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Foreign Policy Analysis
Foreign Policy Update: 2016 Priorities

Foreign Policy Update: 2016 Priorities

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome
to the Foreign Press Center again. Very pleased to welcome you today. We’re happy to have
a briefing with our Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and State Department
Spokesperson John Kirby. Sir? MR KIRBY: Thank you, Orna. Hey, everybody.
How are you all doing? All right. I don’t think I’ve been able to make it over here
before, so I’m really glad to be here. There is – as you know better than I do, there
is a lot going on in the world, and Secretary Kerry remains heavily engaged in all kinds
of issues. I’m sure some of those issues are issues that you’re going to want to
talk about, and I’m more than happy to talk about them with you. But today, as I start out here, I want to
focus my opening comments on Syria, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to
any of you given recent developments in just the last few days, if not few weeks. So if
you’ll bear with me, I do have some opening comments that I want to get through, and then
we’ll get right after your questions. But as you know, the United States remains
deeply focused on working to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people, advancing
a negotiated political transition that stops the violence and resolves this crisis, and
collaborating with our international partners to degrade and defeat Daesh. Is that me? All
right. I’ll try it again. Over the past week, Secretary Kerry and senior
department officials have engaged on these fronts at the countering ISIL ministerial
in Rome, cohosted by the Secretary and Foreign Minister Gentiloni; at today’s Syria Donors’
Conference in London; and at the start of UN-led negotiations in Geneva. Let me talk about London first. This morning
at the donors’ conference, the Secretary announced that the United States is providing
nearly $601 million in additional lifesaving assistance for those affected by the war in
Syria. This new funding brings the total U.S. humanitarian assistance to over $5.1 billion
since the start of the crisis. 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 Secretary also announced more
than $290 million in U.S. development assistance for education to Jordan and to Lebanon. The Syrian humanitarian crisis, already disastrous
and unacceptable, is growing worse by the day. An estimated 13.5 million Syrians are
in urgent need now of humanitarian aid; 6 million of them are children. Hundreds of
thousands are still trapped in areas where food deliveries are nonexistent or rare. Syrian
men, women, and children are experiencing suffering, as you know, on an unimaginable
scale. Today’s conference in London, therefore, was an important opportunity for the international
community to come together and support these desperate humanitarian needs. Now, as we watch these horrors unfold inside
Syria, we’ve been clear that Assad and his allies from the very beginning have been by
far the primary source of killing, torture, and deprivation in this conflict. We remain
determined to stop this suffering by working closely with the international community to
reach a political transition that stops the fighting and leads to an inclusive future
with a government that can restore security and stability and that is responsive to the
needs of the Syrian people. Nobody should be forced to choose between a dictator and
being plagued by terrorists. So our challenge remains creating the conditions
through which an alternative can emerge. To that end, we fully support the UN-sponsored
negotiations, which have intended to focus on various aspects of a transition, a ceasefire,
confidence-building measures as well. The parties came to Geneva, as you know, last
week – an important step. As Secretary Kerry said today in London, UN Special Envoy Staffan
de Mistura has temporarily paused these talks to try to resolve some of the issues regarding
the next steps. We support his decision to pause these talks and we support very much
his stated intention to resume these talks as soon as possible, certainly before the
end of February. We never expected this process to be easy.
We knew it was going to be hard; we knew it was going to be complicated; we knew that
there would be remaining pockets of differing opinions that would have to be dealt with
and have to be worked out. That’s why it’s important, we think, to get these talks resumed
as soon as possible. Now in Geneva, U.S. Special Envoy for Syria
Michael Ratney led the U.S. delegation in support of Mr. de Mistura’s efforts. He
met regularly with the UN team, as well as with leadership and members of the Syrian
opposition’s High Negotiating – Negotiations Committee, including Dr. Hijab. Special Envoy
Ratney emphasized the need for all parties to engage seriously in the negotiating process
to achieve this political transition and the nationwide ceasefire that is obviously called
for in UN Security Council Resolution 2254. He also acknowledged, of course, the High
Negotiations Committee’s concerns, including the terrible humanitarian situation and the
urgent need for full, immediate, and sustained access of this humanitarian aid to all Syrians. Now, we continue to push for the implementation
of full humanitarian access to all those besieged areas now, today, the vast majority of which
are besieged by the Assad regime, independent – and we want this access to be independent
– of the political negotiations or a ceasefire. We understand and we share the opposition’s
strong beliefs that the Assad regime must stop blocking food and humanitarian assistance
from reaching those in urgent need and stop barrel bombing the Syrian people. As Secretary Kerry indicated in his statement
last night, which I’m sure many of you saw, the continued assault by Syrian regime forces,
aided by Russian airstrikes, against opposition-held areas, as well as regime and allied malicious
continued besiegement of hundreds of thousands of civilians, have clearly signaled the intention
