2:01 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: Can you hear me now? Is that better? All right. I mean, I can yell if you want me to just yell. I’ll do that, too. (Laughter.)
I just want to start with the – a short statement about the spate of terror attacks today. And then we’re putting out a statement as well, written statement. But I wanted to address it here from the podium.
The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s horrifying terrorist attacks in France, Kuwait, Somalia, and Tunisia, where dozens of innocent civilians – and in the case of Somalia, Burundian peacekeepers – were killed and injured. We express our deepest sympathy to the victims’ families and our heartfelt wishes for the recovery of those injured. The United States grieves with the people and governments of Burundi, France, Kuwait, Somalia, Tunisia, and other nations affected by these vicious attacks, and stands with them in solidarity as they reject terrorism, protect their communities, restore peace and security, and preserve through these tragedies – persevere, I’m sorry, through these tragedies. We will continue to work with all of our allies and partners to address the shared threat of terrorism and violent extremism and to degrade and destroy the ability of these terrorist groups to carry out their callous attacks on innocent people.
I also want to take a moment to welcome today’s participants in the U.S. Foreign Service Internship Program to our briefing. That must be all of you in the back there, the ones who are up here in the front fixing to grill me. Just in its second year, this initiative seeks to give talented and diverse college students a paid opportunity to see U.S. diplomacy up close, and also my pain. The State Department brings them to Washington for training and an internship the first summer and then sends them the next summer to embassies overseas. So welcome. We’re glad to have you here. You are absolutely entitled to ask any questions you want. I don’t have to answer them, but you can ask them. (Laughter.)
And with that, I think we’ll start with you, Lesley.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you very much. And I assume the Secretary got off – left for Vienna today? Can you confirm?
MR KIRBY: He did. He did.
QUESTION: I want to start off of these attacks in France, in Tunisia, and in —
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: — Kuwait. You called them horrifying, but the question is: Is there a possibility any of these are linked? Is the U.S. Government considering them as a – as one thing, or that there are common threads in them?
MR KIRBY: Well, there’s – I’ve seen no indication that at a tactical level that they were coordinated, which is what I think you’re getting at.
MR KIRBY: That said, I mean, they are – they – there is a common thread of terrorism here throughout them, clearly. And at the very least, regardless of who claims responsibility for them, certainly at the very least a representation of the continued threat of violent extremism. So from a thematic perspective, of course there are similarities here. That’s why we thought it was appropriate to make a statement at the outset about all of them. And again, I’ve seen nothing with respect to specific tactical coordination.
QUESTION: Well, just —
QUESTION: — coming back to Tunisia, I’m – is there any confirmation of American citizens wounded or killed?
MR KIRBY: I’ve seen nothing on American citizens that were – that fell victim. But as you know, Lesley, most of these victims were tourists, predominantly from Europe. I know at least one nation has identified – I won’t speak to other countries, but I know at least one nation has identified one of their citizens. But no, I’m not aware of any Americans.
QUESTION: Just one follow-up. The other – and has there been – do you know of any alert going out among the U.S. agencies on embassies being on alert for a bigger threat, or —
MR KIRBY: No special alerts going out as a result of these particular attacks today. That said, as you know, back in January we did issue a worldwide caution about travel in particular. And so that stands and stays in effect. I do think that in Kuwait our post there did put out an updated note to U.S. citizens there to avoid the area of the mosque that was targeted. But no, there is not going to – I’m not aware, and I don’t believe there are plans to issue a new warning with respect to these attacks.
QUESTION: Are you —
QUESTION: Can we talk about whether – I understand that you said maybe there’s not a common thread among them. But do you agree with the assessment that Tunisia was carried out by fighters inspired by ISIS as opposed to kind of receiving material support and direction?
MR KIRBY: Too early to say, Elise. And actually, I want to be clear that I think there is a common thread here of extremist –
QUESTION: But coordinated, I mean.
