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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action


John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 4, 2016


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TRANSCRIPT:

1:12 p.m. EST

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR KIRBY: Okay, just a couple of things at the top. On the funding announcement that the Secretary announced in London, I do want to reiterate some key points. As all of you know, the crisis in Syria has shaken our conscience with the images of men, women, and children suffering daily bombardment and hunger inside Syria and then being forced in many cases to embark on a dangerous journey in search of a safer, more prosperous future. Earlier today, as you probably saw, the Secretary announced that the United States is providing nearly $600 million in additional lifesaving assistance for those affected by the war in Syria. This new funding will bring the total U.S. humanitarian assistance in response to this conflict to over $5.1 billion since the start of it. This funding will provide shelter, water, medical care, food, protection, and other necessities to help millions of people suffering inside Syria and 4.6 million refugees from Syria in the region.

The United States will also provide more than $290 million in development assistance to support the Jordanian and Lebanese ministries of education to increase access to high-quality education and support learning for all students, including Syrian refugees. These efforts will build on USAID’s development support to governments and communities throughout the region that have generously hosted the massive influx of refugees from Syria.

Of course, increased assistance meant to aid Syrians inside the country means nothing if parties to the conflict block that aid from reaching the Syrian people. So again, we call on all parties, in particular the regime, to immediately allow immediate, unconditional, and unfettered – sustained and unfettered – access to humanitarian assistance by all those in need.

Indeed, humanitarian crises around the world have proven that despite our best efforts, all nations can do more. As Secretary Kerry announced in Davos, the United States is seeking commitments to expand the humanitarian safety net and create more long-term, durable opportunities for refugees worldwide. The pledges made at today’s conference will count towards the commitment the United States is seeking for the summit on refugees that President Obama will host in September at the UN. This event will be the culmination of a vigorous, sustained diplomatic effort undertaken by the United States over coming months to increase humanitarian assistance, access to resettlement, and other legal forms of admission, and refugee self-reliance and inclusion through employment and education.

Finally, as previously announced, the United States plans to admit 85,000 refugees from around the world this fiscal year, with at least 10,000 being from Syria. This step is also in keeping with America’s best tradition as a land of second chances and a beacon of hope. In accordance with these same traditions, we will continue to lead the way on supporting humanitarian efforts in the region on behalf of the American people. The needs are enormous, but we remain committed and determined to answer that call.

Quickly, a travel note: Secretary Kerry will travel to Munich, Germany from the 10th to the 14th of February to participate in the 52nd Munich Security Conference. While in Munich, he will also attend an International Syria Support Group meeting to discuss how to accelerate an end to the Syrian conflict and to continue to pursue a political – a political solution there. He’ll also have a series, as you probably can guess, of bilateral and multilateral meetings on the sides of these conferences.

He will then travel to Tirana, Albania on the 14th of February to meet with senior government leaders to discuss Albania’s further Euro-Atlantic integration and strong bilateral cooperation with the United States.

He’ll then travel to Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California to join President Obama at the U.S.-ASEAN summit from 15 to 16 February. This summit will further strengthen U.S.-ASEAN cooperation within the framework of our new strategic partnership and our common vision of a peaceful and prosperous Asia Pacific region.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. Yesterday you opened with a – some pretty harsh criticism of Russia and what it was doing – what it is doing in Syria. Today the Russians are saying that they see evidence that Turkey may be preparing to invade Syria.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: They’re talking about a buildup of transportation infrastructure on the border that while in peacetime might be a normal infrastructure project, it certainly looks like they’re – to them it looks like they’re preparing to invade.

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you see the same thing? Do you have the same concern?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ve seen the Russian comments about their views here of what they consider Turkish military movements. I won’t speak to Turkish military operations one way or the other, and so I’m not prepared in any way to reaffirm Russian interpretation of this. What I will say is that Turkey remains a key partner in this fight against ISIL and they continue to participate in coalition military operations, and we appreciate that cooperation. As to the specifics of what they’re doing on any given day or what they will do on any given day in the future, I would certainly refer to Turkish authorities to speak to that.

QUESTION: So you see the same thing that the Russians do, or you don’t?

MR KIRBY: I said I’m not going to characterize it one way or the other. I’ve seen --

QUESTION: What? Either you agree or you don’t, or you don’t have – or you’re still studying it.

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: No?

MR KIRBY: Neither.

QUESTION: So you don’t care what the Turks are doing on the border – you’re not even going to look into it.

MR KIRBY: Now, come on now, Matt. I didn’t say we don’t care.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just surprised that – the Russians came out --

MR KIRBY: I mean, I appreciate the sense of outrage that you’re proffering here with my answer. Let me --

QUESTION: It’s not outrage. I just want to know what my government – what the U.S. Government thinks that the Turkey --

MR KIRBY: We continue to work with Turkey, who’s an important partner in this coalition, to try to go after ISIL inside Syria. We also know that the Turks are working hard to close down that – still working on that --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: -- 98-kilometer stretch.

QUESTION: Because --

MR KIRBY: Now, I’m not – no, I’m not saying that Turkish military activity on the border is designed for that or any other particular operation. I won’t speak even to U.S. military operations; I’m certainly not going to get up here and speak to what the Turks are doing on that border on any given day. We do know that writ large they continue to work to close down that stretch of the border, and they are an important partner in going after ISIL and Syria. I’m not in a position to reaffirm, confirm, deny, argue, or debate the Russian interpretation of Turkish military movements on the border right now. I’ve seen their statements; I’m not in a position to say that they’re right or wrong.

QUESTION: By pointing out the fact that the Turks are trying to close down this 98-kilometer stretch, you seem to be suggesting that what the Russians are seeing could be related to that. And if you’re not trying to suggest that, then why did you raise it in the first place?

MR KIRBY: I’m not trying to suggest anything one way or the other. What I’m saying is we do know that they are taking actions along that border to try to secure the 98 kilometers, which remains an issue – an issue that they have said so themselves. I’m not saying that recent military activity is designed for that or any other specific purpose. It is a matter of fact that they are working to secure that stretch of border. But I’m not going to comment on specific military activities --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: -- of another nation inside their borders right now. I just don’t – I don’t have anything additional to say on that.

