what they have endorsed, what the deal has endorsed, is ensuring that through the IAEA that past military dimensions of their program, possible military dimensions of their program, have been adequately addressed, the concerns about those have been adequately addressed by the IAEA. That is what the P5+1 has endorsed.

QUESTION: Right. You’ve endorsed --

MR KIRBY: That – make sure that the IAEA is satisfied.

QUESTION: But within the agreement you endorse a roadmap that was separate to the agreement, and this is part of that roadmap – these logistics of the investigations.

MR KIRBY: The satisfying – again, not getting into the details of the document, but that the notion of making sure that the IAEA is satisfied that the possible military dimensions of Iran’s program are adequately addressed – yes, that – that goal, that achievement, is part of the roadmap going forward. Because as we said, until those concerns are adequately addressed by the IAEA, there can be no sanctions relief under this deal.

QUESTION: Can I just ask one or two more about this? I won’t take up the whole briefing. Are you confident that the IAEA will exercise control over the chain of custody for samples, for all evidence, throughout the duration from when it’s collected to fully analyzed and reported on?

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on IAEA protocols, but I can tell you that Secretary Kerry remains fully confident that the IAEA will manage their part of these requirements just as ably and efficiently as they do anywhere else in the world.

And again, I would say – I’d note again, as I said at the outset, that this regime is much more robust than in any other case around the world.

QUESTION: It’s not quite what – but fine. And then I have just one or two more. The document suggests that photo and video evidence would not come from everywhere in Parchin that is asked, that it’s limited in number to where this type of evidence can be collected. How can you assure that the entirety of the site, the entirety of your concerns, will be addressed?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, I’m not going to comment on the details of a draft document that belongs to the IAEA. I just can’t. As I – but as I also said and as Secretary Kerry has said, we have full confidence in the IAEA and in the inspection regimen that they will establish and set up to make sure that Iran cannot achieve nuclear weapons capability. We’re very comfortable with the arrangements.

QUESTION: But this – PMD is different --

MR KIRBY: I understand.

QUESTION: -- from its future capacity. It’s --

MR KIRBY: Okay, so I can say it again and I’ll say it – I mean, I can also say --

QUESTION: I mean, you’ve been confident for years, but --

MR KIRBY: -- and I’m glad you flagged it. He’s also very comfortable that the IAEA will get the information and the access they need to address concerns about Iranian PMD. And as the Secretary’s also said, it’s not as if we, unilaterally in the United States, don’t have an idea of what that activity has been over the years.

QUESTION: John, I just wanted to double-check that you think that you are saying that the investigation the IAEA is doing under these terms falls under the overarching nuclear deal, that this is part of your understanding of how things were going to play out.

MR KIRBY: Well, remember, Lesley, this arrangement is, as it should be, between Iran and the IAEA. So I’m not going to comment on the contents here, the details. We are familiar with these arrangements. They have been briefed to members of Congress, and as the Secretary has said, he’s very comfortable that the regime that is put in place – the inspection and access regime that’s going to be put into place, without getting into the details of it, will be able to address all the concerns about Iranian PMD and make sure that they are meeting their end of the deal.

QUESTION: And are you confident that these are the documents that you have seen? This is not --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – as I said it before, I’m not going comment on the veracity of leaked documents.

QUESTION: One more question on transparency. I mean, according to the report, the IAEA staff will be reduced to monitoring Iranian personnel. Are you comfortable that is a transparent way to actually inspect these sites?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to go into the details of a leaked draft document.


QUESTION: Can I move on to another topic? Can we go to the Palestinian issue?


QUESTION: Okay. And of course, we’ll talk about the UNRWA schools and so on, but first I wanted to ask you about your statement issued yesterday on the issue of Palestinian Americans going into Ben-Gurion Airport. Now, I know I raised this issue a couple weeks back about a Palestinian deacon from San Francisco who accompanied a group of clerics into Ben-Gurion, and then he was held for so many hours.


QUESTION: He does not have – I mean, there are so many cases, because you refer to the website where Palestinians with apparent document status in the West Bank must go through the Allenby Bridge, but in fact, this happened times and again with people who have no status in the West Bank.