to seek a military solution rather than a political one. Now let me be clear – and
we’ve said this before – there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria. So we continue
to call upon Russia to use its influence with the Assad regime to push for full and immediate
sustained humanitarian access to all Syrians in need. And we look to the Russian Government
to make such access happen, as it committed to do as a member of the International Syria
Support Group. As you may have heard me talk about a little
earlier, Secretary Kerry spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov last night. They talked about
this issue. And both of them agreed that it’s important for the political process to move
forward and it’s just as important for progress to be made towards a ceasefire. So we look
for Russia’s continued influence here in this regard and their cooperation to that
end. And as I said, we never expected it to be easy, but as the political process has
begun, we expect the parties to maintain their commitment to this process. Members of the International Syria Support
Group will have an opportunity next week in Munich to discuss how they can all – all
– better support the negotiations going forward. And during this pause – which,
again, we know will be temporary, and we expect the resumption of talks before the end of
the month – but during this pause, the United States is going to continue to work with the
members of the ISSG and others in one direction, and that’s towards stopping the oppression
and suffering of the Syrian people and ending, not prolonging, this conflict. We look forward
to the resumption of the talks, as I said, later this month. And again, the Secretary
very much looks forward to getting to Munich next week, to sitting down with the other
members of the ISSG, and working out what the best possible steps are to get to that
end. Yes, Andrei. QUESTION: Thank you. Andrei Sitov from TAAS,
Russia. Thank you, sir, for coming over and thanks to our friends at the FPC, as always,
for hosting this. You just referred to the necessity for cooperation on Syria between
our two nations, but I wanted to ask you about a different subject that was also raised by
Minister Lavrov in last night’s conversation with the Secretary. The Under Secretary of Treasury Mr. Szubin
recently made some pretty outrageous comments about the Russian president. And I’ve asked
my diplomat friends, and they say it’s unprecedented for our relations, and it’s a change in
policy on the American side, it’s unacceptable, all sorts of things. So I guess my questions
to you are, first, does the U.S. Government accept responsibility for those comments that
were made publicly and without any evidence? Does the U.S. – is – does the U.S. Government
intend to provide any evidence for those comments? And thirdly, but mostly importantly I guess,
what does it mean for our relations, this sudden escalation of rhetoric, at the time
when we need cooperation? Thank you. MR KIRBY: Well, I would – let me kind of
start where you sort of ended, and that’s the importance of the U.S.-Russia relationship,
which is complicated – there’s no question about that – but which remains very, very
important to the national security not only of the United States but to countries all
over the world, including Russia. It is a complex relationship. We obviously don’t
see eye to eye with Russia on every issue. Ukraine and progress there obviously is one
of those. But Russia has been a partner, a valuable
partner, in other aspects. And I can point to the Iran deal, where Russia was a key leader
in helping us get to that solution and to keep nuclear weapons capability out of the
regime in Tehran. And Russia continues to be a very active participant in our work with
respect to Syria, as I just outlined at the top. They were one of the four sort of founding
members, if you will, of what eventually became the International Syria Support Group. And
Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Secretary speak often about a range of issues. Obviously,
as you rightly pointed out, they spoke about Syria and the political process moving forward. But look, we’ve long had concerns about
corruption in Russia. That hasn’t changed. And I think our concerns remain today. We
believe – and the Secretary has talked about this, if you’ll go back to his speech in
Davos, where he talked about raising the issue of corruption as a national security imperative
here for the United States, corruption around the world. Corruption in all forms and in
many, many places causes populations and citizens to feel disenfranchised. It can spur extremism
and it certainly does nothing to try to contribute to stability and security in places all over
the world. So it remains a concern of ours in Russia,
but we’re committed to continuing to look for ways to work with Russia towards ends
that we believe are not only in our best interest but in the interests of the Russian people
and in the interests particularly in places like the Middle East. And again, we’re not
always going to see eye to eye with Russia on everything, but where we can work with
them, we certainly will. QUESTION: So I don’t understand. Do you
not accept responsibility for those comments, or you do? MR KIRBY: As I — QUESTION: What about evidence? MR KIRBY: This isn’t about evidence. As
I – the comments, as I understand, were made in an interview some six months ago.
I would – what we’re focused on is trying to work with Russia to get to a political
solution in Syria, one that can benefit millions of Syrian people that are desperate right
now – desperate for humanitarian assistance, desperate to have a country they can call
home. And that’s what our focus is on. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to turn
a blind eye to corruption concerns in Russia. Yes, sir. Go ahead. QUESTION: My name is Martin Reznicek with
the Czech television news. I would like to ask you a question regarding one news from
today. The U.S. Embassy to Czech Republic has expressed shock over the release of Mr.