MR KIRBY: — activity. But I haven’t seen – I don’t believe we’ve seen any evidence of tactical coordination.
QUESTION: Tactical coordination among the three people or tactical coordination —
MR KIRBY: Tactical coordination between —
QUESTION: — with ISIS?
MR KIRBY: — the attacks.
MR KIRBY: Or by anyone or any number of individual terrorist –
MR KIRBY: — organizations. But again, all these – they just happened today. They’re being investigated by appropriate national authorities where they occurred, and I think we need to let that work go on.
QUESTION: To what extent is Libya now the third, kind of, ISIS front? Because there seems to be – there’s a lot of supposition that some of these people are from the kind of Libyan group associated with ISIS, which seems to have more kind of coordination and material support. And you seem to be paying a lot of attention, so to what extent is Libya kind of becoming a third front?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know that we would characterize it in that – in those terms. That said, we’ve been very clear about the growing menace of ISIL in North Africa and Libya specifically. We know that this is a group that wants to metastasize beyond Iraq and Syria, though Iraq and Syria remain the principal theater in which they continue to influence and operate. And – but this has been a constant area of focus for us, not just – frankly not just in North Africa, but around the world.
QUESTION: How do you know that this isn’t – at least the Tunisian attack isn’t the work of AQIM?
MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, Ros, it just happened today, and they’re being investigated, and we’re not in a position today to levy claims of responsibility here from the State Department. The appropriate national authorities are investigating this. Obviously, clearly, they’re all terrorist attacks. Obviously, clearly, they’re driven by extremist ideology. Beyond that, I think we just need to let the investigators do their work and come to the conclusions that they will.
QUESTION: And do you think there’s any significance to the fact that all of these attacks are happening during Ramadan? We recall during the war in Iraq that members of AQ in Iraq would launch these kinds of deadly attacks during Ramadan.
MR KIRBY: We have seen that in the past as you’ve noted. Again, I don’t believe that investigators are at a level now where they know precisely what motivated each one of these and the degree to which Ramadan itself was a factor. We just – I just – too soon to tell right now.
QUESTION: The attack in France involved a U.S. company. Is there information at this point to indicate that that company or a U.S. company in particular was being – or a company headquartered in the U.S. was being targeted?
MR KIRBY: It – the property in question did belong – does belong to an American company, that’s correct. But I would refer you to the French. They’re investigating this, and again, we just don’t have anything specific to say with respect to motivation.
Yes. I didn’t see your hand up.
QUESTION: Do you have any phone calls that Kerry made today in relation to any of these attacks? You can take that, and then I’ll follow up.
MR KIRBY: The Secretary has made some phone calls on the plane. I’m not aware of any that were in relation to these particular attacks, but he’s been very busy on the flight over.
QUESTION: Okay. And then two more. One is if it looks like these might be, like, lone wolf attacks inspired by Islamic State, is – are there any fresh concerns there or any efforts to re-examine – because if it seems like these attacks are becoming more common —
MR KIRBY: Well, again, I don’t want to speak to the motivation behind them. I mean, they’re all being investigated, and we need to let that work continue. And I think we also need to be very careful at this very early stage of trying to draw lines of connection between them. That said, it’s not about fresh concerns over foreign fighters. We’ve long had concerns about foreign fighters. And both being self-radicalized elsewhere and heading into the fight or heading from the fight back to home countries, it remains a very serious concern.
Whether you call that lone wolf or foreign fighter, whatever you want to call it, it’s something that obviously we’re very, very focused on. It remains a challenge, and it remains a constant area of concern for not just the United States, but countries all over the world. And they’re taking it seriously. I think I’ve said before more than 30 countries in the coalition have taken legal and administrative actions to try to stem the flow of foreign fighters, and we’ve been talking about foreign fighters pretty much all week in terms of what’s going on in Syria. So remains a very significant concern.
QUESTION: New topic?