QUESTION: Now, when you issued that statement, have you spoken to the Israelis regarding these very cases?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have – as you know, Said, we don’t talk about the details of our diplomatic conversations, so I’m not going to be able to get into any more detail. But I stand by what I said yesterday. It – we remain concerned, the government remains concerned about the unequal treatment that Palestinian Americans and other Arab Americans receive at Israel’s borders and checkpoints. That concern is longstanding. It remains the case today, and we routinely talk about these issues with our Israeli counterparts, but I’m not at liberty to go into specific detailed cases here.

QUESTION: Is it true that the Israelis are doing this because they want a waiver, a visa waiver to come to the United States, and that's the reason why?

MR KIRBY: Well, I would refer you to – I’d refer you to the Government of Israel for more information on --

QUESTION: But is it something that the United States has thus far denied Israelis, to give them a waiver to get into the country without a visa, correct?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any such waiver, Said. Again, I’d refer you to the Israelis to speak to this.

QUESTION: Now I want to ask you a couple questions on the issue of the schools that you just mentioned --

MR KIRBY: Glad for it.

QUESTION: -- which is a great thing. Everybody wants to see all kids go to school. But wouldn’t it also make a great deal of sense to allow – let’s say, to lift the siege of Gaza so this thing can further enhance the kids’ accessibility to --

MR KIRBY: Well, that’s not really a question about the UNRWA’s work. I mean --

QUESTION: Well, no, it’s UNRWA, I mean, because it’s also you have the wall, you have all these things. Kids don’t have the access. It’s not just the school, but – and their ability to access schools is hindered time and time again.

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, we remain concerned about their ability to get an adequate public education. I’m not going to conflate that with the situation in Gaza.

QUESTION: One more question: Today, the Israelis demolished three homes in East Jerusalem. Are you concerned, do you express your concern on what the Israelis are doing?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those reports, Said, so before I make a comment here from the podium, let me get back to you. Obviously, now, in the past where we have been able to confirm such reports, we have expressed our concern. And if true, I’m sure we will continue to do that. But I haven’t seen anything on that and I’d like to refrain commenting until I know more.

QUESTION: Yeah, I think one was purportedly someone who lived there for 40 years and wrote an op-ed, maybe, in The Washington Post in the last week. So it was kind of --


QUESTION: -- an interesting --

MR KIRBY: I appreciate the context. I don’t have anything for it and I really would – I’ll refrain until I can get some more information. But as you know, Said, in the past, we’ve been very vocal about our concerns in this regard.


QUESTION: Venezuela’s President Maduro has released a video of an accused criminal who has links to an opposition party, and in the video, the man says he received money through an intermediary from a U.S. embassy official, also Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Senator Marco Rubio – and this was to finance opposition protest. First, what is the U.S. response to the accusations from Venezuela?

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen the press reports and the video of this accused criminal who made the allegation, which we hold to be just another completely – (cell phone rings) – no, it’s okay. Go ahead. (Laughter.) You want me to wait? You want to get it?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Which we hold to be yet another baseless and false allegation against U.S. officials.

QUESTION: Sorry about that.

MR KIRBY: It’s okay. And as you know, Pam, we support human rights and fundamental freedoms in Venezuela and around the world.

QUESTION: Is there – does the U.S. believe that the Venezuelan justice system is independent enough to establish the truth in this case?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to make a characterization here of their judicial system. Again, we’re aware of this and consider it completely baseless.

QUESTION: While on Venezuela, can I just keep going on that one? Any further discussions between the Americans and the Venezuelans on --

MR KIRBY: I have no additional discussions to read out, Lesley.


QUESTION: Can we go to Iraq, Kurdistan, KRG?


QUESTION: Okay. You know that the president of the KRG agreed to stay on until whatever they – the differences are resolved so they can have another president, another candidate. First, could you care to comment on that? I mean, he’s been a great ally of the United States.

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, at the invitation of Kurdish political parties, as you may know, Ambassador Brett McGurk traveled to Erbil with our charge, Jonathan Cohen yesterday for meetings with Kurdish leaders and to receive an update on the political situation there. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq and the United Kingdom ambassador to Iraq were also invited by Kurdish leaders to participate in those meetings.