QUESTION: Well, your predecessors did all the time, particularly with Russia and movements in – near the Ukrainian border. So you’re very selective about when you’re going to talk or not talk about other countries’ military operations inside their own borders. But I just want to know, are you saying that what the Russians are seeing and claiming to be a possible – could be related to the Turks’ attempts to seal off this stretch?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I don’t have any additional comment on Turkish military activities at this particular time. Stop. It is a fact that they continue to support counter-ISIL efforts inside Syria. It is a fact that they continue to work to try to secure that 98 kilometers of border through military means. But I’m not going to speculate about what the Russians are seeing as and claiming are a future invasion of Syria by Turkish forces. That is – so the Russians can claim whatever they want, and I’m not saying it’s true or not, but the Turks ought to be speaking for their military activities and their intentions. I won’t do that.

QUESTION: Does NATO have any role?

MR KIRBY: Does NATO have any role in what?

QUESTION: Well, in what the Turks are or are not doing.

MR KIRBY: The --

QUESTION: I mean, as a NATO ally, you would expect that they would – if they were doing something that was preparatory for a military action, that they would let their allies know. Correct?

MR KIRBY: They – two things there. One, the coalition to go after ISIL is not a NATO mission. They are part of the --

QUESTION: I never said it was.

MR KIRBY: You just got to let me finish. I got two thoughts. You only – you didn’t even let me get through the first one.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MR KIRBY: It’s not a NATO mission. It’s a coalition mission to go after ISIL. Again, I am not going to speak for potential future military operations of the Turkish military. Number two, that obviously there are commitments inside the NATO alliance in terms of coordination of military activities. I would let NATO speak to whether they’d been so informed or if there’s any – if there was any communication between Ankara and NATO leaders. I don’t have anything specific to read out on that.

QUESTION: John, given Ankara’s --

QUESTION: Can we go to --

QUESTION: Wait. Just one more.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Yeah. Given Ankara’s antipathy to Assad, has the U.S. warned the government to not do anything aggressively towards Syria?

MR KIRBY: Has the U.S. Government --

QUESTION: Warned.

MR KIRBY: -- warned the Turks not to do anything aggressive in Syria?

QUESTION: Yeah, against the Assad government.

MR KIRBY: The fight inside Syria, the fight that the Turks are a part of, is about going after ISIL, going after Daesh.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: And that is what the Turks continue to contribute to. That’s the effort that they’re contributing to. And again, as to any specific military activity on any specific day by the Turkish military, you should talk to folks in Ankara about what their intentions. Obviously, just so it doesn’t – it’s not misconstrued that I’m somehow ducking your question, we continue to believe that there’s no military solution to the conflict in Syria. I’m not talking about terrorism and counter-Daesh efforts.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: I’m talking about the civil war in Syria.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: We continue to believe that that has to be solved through political solutions, through political dialogue, through getting the parties together and working through this transition. And nothing’s changed about our view that that’s the ultimate answer there. Okay?

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: John, can I follow up on this? Given the breakdown of the talks yesterday, do you still believe that the Russians are serious about a diplomatic channel here?

MR KIRBY: First, we wouldn’t call it a breakdown. Special Envoy de Mistura referred to it as a pause. And as a pause, it’s our expectation that it will be temporary. He also said that he expects to be able to get the parties back together before the end of the month. And as I said yesterday, we fully support that, as we do his decision to pause. So it’s not a breakdown.

And for your second – the second part of your question, about whether we think the Russians are serious about it, I can only point you to what Foreign Minister Lavrov told the Secretary just last night in a phone conversation, where he reaffirmed the importance of finding a political solution to the conflict and to working towards a ceasefire. So his own words, representing his government, would indicate that, yes, they – that they still are serious about trying to get to a political solution there. And we hope that’s – we obviously hope that that’s the outcome, that’s that what comes about.

QUESTION: There was a tweet by a Syrian activist about half an hour ago, who met with Kerry in a civilian meeting in London, who said that Kerry had told the meeting he expected the Russians’ assault to increase in Syria.

MR KIRBY: The Russian assault?

QUESTION: Assault, the Russian bombings.

MR KIRBY: Russian military activities?

QUESTION: Yeah, Russian military activities. Is that the general view from this Administration?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m certainly not going to speak to specifics of a conversation that the Secretary had while in London. It’s our view that Russian military activity in Syria continues to bolster and support the Assad regime; certainly indicates or signals an indication that the regime, supported by Russia, continues to try to find a military solution to problems that really require political solutions; and number three, do not contribute in any meaningful way to the fight against Daesh inside Syria. I’m not – no more than I was able to predict for Matt what the Turkish military may or may not be doing on their border, nor am I able to predict what the Russian military may or may not do in future days in Syria.

What I can tell you is what we’d like to see. We’d like to see Russian military activity be used to support the delivery and aid of humanitarian assistance of people in need, and military capabilities can lend to that. We’d like to see Russian military activity in Syria be dedicated, focused exclusively on Daesh and not on opposition groups. And I think if we could get to that end in the future, then as we’ve said, there might be room for better communication, if not coordination, with the Russian military in Syria.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: But today – hang on. Today, it’s not clear that our – that we share the same outcomes from a military perspective in Syria. And without a common understanding of a shared military outcome, it’s difficult to get to a point where you can have any sense of coordination.

QUESTION: But I mean --

QUESTION: But can I just – can I just – one more.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: When we traveled to Moscow with the Secretary and he told us at a news conference that he had made giant progress with Putin and Lavrov and that they – there was a kind of a meeting of the minds of how these things were, it sounded like there was more progress. It sounds like now that there is some kind of withdrawal or a change of mind from the Russians on how they are going to tackle this. So from the point in Moscow to where it is now, it seems like a backtracking.

MR KIRBY: I think what I would – what I would say is we’re certainly seeing, at least in the very recent past, discordant messages. On the one hand, they assert that they want to see the political process move forward, that they want to get to a ceasefire, that they want to keep supporting the Vienna process. And on the other hand, we continue to see, as recently as yesterday, bombings in places like Aleppo that are not targeted against Daesh and that are having, intended or unintended, a dramatic effect on the civilians and civilian infrastructure there. So the actions to date have certainly not matched the words to date.

