1:05 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody. Front row’s empty today, huh? Couple things at the top.
QUESTION: It’s the humidity.
MR KIRBY: What’s that?
QUESTION: It’s the humidity.
MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) Couple of things at the top here, so bear with me. First, I know you all saw the Secretary’s schedule that he was going to be on Capitol Hill this morning – he and Assistant Secretary Anne Richard met and were accompanied by officials by the Department of Homeland Security U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement. They met with members of the House and Senate judiciary committees this morning to present the President’s proposal for refugee admissions in Fiscal Year 2016. They discussed the work that the State Department is doing to address the recent refugee crisis in Europe, of course. The consultations – and it’s important to remember that these consultations are held every year just before the beginning of the next fiscal year, but obviously we took the opportunity to also address the energy being applied to the current refugee crisis in Europe as well.
On Turkey, the United States finds unacceptable yesterday’s attacks against offices and buildings associated with the People’s Democratic Party and for the second day against the headquarters of the Hurriyet Daily. We join those Turkish people who are condemning the use of violence directed against specific political parties, ethnic groups, and media outlets. These events followed an escalation in violence over the weekend, as you know, by the PKK. We strongly condemn the PKK’s terrorist attacks on Sunday that killed 16 soldiers and 12 police officers. This represents a deadly escalation in violence and hurts the cause of those Kurds who want to live in peace. We extend our condolences to the families of the soldiers and police who were killed, and as we have said before we call on the PKK to renounce violence and return to the peaceful political process.
We endorse the calls made yesterday by the Turkish prime minister and the HDP co-chairman Demirtas and other leaders in condemning the violence and appealing for calm. It is critically important that Turkish law enforcement provide equal protection to all segments of society, political parties, and media outlets. There is no place in a democracy for violent protests, particular those motivated by partisanship or ethnic animosity. And as I said yesterday, we expect Turkish authorities to uphold Turkey’s core values, democratic foundations, and universally recognized fundamental freedoms.
I also have a travel note. I want to note that Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom landed in Papua New Guinea earlier today to lead a high-level U.S. Government delegation to the Pacific Islands Forum Post-Forum Dialogue. Her trip, which will include site visits and bilateral consultations, demonstrates how deeply the United States values its relationship with Pacific island countries. In her meetings with leaders there, the deputy secretary will emphasize the need for substantial commitments on climate change, sustainable fisheries, and women’s empowerment. She will also visit U.S.-funded projects that provide economic opportunities and shelter for women at risk of gender-based violence and potable water for local communities.
Two more things. I also want to note that we have some special guests in the room today. I’d like to welcome participants from the Afghan Diplomat Training Program, an exchange jointly organized by the United States and China. So, welcome. During their two weeks in the United States, these early-career diplomats will meet with think tanks, participate in public diplomacy training, and visit the White House. I’m sure today will be, of course, the highlight of your time here. Now in its fourth year, the exchange is emblematic of U.S.-China cooperation on Afghanistan and we’re glad to have you here.
Finally, I think I would be remiss if I did not note that today is a special anniversary. It is Matt Lee’s 50th birthday.
QUESTION: Oh my. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: I got you nothing.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) I expected nothing less.
MR KIRBY: However, I could not talk the Secretary out --
QUESTION: Oh, really.
MR KIRBY: -- of having something to offer. So I’m going to read from a card that the Secretary wrote just this morning: “Dear Matt,” the first line says, “the big 5-0. After spending your honeymoon with your friends from State, we’re all honored to be celebrating yet another life milestone with you today. Though given the hours and the miles that you’ve logged, I hope that you finally get a little downtime and a chance to celebrate properly with Amanda. Best of luck to your Bills this season. For your sake, I hope Rex Ryan works out better for them than he did for the Jets.”
QUESTION: And coming from a Patriots fan too. Boy, that’s – all right. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: “All joking aside, thank you for all that you do. Many happy returns onwards. Sincerely, John F. Kerry.” And then at the bottom he wrote in his own writing, “September 20th, Bills – Patriots. Brady playing. Best wishes.” (Laughter.) So Happy Birthday, Matt.
QUESTION: I don’t know, is – oh well, thank you very much, and thank you to the Secretary. (Applause.)
MR KIRBY: Absolutely. Have a happy birthday.
QUESTION: Are we absolutely sure that Brady’s going to be playing? (Applause.) Is that a completely a done deal?
MR KIRBY: I believe the Secretary’s sure.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay. Well, I’ll take his word for it.
MR KIRBY: And if he’s sure, then I’m sure. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Right. Well, that was very nice. Thank you very much.
MR KIRBY: You’re welcome and Happy Birthday to you.
QUESTION: I appreciate it and I’m sure my wife does to.
MR KIRBY: Happy Birthday to you and over to you.
QUESTION: Thanks. All right. So on to probably less exciting things, but before getting into the Turkey and Syria and Iran, I just want to go through the – couple email questions, clear stuff up from yesterday --
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: -- in terms of the Secretary’s appointment of Ambassador Jacobs. One, is – my understanding of the job description from yesterday was not that she was going to be in charge of vetting or adjudicating Secretary Clinton’s emails. Is that – she was going to be looking at the larger process that goes beyond – going forward, goes beyond what’s happening now. Am I right or am I wrong on that?
MR KIRBY: You’re correct, Matt. I mean, as we talked about, I mean, her job is really twofold. It’s, one, to improve our processes here at the State Department for records disclosure, particularly under the Freedom of Information Act. And as we talked about, we’ve got a huge backlog here that we’re dealing with. And two, helping us with the preservation of records. There’s an executive order that requires us to have electronic records of the conduct of foreign policy, and so she’s going to be responsible for helping us grapple with that problem, to include potentially the introduction of new technologies here.
Now, that said, I mean, because the process – the monthly process of disclosing the emails from former Secretary Clinton, I mean, that is a public disclosure issue and I would expect that she will have views on how that’s being done. So I can’t rule out the fact that she might not be examining some of the documents, but her role, her job, is really change management, reform leadership of an organizational process.
QUESTION: Well, as you are – excuse me – as you are well aware, less than an hour after the announcement of this position, it came to a lot of people’s attention that she had donated the maximum amount, $2,700, to --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- Secretary Clinton’s campaign. And I’m just wondering if, in fact, she is going to be a part of the process of releasing those emails, if that was – if anyone at the Department who was involved in appointing her or naming her to this position was aware of this contribution and whether or not now, if they weren’t, if after the fact you think it’s still an appropriate choice.