The talks were constructive and they did lead, as you note, to a consensus among Kurdish leaders on a way forward, whereby the leaders agreed to postpone KRG parliament sessions until Sunday to allow additional time for all parties to resolve the pending – did you just get a voicemail, is that what that was?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: To resolve the pending issues related to the presidential matter. I would note additionally that the American delegation throughout emphasized the importance of political unity and compromise that is required by all parties to defeat ISIL. We encouraged the Kurdish parties to once again unite their ranks and find a compromise and a consensus way forward.

QUESTION: Are you aware of reports about the corruption of the Barzani clan and so on? Does that factor in in these negotiations?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the details of the discussions. These were discussions that the Kurdish leadership had. We were invited – Brett McGurk and our charge were invited to attend, but these are – these were discussions and agreements that were hammered out by the Kurdish parties, and I’ll let them speak for what was said.

QUESTION: And not on Kurdistan, but related to Iraq – today Maliki returned to Iraq, and there’s been a great many charges levied against him in the last couple days and so on. Some make him responsible for the fall of Mosul and so on. Do you expect that Mr. Maliki might go to trial?

MR KIRBY: I would not speak for the Iraqi Government and potential future action there. That’s really not for us to get into. We, the United States Government, have, as you know, Said, long expressed our view of ISIL’s growth in power and influence in northern Iraq and their eventual capture of Mosul. We made very clear what we thought contributed to that, but your question really gets to issues that the Iraqis have to hammer out.


QUESTION: Bahrain?

MR KIRBY: Bahrain?

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any comment on a hunger strike by a prisoner, detainee – however you want to call it – Abduljalil al-Singace?

MR KIRBY: Actually, I don’t, Brad. Let me get back to you.

QUESTION: And then I have one other question: Do you have any position on legislation proposed by, I think, Senators Wyden and Rubio to limit arms sales to Bahrain given its fulfillment or lack of fulfillment on crucial reforms on minority rights provisions and things like that?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t want to – I don’t want to talk about – I don’t want to comment on pending legislation. I don’t think that’s what we want to do. But I do more broadly want to draw you back to what we said at the time when certain assistance was – holds were lifted. And as we noted when announcing that policy shift, that the human rights situation in Bahrain is not adequate, although there has been some progress. And we’re going – and we’ve made clear – Secretary Kerry has made this clear repeatedly – that we’re going to continue to press Bahrain on human rights issues. And as you might remember, the holds were lifted for ministry of defense equities and not the ministry of interior, particularly the internal security forces. So nobody has given Bahrain a free pass on this. We continue to press our concerns, and I suspect that that will continue as long as there’s concerns about the human rights situation there.


MR KIRBY: Yes. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. Can we go back to Syria and the strong statement you had about the murder of this archaeologist?

MR KIRBY: Sure, sure.

QUESTION: This is today also the first anniversary of the death of – the murder of James Foley, an American journalist. In June, President Obama said that 30 – about 30 American journalist are still held around the world. Do you have any update about the fate of those held in Syria and especially the whereabouts of Mr. Tice?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m afraid I don’t have an update for you other than to say that Secretary Kerry – we continue to remain deeply concerned about their welfare and well-being. And again, these activities – the abduction and detention of journalists and certainly what happened to this archaeologist yesterday – all this just goes to prove the utter brutality of this group and the continued need for everybody in the coalition to continue to act together to degrade and defeat them in Iraq and in Syria.



QUESTION: The war there is obviously a disaster for civilians, and you’ve had the Hodeida bombing – the port bombing – recently and Amnesty coming out and talking about at least eight points where the airstrikes have been completely indiscriminate of civilians, along with lots of other things. Is there a benchmark at a certain point where the United States might feel it would withdraw support for the campaign as it is continuing, or at least modify it given the massive humanitarian disaster and civilian casualties?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t want to get into hypotheticals, Barbara. We have – we’re aware of the Amnesty report and we’re reviewing it. As you know, from the very start of the conflict we’ve called on all parties, all sides to comply with international humanitarian law and to work to take all feasible measures to minimize harm to civilians. I would remind too – I think what you’re getting at, I think, is some military assistance to Saudi Arabia, and it’s important to remember that the Saudi Government was invited by the Government of Yemen, asked to help and to participate in this.