What we would like to see is that gap close. And as I said, when the Secretary spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov as recently as late last night, he received assurances that the Russians were committed to that end. So we’ll have to see.

QUESTION: So --

MR KIRBY: It is important – I’ll get right to you. One of the reasons why – and I talked about this in my topper, in terms of his travel schedule – one of the reason’s why it’s important to get to this Munich meeting, get the ISSG back together – they haven’t been together now since December, since the UN – or when they met in New York. So the Secretary is convinced that now is a very propitious time to get the group back together and to discuss exactly the challenges that are represented by these recent actions and by the further displacement of civilians inside Syria and the need expressed by de Mistura to pause those talks.

QUESTION: A couple of things. First of all, just on that last point that – I mean, the need to get the ISSG back together – if it’s – based on what – on Lesley’s question, that certainly the promises that Russia made in Moscow are not being implemented now, what is another meeting going to do? I mean, are you hoping to shame the Russians at this meeting of X many countries for them to give more promises or guarantees that they’re going to stop the airstrikes?

MR KIRBY: No, I mean, the ISSG is not about shaming, Elise. But it is about --

QUESTION: Okay. So what is another – like what is – specifically at this meeting, I mean, beyond discussing what you’d like to see, I mean, are there any potential deliverables that you’re hoping to come out of this meeting, agreement on something, an agreement by Russia to stop the airstrikes? I’m just – I fail to see, like, specifically what this meeting is going to do in terms of stopping this escalation over the last week or so.

MR KIRBY: Sure. It’s going to give us a couple of opportunities, first of all to meet again with everybody who haven’t – they haven’t met together since December. There’s been a lot of developments since then, I think, so to review progress or lack of progress towards a political solution. So I think you’re going to see them sort of take a look at the last couple of months and see where we have been and what missed opportunities we may have experienced.

Number two, they’re going to talk about – they’re going to talk to Special Envoy de Mistura and get his readout of how things went in Geneva and where he thinks the next best opportunity lays in getting the talks resumed by the end of the month, before the end of the month. I think there’s a target date out there that he himself listed as the 25th of February. Obviously, we’d like to see that resumption of talks happen sooner if possible. So I think they’re going to talk about the prospect for the next round of talks.

And number three – and this is not insignificant – is really trying to drive towards the accomplishment of a ceasefire. We got into this a little bit yesterday, but the UN resolution on its face calls for a ceasefire, all by itself, not as any condition to talks. And we still don’t have one, and that’s obviously concerning for everybody, not least of which the Syrian people. So I think you’re going to see them really try to get at the issue of a ceasefire here at the next opportunity.

QUESTION: But how do you – give me a sec, please. How do you expect to get a ceasefire if the Russians will not agree to stop their airstrikes? I don’t know how – I mean, who’s adhering to the ceasefire? You can’t have a regime and an opposition --

MR KIRBY: Right now – right now there hasn’t been any adherence to a ceasefire, and we want all parties to --

QUESTION: Including Russia?

MR KIRBY: Absolutely. I mean, unless – as I said at the outset, unless Russian military activity can be directed only against Daesh, in support of coalition efforts against Daesh, then yes, we would like to see that Russian military activity cease.

QUESTION: It’s --

MR KIRBY: Because right now, almost exclusively it’s being dedicated to opposition groups, and it – whether intended or unintended – is causing civilian casualties. So yes, we want to see that Russian support to the Assad regime stopped. When we talked about Aleppo yesterday, it was Russian airstrikes, but they were in support in regime forces on the ground.

QUESTION: Does it matter?

MR KIRBY: It matters because --

QUESTION: I mean, if it’s against opposition --

MR KIRBY: It matters because it’s just further evidence that they continue to support the regime.

QUESTION: Right. I mean, without getting into your – Secretary Kerry’s discussion with the opposition, I mean, it sounds as if you’re bracing for more Russian airstrikes, which would kind of bely the idea that this meeting is going to lead to anything in terms of a ceasefire.

MR KIRBY: I’m not as certain as you that the meeting isn’t worthwhile to have or that it won’t have --

QUESTION: I’m not saying it’s not worthwhile to have.

MR KIRBY: -- or that it won’t have productive results. I mean, obviously, the Secretary will be going to Munich with the expectation that we can actually come out of there with some progress.

As for bracing for more airstrikes, it’s not about whether we’re bracing. We haven’t seen an end to them and we want to see an end to them, at least those that are not dedicated to going after Daesh. So it’s not about bracing for more. They simply haven’t stopped and we’d like to see them stop.

QUESTION: A couple of months ago you were talking about trying to find – even Secretary Kerry was talking about trying to find some leverage on the Russians to get them to stop their airstrikes. Now, as the talks – as talks about the Syria talks progressed and the kind of process progressed and you had this UN resolution and the process going, those – talk about kind of leverage on the Russians have stopped. But given the fact that Russia is escalating its airstrikes in Aleppo and other areas, is there renewed talk about how you’re going to apply leverage or pressure on Russia, particularly any kind of safe zones or anything like that?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any additional discussion about the safe zones. You know what our position has been on that.

QUESTION: So where is your leverage with the Russians to get them to stop this? Just telling them that they should stop doesn’t seem to be working.

MR KIRBY: It’s not about – it’s not about the United States applying leverage on Russia.

QUESTION: Of course it is.

MR KIRBY: It is about the international community applying the requisite pressure for them to meet their own commitments, commitments they signed up to when they signed on to that – to 2254.

QUESTION: But where’s the – like, how do they apply – I’m sorry. How do they apply that pressure?

MR KIRBY: The pressure should be on them intrinsically if they believe what they signed up to on 2254; to a unified, whole, pluralistic Syria; to a government that’s responsible for the Syrian people; to a ceasefire, as it’s stated in 2254, a resolution they signed. If they believe everything they signed up to, then the lever should be on them to simply meet their own commitments, and that’s what we want to see them do. And the Secretary, I think, has been more than candid and more than upfront with Foreign Minister Lavrov, as recently as their conversation, about what our expectations are for Russian conduct here.