MR KIRBY: The Secretary wholeheartedly believes that she’s the right choice for this job. This is a career Foreign Service officer with decades of experience under both, I might add, Republican and Democratic administrations. In fact, she was appointed the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs in 2008 by President Bush. So this is, again, a career foreign officer – Foreign Service officer with extensive experience. She knows how to run large organizations. She knows how to conduct reform, as she did with our visa program after the 9/11 attacks. An impeccable resume, and the Secretary is grateful for her willingness to continue to serve and has, as I said yesterday, the utmost trust and confidence in her.
She did acknowledge that she made a political contribution. She acknowledged that she made that after retiring from the federal service, not that making contributions while one is on federal service is prohibited. I mean, we’re – this is a democracy and people are – citizens are allowed to espouse and to have political views. And so she made these contributions and she’s admitted to that.
QUESTION: Did --
MR KIRBY: It was not – we were not aware of the contribution. But I would tell you, Matt, that it bears no relevance on her selection one way or the other. She’s the right person for this job. The Secretary is convinced of that. She has the experience and the leadership to get the job done. And even if her job – as I said, there can be times that she executes her duties where she will have to look at or review some of that traffic as we come to grapple with the appropriateness of disclosure, but that’s not the main function. That’s not what she’s doing here. But even if – in that case, even if that were to happen, the fact that she made a donation to Hillary Clinton bears no relevance on her ability to do this job, to do it objectively and fairly. Again, this is not so much an adjudication role as a process improvement role.
QUESTION: I don’t think anyone has suggested that she’s not free to make contributions to whoever she wants. That’s not the issue here. It’s a question of whether it’s appropriate, her selection, given the donation, is appropriate. And also, whether or not when – in the – during the process of choosing someone who’s going to take – who’s going to be appointed to this job, the State Department considers the greater issues out there, how sensitive this is politically --
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: -- as well as legally, in terms of, one, the time that we’re in, the political season that we’re in, and also the legitimate questions that have been raised about classified/unclassified information being – sorry, classified information being sent over private email servers, whether given or received. I mean, it would seem to me that the Department kind of shot itself in the foot here, an unforced error, in selecting someone who critics could say has some political bias, whether – that she’s perfectly entitled to have --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- as a federal employee or retired federal employee, whatever. But is there no – there’s no concern in this building about that, about the appearance of possible conflict of interest?
MR KIRBY: I think – no, I think we understand how some people might have that perception. And you articulated, I think, pretty well, though, Matt. That said, again, Ambassador Jacobs was chosen for her exemplary service particularly in this kind of area, and the Secretary is 100 percent convinced that she’s the right person for the job and will do the best job at it of any candidate that he considered. So we’re delighted that she’s here.
She understands – believe me, she understands the sensitivities regarding the issue of the Clinton email disclosure. That is not, however, her main function, but she understands the sensitivities around it. She understands the heavy load that Secretary Kerry has asked her to carry, and she’s up for that job.
QUESTION: Hey John, is it --
QUESTION: It is in part her function to look through the Hillary emails, though. It’s not her total function, but it is in part.
MR KIRBY: Justin, I’m not going to – I don’t – I’m not going to get into how she’s going to do her job. She – her – she’s being hired to improve our processes and procedures for both record keeping and record disclosure under the law. That’s the job. And as I said yesterday, the Secretary, while he is grateful for all the effort that’s gone into that here at the State Department, recognizes that we can do better. And that’s why he asked her to come onboard to help us figure out ways to do it better. So her function really is on process improvement. And again, she’s the right person to do it based on her long experience. That she --
MR KIRBY: That in a performance of that job that she might have opinions about how we are working through the disclosure of yet 75 percent of the remaining emails, I think would be natural. But I couldn’t begin to tell you exactly what that’s going to look like for her on a daily basis. The job is much bigger than that – much bigger than that.
QUESTION: Okay. When did you become aware – you said you weren’t aware of it ahead of time – the donation. When did you become aware, and when did the Secretary become aware of her donation?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know when the Secretary became aware of it. I became aware of it yesterday when it was made public.
QUESTION: John, you said the --
QUESTION: I’m sorry. You said that she disclosed that information. That disclosure was made when?
MR KIRBY: No, I did not say she disclosed it. I told Matt we weren’t aware of the donation.
QUESTION: But she did say that (inaudible) fact that she did.
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, she has to. I mean, it’s a public record, so she disclosed it publicly.
MR KIRBY: So it’s out there. I mean, that’s how people found out about it, because it was out there. It was online.
QUESTION: I wonder if you would explain --
MR KIRBY: I mean, I think, guys, just one – I want to make one point real clear here. I mean, I get the sensitivity. But there’s nothing wrong with a federal employee, as any other U.S. citizen, making donations to campaigns. I’m going to get to you in a minute, Said, but this is an important point. This is the United States of America. It’s a democracy. People are allowed to do this kind of thing.
And to suggest that just by dint of making a contribution to whatever political cause or campaign that it disqualifies somebody from a job that they’re taking on – and I’d remind you that this is a – this is a leader who has some four decades of experience and was retired and agreed to come back to serve the country once again – I think that’s a very bad place for us to be if we’re going to start criticizing people for campaign contributions that they make in their private time, in retirement no less. I just don’t think that’s – I don’t think that’s where we want to be as a country. I just got done talking about our concerns in Turkey and media freedoms and civil society and how we expect the Turks to live up to their core values and their democratic institutions. I think it’s – we need to do that here too.
QUESTION: John, no one is criticizing her for making the donation. If there’s any criticism, it’s directed at the State Department for choosing someone who has demonstrated a – demonstrated, I don’t want to say bias, but demonstrated a preference in a political candidate who happens to be at the very center of the issue that she has been nominated or has been named to take on. That’s the point. It’s --
MR KIRBY: So --
QUESTION: Whether she is the most appropriate person for the job is the question, not – no one is criticizing her donation to anybody. I mean, she could have --
MR KIRBY: Well, the implication was that because she had done this she’s somehow not supremely qualified for it. So I do think you’re a little bit --
QUESTION: No, no --
MR KIRBY: I do think it’s --
QUESTION: It’s not a question of whether she is qualified or not. It’s a question of whether the choice, given the donation, lends itself to an appearance of a potential conflict of interest, which, honestly – and I think you would agree to this – that this is the last thing the State Department, embroiled in this whole thing now as it is, wants to present.
MR KIRBY: I do think – I take your point. I kind of disagree. I do think some of this is aimed at her, but I also take your point that, yeah, there’s this criticism that – about the selection. And I would just go back to what I said. The Secretary is supremely confident in her choice to do this job.
QUESTION: Okay. But I mean, I haven’t – and I’ve been looking at this since yesterday, and I haven’t seen anyone criticize her for making the donation. Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s not that.
MR KIRBY: But there’s an implication in it that somehow that should be a disqualifying factor, and I just think it’s important for us not to go there. It’s just not a healthy place for us to go as a republic.
QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on the duties, her duties, not the donations. Now, transparency is really a broad term. What would be the specifics that she’s going to be focusing on?
MR KIRBY: Well, I talked about this yesterday, Said.
QUESTION: I know, but if you would care to explain just a little bit more. Is it – is she going to be completely focused on this email issue?
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: Or are there other issues and so on?
MR KIRBY: No, she’s not. So I talked about this yesterday. I’ll do it again.
QUESTION: One – you talked about it about 10 minutes ago too.
MR KIRBY: That’s right.
QUESTION: It’s okay. Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Two main tasks, because we have an obligation under executive order to make sure that we’re preserving the record of U.S. foreign policy in an electronic secure form. So we have a heavy task ahead of us to do that, so she’s going to be helping us figure that out, to include, as I said, potentially the adoption and introduction of new technologies here at the State Department to do that kind of record preservation. That’s an obligation we have.
The other obligation that we have that the Secretary has been very adamant about is to the American people, to the public, to disclose as efficiently and effectively and as securely as possible information to the American people, particularly when it’s covered by the Freedom of Information Act, which I know as journalists you all appreciate the importance of that law. So do we. We have an obligation.
And this is – this gets beyond just the Clinton email issue. That’s part of it. But as I said yesterday, we’ve seen a threefold increase since 2008 of Freedom of Information Act requests and – hang on a second, Justin – most of them have nothing to do with this issue. We’ve added staff, some 50 people, to the FOIA office – some are permanent, some are temporary what we call detailees – to the Freedom of Information Act Office to help them clear through this backlog. That’s a significant effort and amount of resources being applied to this.
So we’ve got a lot of work to do, and the Secretary acknowledged that when he made this announcement yesterday. She’s going to help us work through that process. And this is a Foreign Service officer who kind of specializes in admin process and procedures, as she ramped the – she revamped the visa office, as I said, back in 2001. She has a lot of experience in this, and the Secretary looks forward to her applying that experience and the leadership and her ability to craft and then implement necessary reforms. And it’s reforms here that we’re really after.
The process of disclosing every month former Secretary Clinton’s email traffic will continue, and she will have, I’m sure, a voice in the process of how we do that. But that’s not the main function here. She’s got a much larger task, a much larger responsibility, to include helping us once – I talked about this earlier in the year. Secretary Kerry asked the IG to come in and take a look also at how we manage information here at the Department. The IG is still working on that. When they come back with recommendations for how we can improve, part of her job will be to implement those recommendations. And as I said to Matt yesterday, we expect that she’ll be meeting regularly with Secretary Kerry and Deputy Secretary Higginbottom on a very frequent, consistent basis to keep them apprised of what she’s learning and what she wants to do.
QUESTION: Presumably she’s not flying to Papua New Guinea (inaudible)?
MR KIRBY: She’s not on a flight to Papua New Guinea with the Deputy Secretary; however, she did show up for work today. She’s here today. She just started.
QUESTION: One last one on this for me. Given the fact that there are so many records issues to deal with, so many FOIA requests to deal with, separate from the Clinton email debacle, would the Secretary consider removing those Clinton email responsibilities from her tasks to avoid any potential conflict of interest, given the great national interest in this story?
MR KIRBY: No, because there’s not going to be a conflict of interest. There’s no conflict of interest here, Justin – none at all.
QUESTION: John, there were some questions yesterday about staffing for that new office, and there have since been stories about 50 staffers being transferred to that office. Is that correct?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I just said that to Said. We’ve added 50 people to the Freedom of Information Act office.
QUESTION: Is there a quantifiable number for cost to the taxpayer?
MR KIRBY: I do not have a cost figure for that to share with you. I’m sure that there is, without question, additional cost to the taxpayer for us to work through this, as well as meeting – not just from the Freedom of Information Act, but meeting the increasing demands by members of Congress for information and reports, such as the Select Committee on Benghazi and, of course, the task of working through more than, what, 25,000 or so emails that we still have to get through from former Secretary Clinton. All of that requires time and money and resources. I just don’t have a – I don’t have a figure for you today.
QUESTION: But they are transferring from within State. You’re not adding 50 to your total head count.
MR KIRBY: You mean in terms of bringing – no. As far as I know, the 50 are – as I said, a lot of them are going to be detailees, people from other places inside the State Department.
QUESTION: So it won’t cost any more money?
MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t have a figure.
QUESTION: No, I know. But if these people are already employed by the State Department and it’s not as if you’re hiring new people from outside to come in, the question is whether or not – I mean, for the time that they’re temporarily detailed, are there going to have to be replacements hired to do their – what these people’s original job was?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know. The bureaus that they are coming from will have to make those decisions.
QUESTION: So the – I guess the question – although specifics would be nice, but the just broader question is: Is there a net increase in the cost of doing this because of these detailees?
MR KIRBY: Not because of the manpower specifically.
QUESTION: Are they – will they all be from this building, or will they be, let’s say, like foreign missions, for instance?
MR KIRBY: As far as I know, all the work is being done here at main State.
QUESTION: Turkey. John, if you – based on what you said on the top about the current situation in Turkey and also the – last week’s – the travel warning and other concerns you had in the past, can we say that you are concerned about the Turkish democracy in general, not just recent events?
MR KIRBY: You mean --
QUESTION: The Turkish --
MR KIRBY: -- in a different way than I said yesterday? (Laughter.) I mean, we – as I said, Turkey’s democracy matters to us. More critically, I think Turkish democratic institutions matter to the Turkish people, and we’ve seen many streams in Turkish society speak up against the violence that’s been perpetrated the last few days, not just from the PKK but from these individuals who have attacked these buildings and attacked the Hurriyet Daily. So I think it matters to Turks as well, and we note the prime minister’s comments about this and about calling for a cessation of violence.
What I would say is what I said yesterday, is our expectation – and I think it’s the expectation of so many Turks – is that the Government of Turkey will continue to live up to its core values and its democratic fundamental principles. That’s our expectation.
QUESTION: So I had an interview a couple weeks ago with Ambassador Jeffrey, former ambassador – U.S. Ambassador to – in Turkey. He mentioned that there are some sort of warnings and concerns in the United States – in the Administration in general about the President Erdogan’s actions. So he was referring to the situation of – the current situation of fighting and conflict between the PKK and also attack on the journalists, (inaudible). So is that the concern that you have about President Erdogan’s actions to shifting the country from democratic to non-democratic?
MR KIRBY: Again, Turkey is a democracy. We value that. We believe the Turkish people value that. We want to see it thrive and flourish. We want to see it live up to its own core values and the values expressed in its constitution. And actions such as these attacks that we’ve seen, and particularly against the newspaper, are unhelpful and certainly not in keeping with those values, and we’d like to see all Turks express the appropriate respect for those values.