QUESTION: No, one more. Are you able to say whether General Allen has been in touch with any of the officials in these three countries about the attacks given that he is trying to work on stopping ISIL’s actions and influence across the region and around the world?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any communication that General Allen may have had today. I mean, let me take the question and we’ll see if we can get back to you on that —
MR KIRBY: — but I’m not aware.
QUESTION: Turkey? Turkish press reported that Secretary Kerry and FM Cavusoglu had a phone call today. You have a readout or anything?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have a readout of that call. Let me try to get back to you on that.
QUESTION: Can I ask another question on Turkey?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: You said last Tuesday that you haven’t seen any evidence or indications supporting that there is a cooperation between ISIS and Assad regime. Turkish foreign ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgic commented on it and said that this statement contradicted what Marie Harf said last June here on this podium. She said, “Assad is seeking to bolster their position for his own cynical reasons.” She meant ISIS. So do you see any contradiction between Marie Harf’s statements and yours?
MR KIRBY: No. The question that was put to me was whether we saw tacit cooperation between ISIL and the Assad regime, and I gave you an honest answer. We’ve not seen that. And as a matter of fact, I mean, I think it’s clear from some of the activity that the Assad regime has participated in as recently as just the last month or so that they continue to see ISIL as a threat to them as well. I mean, we’ve talked about that before. So no, I don’t see any difference.
QUESTION: A third question?
MR KIRBY: Sure. I guess we’re going to stay on Turkey.
QUESTION: Okay. Pro-Kurdish HDP leader Demirtas told German press that Kurdish-U.S. collaboration against ISIS is tactical and there will be an ideological conflict between these two sides since Kurdish movement is anti-imperialist after ISIS gone. So do you think this collaboration between Kurdish forces and United States is tactical or something deeper? What do you think about that?
MR KIRBY: I didn’t get the whole question. Cooperation between —
QUESTION: He says the cooperation between United States and Kurdish forces in northern Syria is tactical rather than ideological or rather than something deeper.
MR KIRBY: Again, we’ve talked about this all week. The degree to which we’re cooperating with those Kurdish fighters in northern Syria has been limited principally to airstrikes, and we continue to conduct airstrikes in Syria against ISIL positions. And I think that those strikes will continue, and that’s basically, in essence – that’s where that cooperation stays.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR KIRBY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have a readout about Deputy Blinken’s meeting yesterday with the senior Saudi officials?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have a readout for you, no, uh-uh.
QUESTION: John, can we change the subject?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: I’m going to try and tackle the ones on Hillary Clinton emails here. Last night a U.S. official said they were – they weren’t able to – the State Department’s been unable to locate all or part of 15 emails from Hillary Clinton’s personal server.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: How does one – how does one now – well, the question that this raises is whether there are other emails that she might also have not sent. How does the State Department know this to be the case, and what are the repercussions of these missing emails and the greater – and perhaps even more that she – that weren’t sent to the State Department?
MR KIRBY: Well, we don’t know the degree to which there may be other emails that another third party may have, in this case Mr. Blumenthal, that we do not have. I think it’s important to remember the scope of the task before us – 55,000 pages of emails that former Secretary Clinton provided, essentially 30,000 emails is about the rough number of actual email traffic there – that we’re still going through. And again, yeah, there were about 15 that Mr. Blumenthal had provided the select committee that we could not find in our inventory. And that was a massive inventory and it took a little while to go through that.
But I couldn’t possibly hypothesize about what other email traffic might relate to Benghazi or Libya that we don’t have. Again, we only knew about these 15 because Mr. Blumenthal had them and provided them to the select committee, so there was something to check it against. But we’re still going through this, and that’s going to – and we’re on a rolling schedule here to make them public through the FOIA process and we’ll continue to do that.
QUESTION: And given that you’ve discovered this, have you – has the State Department re-asked Secretary Kerry – sorry, Secretary Clinton again whether she’s provided everything?