But to your question, I think this is something we’re monitoring very, very closely. It’s obviously a fluid situation, and I’d be loath to get into a sort of a hypothetical line at which we would alter or change – certainly, that that would be something that, should there be any discussion of that, and I’m not suggesting there is, it would be something that the Pentagon would be much more deeply involved in than we would be.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that. The military push in the south with the UAE and the Saudis having put ground troops in and beginning to push the Houthis up to the north, there’s a sense among the regionals involved that this might be a game-changer and perhaps force the Houthis to accept their terms. What is the U.S. view of this point in the conflict? Do you welcome it? Do you welcome the fact that the Saudis and the UAE seem to be making gains alongside the Yemini Government in exile?

MR KIRBY: We’re being careful not to characterize or comment on tactical events on the ground. We – as I said, it’s very fluid, it’s very dynamic, and it changes week to week. And so we’re being very cautious here about how to we speak to the security situation in Yemen.

What I will go back to is that we want the UN-led process to move forward and for, again, all sides to take necessary precautions, for all sides to observe international humanitarian law. And there’s a huge humanitarian crisis in there that must be addressed and cannot be addressed right now because aid can’t get to where it needs to go. So we want the UN-led peace process to move forward. We believe that that— a political solution— is the real long-term answer here in Yemen. But again, I think we want to be careful to not call any one development on the ground quote/unquote, a “game-changer,” because it is so fluid.

QUESTION: But you say that it’s making that UN-led process closer or farther?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think we’re prepared to characterize it that way right now, no.

QUESTION: John, on this very issue, the figures are really staggering. Close to 4,000 civilians have died as a result of the Saudi or the Saudi-led coalition bombing. There are something like 15 million people without access to health care or clean water or things of that nature. I mean, we’re looking at a looming humanitarian disaster. So isn’t it time for the Saudis – perhaps you could urge your allies, the Saudis, to sort of hold off a little bit in their bombardment campaign of Yemen?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, it’s important to remember that Saudi Arabia was asked to assist by the Government of Yemen, the government that we recognize. And as I said, we continue to urge all parties in Yemen, all parties, to allow for the unimpeded entry and delivery of essential relief items to the civilian population nationwide. Because you’re right, Said; it’s not just in any one location. And this includes urgently needed medicine, food, and fuel. So we want all sides to abide by international humanitarian law. And I know I joke about adjectives here, but the adjective humanitarian law, that – I say that with malice aforethought. I mean, we want everybody to meet their obligations, to distinguish between military objectives and civilian objects, and to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians.

So we share – deeply share the concerns, the humanitarian concerns in Yemen. It is a crisis. And again, I want to say we want all parties to do what they can to allow for the unimpeded entry and then distribution of needed humanitarian assistance items.

QUESTION: But John, the difference is that Secretary Kerry got involved last time in trying to arrange for a – well, in arranging a ceasefire – a temporary ceasefire so that humanitarian aid can get to the people. What’s – what’s changed now? Why is the U.S. not pushing that more in this case to ensure that those civilians get that access?

MR KIRBY: We continue to press the case for that, Lesley. But there is a UN-led process in place, and it is that process that we believe the best possible chance for peace and stability to occur. And so we want to make it clear that we support that process, and we want all parties to support that process. But obviously, this is not – none of this crisis is being lost on Secretary Kerry, and he continues to work diligently to make sure that the UN-led process is the process that is supported by all parties and that it can move forward.

QUESTION: Go to China?


QUESTION: Two of the leaders of last year’s protest movement in Hong Kong have said that they’re being formally charged by Chinese authorities for illegal protest. Do you have a comment on that? Or illegal --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I’m sure I have it in here somewhere.

So we’re aware of reports that Joshua Wong and Alex Chao will face charges related to their participation in last fall’s protest, and we expect that Hong Kong authorities will handle their cases in a fair and transparent manner.

QUESTION: One more – China.


QUESTION: About the commemoration of the end of World War II event, September 3rd – is anyone from U.S. going to attend the event?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any announcements to make today with respect to American attendance, U.S. attendance at that.