But it is – let’s be clear, it is the Assad regime – their support, obviously, to the Assad regime which is allowing them to continue to propagate this violence on their own people and to make a ceasefire all the more harder to achieve. But it is an important aspect of 2254, and that’s why I think you’re – again, going back to my answer before, why you’re going to see that, I’m sure, prominently on the agenda in Munich at the end of next week.

QUESTION: John, I just want to follow up very quickly on this point, because Minister Lavrov told journalists, I think yesterday, that these strikes will continue. Does that, in your mind – or is it your interpretation that maybe the Russians are pulling back from their commitment, that there is no political solution, that there may be a military solution, that they see some changes on the ground that sort of leads them to believe that?

MR KIRBY: Well, I said as much yesterday and so did the Secretary in the statement that he released last night --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: -- that the actions that are being taken by the regime and its supporters, which include Russia, indicate or at least signal that there is a view that – by the regime and by Russia that there is, in fact, a military solution to the civil war in Syria because of who they’re going after. And we obviously don’t sign up to that. We don’t believe in that.

As I said at the outset, we still continue to believe that only a political solution will solve this crisis. And we want everybody else in the international community to support that same outcome, and, oh by the way, Russia themselves. If you look at signing on to 2254, which they did, and if you look at the communiques coming out of Vienna, which they signed up to, have said themselves, at least in writing, that they agree that a political solution is the way forward.

And again, I’d point you back to the conversation that happened just last night – I know the Russians read it out the same way – that Foreign Minister Lavrov concurred that progress needs to be made towards a political solution. We’d like to see their military activities back that claim up. And thus far, as you and I are sitting here talking about 1:35 in the afternoon, we haven’t seen that happen.

QUESTION: And so a very quick follow-up. So it is your conviction that the Russians are backing away from a political-only solution?

MR KIRBY: I don’t --

QUESTION: I mean, that’s what I get from what you’re saying.

MR KIRBY: We haven’t seen their military activity support their political statements. That’s how I’d put it.

QUESTION: At what point does the U.S. not trust the Russians’ word on this?

MR KIRBY: It’s not about trust. It’s about meeting commitments and obligations that as a nation-state they’ve signed up to – not just them, but, what, 19 – 18, 19 other members of the ISSG. The international community, spoken through the UN and the resolution, has voiced its consensus view that a political solution is the way forward. And all we want – all we want – is for every nation that signed up to that resolution to meet its obligations – every nation – and Russia’s one of them.

QUESTION: But what if they don’t? But what if they don’t? I mean, you said, yes, they haven’t – they’ve intrinsically signed on to this, that they should feel inside that they’re going to --

MR KIRBY: Well, what if they don’t?

QUESTION: What if they don’t? What is the U.S. prepared --

MR KIRBY: What if they don’t? Syria – the war continues, peace becomes ever more elusive, hundreds of thousands of more people will be displaced, killed, maimed, and the drastic refugee crisis that Europe faces will get worse. That’s what if they don’t.

QUESTION: You can answer hypothetical questions.

QUESTION: At least the ones you want.

MR KIRBY: Well, when I want to. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Can I just clarify one thing?

QUESTION: John, do you think the U.S. would just let this all play out though?

MR KIRBY: What?

QUESTION: But would the U.S. just let all of that play out though? Just allow the civil war to continue and the refugee flows to continue and for people to continue starve?

MR KIRBY: We have no intention of seeking that outcome, Ros. That’s why the United States has been such a leader in this effort. That’s why Secretary Kerry has spent so much time and will continue to spend so much time on this effort. It’s why we’re going to Munich next week and why I think you’re going to continue to see him very heavily engaged in this process. He is – we are all committed to bringing an end to the violence and the war in Syria. So if your question is, are we simply going to accept that outcome, no, we’re not. We’re going to do everything we can to prevent that from being the outcome.

But in order to do that, Ros, everybody who signs up – everybody who signed up to the Vienna communiques and to 2254 has to meet their obligations and commitments too. And that’s all we’re asking – is for everybody who signed up to it to meet their commitments.

QUESTION: But what happens --

MR KIRBY: Those commitments are crystal clear. You can go online and look at it.

QUESTION: But what happens to Russia if it doesn’t keep its commitments? I think that’s --

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to – now, I’m not going to speculate on what would happen to Russia necessarily or any other member here in terms of repudiation. I won’t get into that. We don’t want it to get to that point. All we want is for those who have signed up for these commitments to meet these commitments.

QUESTION: Can I ask you to clarify one thing in response to – well, first of all, this “Going to Munich” line to get a compromise is perhaps a historically unfortunate way of talking about this, but the --

MR KIRBY: This is in reference to World War II? Is that – well, I mean, look, it’s --

QUESTION: Let’s – but wait, but that’s – that’s just an aside.

MR KIRBY: No, no, wait. It is Munich. That’s where the meeting’s happening. And we are trying to get to a political solution --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: -- and that’s where the meeting’s happening, so I mean, I don't know how I could state it in any other way.

QUESTION: So you’re going to give away Czechoslovakia? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I don't know how I could have stated it any way in --

QUESTION: That’s – all right.

MR KIRBY: Well, I was a history major too, but I --

QUESTION: Could I – no, what – my serious point here is that in response to Elise, you said the UN resolution in Vienna just called for a ceasefire, it doesn’t have to be tied for – to the negotiations. Are you saying that a desired outcome of this next meeting is a ceasefire? Would – I mean, are you --

MR KIRBY: No, I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: So what --

MR KIRBY: I said that it would clearly be high on the agenda because it is --

QUESTION: Yeah, but is your hope --

MR KIRBY: -- obviously the most immediate need.

QUESTION: -- that this meeting could produce ceasefire?

MR KIRBY: We’d like to see a ceasefire today.

QUESTION: I understand that, but you’re not going to get it today, right? I mean, you realize that?

MR KIRBY: I see little prospect for it coming today.

QUESTION: Or --

QUESTION: Or do you see anything --

MR KIRBY: But we are going to certainly try --

QUESTION: In between now and the meeting, it looks unlikely as well, so --

MR KIRBY: I am not saying that – I’m not predicting that as a result of the meeting in Munich on the 11th that there’ll necessarily – that there will be a ceasefire achieved. But I am saying, quite clearly, that working towards a ceasefire today, tomorrow, over the weekend, and into the Munich meeting is going to remain a focus for Secretary Kerry, and if we can get that ceasefire tomorrow, then so much the better. We’re not going to stop. It is – it’s called for specifically in the resolution. It should have happened when the – the day the resolution was signed.