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: Not —
MR KIRBY: No. Our – I think it’s really important to understand our mandate here. We were in receipt of the email traffic that former Secretary Clinton provided, that she had gone through and decided were official in scope. So we’re the receivers of that. We’re not tasking it out. And again, we’re going through all those right now.
QUESTION: But I mean, I understand what you’re saying is you don’t know how many Benghazi emails or Libya emails, but – and it also – I mean, you also have to note that what the State Department said was that you don’t – the substance of those emails was not about Benghazi.
MR KIRBY: Of the 15, we were —
QUESTION: Of the 15 —
MR KIRBY: Yes, we were clear about that in our communication with the committee that of the 15 that we did not have that Mr. Blumenthal had, they were not specifically related to Benghazi —
QUESTION: So – and you —
MR KIRBY: — which was the original mandate —
QUESTION: Which was the original mandate.
MR KIRBY: — of the select committee.
QUESTION: And so now has the committee come back to you? Has the committee come back to you and officially said – is the committee coming back now to task you with things that are not related to Benghazi? That’s my first question.
MR KIRBY: Not now, but in – but they have, yes. In March, they expanded the scope of information of what they wanted to all things Libya-related, which is not an insignificant ask because lots of things during Secretary Clinton’s tenure had to do with Libya.
QUESTION: Right, right.
MR KIRBY: I mean, Libya is a big country and there was a lot of activity there in Libya —
MR KIRBY: — not all related to the Benghazi attack.
MR KIRBY: So it’s not an insignificant ask. And as I said, I think, to your question a week or so ago, that adds time, it adds resources, it makes the —
QUESTION: And —
MR KIRBY: It makes the task more difficult.
QUESTION: And just to follow up on that particular point, and Secretary Kerry has said even though this is – they’ve expanded their inquiry, that you’re going to cooperate with that?
MR KIRBY: He has, yes. But —
QUESTION: Has he put limits on it?
MR KIRBY: No, not that I’m aware of, no. I mean, he’s been very clear we’re going to do all that we can to cooperate with the select committee. I mean, he’s – and people here at the State Department are well aware that that’s the tasking he’s given. We’re going to cooperate as much as possible, as much as we can to the fullest extent.
QUESTION: Even beyond their official mandate of —
MR KIRBY: It’s – well, it’s not for us to determine what they believe their mandate is.
QUESTION: Well, they’re investigating you, so it may not be whether – it may not be for – up to you to, quote-un-quote, “determine.” But certainly, you must have some feelings about it since this committee was set up to look at Benghazi, they’re in essence investigating the State Department in some ways, and now they’re expanding their inquiry.
MR KIRBY: We certainly note that the request for information has been expanded. Secretary Kerry has made it clear he wants us to cooperate with the committee to the fullest extent and to be as helpful as we can. That said – and we’ve made this clear – the more that’s being asked for with respect to that – to their task, the longer it’s going to take, the more resources are going to have to be applied when it goes well beyond what the original mandate was.
QUESTION: Do you feel they’re moving the goalposts?
MR KIRBY: Well, they certainly have expanded —
MR KIRBY: — the scope of information and material that they are seeking, and not by a small amount, Elise. I mean, as I said, all things Libya encompasses a lot of history and lot of material.
QUESTION: And just to – I’ll finish up. Just to Lesley’s question, I understand what you’re saying, that there may not be – there may be stuff related to Libya that you said you don’t know that you have all the stuff related to Libya.
MR KIRBY: Well —
QUESTION: Like, there’s no way to determine —
MR KIRBY: Unless you have another —
QUESTION: You don’t know what you don’t have.
MR KIRBY: Unless you have another inventory to check it against.
QUESTION: Right, right.
MR KIRBY: Like in this case, we had Mr. Blumenthal’s emails.
QUESTION: Right, right.
MR KIRBY: It’s hard to know. Again, our task is not to – is not to —
QUESTION: But when you asked Secretary Clinton for those emails – the 50,000 – or you asked her for her emails that she considered work-related, you asked her for all the emails that were considered work-related, correct?