QUESTION: I want to make sure one things: Have you received any written invitation from China?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I honestly don’t know if there’s been a written invitation. We’re certainly aware of this event and we’re considering what, if any, participation we’ll have. I just don’t have any announcements for you today.

QUESTION: Just – can I go back to Iran very briefly, John? To clarify, you were quite clear that you wouldn’t confirm the contents of the leaked document, but are you denying the contents?

MR KIRBY: I’m not – I’m neither confirming or denying the details in that document.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Abigail.

QUESTION: Can I have one more on that? One of the tweets going out by the Iran deal is that Congress has been briefed on all these details. Has Congress been informed to that level of detail about what the inspectors – the details of the inspectors in Parchin military --

MR KIRBY: Right. The briefings to members of Congress about this aspect were in a classified setting, Abigail, so I think you can understand why I wouldn’t be able to get into the specifics of what was briefed and what was discussed.

QUESTION: On the inspections, there is a new report that shows that it’s going to cost about $50 million a year or something to – for the IAEA to conduct these inspections. Does that – is that figure accurate and is – are the U.S. taxpayers going to foot the bill for that?

MR KIRBY: I have not seen that figure and I would refer you to the IAEA to talk to what they believe their costs are going to be.


QUESTION: Japan. The Okinawa prefectural assembly unanimously adopted a resolution protesting the recent crash of the U.S. military helicopter, and they also called for the U.S. military to reveal the cause and also to halt flights of the same model helicopter until safety measures are taken. Do you have a response to --

MR KIRBY: Well, I haven’t seen this statement by the prefecture. Is that what you’re saying it’s – came from?

QUESTION: Yes, the Okinawa prefectural assembly adopted a resolution.

MR KIRBY: Okay. I have not seen the resolution, so I want to be careful not to speak to language that I haven’t read yet. And what I will say is two things. One, I would refer you to DOD to speak to the degree to which this accident’s going to be investigated. They all are. Any time a U.S. military aircraft is involved in a mishap of any kind, there’s a full investigation done because we want to make sure that we figure out what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again. But again, I would refer you to DOD for any further details about it.

QUESTION: And do you have concern that it’s – I mean, was unanimously adopted, meaning all the political parties in the prefectural assembly supported the resolution?

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for the assembly and the action that they took. You have more information about it than I do. That’s – those are decisions that they make and that they should speak to. What I can tell you is that we value deeply our alliance commitments to Japan and we’re going to continue to meet those commitments. Military operations and exercises are a key part of being able to meet those commitments.

Regrettably, when you conduct operations and exercises, there’s – they’re not risk-free and there’s always a potential for mishap, accident, injury, and sadly sometimes death. And in this case, this – hard landing is what it was. It wasn’t – as I understand it, it wasn’t a crash. It was a hard landing aboard a naval ship. And it’ll be fairly and fully investigated by the U.S. military, I can assure you, and the military will make the findings of that investigation known to the public, as they always do. So we need to let investigators do their work, let them find out what really happened, and I’m sure that that information will be shared with all relevant authorities at the appropriate time.

Yeah, in the back there.

QUESTION: Yes, on Estonia, besides raising the concern about the conviction of Mr. Kohver, are there any other ways that the United States could bring this issue up with the Russian counterparts?

MR KIRBY: I would just say we continue to raise these kinds of issues with our Russian counterparts in many different ways through many different vehicles, and the fact that I spent time today speaking to this right at the top I think should demonstrate the degree to which Secretary Kerry and the State Department remain concerned about this particular case, but about other such cases that we’ve seen come out of Russia. So nobody’s losing sight on this, nobody’s losing focus, and we’re going to continue to raise these issues through various means.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up: I know that you and your colleagues – often you have said that Secretary Kerry and Minister Lavrov, they talk often, they talk about various subjects all the time. But I do have to ask: Has this been brought up, to your knowledge, between the ministers?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any specifics with respect to this case and recent discussions he’s had with Foreign Minister Lavrov. But more – but broadly speaking, he continues to raise these kinds of concerns when he speaks to Foreign Minister Lavrov. Human rights concerns are always very high on the Secretary’s agenda.