Ali Fayad, who is a Lebanese Ukrainian citizen, and one more individual, in an apparent exchange
of five Czech citizens who were kidnapped in Lebanon last year. These individuals – these
two individuals were wanted by the United States on terrorism-related charges, and even
an extradition request had been put forward by United States. And now these people – they
were given, basically, back to Lebanon. So my question is: When your embassy says
that the cooperation in judicial manners between the United States and the Czech Republic will
be jeopardized, what exactly do you mean by that? And a twofold question: Although it
may seem contradictory to my previous question, but it seems to me unlikely that there has
not been any kind of cooperation between the United States and the Czech Republic in this
particular matter, at least being informed, consulted in the case. So what is your reaction
to that? Thank you. MR KIRBY: Well, I would – appreciate the
question. I mean, I think I’d point back to what our embassy said. We’re obviously
dismayed by this decision. These men were indicted in a U.S. federal court for conspiring
to kill officers, employees of the United States, conspiring to acquire, transfer, and
use antiaircraft missiles, and conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist
organization. So clearly we’re deeply concerned by this, and as our embassy said, dismayed
by this decision. The Prague High Court reviewed this case and agreed that they were extraditable
to the United States, and so their release, as I said, is of deep concern to us and certainly
isn’t going to help improve bilateral relations. That’s for sure. But I don’t think I’d
go beyond it right now. MODERATOR: Can we go to New York? MR KIRBY: Hmm? Oh yeah, we want to go to New
York. Yeah. Go ahead, sir. Thank you. QUESTION: Hi. This is Federico Rampini, La
Republica, Italy. The president of Italy is visiting Washington this weekend, and on Monday
morning he will meet President Obama. Syria and Libya will top the agenda of that meeting,
so my question is about Libya because of the special historical responsibilities of Italy
in that area. So in the fight against Daesh in Libya, are there any additional commitments
on the part of Italy – diplomatic, political, military commitments that are wished, that
are – that could be useful together with other allies, the United States, other member
of NATO, in that area? MR KIRBY: That’s a great question. As I
said, I think at the outset, the Secretary was just in Rome, where he co-led, co-hosted
a meeting with Foreign Minister Gentiloni to discuss ongoing efforts against Daesh to
continue to look for ways to degrade and destroy their capabilities, and they certainly talked
about Libya. And the growth of Daesh in Libya remains a concern for us. It has for quite
some time. We’ve been watching this group aspire to have a stronger foothold in Libya
now for many, many months – almost a year. So it obviously remains a focus area of us. As for additional contributions, I mean, look,
every nation in the coalition has to make these decisions for themselves. These are
sovereign nation-state decisions. It is a coalition of 66 countries now with Afghanistan
on board. And every nation contributes what they can, where they can, and how much they
can. It’s a coalition of the willing and that’s what it needs to continue to be. So the United States isn’t about browbeating
for certain capabilities, but we have said publicly and privately to every member of
the coalition that we’re going to intensify our efforts across all our lines of effort,
not just the military lines of effort, which get all the headlines, but all of them, and
we’d like other countries to do the same. But each country has to – obviously has
to speak for themselves. Now, Italy has been already a tremendous contributor
to the effort. The Carabinieri are an extremely professional force – and this is just one
example, of course – but they have lent their – the strength of their knowledge
and their capabilities to help train Iraqi Security Forces, and we’re grateful for
that. And we obviously would welcome additional contributions, but again, this is – those
are decisions that only Italian leaders can make. I would just like to end on this by saying
we’re grateful for the leadership that Italy has shown; we’re grateful for them hosting
this meeting in Rome to focus on Daesh so specifically and with an eye towards their
continued aspirational growth there in Libya. Yeah. QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Kirby. Thank you.
Donghui Yu with China Review News Agency of Hong Kong. It was reported by Reuters yesterday
that the United States is open to the possibility of naval patrols with Philippines in the South
China Sea. Would you like to confirm that report? If it comes true, are you concerned
that this action may – may be – may not be consistent with the U.S. stance that U.S.
take no position on the sovereignty issue in the South China Sea? Thank you. MR KIRBY: I think – thanks for the question.
There’s a couple of issues there. You’re right; we don’t take a position on the individual
claims in the South China Sea. However, we do take a position on coercion, which is to
say we don’t want to see nations coerced one way or the other into accepting some outcome
of these disputes. We’d like to see these disputes settled bilaterally or – and through
international norms, as appropriate. So you’re right; we don’t take a position. That said, we also have an obligation – and
I don’t want to delve too much into military activities. I’m no longer in uniform. But
we have an obligation to protect freedom of navigation and to foster freedom of navigation
anywhere around the world. And as our Secretary of Defense has made clear, that the U.S. military
will sail, fly, and operate in accordance with international law where they deem fit
and where they must. So you’re going to continue to see the United States Navy in
particular exercise the right of freedom of navigation all over the place, but certainly
in areas in the Asia Pacific theater; no question about that. As for joint patrols with the Philippines,
which was I think your specific question, I wouldn’t speak to potential future military
operations one way or the other. The Philippines is obviously a close friend and an ally, and
it is not uncommon for our two militaries to operate together in all the domains, not
just maritime but air and ground. And we have a relationship and we have capabilities that
we want to continue to try to improve and cooperation that should be enhanced. I wouldn’t
get ahead of any specific decisions. I don’t believe that the comments you’re
referring to – I think our ambassador was very careful to say that he also wasn’t
going to speculate one way or the other about future joint patrols, but was rather stating
a more broad issue of U.S.-Philippine cooperation and a strong military-to-military relationship
that we want to preserve. Ma’am. I’ll go to you and then I’ll
go back in the back of the room. You showed up over here, huh? All right. Good to see
you. QUESTION: Thank you very much. Very nice,
Mr. Kirby, to meet you here again. Jennifer Chen, reporter with Shenzhen Media Group.