MR KIRBY: She, at the time she turned them over, said that she had turned over all those that she deemed were work-related.
QUESTION: So clearly, these 15 were work-related even if they weren’t Benghazi-related?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, I mean, there’s 15 —
QUESTION: Well, I mean, they’re about Libya, so obviously —
MR KIRBY: There’s about – there’s 15 that we didn’t think were – as we saw them, did not —
MR KIRBY: — meet the Benghazi-specific request.
QUESTION: But they certainly meet the work-related benchmark, correct?
MR KIRBY: That would appear to be so.
QUESTION: Okay. So how do you know that the 50,000 emails is the total work-related work product of that server?
MR KIRBY: Well, all we can know is the content of what we have. I mean, there’s no other way I can answer that question.
QUESTION: So I understand, but you didn’t ask Secretary Clinton for her archival of emails because of the Benghazi committee. You asked her for her work product —
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: — and it turns out that you don’t have the full work product, even if it’s just – I’m not saying that it’s more than 15, but even if it’s just 15, you don’t have the work product. So why haven’t you gone back and said, hey, we’re missing these 15, are you sure there aren’t more.
MR KIRBY: This wasn’t about us asking; it was about her providing. She provided those that she deemed were work-related. We’re still going through them; there’s a lot more to go through. Thirty thousand emails and fifty-five thousand pages. Again, we’re talking about 15 here. And I don’t – I’m not dismissing it qualitatively. Obviously, there are 15 that we didn’t have that Mr. Blumenthal had. They were Libya related. That’s all a matter of fact, but it’s 15 when you think about 30,000, you have to put in some perspective though.
QUESTION: When is the next batch coming out?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have a date for you, but I would expect fairly soon.
QUESTION: But you have a deadline.
MR KIRBY: Fairly soon, fairly soon.
QUESTION: Is there going to be any sort of investigation into the disparity at this point or —
MR KIRBY: For the 15?
MR KIRBY: I know of no such investigation, certainly not by the State Department, no.
QUESTION: And who would ask for those? I mean, would it have to be the committee who would have to say to Secretary Clinton what happened to those 15? Because it’s not up to the State Department.
MR KIRBY: We don’t have them to give, so —
MR KIRBY: — that would be a matter between the select committee and former Secretary Clinton.
QUESTION: I guess just beyond the missing 15, is there going to be some sort of, like, broader probe about missing emails generally?
MR KIRBY: No, no.
QUESTION: A question about the normalization of U.S.-Cuba, if I may. Are – I’d like to get an idea: What is the State Department’s benchmark for when editors around the world, U.S. editors, can say that normalization has been achieved between U.S. and Cuba? Is it going to be, for example, when the embassies are open, the U.S. flag goes up in Havana as a formal U.S. embassy and ambassadors are exchanged, or is there another criteria that it won’t necessarily mark full normalization when the embassies are exchanged?
MR KIRBY: My understanding is that normalization occurs when embassies are opened and are staffed by and led by ambassadors.
QUESTION: So in other words, newspapers could put out a headline saying relations are restored when the flag is raised in Havana?
MR KIRBY: I don’t make it a practice to tell newspaper editors —
QUESTION: No, no. I know, but just —
MR KIRBY: — when or how to write headlines, but I mean, that’s the basic understanding of the formal return of diplomatic relations is when embassies are established.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Related to Cuba?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: How are the discussions going with – to try to reopen the embassy? Are there – has there been an agreement on that yet? And number two, when can we expect an announcement on the 15 days? (Laughter.) My usual question.
MR KIRBY: Yes. I mean, progress continues to be made in our discussions with Cuban authorities. I don’t have anything in terms of timing or schedule to announce today, but the talks are ongoing and I think everybody shares, on both sides, the same sense of purpose here to get this done. And when we have something to announce, we will.