QUESTION: So Fox News has identified the two emails from the Clinton aides that led to the FBI probe of Secretary of State Clinton’s email server. The one that’s not redacted includes information about Ambassador Stevens where – consideration of an impending departure, his expected whereabouts were he to depart, other information. Couldn’t this info, if it fell in the wrong hands, have put Ambassador Stevens’s life in jeopardy?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into hypotheticals about what would have happened one way or the other in the past. I mean, the – what – the terrorist attack in Benghazi was thoroughly and fully reviewed, particularly by the Accountability Review Board here at the State Department, which was led by two independent leaders, so was fully investigated here at the State Department. And I don’t have anything more to add onto that.

QUESTION: And then just to follow – one more follow-up. As far as the disagreement with the inspector general about the classified nature of the emails, wouldn’t the inspector general know whether or not the information should be classified? Don’t they represent the view of the intelligence agencies that gathered the information?

MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t speak for the intelligence community inspector general. I can’t even speak and wouldn’t speak for the inspector general here at the State Department. They’re independent agencies and that’s the way it should be. So I would refer you to them to speak to their judgment. What I’ve said before is that two of those four, as we’ve said, were returned to the State Department, as they did not include intelligence community equities. And as I said yesterday, those two are going through the normal Freedom of Information Act review process. And if there is a determination here at the State Department that portions of them or all of them are in some form classified, then we’ll make that known. But we’re just not there yet. There’s a process and we’re going to follow that process.

As for the other two, I think, again, I made clear that we’ve asked the Director of National Intelligence for another assessment of those two, the two that the ICIG had determined should have been classified – or at least portions of which should have been classified top secret. So we’ve asked the DNI to look at that and we’ll see what happens. But they are independent and that’s the way it should be.

QUESTION: Can I follow up? There were several premises in the first question and I just wanted to ask you if you can confirm, one, that the FBI probe is in response to two emails. Is that your understanding?

MR KIRBY: I am not going to speak for the FBI.

QUESTION: And then two, that there is a probe in any way connected to an email specifically about Chris Stevens’ whereabouts. Is that your understanding?

MR KIRBY: A probe?

QUESTION: That’s – that was in the question, and you didn’t address or really confirm or deny.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’m not going to talk about the – the question as I understood it – and if I got it wrong, I apologize – was would – you asked about decisions that were made at the time and whether that would have prevented his death. And I told you there was an exhaustive review done, the accountability review, and I’d point you to that, which was made public, to talk about the facts on the ground. And I believe that was the question.

QUESTION: And I’m asking you if you accepted the premises of her question regarding a probe linked to two emails and one specifically about Stevens’ whereabouts.

MR KIRBY: The – what I’ve said is that we are reviewing these emails to determine the degree to which – those two anyway – they’ve been returned to us for review. We’re reviewing the degree to which they contain classified information, and we’re going to do that through the normal Freedom of Information Act. There’s – that’s – if you’re talking about a probe, I wouldn’t call it a probe. It’s being – they’re being reviewed, as they should be, through our FOIA process.

QUESTION: You don’t know if this is related to any FBI action at all?

MR KIRBY: I won’t – I cannot speak for any other federal agency but the State Department.

QUESTION: And you won’t say whether or not those have anything to do with Chris Stevens and Benghazi?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the contents, no.


QUESTION: On this --

QUESTION: Same subject?

QUESTION: A clarification on --

QUESTION: This is the same as well.

MR KIRBY: Okay, hang on, hang on, hang on.

QUESTION: I just wondered if you have a clarification. On issues that are deemed classified by the State Department, are they done so in-house in the State Department, or are they done in coordination with other departments and agencies and so on?

MR KIRBY: In the case of these – oftentimes it’s not information that you – that you get is classified outside your agency by intelligence authorities. Sometimes things are deemed to be classified internally. Again, these are not always – sometimes they are, but not always are they black-and-white, binary decisions.

In the case of what we’re talking about here, which is the release of these emails --


MR KIRBY: -- which I think is what you’re getting at, there’s an exhaustive, extensive review process for each and every email, which includes not just State Department reviewers going through them but having intelligence community reviewers with us at the time as we go through them in real-time to help make determinations. Some of those determinations are fairly easy – yes or no. Some of them require additional review and discussion. Earlier this week we talked about some 300 that the intelligence community believes the relevant IC agencies ought to take a look at. That doesn’t mean that any or all or portions of those 300 are going to be classified. I wouldn’t get ahead of that process.