Firstly, I would like to know is there any consideration or desire from a U.S. perspective
to establish a stable and mutually accepted mechanism this year on South China Sea with
China to maintain freedom of navigation for reducing the recent tensions and the possible
uncertainties from the U.S. election which may bring next year? And secondly, I know the diplomats are in
deep discussion about how to tighten sanctions and how to respond the violation regarding
to the North Korea’s announced plan to carry out satellite launch and hydrogen bomb test
before. Would you please disclose some detail or consideration about the sanction from a
U.S. perspective? And was U.S. satisfied with the recent negotiation with China? What’s
the next step? Thanks. MR KIRBY: Okay. Thanks. There’s a lot there.
I don’t know if I quite understood your first question, but I’m going to take a
crack. And if I didn’t get it, just tell me to shut up and I’ll try it again. (Laughter.) As I said, we don’t take a position on the
disputed claims in the South China Sea. We also don’t want to see tensions rise and
escalate, and there’s no need for them to. They shouldn’t. We want to see the disputes
resolved peacefully, diplomatically, through international norms. But the United States military has an obligation,
a responsibility, to look after the security interests of the American people, the United
States of America, and that includes a lot of security commitments in the region. And
we’ve made no bones about the fact that we are rebalancing towards the Asia Pacific,
and it’s not just a military rebalance. There’s a diplomatic component to this.
There’s an economic component to this. The President just gave a statement yesterday
regarding the signing of the TPP, which the United States participated in. I mean, there’s
a lot to the Asia Pacific rebalance. But I know the interest right now is on these issues
of security in the South China Sea. Nothing is going to change about our policy
with respect to what we want to see there, which is the tensions to de-escalate and the
claims to be resolved peacefully and diplomatically. That said, as I said a few minutes ago, we
still have an obligation, and that obligation does mean a component of protecting freedom
of navigation and freedom of the seas. That’s one of the reasons why a nation has a navy. But nobody wants to see tensions rise, and
the U.S.-China relationship is incredibly important to us, absolutely. And we were just
there, as you rightly pointed out I think in your second or third question. We were
just in Beijing to talk about a range of issues. Obviously, North Korea was top of the list
there, but there’s other issues that matter to the U.S. and to China. Again, a complicated
relationship; we don’t agree on everything, but there is a lot we can do together. Climate is a great example. We worked closely
with China to get to that COP21 agreement in Paris. So it’s an important relationship
that we want to obviously see improve and continue to mature. And the peaceful, prosperous
rise of China is something we welcome because it’s not just good for the region, it’s
good for the whole world. Now, on North Korea, as you know, we were
just in Beijing. The Secretary and Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a press conference after
that. They talked about the tensions there on the Korean peninsula. Both men agreed in
lengthy meetings that the North needed to be held to account for continued provocations
and violations of international obligations represented in a whole series of UN Security
Council resolutions. And they talked about that publicly after the meeting that they
both agree that more action needs to be taken. What we would like to see – and I can’t
speak for the Chinese, but I can tell you that there was general agreement that we’d
all like to see a strong international consensus here that – to hold the North to account
for these continued destabilizing activities and specifically with respect to this test
in early January. I won’t speak for the specifics of what
those measures ought to be. Obviously, sanctions are one such measure, and we are pursuing
in the UN the possible development of additional, tougher sanctions. That’s just one piece
of it. Obviously, you have to have tougher measures, but you also have to have good,
strong enforcement of those measures. And in the past, quite frankly, the enforcement
of past resolutions and measures hasn’t necessarily been evenly applied, and that’s
been a challenge. We believe that as a strong leader in the Asia Pacific region and as a
nation that borders the North, China has a unique role to play, has unique leadership
that it can exert and influence that it can bring to bear. And as we’ve said before, we’d like to
see them exert that leadership and to bring to bear that influence on the North to try
to alter the behavior of this very unpredictable young man. It behooves everybody in the region,
not least of all China, to try to get these – this kind of behavior and this kind of
conduct to stop, because it’s doing nothing to stabilize an already very tense peninsula.