QUESTION: John, can I just ask you about something that’s coming out of Riyadh? Apparently --

MR KIRBY: Wait, wait, wait. Before we go to Riyadh, is there more on this?

QUESTION: It’s still doing Syria.

QUESTION: No, it’s about Syria.

QUESTION: It still has to do with Syria.

MR KIRBY: It has to do with Syria?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: Okay.

QUESTION: The military spokesperson just told reporters that the Saudis are ready to participate with ground troops in any operation by the U.S.-led coalition inside Syria against ISIL. Do you have a reaction to that?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments, so I’m – again, I’m not at liberty to speak to the sovereign military decisions of another nation. I haven’t seen those comments.

QUESTION: Would that be a welcome contribution from the Saudis? I mean, they’ve done some airstrikes in the past, but would this be a welcome part – addition to the fight against ISIL?

MR KIRBY: Obviously, in general, we want – we certainly – as we’ve said, we want members of the coalition against Daesh to look for ways to do more and to contribute more. So in general, additional capabilities lent to the coalition to go after Daesh is a welcome thing, but I haven’t seen this specific proposal. You’ve seen it before me, and I would not want to comment specifically on this until we’ve had a chance to look at it and review it.

QUESTION: And I know – yeah.

MR KIRBY: In general, we do want to see all the nations of the coalition continue to do more. And not just militarily, Ros, but --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- there’s many lines of effort here, and not every nation has troops committed to this effort or is conducting airstrikes, but they contribute nonetheless. We want to see all those contributions increase.

QUESTION: And given that there hasn’t been a ground effort inside Syria before now by regular troops from a given nation or any nation, could that further complicate the efforts to deal --

MR KIRBY: I would need to – I would need to take a look at the Saudi proposal before I commented, Ros. I haven’t seen it.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: So I’m not going to speculate about it until we’ve had a chance to take a look at it and review it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I change topics or are we still on Syria?

MR KIRBY: Did you have a Syria thing?

QUESTION: No.

MR KIRBY: You want to go somewhere else?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: All right. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue very quickly?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: I wonder if you have any comment. Today, the – an Israeli court sentenced two settlers to – one to life imprisonment and one to 21 years. I wonder if you have any comment on that for --

MR KIRBY: Sentenced to --

QUESTION: -- the burning alive of Muhammad Abu Khdeir back in the summer of 2014.

MR KIRBY: Oh, right. Yeah, we are aware that the Jerusalem district court has sentenced two of the defendants in the case of the murder of Palestinian teen Muhammad Abu Khdeir.

QUESTION: Abu Khdeir, yes.

MR KIRBY: We are glad to see that the Israeli justice system has pursued this matter and reached a conclusion for two of the defendants, and we’re going to continue to monitor the proceedings of this case. As we said at the time, we condemned in the strongest possible terms the despicable and senseless abduction and murder.

QUESTION: Now the Israelis have had the practice in the past where they go to the home – they had a long tradition and practice in the past of going to the homes of convicted terrorists and demolishing their homes. And their lawyer – their lawyer was saying that he is going to ask that the Israelis demolish the homes or the family homes of these terrorists. Would that be fair in your judgment, I mean, considering that the American ambassador a couple weeks back said that Israel has different standards, different in terms of dealing with violence committed by Palestinians versus committed by settlers and so on? Would be something fair that you would encourage the Israelis to do?

MR KIRBY: To?

QUESTION: To go ahead and demolish the homes of these convicted terrorists, the settler terrorists?

MR KIRBY:

QUESTION: You’re not familiar that they – the practice of the Well, look, I’m not familiar with those reports or that as a practice. Israelis going after homes, family homes of Palestinian terrorists?

MR KIRBY: In general, without speaking to that specific practice, we certainly closely follow the demolitions and evictions undertaken by Israeli authorities in several locations throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, leaving many Palestinians homeless. These actions are indicative of the damaging trend of demolition, displacement, and land confiscation; and alongside settlement-related activity and continued construction, they work against, we believe, the possibility of a two-state solution and they call into question the Israeli Government’s commitment to that two-state solution.

QUESTION: Hold on, John. I think you’re conflating two different things here. What he’s – what Said is talking about is punitive action against the families of Palestinians who were --

MR KIRBY: I know that. I said I’m only going to --

QUESTION: And you’re --

MR KIRBY: I wasn’t --

QUESTION: So --

MR KIRBY: I wasn’t familiar with that specific tactic, as I called it. But I did want to get at the larger issue of demolition and deconstruction, which he asked about yesterday.

QUESTION: Well, but wait a second. So I’m confused. So you look at the – you look at them the same way?

MR KIRBY: We would be concerned – no. You’re right; I gave an answer to a separate question, one that he asked yesterday --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: -- that I didn’t answer. Okay?

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: But I’m not conflating it. I knew what I was doing.

QUESTION: Okay. I just wanted – because it confused me, because I – so --

MR KIRBY: Well, we don’t want to ever confuse you.

QUESTION: No.

MR KIRBY: So I was answering your question from yesterday about demolition, which I know you didn’t ask but --

QUESTION: I got it. I was going to ask you --

MR KIRBY: -- I was ready for it.

QUESTION: Thank you for --

MR KIRBY: As for this, obviously we would certainly be concerned by it. If this was a punitive tactic, we’d certainly be concerned by that. But I’d have to go back and take a look at this deeper. I’m not familiar with that particular tactic.

QUESTION: Let me rephrase the question this way: Would you counsel the Israelis that these punitive tactics are counterproductive, that they should refrain from demolishing any homes, be it a terrorist settler or a terrorist Palestinian? Would you --

MR KIRBY: Look, so a couple of things. We’ve long said and I’m going to say it here again the Israeli Government has the right to protect its people, to national defense, to protect its citizenry from terrorist attacks, just like the United States Government does. And obviously, we’ve said before, we want to see in the act of doing that – like we would for any nation-state, not just Israel but any nation-state – we want to see a proper process here and due course being observed and international obligations being observed.