QUESTION: How would you characterize the shape and scope of the discussions right now? Are they being done on a lower level than Assistant Secretary Jacobson’s level? Are there plans to have another round of face-to-face discussions between her and Councilor Vidal?
MR KIRBY: I’m not – I don’t have anything on her schedule to speak to, but clearly she’s been very personally involved in this and remains personally involved in this. And the Secretary’s grateful for Assistant Secretary Jacobson’s leadership on this. It’s also safe to say that in any kind of discussion like this it’s going to exist on multiple levels over time, so it’s not just Assistant Secretary Jacobson. I mean, it’s members of her staff, it’s members of the people that work in the interest section down there as well as staff at various levels from the Cuban side as well.
The discussions are ongoing. I would say that they are moving forward in a very productive way. And again, when we have something more specific to announce, we will.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the emails?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: At a press club event, the experts spoke about wiping clean the server and deleting the emails. So they are technically two different things: If the emails are deleted, they can be brought back to life. If it is wiped clean – the server – then it becomes much more difficult. Is the State Department aware about this difference that is going on with the —
MR KIRBY: No, I think – again, I think it’s important to remind everybody what our role here is. We did not determine what 55,000 pages were turned over. Former Secretary Clinton did after she went through her emails and determined what was work-related. And she herself has called for these emails to be made public. Secretary Kerry has made it clear that we’re going to make them public through the FOIA process in time and over time. And that’s what our focus is on, not on the existence of the server or what might have been done to it. That’s not for the State Department to speak to. Our job, very clearly: go through those emails and on a rolling production basis make them public through FOIA – through the Freedom of Information Act.
QUESTION: Can I go to East Asia? This one – Japan. Japanese Government yesterday announced the next G7 foreign ministerial summit to be held in Hiroshima. So this logically will be the first time for the U.S. Secretary of State to visit Hiroshima, and there is a kind of expectation there, like is he going to go to the atomic bomb memorial or Peace Park. What’s the – do you have any reaction to that?
MR KIRBY: No, I don’t. I don’t have anything on the Secretary’s schedule in that regard to speak to today. I think that’s just a little too soon for us to comment specifically about that locale.
QUESTION: Okay. And one more on South Korea: Yesterday’s Human Rights Reports South Korea says about the freedom of press, that United States are concerned about defamation laws limiting freedom of press and pointing out one example of a Japanese correspondent colleague in Seoul being indicted because of writing a column about President Park.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: So putting this on your annual report, is it going to be kind of a discussion issue between the United States and South Korea?
MR KIRBY: I think the two things I’d point you to is, one, that this report was for 2014. I believe there’s been some action taken in this case since the report was concluded, and again, I would – this is for the South Korean Government to speak to. The report speaks for itself. We had a pretty fulsome briefing here yesterday on each country, and it’s all up there online for people to read.
I think it’s important to remember just more broadly that just because there may be specific or anecdotal evidence of human rights issues in countries around the world, that that doesn’t mean that you don’t engage with those – with most of those countries at various levels. I mean, engagement means and dialogue means being able to continue to talk through these issues.
Okay – last one.
QUESTION: Yeah, last one. A related question with the gay marriage legalized in the U.S. I know that LGBT rights are a high priority of the State Department, so I would like to know if the decision of the Supreme Court in the U.S. will give you even more leverage to press countries, especially in Africa, to end the criminalizations of homosexual activities.
MR KIRBY: Well, the Secretary welcomes the decision by the Supreme Court. He has, as you know, been a strong and active proponent of equal rights in that regard here at the department and of course at our posts all around the world. And I think he believes that the Supreme Court decision does speak to the principles of the United States of America and what we as a country stand for, which is that everyone is created equal and that as a principle and as a national security interest of ours – this kind of equality – that yes, it does show the power of our example to the rest of the world.
Okay. You guys don’t have any questions? Nothing, huh? Giving you a pass. No? All right. Thanks, everybody. Have a good weekend. (Applause.)
(The briefing was concluded at 2:31 p.m.)