And it’s certainly doing nothing to put food in the mouths of the North Korean people
instead of spending money on dangerous military capabilities. Imagine what that could be – that
could be – those resources could be used to actually look after the North Korean people,
who obviously have significant need. So we look forward to continuing the conversation
with China on this, and – bilaterally, but also multilaterally through the UN. And again,
the United States very much favors a strong international consensus represented through
the UN to hold the North to account. Okay, back here. Go ahead. I know, I need
to go to the TV here too, don’t I? All right. QUESTION: Thank you, sir. MR KIRBY: You bet. QUESTION: A follow-up question on the North
Korea issue, and China has proposed that maybe we can adopt the practice as we did in the
Iran nuclear deal. So what is your comment on that? MR KIRBY: Adopt the process — QUESTION: Yeah, like the similar practice
on the Iran nuclear issue. MR KIRBY: For North Korea? QUESTION: Yes, for North Korea. MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure. QUESTION: And also, can you give us more details
on the upcoming U.S.-ASEAN summit in California? Thank you. MR KIRBY: On the first, comparing North Korea
and Iran is very difficult. I mean, the Iran deal prevented Iran from ever getting those
capabilities. In the North, obviously, the pursuit of those capabilities is farther – is
far more advanced, number one. Number two, there’s already a process that
has been established to try to get to a better outcome here with respect to the North and
their pursuit of nuclear capabilities and that is the Six-Party process. And we have
long said that we are willing – able and willing – to resume the Six-Party process.
But the onus is on the North to prove that they are willing and able to do so, and they
have not yet shown any inclination. And as a matter of fact, they’ve gone quite the
opposite way to show that they have no interest in returning to the Six-Party Talks and to
the table to have a meaningful discussion about the denuclearization – verifiable,
permanent denuclearization – of the peninsula. And they have not proven that they’re willing
to do that. On U.S.-ASEAN, obviously, we all look forward
to this summit coming up in Sunnylands. I won’t get ahead of the agenda. I think you
can understand why I wouldn’t do that. The President will be hosting this for the United
States. But I will say just broadly – because we – in addition to going to Beijing, we
also went to Laos and to Cambodia; we were just recently in Vietnam – I can tell you
that Secretary Kerry remains very committed to the U.S.-ASEAN relationship and to looking
for ways to make it stronger and to improve our own abilities to cooperate together. ASEAN
has a very special role to play in that part of the world, and not just from a security
perspective. And again, we look forward to very robust, candid discussions there in Sunnylands.
There’s a lot to discuss, a lot to talk about across all different levels of effort,
not just from a security perspective. So we’re very excited about that. I announced
today, as a matter of fact, that the Secretary will be going to participate as part of the
State Department delegation. So again, we’re looking forward to that. Let me go to New York. QUESTION: Thank you, John. This is Majeed
Gly, Rudaw Media Network. It’s good to see you again, at least digitally. MR KIRBY: You too. QUESTION: I want to start with Iraq. As you
know, the Kurds, your allies fighting – as we speak, they are fighting ISIS on the front
line. And they are – just as recently the prime minister announced, they are in a very
desperate economic situation. You’ve been asked this about this issue, and they said
they asked for help from the allies. They didn’t say specifically the United States.
Has the U.S. Government been contacted for such help? Have you made any decision about
helping Kurds financially, especially the Peshmergas who are in the front line and they
haven’t received their salaries for months? And my second question is about Syria. Given
the process of halting the talks and with the pessimism that we are seeing right now,
many ask, is there a plan B? If these talks – we know it’s a long process. It’s
six months. It has ups and down. But if these talks in Geneva failed, does the U.S. Government
has a plan B for Syria to go forward? Thank you very much. MR KIRBY: Thank you. Good questions. So look,
we are – obviously recognize that Iraq, including the Kurdistan region, is suffering
under a heavy economic burden as they continue to fight Daesh inside Iraq. And during a time,
quite frankly, of low oil prices. We recognize that. We’re going to continue to assess
how to help Iraq shore up its economy, and we’re committed to assisting Iraq in its
mission against Daesh. I don’t have any specific decisions or announcements to make
today. But obviously, we’re mindful of this – of this burden that’s been placed on
the Iraqi Government and we’re going to continue to work with them to try to assess
the best way forward. On Syria, the – again, I want to remind
that the talks didn’t fail; they’ve been paused. We expect them to be resumed before
the end of the month. The next ways forward will obviously be a key focus of the meeting
of the International Syria Support Group in Munich on the 11th. And the Secretary’s
very much looking forward to getting over there to having those discussions, where they
will discuss what happened in Geneva this week. They’ll discuss the prospects for
a ceasefire, which we all want to see happen now, and they certainly are going to discuss
the issue of humanitarian aid and assistance. Again, the Secretary announced a major new
contribution by the United States today, but we’re going to look to the ISSG to see what
additional measures may be taken by the international community with respect to humanitarian assistance. So there’s a lot of work to do. But it is
important – to your question about plan A, plan B, they – what needs to happen is
a political solution to this conflict, not a military one. And what we want to see is
every member of the ISSG which signed up to the two Vienna communiques and signed up to
the UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which codifies that process and validates the need
for a political solution, to include a ceasefire – we want to see everybody who signed up
to that honor their commitments. That’s the way forward here. It’s not about plan
B, plan C, plan D. The – what needs to happen is everybody who’s made these international
commitments, these very serious commitments, needs to honor them. And that’s the best
way forward, and that’s how you get to an honest political transition. The second thing I would say to is – and
this kind of gets to your question about whether you have an alternate or not – nobody is
under any illusion, and never has been from the beginning, that this was going to be easy.