On the destruction and demolition, I’ve given you what our position is on that writ large, okay. As for your specific question about it being a punitive tactic, again, I’d have to look at this more deeply. But certainly, if that were the tactic being applied, that would certainly concern us.

Now, as for the degree to which we have or will communicate that specific concern to the Israeli Government, I wouldn’t speak to the details of diplomatic discussions. But I can assure you that we’ve long made our concerns known about demolition in a broad sense to Israeli authorities.

QUESTION: Do you – can I just, as a related matter, do you have any comment or view of President Abbas visiting the families of some of the Palestinians who were killed after attacking Israelis and calling them martyrs?

MR KIRBY: We are aware of the reports of him having this meeting. As we understand it, the families sought the meeting to argue – or for him to advocate or ask him to advocate for the return of the remains of their families.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: So I mean, we’re aware that he had this meeting and that’s the basis under which we understand the meeting was had.

QUESTION: And you’ve long called for an end to incitement.

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: And you view this as what – not the fact that he just went to hear them make their appeal for the remains, but the fact that he called them martyrs. Do you view that as incitement or is this – is it --

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, I’m --

QUESTION: How do you see it?

MR KIRBY: I’ve been scrupulous about not characterizing each and every sentence uttered and each and every act. That said, let me be clear, we continue to stress the importance of the Palestinian leadership to strongly opposing violence in all forms. That’s what we want them to do.

QUESTION: You don’t consider these people martyrs? Is that what you’re saying?

MR KIRBY: We strongly urge the Palestinian leadership to continue to oppose violence in all forms, and as we’ve said, affirmative steps are needed to calm the tensions and reduce the violence.

QUESTION: So just to make it perfectly clear, you have no particular objection to Abbas going to meet these families. What your --

MR KIRBY: If --

QUESTION: -- problem – the problem is that you would have liked him to say, your family member should – shouldn’t have attacked people? That’s --

MR KIRBY: We want – in short, yes. We want to see Palestinian leadership use every opportunity they can --

QUESTION: Okay. And you don’t --

MR KIRBY: -- to strongly oppose the use of violence as a tactic here.

QUESTION: Right. And do you think that this visit did that, or did it do the opposite?

MR KIRBY: If – I’ve seen – all I’ve seen is press reports about what he said, Matt. But if he said what he said, then yes, that would be deeply concerning to us.

QUESTION: John, just to follow up on this point very quickly. Now, aside from the visit and so on, the Israelis have used holding the bodies as Palestinians killed as a form of punishment and to agonize and sometimes for weeks and so on. Do you call on them, maybe once someone is killed, to release that body so the family can bury him and sort of move on, so to speak?

MR KIRBY: I think we’ve talked about this before, Said. I mean, look, we – what we want to see is the violence end. We don’t want to see – there shouldn’t be a need for a discussion about the return of remains for families that want them or for a government to dispute that if nobody’s falling victim to this kind of violence. So what we want to see more than anything is for the violence to stop so that there isn’t this discussion about the return of remains.

Yes.

QUESTION: Libya?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: I know the focus is on getting a national unity government before opening up a new front against ISIS in Libya by the international community so there’s political engagement, but given the problems that national unity government is having and they’re not getting it sorted and the growing pressure because of ISIS growth in Libya, are there any other scenarios or plan Bs being discussed? And I’m asking this because of the meeting last week that President Obama had talking about the options for an intervention or military --

MR KIRBY: Well, you’re right that we still believe that the best way forward in Libya is movement towards the unity government and to political solutions to the problems there. It’s not all that different than what we’ve said before about the rise of Daesh elsewhere, that the best antidote to a group like that, to terrorism in general, is good governance, where people have a government that is responsible for them and responsive to their needs, a government that can establish a sense of security and stability, where borders can be protected and maintained, and where people can go about having a normal life earning a living, educating their children, putting food on the table.

So good governance is really the long-term sustainable answer to a group like Daesh. That said, the – there are – as the fight against Daesh elsewhere in Iraq and Syria, there’s multiple lines of effort on a group like that. And I wouldn’t get ahead of any specific decisions that national security leaders have made with respect to Daesh’s growth in Syria. It is something that we have watched for many, many months, continue to watch. And I can assure you that – again, without speaking to specific scenarios – that national security decision-makers here in the United States will do what they have to do to protect the American people and to protect our interests overseas. And we’ve proven capable of doing that against this group in places outside Iraq and Syria.

So again, I won’t – I won’t get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made – certainly not military decisions. But I do want to stress that moving towards a political process and political solutions in Libya still remains a very important goal, because we continue to believe that sustainable defeat of a group like this is best done through good governance. And so that’s why we’re still going to stay – here at the State Department we’re very focused on that goal and seeing that effort conclude positively. And that’s where our heads are right now.

QUESTION: I understood. But would you – would you say that there is a growing sense of urgency about the ISIS threat in Libya that might possibly outpace progress on the (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: There has been – there has been, I think, a sustained sense of urgency about the growing threat of Daesh outside Iraq and Syria – to include Libya, to include Afghanistan – for many, many months now. I don’t know that I would just put a time peg on it and say just in recent weeks. It’s been a sustained concern that we’ve had for, again, almost a year now as we’ve watched this group try to spread, whether through aspirational efforts or actual development of functional capabilities outside Iraq and Syria. So it’s something we’re very focused on.

And again, our role here at the State Department is to pursue those kinds of political solutions. But broadly speaking, I can tell you that the national security leaders in this country are not going to take options away from the commander-in-chief as he has to make decisions of his own to counter new threats.

QUESTION: Yeah. But I mean, these discussions, I think I remember General Allen talking about them before he left about discussions about what – whether there should be another front on Libya. And I mean, as these discussions have gone on over the past year ISIS has nearly doubled there, so I mean, at what point do you – while you focus on this political solution and all, shouldn’t the coalition be considering more robust measures to deal with this swelling presence? Because the political solution in Syria is --

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- in Libya, sorry – is not only fragile but not guaranteed?