QUESTION: John, about the attacks --
QUESTION: Syria --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- have you seen reports on the attack against Turkish newspaper Sabah over the night?
MR KIRBY: I have not.
QUESTION: Some protesters – Turkish nationalists – threw rocks and blades towards the building and partly destroyed the building yesterday.
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: A group of Turkish nationalists threw rocks and partly destroyed the Sabah newspaper’s building over the night --
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: -- in Turkey.
MR KIRBY: I have not seen those attacks, but if they’re true, if that happens, I would put it in the same category of what we’ve seen in the last couple of days. And it’s, again, not in keeping with Turkey’s democratic institutions and core values and we would --
QUESTION: So you condemn this attack too if --
MR KIRBY: If it’s true, we absolutely would, sure we would, yes.
QUESTION: A question related to Turkey as well: I noticed yesterday that LGBT Envoy Randy Berry is scheduled to be in Ankara and Istanbul from the 11th of September through the 16th of September. He’ll be in Brussels before that. I’m just wondering, does he have any plans to raise the issue of the LGBT folks who are escaping ISIS in Syria and Iraq that came up at the UN Security Council a couple of weeks ago? Any specifics on whether that will come up during his conversations?
MR KIRBY: You know what? I don’t know, so let me take the question and get back to you. Obviously, he’s got a full agenda and --
MR KIRBY: -- there’s concerns about the way LGBT people are treated around the world --
MR KIRBY: -- and that’s – frankly, that’s what his job is, to express our concerns and to try to work for solutions. I wouldn’t be surprised.
MR KIRBY: But let me just make sure on that particular question about ISIL. As you know, we have very publicly stated our concerns --
QUESTION: Yeah, okay.
MR KIRBY: -- at the UN and from this podium about their treatment of people who they believe to be LGBT.
QUESTION: Can we stay on ISIS?
QUESTION: Syrian refugees?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: What’s the number of refugees the Administration is ready to receive next year? You were talking about Secretary Kerry discussing this issue.
MR KIRBY: I don’t have a number to give you today. As I’ve said before, we’re continuing to look at options, and it’s possible that the numbers will increase over next year, but I just don’t have a number to give you.
QUESTION: Syrians say that the barrel bombs are the main cause that push people to leave Syria. What’s – what is the U.S. doing to stop the regime from using barrel bombs?
MR KIRBY: We’re using all the levers at our disposal to try to help bring about a political transition in Syria --
QUESTION: But they didn’t work yet.
MR KIRBY: -- a transition that doesn’t leave Bashar al-Assad in power.
QUESTION: But they didn’t work. Nothing has worked so far.
MR KIRBY: We’re continuing to work this. Look, I understand. We’ve talked about Syria a lot from here. We all understand how complicated it is and how hard it is. The President has made clear that there’s not going to be a military solution inside Syria to this particular conflict. Obviously, we’re helping coalition members go against ISIL inside Syria, but with respect to the conflict there and the Assad regime, there’s not going to be a military solution. There needs to be a political solution. That takes time. That can be messy, that can be complicated, but it’s a goal worth pursuing and we’re going to continue to pursue that.
QUESTION: But you had a successful experience with the regime when the Administration drew a redline for the regime when he used the chemical weapons and it worked. Why don’t you use the same tactic with the regime to stop the barrel bombs?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into hypothetical scenarios.
QUESTION: It’s not a – you had the good experience.
MR KIRBY: We – it is a hypothetical. We’re – we understand that this is a complicated issue. There has to be a political transition, and as Secretary Kerry has made clear and met, as I said, in Doha and continues to discuss with his Saudi counterpart and his Russian counterpart the importance of striving toward a political solution there that has to have some element of participation by the opposition groups. And they’re not all the same, they’re not monolithic, they don’t all have the same goals, but they’re important to finding a future in Syria. And so how we work through this is going to have to include them in some form or fashion and we’re trying to figure that out.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary speak with Foreign Minister Lavrov today?
MR KIRBY: He did.
QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit more about that call and whether or not the – you guys have any reaction or thoughts about the Russians saying that Iran has given them overflight rights to fly into Syria?
MR KIRBY: Yeah. So he did discuss – he did talk to Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning. He reiterated our concern about these reports of Russian military activities – or buildup, if you will – in Syria and made very clear our view that if true and if borne out, those reports would be – could lead to greater violence and more – even more instability in Syria and were not helpful at all to what we’re – what eventually the international community should be trying to achieve inside Syria.
On Iran, I don’t know if the specific issue of Iran overflight came up in the call. That said, reports of – that we’ve seen of the Russians saying that they have overflight rights from Iran is clearly disappointing but not surprising given Iran’s history of support to the Assad regime as well.
QUESTION: But just given the way that geography works on the map, if they’re going to overfly Iran to get to Syria, they need to fly over Iraq as well. Do you have any – or are you planning to talk to the Iraqis about this?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have – and I wouldn’t read out the specifics of diplomatic conversations that we have on this. What I would tell you is that we have asked our partners in the region – we’ve asked them to ask some pretty tough questions of the Russians about the intent here.
QUESTION: Well, can I just ask: Would you consider in this context Iraq to be a partner – a U.S. partner?
MR KIRBY: Absolutely.
QUESTION: Okay. So pretty much every – all of Syria’s neighbors have been – or adjacent – all the countries adjacent to Syria and even further out – we’re talking Greece and others – have been asked not to allow overflight?
MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to detail diplomatic conversations, Matt. But we’ve asked our partners and our friends to ask the Russians tough questions about this.
QUESTION: But on that, though, I mean, in the past this building has actually been public in its conversations that it had with the previous prime minister of Iraq, Mr. Maliki, about his allowing for Iranian overflights and gear to be transported into Syria. So in the past there has been public criticism. Currently, given the geography, as Matt just laid out, it seems that this is indeed happening if these reports are true. So why is it different now?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to what we’ve done in the past or what we said in the past. I routinely decline to speak about the details of diplomatic conversations we have around the world on any number of issues, and I’m going to continue to do that today. As I said, we’ve asked our friends and partners in the region to ask for themselves the Russians some tough questions about what they’re doing and what their intent is.
QUESTION: So it would be wrong to infer that Iraq said no?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize it any further than what I have.
QUESTION: Because in the past, it has been explained as Iraq being unable to stop overflights, that it doesn’t really have control of its own airspace. Has that situation changed given that the U.S. has provided and now delivered F-16s and that there are now coalition aircraft in Iraqi airspace (inaudible)?