We knew it was going to be hard from the very beginning. And we knew that there were and
there continue to be, as we speak today, differences of opinions about how that political process
ought to look and how it should go forward. The issue of Assad and when he goes and what
role he plays in the transition hasn’t been resolved yet. Obviously, we called for a ceasefire;
there’s a ceasefire called for in the UN resolution. We don’t have a ceasefire yet. So there’s a lot of work to be done. And
frankly, one of the reasons why Staffan de Mistura had to call for a pause was because
it was difficult – and we understand why – difficult for the opposition to be able
to conduct even proximity talks with the regime while their own people are getting bombed
and innocent civilians are being hurt. So it’s not about finding an alternative.
It’s about making the choices and the decisions and the commitments that everybody signed
up to work. And that’s where the Secretary’s focus is going to be next week in Munich. Did that answer your question? You look like
you have another one. QUESTION: Just – no, no. Just want to make
sure I understood you correctly. You’re saying there is no alternative for this process
in the political process overall? MR KIRBY: The whole process is built around
alternatives – that’s the idea – and choices. And we want all the parties involved
to make the right choices. And those choices are in many ways codified in the international
commitments made through two communiques and the UN Security Council resolution. The other thing I would say is we’re mindful
that other parties have influence over other parties. So we want – as I said at the outset,
we want Russia to use its influence on the Assad regime to the right end, which is to
stop barrel bombing people, to stop killing opposition members, to stop the indiscriminate
killing of civilians, and to allow for humanitarian access to get to the people in need. We want
Iran to use its influence in Syria towards those same ends. And there – and we recognize
that there are other states, members of the ISSG, which have influence over some of the
opposition in Syria, and we want them to use that influence to keep the opposition willing.
And we’re glad – we were encouraged by them coming to Geneva. We want to see other
parties use their influence to continue to encourage positive opposition participation
in this process. So there are lots of choices that have to
be made. And what we’re trying to do, what the Secretary’s trying to do, is to encourage
the right choices to be made, for the right commitments to be honored. Okay. Back here. Yes, sir. QUESTION: Hi. I’m – my name is Lauri Tankler.
I’m with the Estonian Public Broadcasting. I have a question about Europe and the U.S.
relations with Russia. And it’s about – it’s more of a question of legacy, since there’s
going to be presidential elections coming up this fall. Is there any way that the U.S.
is – or this current Administration is trying to put the sanctions regime that’s already
in place, to put – make it last beyond this current Administration? MR KIRBY: What sanctions regime are we talking
about? QUESTION: Against Russia on – about – regarding
the — MR KIRBY: Ukraine. QUESTION: — Ukraine and Crimea. Or is it
something that is a question of mandate, that when the people, for example, want to elect
president Donald Trump, who wants to get rid of the sanctions regime, it’s about, though,
the question of mandate? It’s the same question about the European Reassurance Initiative,
the fourfold increase in the funding. How can you make sure that it’s going to last
beyond the current Administration, the current presidency and the secretary of state who
is in there right now? MR KIRBY: Well, I think you can understand
that I’m not able or – and certainly not willing to speculate about the future decisions
that the next president might make. That’s beyond our mandate here at the State Department.