MR KIRBY: I think, again, this is something we’ve watched for a long time. I know that --

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR KIRBY: I know that coalition leaders have watched it for a long time. And I’m not going to – any more than I would on any given day, I’m not going to speak to military options and potential. What I can tell you is that it is not their – their efforts to grow elsewhere is not going unnoticed by anybody in the national security decision-making establishment, and that we’re going to do what we have to do to protect our interests and protect the American people. Here at the State Department our focus is on the political process moving forward, and the Secretary has spoken to the need for moving forward on a unity government there in Libya. And we’re going to stay at that work. I mean, he was just in Rome, as you know, discussing this very – this very issue. But I can assure you that everybody is focused on this. And it’s not just Libya. We know that they’re trying to gain a foothold in Afghanistan as well. Again, the long-term antidote to a group like this is good governance.

QUESTION: Related to that, the Italian newspaper La Stampa is reporting today that the U.S. Government has put a lot of pressure for a month on Italy to lead the military intervention in Libya. Is there any truth in this report, and do you want to see European powers leading a military intervention in Libya?

MR KIRBY: Well, first I’d say Italy, as you know, is a very close friend and ally. And again, the Secretary was just in Rome having discussions with other international leaders about the crisis in Libya and where that’s going. I wouldn’t speak for Italian Government intentions one way or the other with respect to the use of their military. That is really for them to speak to. Those are sovereign decisions. But we appreciate the leadership they’ve shown. We appreciate their contributions to the coalition to go after Daesh. And again, what they might do with their military assets is really for them to speak to.

QUESTION: John, on Libya, on this point, I mean, there are reports that Daesh is preparing to attack the oil facilities. So would that be like an urgent situation and alarming situation that would call --

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: -- for some sort of a military response?

MR KIRBY: I think you heard the Secretary talk about this, that having them with access to those kinds of revenues and that kind of financing is a dangerous thing that nobody wants to see. But if you’re asking for me to predict or to get ahead of decisions that may or may not have been made in terms of what coalition activities might occur, I can’t do that; I wouldn’t do that.

What I can tell you is that the international community through the coalition, which now includes 66 members with Afghanistan joining the effort, is very committed to shutting this group down, to destroying and degrading their capabilities. We’ve said all along it’s going to take a long time. It’s going to be a long fight, difficult fight. We’ve said all along from the very beginning that we know this group has aspirations outside Iraq and Syria. They certainly have proven that true. And we’ve said all along that it’s going to take more than just military efforts to defeat them, and that is also proving true. But I – obviously, nobody wants to see them get access to more sources of revenue to continue to finance their terrorist activity. And what I can say, without getting into specifics or predicting, that leadership across the coalition is dedicated to stopping that movement – to not allowing them access to additional revenue.

Yeah.

QUESTION: New topic. Do you have anything on this State Department inspector general memo to Pat Kennedy and the State Department that the inspector general investigation into five prior secretaries’ use of private email, which we’ve talked about before, but that it has found some classified information on other former secretaries – Secretary Powell and Secretary Rice?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that we’re in receipt of a letter from the IG regarding sensitive information, and I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to comment more than that. We’re in receipt of it. We’ll respond accordingly, but beyond that, I can’t comment.

QUESTION: Are you also in receipt of Congressman Cummings’ letter to the Secretary which asked for additional information about this memo?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I’m going to have to check. I’m not aware that we’re in receipt of that correspondence.

Catherine, you’ve got your hand up right there.

QUESTION: Yes. Yeah, I have some related questions. Did the IG find any evidence that previous secretaries of state used private servers for government business?

MR KIRBY: I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to comment further on this issue. As I said, we’re in receipt of the letter. We’ll respond accordingly.

QUESTION: Friday you announced the withholding of the 22 top secret emails. Are there additional top secret emails that have been identified?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any.

QUESTION: Okay. Final question: Did Mrs. Clinton, Cheryl Mills, or Huma Abedin take the required classification training?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that State Department employees are trained in how to handle sensitive information. That training can take place in numerous ways. In some cases – for instance, in the case of the secretary – that training process does include in-person briefings.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Is – was this documented?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to go into any more than I just gave you. We know that State Department employees are trained in how to handle sensitive information. It takes place in many ways.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: And in the case of the secretaries, one of the ways is in-person --

QUESTION: When you say “the secretary” --

QUESTION: But I’m just --

QUESTION: -- do you mean Secretary Clinton or all secretaries?

MR KIRBY: All secretaries.

QUESTION: Okay. I just – because there is a lawsuit seeking records on this, and the State Department has responded by saying that there are no responsive records. So I’m trying to understand whether this training was documented.

MR KIRBY: Again, everybody here is trained on how to handle sensitive information. Sometimes that takes place in in-person briefings, and I can’t comment any further.

QUESTION: So the three of them did have training is what you’re saying.

MR KIRBY: State Department employees here are all trained in how to handle sensitive information.

QUESTION: So they would not be an exception.

MR KIRBY: Everybody that works at the State Department gets trained in how to handle sensitive information. Sometimes that’s done in-person briefings.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: And again, I can’t comment any – additionally.

QUESTION: John, when you – in response to the earlier question about are there more than 20 – are you aware of more than 22 being classified top secret, you said, “Not that I’m aware of.” Does that mean that the review has been completed for the outstanding – the emails that have not yet been released and you are able to say that with certainty, or is it possible that there could be more?

MR KIRBY: I am not aware of any additional email traffic that has been or will be upgraded to the TS level. If in the additional review that’s ongoing – and as you know, we still have emails that we have not released, and we’re working through that – if in that review upgrades need to be made, then we’re going to make those upgrades. We’ll make them appropriately, and then when I stand up here and talk about it, I’ll tell you what they are.

QUESTION: Right. But when you say that you’re not aware of any that will be, that suggests that at least some kind of preliminary review has been done of the ones that have not yet – of emails that have not yet been released and it’s been determined by someone that there isn’t anything top secret. Is that correct?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of exactly where we are in the process. I can just tell you that I am – as I stand here today with you, I’m not aware of any additional traffic that will be upgraded to top secret. But the review is ongoing, and we need to let that process go. And if there needs to be upgrades, we’ll upgrade appropriately. But I’m not aware of any additional traffic that needed to be or will be upgraded to TS at this time.