MR KIRBY: Well, I would let the Government of Iraq speak for its control of its airspace. It is its airspace. It’s sovereign airspace. It belongs to the Government of Iraq. How they’re policing it and securing it is really for them to speak to.
QUESTION: Is there actually a law – an international law that disallows flights from going to Syria?
MR KIRBY: Is there an international law --
QUESTION: Is there an international law that has been agreed upon by the United Nations or the Security Council that disallows flights from going to Syria?
MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on international law in that regard, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me just follow up – a couple questions on ISIS and what’s going on. Could you tell us what is the status of General Allen? We have not heard from General Allen for some time. What’s --
MR KIRBY: He’s been --
QUESTION: What’s going on? Why is he --
MR KIRBY: He actually did some interviews this week.
QUESTION: Has he?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
MR KIRBY: I mean, he’s not been a shrinking violet from the challenges that he’s still trying to work through for the coalition. Again, he did media interviews this week. I think we’ve posted – I know we posted a transcript this morning of one that he did.
QUESTION: Yeah, sorry I missed it. Could you comment on Philip Hammond’s comment where he said that there is actually a role for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a transitional role? Could you comment on that? He just made this today.
MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen Mr. Hammond’s comments, so I’d be a little careful trying to characterize them. I can just tell you that nothing’s changed about our position that Bashar al-Assad does not have a future, should not have a future, in Syria; that we need a political transition to a government in Syria that’s responsive to the Syrian people and doesn’t include him.
QUESTION: Now, he was very specific. He’s talking about a transitional period. Would you oppose a role for Bashar al-Assad in a transitional period?
MR KIRBY: Again, our position on Assad’s future in Syria has not changed, Said. Hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: And let me just follow up with a point that Michel did before. Barrel bombs, are they weapons of mass destruction? Because everybody gets the impression that --
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into a legal --
QUESTION: -- that barrel bombs are weapons of mass destruction.
MR KIRBY: Look, you’re asking --
QUESTION: I’m sorry, they’re very crude bombs.
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into a legal definition of them. Obviously, it’s a cruel weapon to use against your own people – anybody, but certainly your own people.
QUESTION: It’s crude. Any weapon is (inaudible).
MR KIRBY: And certainly, they are designed to kill, maim, or injure multiple people. It’s a weapon specifically designed to go – to kill people. And that’s atrocity enough, but I’m not going to get into a legal definition here about whether it’s WMD or not. It has to stop, and the international community, I mean, is aligned against this with the exception of Iran and Russia, who continue to support the Assad regime.
QUESTION: Yeah, but in your description, it’s not really that much different than cluster bombs, which, let’s say, the Saudis are using in Yemen that are supplied by the United States.
MR KIRBY: Well, there’s a huge difference, Said. I mean, cluster munitions are allowed legally when they are applied in a combat environment for discrete purposes. And when we transfer them or sell them, there is an end-use requirement there for how they’re used, and certainly, we have vehicles at our disposal should they not be used appropriately. That’s the big difference between the tactical, specific use of cluster munitions in accordance with international law and then dropping a barrel bomb out of an aircraft or a helicopter on a crowd of people. Big difference.
QUESTION: John, you said that you don’t have any confirmation about the Russian military buildup in Syria?
MR KIRBY: That’s right. I’d point you to Moscow. They can talk to their own military. I don’t even talk for our military.
QUESTION: And you didn’t see the pictures on social media and everywhere about the Russian soldiers in Syria?
MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the social media reports. I’ve seen the press reports. But --
QUESTION: Then why don’t you confirm that Russia is building up?
MR KIRBY: Because I work for the United States Government, not the Russian Government.
QUESTION: I know.
MR KIRBY: They should speak for their own military and what they’re doing.
QUESTION: But if you --
MR KIRBY: I would tell you that the intent’s unclear, still remains unclear, still concerning. And that’s why Secretary Kerry called Foreign Minister Lavrov today.
QUESTION: But you were talking to the Russians. Secretary Kerry met Lavrov in Qatar; special envoy to Syria went to Moscow and met with the Russian officials. You were cooperating with the Russians to solve the crisis in Syria. That means you have to be – or you have to know what’s going on with the Russians since you are cooperating with them.
MR KIRBY: It doesn’t mean we have to know everything about what the Russians are doing. I mean, as I said at the outset, the intent here is unclear about exactly what they’re up to and why they’re doing it and to what degree or to what scope they’re going to do this. I would point you to their comments that they’ve made or that they’ve not made. You’ve got to talk to Moscow about this. I’m not going – I don’t even like to characterize what our own military is doing from this podium, and I’m certainly not going to get into characterizing what another military intention – another military’s intentions are. These are questions that should be posed to the Russian Government, and I think fairly should be because of the uncertainty surrounding what they’re doing.
QUESTION: But if you have the proof --
QUESTION: But the reason that the Secretary called Foreign Minister Lavrov was because you are concerned, and you’re not just concerned by media reports about what’s going on – at least I hope that’s not your only source of information on this.
MR KIRBY: I said “reports.” I did not just say “media reports.”
QUESTION: Okay. All right, so – but I mean, so there is some concern.
MR KIRBY: Absolutely, there is. I mean, he wouldn’t have made another call today if there wasn’t, of course.
QUESTION: Well, exactly. So this is two calls, and the first – the other one was Sunday?
MR KIRBY: It was over the weekend. I think Saturday.
QUESTION: Saturday? And clearly the first call didn’t have the desired effect, did it, if you’re still concerned today?
MR KIRBY: I would just say that we’re still very concerned about this.
QUESTION: On the refugee situation, the Secretary of course had the trip to the Hill today to look at the budget proposal for the next fiscal year.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: I know that you can’t get into specifics, but can you talk in general – the Secretary said the Administration is looking hard at the numbers that the U.S. may be able to provide and that it’s being vetted. But in general, can you talk about what is under consideration, and also how the Secretary gauged reaction to the proposal?
MR KIRBY: He did propose increasing the number of refugees that will be accepted by the United States through the Refugee Resettlement Program in the next fiscal year – and I’m talking total now. I’m not just talking about from Syria. I don’t have a reaction for you from the members there in the meeting. I would point you to them to speak for how they reacted to that, but he did make – he did propose that we want to increase that number over the next fiscal year. And as I said earlier, I won’t get into estimates right now. I don’t have an estimate to share with you.
QUESTION: On that same point, so you said that there would be more refugees taken in. And yet, at the exact same time, there are members on the Hill saying that the U.S. isn’t doing enough to fight the ongoing refugee crisis in Syria. I mean, do you think, does the Secretary think, does the department think that you are doing enough to fight that ongoing crisis?