What I can tell you is that with respect to Ukraine and the sanctions, we want to see
Minsk implemented. We want to see Minsk put into effect. And when it is, then there’ll
be – then you can get to the issue of sanctions relief. And we’ve been very open and candid
about that. That’s the key is to get to Minsk – get all the forces pulled back,
all the weapons pulled back, and get to proper access by OSCE so that – the OSCE so that
you can have meaningful elections and so that the Ukrainian people can decide their future. So that’s what we want to see. And when
that happens, then you can have a discussion about sanctions relief. And that’s it. It’s
not about trying to run out a clock. The international community, again, is united behind this, and
Russia themselves have indicated the importance of Minsk. And this is something that Foreign
Minister Lavrov and Secretary Kerry speak about quite a bit. So we want to see Minsk
fully implemented. I’m sorry, your second question was on? QUESTION: It was about the European Reassurance
Initiative and going — MR KIRBY: European – yeah. Look, so again,
the same thing – the same thing applies for ERI. I couldn’t predict – first of
all, I couldn’t predict who’s going to be the next president and wouldn’t even
try. And what that individual – what national security imperatives that that individual
focuses on is obviously beyond the scope of my ability to speak to right now, and I wouldn’t
do that. What I can tell you is that the European Reassurance
Initiative is important. I saw this obviously in my previous life as a military officer,
and I certainly see it here in light of – particularly important – in light of Russia’s actions
in Ukraine. And we have serious commitments to our European allies and partners that we
intend to honor. And this addition of funds, a fourfold increase proposed by the President
for 2017, underscores how seriously we take those commitments. Nobody wants to see any
of this evolve into additional conflict or insecurity on the continent, but we have obligations
we have to meet. That’s important in light of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. And so given the seriousness of those commitments,
the President has now made this proposal to increase that funding. And I can tell you
that Secretary Kerry is fully supportive of this, and that we’ll continue to make the
case and the argument, as we get into the budget season with Congress, for the importance
of moving forward and passing that proposal of President Obama’s, because we believe
it’s – the situation on the European continent still requires that, still warrants that. So again, we stand fully behind this – this
initiative, and we intend to keep seeing it through. And we’re going to continue to
work with members of Congress going forward as we – again, as we get into budget testimony
season. But what a future commander-in-chief will do about it, I couldn’t begin to guess. I’ll go back to New York. QUESTION: I have one more. MR KIRBY: One more? Let me go to New York,
and then I’ll take one more from here if that’s okay. QUESTION: Okay. MR KIRBY: Go ahead, New York. QUESTION: Hi, I’m Frances Berrocal from
Mainichi newspapers. Thank you for referencing the DPRK nuclear test and the ongoing negotiations
with China regarding an international response, specifically a Security Council resolution.
But my question is regarding to the missile launch that has been announced by the DPRK.
What bearing do you see that having on those ongoing negotiations? Intuitively, one would
think that it would accelerate things before it was sort of talked of that we would see
some sort of product from the council before the Chinese New Year, and now the talk has
shifted to after the Chinese New Year. So does that have anything to do with that announced
missile launch or what – how – what can you say in regards — MR KIRBY: Sure. QUESTION: — to what that announcement — MR KIRBY: No, I think I get the gist of it,
the announcement and whether that’s had – what effect that may have had on discussions
inside the UN with respect to additional measures against the North. So we’ve seen them – they’ve announced
that they’re going to do this – this, quote-unquote, “satellite launch.” And
as we’ve said very clearly, that such a launch using ballistic missile technology
is a violation of yet other UN Security Council resolutions and international obligations
by the North. But all we’ve seen is an announcement to do it, and I certainly wouldn’t get ahead
of that right now. We’re obviously going to be watching this very, very closely, as
are so many of our friends and partners in the region. And certainly, we don’t want
to see this move forward. I can’t predict what additional urgency
or additional actions might result from the UN as a result of if they – as a result
of a launch if they, in fact, conduct it. But clearly, that’s a discussion that I
can assure you international leaders will be – want to have if – will want to have
if such a launch takes place, because it will be, again, a violation of, as I understand
it, several UN Security Council resolutions with respect to ballistic missile technology. The effect that the announcement had or didn’t
have on the sense of urgency everybody feels over the nuclear test, I would say that that
sense of urgency hasn’t necessarily been changed by this announcement. Again, it’s
just an announcement right now at this point. There was already a heightened sense of urgency
and concern about the January 6 nuclear test, enough that there have been already serious
discussions and deliberations at the UN; enough that it was, without question, the top agenda
item when the Secretary visited Beijing last week. So there’s already a lot of movement
going forward on that, and I don’t know that this announcement has changed that momentum
in any significant way. It certainly, however, underscores the importance for a united international
consensus to deal with the provocative behavior of Kim Jong-un and the North. I’ve got time for one more. I’m going
to go back there. Yeah, you right there. Yep, you. QUESTION: Where was it? MR KIRBY: No, this guy right here. QUESTION: Excuse me. MR KIRBY: The guy without the tie. QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Thank you very much.