QUESTION: So there was a – you were asked about this yesterday or the day before, about this congressman who said that there were seven additional top secret ones. That is just wrong, according to you, right?

MR KIRBY: As I said, we’re not aware of any additional.

QUESTION: Same topic?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Taking aside this specific instance, just looking at who has access to the State Department archive system, is there any concern, if there were classified material on there, about who would have access to that system?

MR KIRBY: Is there any – say that again? Is there --

QUESTION: Were it to be determined that there were classified emails that were being stored on the State Department archive system, is there any concern about who would have access to that system? Is it a protected system as far as classified information?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, we just got this letter and we’re going through it right now. We’ll respond appropriately to the IG, and I’m just not going to be able to comment further at this time. In general, obviously, we take the protection of sensitive information very seriously here. I’ve also said, in general, the Secretary has said we know that we can do a better job both in terms of how we handle information as well as the public release of that – transparency – and that’s why he hired a transparency coordinator, that’s why he asked the IG to go take a look at this stuff.

But look, we just got the letter. We’re going to work our way through it, and we’ll respond appropriately to the IG in that regard. I’m not going to be able to comment further.

QUESTION: But just as far as the public having access to that, it would still go through a FOIA request in order for an email or something stored in the State archive system to be released. Is that --

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on the State archive system or how that’s managed. What I can tell you is that when we get Freedom of Information Act requests, we try very hard to accommodate them to the maximum extent possible, but in so doing, you have to balance speed with the protection of sensitive information, and we try to do that very carefully. I don’t have any additional comment with respect to the contents of a letter that was sent from the IG to the Department. And again, we’re in receipt of it, we’re going to review, and we’ll respond to the IG in the appropriate fashion as quickly as we can.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: He can go ahead, then I --

MR KIRBY: I didn’t think there was another one.

QUESTION: No? Okay. But I just want to be clear, the IG at the State Department has never seen another instance where a secretary used a private independent system for government business?

MR KIRBY: Are you asking me if they have?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: But you’re saying that’s a possibility?

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying, Catherine, is I can’t speak for the IG. You’re asking me to speak for what the IG has seen or hasn’t seen in the past.

QUESTION: So what do you know?

MR KIRBY: I know that we’ve got the letter, I know that we’re going to respond accordingly, and beyond that, I’m just not going to comment right now.

QUESTION: Okay. One final thing: You keep using the term “upgraded” for the emails, but in terms of the special access program intelligence, there are two sworn declarations from the CIA that they were top secret at the moment they were transmitted to the server. So why do you use the term “upgraded?”

MR KIRBY: When we talk about upgrade, Catherine, it’s a process issue. Our job here at the State Department with respect to these emails – and this is not an unimportant fact that I hope you’ll appreciate – 55,000 pages were turned over by former Secretary Clinton. These are 55,000 pages encompassing a little bit more than 30,000 emails that her team decided were professional in nature and met the requirements. And so we’re going through them and we’re going through them methodically.

We are not – in doing that, our job is not to make an assessment of – hasn’t been to make an assessment of the content of it – I shouldn’t say the content of it – to make an assessment of the degree to which it was classified at the time, but to make sure that in its release through the Freedom of Information Act, we’re appropriately protecting information. That’s been – the largest part of the effort is – so when I talk about an upgrade, it’s taking email traffic that clearly was sent on an unclassified network and saying, “We need to classify either it in whole or in part to protect it for public release.” That’s when we – that’s what we call an upgrade.

Now, there’s a caveat to what I just said, because when – you know when we put the tranche out last – like, it was last week, right at the end of the month, and we acknowledged that some of the traffic was top secret, I said at the time that the State Department will undertake – because we feel obligated to – will undertake a review to deal with the issue of classification at the time it was sent. But by and large, when we talk about upgrades, the way we’re using that phrase is to describe the act of properly classifying and securing sensitive information for public release that obviously was – and we haven’t seen a case yet where it was marked classified at the time it was sent, but that we have to deal with it appropriately now.

QUESTION: Right. So are you challenging sworn declarations from the CIA that they were top secret at the time of transmission?

MR KIRBY: As I said last week, it was at the request of the intelligence community that we specifically upgraded that traffic to top secret.

QUESTION: Okay, so you don’t dispute that.

MR KIRBY: If we had disputed it, we wouldn’t have upgraded it --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: -- to TS at the request of the intel community.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: And I would say we’ve had a strong partnership with the intel community throughout this process, and we look forward to that continuing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody. I gotta go.

QUESTION: Wait, wait. I got one more. Just – it’s very brief, but for the second --

MR KIRBY: You always say that.

QUESTION: For the second day in a row, Senator Leahy, acting at the behest --

MR KIRBY: Senator Leahy?

QUESTION: Yes, Senator Leahy.

MR KIRBY: You’re not referring to yourself.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) No, no, no. Referring to an elected senator of the United States. On the – at the behest of Senator Cruz has blocked the confirmation of several State Department nominees. I’m just wondering – this is Groundhog Day week, and it’s – in order to prevent this, I mean, is this – are you guys going to push for this to keep happening, or is someone going to reach out --

MR KIRBY: Are we going to push for continued holds?

QUESTION: No. For – I mean, Senator Shaheen and others keep bringing these nominations up and they keep getting shot down or blocked by Senator Cruz. And I’m just wondering, is anyone going to reach out to Senator Cruz to try and deal with this, or are you just going to keep throwing this stuff and having him bat it down?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, the question presupposes that that’s all we’re doing, that we’re not actually trying to engage members of Congress to get to resolution.

QUESTION: Well, is anyone trying to engage Senator Cruz?

MR KIRBY: We are engaging with members of Congress. I won’t talk about the specifics of who and what and when, but we are engaging members of Congress to try to get these holds lifted. The Secretary has been very actively engaged in communication with congressional leaders on this. And as I said yesterday, the work of foreign policy and advancing American foreign policy is too important for us to continue to deal with these vacancies and without these confirmed positions.

QUESTION: Right. But you don’t know if he is planning to get in touch with the senator --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to the specifics of our communications with members of Congress, either past or future. What I can tell you is that the Secretary is very engaged with congressional leaders on this and will continue to be so.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:14 p.m.)

 



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