MR KIRBY: No. As I said yesterday, the Secretary has – he stood up a working group here last week at the State Department to try to get our hands around the specific crisis in Europe right now of Syrian refugees. He mentioned it again yesterday at the staff meeting. It’s very much on his mind. And he, like so many leaders in Europe, share the same sense of urgency about this. And we are exploring options to try to get our hands around this crisis more and more effectively.
I don’t have specific strategies to detail for you today, but I can tell you there’s an awful lot of people here at Foggy Bottom that are working very, very hard on this problem set and working hard to coordinate and communicate with our counterparts in Europe who are obviously dealing with it in a much more direct fashion over there.
I think it’s also important to remember a couple of things. And I know I talked about this yesterday, but resettlement is only one option and it oftentimes isn’t always the best option. Many of these people want to go back home. That’s why we’ve – so much of the money – and we are the largest donor with respect to these issues around the world, but certainly with respect to the Syrian crisis – over $4 billion. But it’s being applied to the refugee situation there in the region, particularly trying to help countries like Jordan and Turkey, who are dealing with really the brunt of it there right on the borders of Syria.
So that’s where most of the money is going and most of our aid and assistance and advice is going right there. But we’ve also donated 25 million-plus to help deal with it in Southern Europe. And again, I think you’re going to see more options being developed. I don’t have anything to preview today, but there’s an awful lot of energy being applied to it. Everybody understands, again, the sense of urgency and the importance. It’s impossible to look at the images, all of them, whether they’re still photos or video, and not be moved by what’s going on right now.
And as I said yesterday, we’re grateful for the leadership being shown by so many European countries individually and the willingness of individual citizens of those countries to take people in – it’s quite astounding – as well as the leadership of the EU, who is really trying to approach this from a comprehensive manner. And I think – we think that’s the right approach and we’re willing to contribute. Again, we’ll have more to say about this in coming days.
QUESTION: Is there a correlation between what the working group is doing and the proposal for the next fiscal year? In other words, is the working group trying to formulate its strategy to present before there is a final announcement on the budget?
MR KIRBY: Well, the working group that the Secretary stood up was to get at what’s going on in Europe now but also to look at refugee issues around the world. I mean, it’s not just constrained to the Iraqi and Syrian refugees that are flowing through Europe, although that is a major issue of attention for them right now. But that’s separate from the original intent of the meeting today, which was an annual meeting, consultations on the President’s proposal for the next fiscal year.
But that said, Pam, look you can’t divorce the two and we’re not trying to. We understand that there is a global refugee issue to deal with specifically right now in Europe, and they’re all interconnected. And I don’t think the Secretary wants the staff or the working group to try to divorce the issue, because what you learn and what you can propose and what you can do in one crisis may very well help you in other places around the world with other refugees.
QUESTION: On this issue --
MR KIRBY: I got you a lot. Hang on a second.
QUESTION: No, no. On this issue, there are news reports said – that say that there are communities in the U.S. that refuse to receive refugees especially from the Middle East, because they are concerned that maybe terrorists will come and live in their communities. Are you aware of these reports, and how are you dealing with them?
MR KIRBY: I’ve seen press reports about that. These are decisions that individual families have to make and communities have to make, and it’s not for the State Department to pass judgment on that. I think it’s important to remember, and I think Americans are rightly proud of our strong track record on dealing with human rights around the world regardless of the issue, and specifically on the issue of population, migration, and refugees. We have a very strong track record from a financial donor perspective, from a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief perspective. And it’s not just here at the State Department; it’s an interagency effort, whether you’re talking about the military, which is exceptionally good at helping in crises like this, to other federal agencies like USAID.
So we have a very strong track record. We’re proud of that. We also recognize, as the Secretary does, that we can do more. And certainly, the situation in Europe presents us that challenge to try to step up and do more, and the Secretary is committed to that and he wants to explore options for how we can do that. But individual Americans have to make their decisions based on their own dictates, and we respect that too.
QUESTION: Did you intentionally omit DHS from your list of agencies that --
MR KIRBY: No, I did not. Let me --
QUESTION: Okay. Do you want to go back?
MR KIRBY: Let me add DHS. Thank you. I was riffing and just listing. I did not mean to omit the Department of Homeland Security.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up. Some of the options that you are discussing with your friends and allies to deal with the refugee issues, does it include clamping down on smugglers and human traffickers that are making tons of money by smuggling Syrian refugees? I mean, they charge up to 1,000 person --
MR KIRBY: Yeah, absolute – look, there’s --
QUESTION: -- per person and so on.
MR KIRBY: Human trafficking does present a nexus here in this challenge.
QUESTION: Right, right.
MR KIRBY: And we, again, have a strong record about going after those kinds of human rights abuses. I mean, just a few weeks ago, maybe a month ago or so ago, whatever it was, we stood up here and we briefed you on our Trafficking in Persons Report, which is a pretty hard-hitting, candid, forthright look at how we view the problem around the world. And so yeah, obviously, this is tied into it. And there are unilateral and multilateral sanctions and vehicles at the international community’s disposal to try to deal with this.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, Samir.
QUESTION: You mentioned the U.S. contributed 25 million in Southern Europe for the refugees.
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: Is this is a recent thing?
MR KIRBY: Yes, I think it is. I’ve been talking about it now for a couple of days.
QUESTION: This week, we mean?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, yeah. And today wasn’t the first time I’ve talked about it.
QUESTION: But there was no announcement. Like, usually, you issue a press release on this or something like that?
MR KIRBY: I’ll check and see if we did a release, but I know I’ve talked about it from the podium several times.
QUESTION: Is that – that’s money to UNHCR, yeah?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, it’s to UNHCR to deal specifically with Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia, and the challenges that they have there on the southern front. And look, I mean, I don’t want to get into what future options there may be, but I mean, we’re going to look at a lot of tools at our disposal to try to deal with this going forward.
QUESTION: Does – but so the Administration believes that it is good for the U.S. taxpayer to help Greece, although I realize they’ve had money problems, Serbia, and Montenegro to --
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean --
QUESTION: -- I mean, Western European countries should get – are the recipients, essentially, through UNHCR. This is --
MR KIRBY: Through UNHCR.
QUESTION: But don’t you think that those countries, first and foremost as the recipient nation of the refugees, should pony up some money too, yeah?
MR KIRBY: Well, we talked about that yesterday, Matt. We certainly want to see countries that – certainly those that are affected by this, we want to continue to see them continue to do what they can to deal with it appropriately. But these are sovereign decisions that these countries have to make. The money that we’re talking about is going to the UN to apportion in the way they see best fit, but it was for – specifically for that southern flank of Europe. And I won’t rule out future options going forward here.
But obviously, yes, we talked about this. We want to see nations in the region and those that are obviously affected by this do what they can to help, as we will do what we can to help.