But the point is it’s – the short answer to your question is, with respect to these emails, it’s not just a State Department call; it is an interagency discussion that we’re having. And I think that’s appropriate. Does that slow it down a little bit? Yeah, probably, but we believe that that’s prudent.


QUESTION: Going back to these specific emails though, when they were released along with the first tranche of emails that were related to the Benghazi issue, there were redactions. And it was the position of this building at the time that any redactions had been made retroactively as the classification had been upgraded. This particular article says that the emails were deemed to contain classified information at the time they were sent. So just for maximum clarity, is it still the position of this building that the content in those emails was retroactively classified?

MR KIRBY: We stand by our review of those emails at the time.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: On to some non-hypothetical questions. First is --

MR KIRBY: Wait, you’re saying – you’re telling me they’re hypothetical in advance? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, they are non-hypothetical.

MR KIRBY: Oh, they’re non-hypothetical. All right.

QUESTION: And the first one is that how many emails still the end of business day last – yesterday you have gone through? The second is how many of them have you found that they may be have in containing classified information? And how are you doing with the deadlines?

MR KIRBY: Well, I am going to make it clear today that we are not going to get into a daily tally. Every month, as you know, we have to release a new tranche of emails. It is now, what, the 19th of August, and our reviewers and the reviewers with us in the intelligence community are looking hard at this next tranche. I’m not going to get ahead of exactly how many is going to be in there or how many upgrades there may be. So why don’t we wait till we get to the end of the month and then we’ll have a full report for you. Those emails, as they are released, will be up online. You can read them for yourself. And then I will have at the end of every month, as we have for the last two, a summary of the tranche itself.

QUESTION: Now going back to the server, what does the State Department know about it? It has been now handed over. Because in last couple of days – I think it was yesterday – Secretary Clinton has been avoiding the question about whether – because technically, it is different if it is – the emails are – the data is deleted or wiped or – there are different technical aspects of that. So do you know that – if the servers was wiped clean or the data was deleted? Where do we stand on that?

MR KIRBY: No, I would point you to former Secretary Clinton and her staff for – to comment about the status, the whereabouts of her server.

QUESTION: Yeah, because I was listening to the answers, and she avoided the question. It was repeated two or three times and she avoided it, and so I thought that maybe the State Department knows about that.

And the last one is: If you can give us a breakdown of – for, say, last four or five secretary of states, which servers they have used. I know that Secretary Kerry uses, but before that – say, five secretary of states – which servers someone has used,, some – so can you give us a breakdown and take the question?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have information today about the --

QUESTION: Can you take the question and if you can provide us --

MR KIRBY: You go back – you don’t have to go back too many secretaries of state before you get – before email, even.

QUESTION: Yeah. That’s what I’m saying.

MR KIRBY: I mean, so like, I just don’t have that level of detail. I don’t know that we have it. If we do and I can provide it to you, I’ll try to do that.

QUESTION: You say that you don’t have those details?

MR KIRBY: I’m up here --

QUESTION: Not now, but can you take the question?

MR KIRBY: -- I don’t have the details. I said I’d – let me look into it --

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR KIRBY: -- and if we have something that we can provide to you, I will, but I’m not going to speculate and dance on it up here. I just don’t have --

QUESTION: No, I’m not asking you to – requesting you to speculate.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have it.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Yeah, sort of related topic: The – a counsel for the State Department submitted a filing today in the Judicial Watch v. the State Department case.


QUESTION: This is the one related to Huma Abedin’s employment situation. In that, they seem to – this building seems to rebut the idea that they’ve failed to account for servers and devices of Clinton and her former aides that were in the possession of the State Department. And one of the items in that filing is that Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills both had State Department-issued BlackBerrys. The filing says that standard operating procedure would have been for there to have been a factory reset and for those devices to have been destroyed. But can you say definitively whether those BlackBerrys were returned? Is there, I guess, a receipt of them returning those BlackBerrys to the State Department?