Sir, this is Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV, Pakistan. MR KIRBY: Yeah. QUESTION: So first, it’s about the peace
process in Afghanistan. It seems that every effort by the international community is not
working as Taliban continue to kill the civilians and the — MR KIRBY: Yeah. QUESTION: — security officials there. I mean,
but it feels that every country has its own agenda. I mean, Pakistan, China, Russia, Iran,
India, whatever – they’re working for their own interest, not for the interest of
Afghan nation. So it looks that a peace process seems to be failed. I mean, do you have some
other plans? If you — MR KIRBY: You asked me this question the other
day. It’s the same question. QUESTION: No, no, not (inaudible) the same
question, sir. (Laughter.) A different one. It’s a different one. MR KIRBY: All right. Well, see, now I’m
going to have to take one more. QUESTION: Yes, (inaudible). MR KIRBY: So – but let me – but let me
– no, no, hang on a second. I’m going to answer him. QUESTION: You can take a question for European
(inaudible)? MR KIRBY: I’m going to answer him and then
I’ll come up here, okay? So we talked about this the other day. We still believe in the
importance of an Afghan-led reconciliation process, right. And we welcome and want and
encourage neighboring nations like Pakistan to be inclusive in those discussions, and
we’re glad to see that the two have sat down and talked about this. We’re not – nobody’s
under any illusion how difficult that’s going to be. And you’re right; the Taliban
is still capable of violence and terror, acts of terrorism inside Afghanistan as – sadly,
as recently as just the last few days. But that doesn’t mean that the effort isn’t
still worth going after. And the Taliban’s not a monolith, and you know that very well.
There – we recognize that there’s going to be elements of the Taliban that are still
capable of these acts of violence, but we still believe that it’s important to move
forward because the Afghan people deserve that. They deserve peace. They’ve been at
war for what, three decades? They deserve a better future, and we continue to believe
that reconciliation is a step in the path towards that future. And we support the efforts
of President Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah in their united effort to get there. But you called it failed. And if you’re
saying, well, we haven’t gotten it done yet, then okay, I recognize that it’s not
done yet. But I don’t think anybody’s given up on the effort or the importance of
it. And the United States will remain committed to seeing that through and to supporting President
Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah as they work on that. And that’s one of the reasons
why – and you may have seen General Campbell up on Capitol Hill this week. It’s one of
the reasons why, from a military perspective, we believe our presence there is still important
to help contributing to the competence and capability of the Afghan National Security
Forces as they try to do a better job securing their own people and protecting their own
citizens. And they’ve done a remarkable job. They have come a long way in the last
two years. What we want to see for our part – the United
States – I’m speaking now as – for the State Department – is we want to see the
relationship with Afghanistan become more normalized. We’ve – it so far has been
– since 2002, 2003 it’s been – our relationship with Afghanistan has largely been on the security
vector, understandably so, but it’s now time to migrate that relationship to a more
normal footing and that is reflective of the progress that Afghanistan has made. Nobody says it’s not still a dangerous place.
We know it is. And again, recent events bear that out. But we believe that there is a potential
for a peaceful, prosperous future here for Afghanistan. We believe that a component of
that is maintaining support to the NATO mission there as we continue to improve the capability
of Afghan National Security Forces and go after terrorism there in Afghanistan, as well
as supporting in word and in deed the political process of reconciliation. It’s got to go
hand in hand. The United States is 100 percent committed to that. I’ll go up here. You? Go ahead. This will
be the last question, right. QUESTION: Thank you. This is Eleni Argyri,
Greek Public TV. Can you please confirm that the Secretary just recently warned five countries
– Greece was among them – that if they don’t manage to better control their borders
and eliminate the fake passport trade, they will lose the privilege of the visa-free travel
to the U.S.? And also in general, how are you planning to deal with the fact that the
main arrival point for refugees from Syria is in such a difficult economic condition?
Thank you. MR KIRBY: I’m – there’s been no coercion
or intimidation or effort to strong-arm Greece one way or the other when it comes to the
Visa Waiver Program. As you know, we have – as I said, one of our core responsibilities
is the security and safety of the American people. The Visa Waiver Program serves a purpose,
but there has to be a balance. We’re going to continue – we have to execute the law,
and we will. We’re going to continue to work with Congress in terms of the actual
implementation of the steps. And we’ve said that we understand the role Greece is playing
by dint of its geography in handling or having to handle the flow of refugees. And we recognize
the burden that’s being placed on Greek leadership and the Greek people by this, which
is why, quite frankly, the Secretary is so committed to trying to end the civil war in
Syria – so that Syrians don’t have to leave their country, so that they have a home
and they have a government that can look after their needs, so that other governments in
Europe aren’t likewise burdened. So we all have a responsibility, and that
was, again, one of the main points that the Secretary made while he was in London today.
There is – there are significant contributions that the United States is willing to make.
We obviously want other countries to do the same, and we’re going to continue to work
towards that end. Thanks, everybody. Appreciate this. It was

2 comments on “Foreign Policy Update: 2016 Priorities

  1. USA and company have been bombing for how long now? Now Russia has vastly succeeded where you have massively failed and you say they are the bad guys? Respect international law! Respect the UN! Cut the bull! Get your noses out of other people's business! Stop starting or supporting terrorist groups! Truth will set you free! The gig is up guys. We all know what you have done and why you did it. You never wanted to stop ISIL. You supported them so they could destabilize regions and you could install your own puppet governments. I have an idea. Support Russia! They follow the rules.

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