QUESTION: Can we go to Turkey?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: John, I don’t know if you are aware of, but if you are – if you do, are you concerned about the Turkish Government’s decision to impose the curfew that Kurdish populated areas south and east, and also the Turkish parliament recent decision to send – to allow the Turkish army to enter Iraqi territory to fight PKK?
MR KIRBY: I haven’t heard anything about the curfew, so I’m going to reserve comment on a decision I’m not aware of. You talked about this incursion against PKK. We understand directly from the Turks that this was a short-duration tactical move to go after PKK terrorists that had just perpetrated attacks on their soil. We understand their right to defend themselves against terrorism. We also understand the sensitivities expressed by the Iraqi Government of that move. And what we’ve long said is we want to continue – we think it’s important for both, in this particular case or in cases like this, for Turkey and Iraq to continue to talk and be transparent with one another about their concerns and to have a dialogue about this very real challenge along that border.
QUESTION: Also, that was also that this tension, I think, had a negative impact on the Turkish main gate border with Iraq, the Habur. It was closed for a few days and several hours, was open temporarily. So did you have any talk with Iraqis and Turks on this issue?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any talks specifically about this gate, but we routinely talk to both governments about the importance of a shared dialogue and communication and transparency about these issues with one another. We understand the concerns on both sides.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: John --
MR KIRBY: What would really be helpful --
QUESTION: Yeah. Different subject.
MR KIRBY: -- is for the PKK to renounce violence and stop conducting terrorist attacks. That’s what really needs to happen here.
Yeah, Janne. Janne, go ahead.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. I thought you give to the other guys. Okay. It is reported that recently United States provide humanitarian aid to North Korea. Do you have anything more detailed about this?
MR KIRBY: It has been suggested by who?
QUESTION: Humanitarian assistance to North Korea – U.S. provide many --
MR KIRBY: Who has suggested that?
QUESTION: Well, it is reported already last --
MR KIRBY: Oh, it’s reported that we --
MR KIRBY: Well, look, there’s no question that the regime is brutal to its own people, and Kim Jong-un and his government have the opportunity within their own hands to change the direction that their country is going and to look after the North Korean people, which is a responsibility they continue to shirk. What we want to see is for North Korea to stop the destabilizing activities and to do the things that you would responsibly do reduce tensions there on the peninsula.
Our responsibilities, particularly militarily, are to our alliance with the Republic of Korea and to security and stability on the peninsula, and we’re focused on that. I know of no plans, offers, proposals for humanitarian assistance. This is a regime that is completely, utterly closed off to the world and it – the onus is on them to do what’s right on the peninsula and for their people.
QUESTION: The – one more – U.S. and South Korea – I’m sorry – I got really lost.
MR KIRBY: You got what? You got lost?
QUESTION: Some – yeah, because I catch cold. I’m sorry.
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry. I hope you’re feeling better.
QUESTION: South and North Korea had agreed to – on the family reunion next month. Any comment on this?
MR KIRBY: Well, I would just say we support President Park’s tireless efforts to improve inter-Korean relations which support peace and stability, as I talked about in my previous answer on the Korean Peninsula. We’re going to continue to coordinate closely with the Republic of Korea and reiterate our unwavering support for the alliance, and I would refer you to the Republic of Korea and the government there to speak for more details about those efforts.
But again, we definitely support President Park’s efforts.
MR KIRBY: Okay? Yeah, Tolga.
QUESTION: I want to go back to Turkey. The press reports suggesting that the Turks are preparing for a major ground operation in northern Iraq. Peter Cook yesterday condemned the PKK attacks against Turkish soldiers and – but also he said that the Turks – Turkish response to these attacks will be proportional. Will this kind of major ground operation, rather than a (inaudible) that you mentioned, be proportional in terms of this fight against PKK?
MR KIRBY: First of all, you’re asking about a hypothetical situation. I – I’m not going to speculate about what the Turkish Government may or may not do with its military. You need to ask the Turkish Government those kinds of questions. I mean, you’re asking me to describe whether a particular operation is proportional when I don’t even know that such an operation is in the offering, or if it was in the offing what it would look like. Moreover, I’m not going to get into talking about the military activities of another nation here.
What we have said, and I’ll continue to stress, is we understand and respect Turkey’s right to defend itself. When they do, our expectation is – and we’ve made this clear to them – is that they’ll do it in a way to minimize and to take – minimize civilian casualties and take the necessary precautions to protect civilian life and to conduct those activities in accordance with international law. We’ve said that repeatedly.
We’re grateful for the support that Turkey is lending to the coalition. They are now involved in counter-ISIL strikes in Syria. That’s a welcome addition. And we’re going to continue to have these conversations with them going forward.
QUESTION: About the notification of the – before that the Turks made in these attacks in northern Iraq. The last time in July, there were some tensions between U.S. and Turkey in terms of this notification timing, because according to the press reports, Turks informed you just 10 minutes before the attacks. Was it a timely notification this time? Did you have any – enough time to inform the U.S. personnel on the ground on these Turkish air strikes?
MR KIRBY: The ones against PKK just recently? I don’t know.
QUESTION: In northern Iraq.
MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I don’t know whether there was notification or not. I don’t know.
QUESTION: And --
MR KIRBY: I’d point you to DOD for that.
QUESTION: Yeah, they are not replying this question. But --
MR KIRBY: But that’s a better question for DOD than it is for me.
QUESTION: On the press freedom issues, did you raise your concerns about the security of American journalists working on Turkey with the Turkish Government?
MR KIRBY: I won’t get into specific diplomatic conversations. You know we don’t do that. That said, we have been nothing but candid, particularly publicly, about our concerns for media freedoms and media access around the world, and we’ll continue to make those cases. And it’s – there’s no doubt – should be no doubt in anybody’s mind where the United States of America stands on the right of free speech, and certainly freedom of the press.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Thanks for your support for Hurriyet, for your statement that you made yesterday. But I’m trying to understand, did you take any concrete steps in terms of the – American journalists’ security in Turkey?
MR KIRBY: I’m not – if you’re asking what we’re talking about with the Turks, I’m not going to get into diplomatic conversations. We obviously take very seriously the safety and security of American citizens wherever they are over the world, to include reporters. But we also respect a reporter’s right and need to have access, to move freely, to report when and where they want to and can about events going on in the world.
QUESTION: And the last one. About this upcoming G20 summit in November in Turkey. Do you have any concerns in terms of the security of U.S. delegation which will be heading to Turkey?
MR KIRBY: I’m not – I don’t have any – I mean, look, security’s always a concern when you have major conferences and meetings. I won’t get into and I wouldn’t get into from this podium any specific security issues one way or the other.