MR KIRBY: You’re right. It is standard practice that when you move on, your personal device – your BlackBerry in this case – is – they do a factory reset, because oftentimes, they are repurposed and given to other employees. That’s happened to just about every BlackBerry I’ve had in government service myself. And it’s our understanding that that’s what happened in this case. It’s also likely that because this was a while ago, that those devices were – may have been destroyed. I don’t have the records of it because they were old and outmoded, and oftentimes, we purchase new equipment for – as the devices themselves are updated.

QUESTION: Great, but the language in the filing is fairly vague in saying that they were not located. I guess what I’m asking is: Was there a record that they were definitely returned to the State Department? Is that something that was looked into?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on whether or not they were – we have a record of them. They were – obviously, they were turned in, and according to protocol, they would have been reset and reissued. Now, who they were reissued to here in the department, I don't know. I don’t have that, and I don’t think they’re tracked in that way that you can look at your BlackBerry and know exactly who had it before because they’re reset. They have to be so that a new user can avail themself. So I don't know that we have a record of exactly who might have those BlackBerrys, even if they are still in use today.

QUESTION: Right, but you can say that they were turned in?

MR KIRBY: They were, yeah. They belong to the United States Government, and when you leave an agency – that you must turn it in. So yes, they were turned in. Where they are now, I couldn’t begin to tell you.

QUESTION: Is the information on those devices backed up or saved before they are reset or destroyed?

MR KIRBY: No, they remove user settings, configurations, and then, again, you want to be able to reissue it. So they are set back to the factory reset.

QUESTION: But you said that those devices belong to the United States Government.

MR KIRBY: They do.

QUESTION: Do they – doesn’t the information on there also belong to the United States Government, and by correlation, to the United States people?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, remember you’re talking about a Blackberry device. It’s not a – it’s not a server in itself. It’s a device that you manage your – mostly your email through. And your emails are – there’s a process for preservation of those as federal records.

QUESTION: Which --

MR KIRBY: But the Blackberry is just a device to – that you use for email and for phone.

QUESTION: But you can theoretically back up the information. There’s also text messages on those. There’s also call logs. I mean --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’m not an expert in the records preservation --

QUESTION: I just find --

MR KIRBY: -- but that we --

QUESTION: I’m not accusing you of wrongdoing. I’m just confused as to why that’s not recorded, since it seems pertinent information for the archiving and retention of information that belongs to the public.

MR KIRBY: We – and there is a records preservation process in place. I don’t know all the details of it, Brad, with respect to personal computing devices – not personally owned --

QUESTION: They’re not personal.

MR KIRBY: -- but you know I mean.


MR KIRBY: That you have on your body instead of at your desk. And look, I mean, more broadly speaking, I mean, all of this is one of the reasons why the Secretary asked our IG last – late last year to go take a look at our records preservation process and our procedures here, to try to make sure that it’s as sound and efficient and effective as possible.

Okay. I’ve got time for just one more.

QUESTION: Just a quick clarification on that. You said the devices are sent back to the factories.

MR KIRBY: No, I didn’t. I said they’re reset to factory settings so that a new user can use them --

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR KIRBY: -- and not have to – they personalize it for themselves.

Yes, back here.

QUESTION: Could I could get a clarification on Iran? The reported IAEA agreement is only about past military dimensions, and there is a – and we want to know, can you confirm if there is a separate agreement pertaining to checking on future nuclear violations?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to talk to the IAEA. As we said, that a key feature of this deal is that the IAEA must be able to address their concerns about PMD— possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program— and that’s the essence of the regimen that they have set up with this arrangement with Iran. But it is between the IAEA and Iran.

QUESTION: So can you or can you not say whether or not this separate agreement, moving forward, would be limited to Iranian inspectors?

MR KIRBY: I would refer you to the IAEA. That’s for them to speak to.

Abigail. Last one.

QUESTION: As part of the Ashley Madison hacking, 15,000 different government emails – email addresses were exposed. Is there any concern by the State Department about that information?

MR KIRBY: We’ve just seen press reports on this, so way too premature for me to be able to have a comment about this.

Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:01 p.m.)

Back to Top

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.