QUESTION: Will be Secretary Kerry heading to Turkey for the meeting?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on his schedule to read out to you.
Yeah, one more. Back to you, Martin.
QUESTION: Yes. Last week I had asked about the ISS presence in Afghanistan, and you had said that there aren’t any such reports. And then just a few days ago, the NATO chief had said that the ISIS has becoming very influential in Afghanistan. Any comment on that by the State Department?
MR KIRBY: I didn’t – I don’t think I said that I had nothing to say about ISIL in Afghanistan. I have routinely talked about the fact that this is a group that wants to metastasize and grow and migrate to other areas, including Afghanistan. And I know that they have a presence in Afghanistan and that they want that to expand. It’s difficult to tell – and I would point you to DOD for more specifics on this, but – it’s difficult to tell with any certainty exactly what it is in terms of numbers and scope and capability. But clearly they’ve shown an interest in expanding to places like Afghanistan, and clearly it’s a concern not just for President Ghani, but for the coalition members and the troops that are there as well as Afghan National Security Forces. We’re mindful of that.
QUESTION: Also, today there are reports that ISIS has said – like, they have said in a statement that they will – while they are Afghanistan they will work towards removing the Durand Line. And yesterday, Karzai had issued a similar statement where he said that we don’t recognize Durand Line as a permanent border. What does the State Department has to say about the actual Durand Line thing? Is this still an issue here? I mean, if a former president --
MR KIRBY: We don’t have any new policies with respect to the borders of Afghanistan.
QUESTION: The Durand Line is a final border, right? Like, this is --
MR KIRBY: It’s the recognized border, and we recognize the borders of Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Yesterday, there was a taken – there was a question that I asked that you said you would take about whether as a general principle if State Department employees are permitted to receive outside income and whether they are under any obligation to report that.
QUESTION: Yes. In general principle.
MR KIRBY: Generally speaking, Executive Branch ethics requires certain employees, including senior and Schedule C employees, to file financial disclosure reports. The report requires outside earned income over $200 to be reported as well as any outside positions. There is no general ethics rule that employees seek advance approval for outside employment, noting that each employee is always bound by ethics laws and regulations, including those related to avoiding conflicts of interest.
QUESTION: So it applies the requirement that you report and that – the requirement for financial disclosure forms and for reporting outside income above 200 applies only to senior officials and Schedule C officials.
MR KIRBY: I don’t know – I didn’t say only, but including senior and Schedule C employees.
QUESTION: Including. Okay, okay.
MR KIRBY: I don’t have the whole pay scale, but there is a requirement for certain employees to file those disclosure reports, and it has to do with any earned income over $200.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: A year?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, it’s a yearly report. Yeah, absolutely.
QUESTION: But it’s not, like, $200 a day or something like that, or an hour? It’s $200 in a year?
MR KIRBY: Any earned income over $200 flat.
QUESTION: A year.
MR KIRBY: Two hundred. Yeah, 200 a year. Yeah.
QUESTION: Can I go to the other thing that --
QUESTION: Oh, sorry, Margaret. Go ahead.
QUESTION: A question on Greece. The Greek coast guard said it is now investigating reports. CBS aired video yesterday of uniformed men in unmarked boats cutting the fuel lines of Syrian refugees, setting them adrift at sea to prevent them from coming to shore. Turkish coast guard intervened. I’m wondering if you’ve seen this and if these new reports of an investigation are something that the U.S. supports.
MR KIRBY: Well, yes, we are aware of the reports. Obviously, if they’re true it’s deeply, deeply troubling and concerning, and we certainly would support local authorities investigating that. I mean, this is a wave of innocent people who are in dire straits, and we want to see them – as I said yesterday, we want to see them – their safety protected. We want to see them treated humanely. And as I said, we want to see all affected nations do what they can to help them.
If these reports are true, obviously it’s – that is cruel at the very least, if true. And so we do hope that those kinds of allegations are being looked into and investigated, and that if true, the responsible people are brought to justice.
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask quickly – I promise quickly. The other reason the Secretary was up on the Hill today and also the big show in town, I suppose, or two shows, as it were, this morning with formed Secretary Clinton, and now, as we speak, on the – up on the Hill with some Republican presidential candidates – the Iran deal and the IAEA announcement today that it has sent back to Iran a list of questions asking them to address ambiguities in their original response to the PMD questions that derive from the roadmap. Do you – is this just – first, is this just an IAEA thing, or does the United States agree with the IAEA leadership that there are, in fact, ambiguities about its responses to the PMD questions?
MR KIRBY: This is a process issue for the IAEA, so we welcome their timely submission to Iran of the PMD questions as outlined in the roadmap – all part of the process agreed between Iran and the IAEA. As we’ve previously said, the completion of the roadmap steps are necessary as part of our process to get to implementation day. Without the completion of those steps, we won’t get to implementation day and there won’t be sanctions relief.
QUESTION: Right. But my question is: Do you share the opinion of the IAEA that there are ambiguities in Iran’s initial responses?
MR KIRBY: Well, this is --
QUESTION: Under the roadmap that the IAEA --
MR KIRBY: But this is between the – Iran and the IAEA.
QUESTION: I understand.
MR KIRBY: So I – you’re --
QUESTION: Well, I know, but you’re part of the IAEA. So do you agree with them – and I presume you do because I think it operates on consensus – that there are ambiguities in Iran’s responses that need to be addressed still before you can get to implementation?
MR KIRBY: We are not and are not in a position to challenge the IAEA’s questions. We welcome those – we welcome those questions they’re asking. And again, this is all part of the process. But we’re in – we’re – this is – so two thoughts. One, this is between Iran and the IAEA, as it’s spelled out normally in normal IAEA and roadmap procedures. Number two, we’re not in a position to challenge the IAEA on their questions.
QUESTION: One more on Iran? Iranian members of parliament on the particular committee that’s charged with reviewing the agreement came out today and said that there were two secret documents that they were not allowed to see. One of those, as I understood it, refers to the agreement between the IAEA and Iran with regard to PMD – resolving those questions, which, as we’ve often discussed here, is indeed an IAEA-Iranian document. It’s between them. But secondly, they also said that there was a secret U.S.-Iranian document that they were not allowed to see. To your knowledge, is there any secret U.S.-Iranian document or not? Is everything that you’re aware of the 159 pages in the comprehensive – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action?
MR KIRBY: I have – I’ve not seen these reports, Arshad, and so I’m not aware of any such document. Again, the arrangement between the IAEA and Iran is a confidential arrangement that we won’t speak to the content of, so I just don’t have anything for you on that.
Thanks, everybody. And Happy Birthday again, Matt.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:13 p.m.)