For the Record | State Dept Spokesman on Saudi/Iran/Region Issues – Jan 4

Published: January 4, 2016

Editor’s Note:

U.S. State Department Spokesperson John Kirby met with the press for the daily press briefing at 2:14 pm EST on Monday, January 4, 2016. The lead item in the briefing was “Saudi Arabia/Iran/Region.” Here is an excerpt from the press briefing including the extensive Q and A on that topic. The complete briefing is available HERE.

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John Kirby
Spokesperson – U.S. State Department
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 4, 2016

EXCERPT FROM PREPARED REMARKS

The United States is concerned about rising tensions in the Middle East, of course, following recent executions in Saudi Arabia, attacks on Saudi diplomatic properties in Iran, and the cutting or downgrading by a number of countries of their diplomatic ties with Iran. We call on all sides to avoid any actions that would further heighten tensions in the region.

Regarding the executions in Saudi Arabia, we continue to urge the Government of Saudi Arabia to ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings in all cases. And we have expressed our particular concern over the execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr. We also condemn the attacks on Saudi diplomatic properties in Iran. We take attacks on diplomatic facilities, as you might imagine, very seriously. We note reports that some of the perpetrators of these attacks have been arrested, and we urge the Government of Iran to fully respect its international obligations to protect diplomatic property.

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On the severing of diplomatic ties, we continue to believe that diplomatic engagement and direct conversations are essential to work through differences. Increased friction runs counter to the interests of all those in the international community who support moderation, peace, and stability. We reiterate the need for leaders throughout the region to redouble efforts aimed at de-escalating regional tensions. In this context, over the past day or so, Secretary Kerry and senior State Department officials have been in communication with several regional leaders. We have consistently urged everyone to de-escalate tensions in the region so that we can all continue to work on resolving the pressing issues in Iraq, in Syria, in Yemen, and elsewhere throughout the Middle East.

Ultimately, solutions to problems in this region must come from leaders in this region. So while we continue to make all efforts to facilitate dialogue, the impetus is on local leadership to work through their differences and find the best path forward through this tension.

END

EXCERPT FROM EXTENDED Q AND A ON THE TOPIC

QUESTION: Okay, Happy New Year. On the – on your first, on your opening statement, can you bring us up to date with a bit more specificity as to who the Secretary and others have actually spoken to as it relates to the Saudi-Iran situation?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think he has talked to Foreign Minister Zarif. He has talked to the deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia and he has also talked to other Saudi leaders. And I would also point out that – oh, that was good. I just unbuckled a bunch of others – that it isn’t just the Secretary making phone calls and staying in touch. Our ambassador has been in touch with Saudi officials there in Saudi Arabia, and of course, Assistant Secretary Anne Patterson has been in communication with several leaders in the region. So as I said in my opening statement, it’s not just Secretary Kerry; it’s other senior State Department officials here.

QUESTION: Okay. But as far as you know, he has not yet spoken to Foreign Minister Jubeir?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to read out every conversation. I know that the Saudi press agency is —

QUESTION: Well, the White House said —

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The White House said that they expected Secretary Kerry to speak to Foreign Minister Jubeir.

MR KIRBY: I think, look, he has routine and regular conversations with Foreign Minister al-Jubeir, and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if he communicates with the foreign minister as well.

QUESTION: All right. In terms of the three things that you were talking about, the proximate cause and effect from this weekend in terms of the tensions between the two countries, you said you continue to urge the Government of Saudi – as it regards the executions, you said you will continue to urge the Government of Saudi Arabia to uphold due process, maintain people’s rights. Do you believe that these executions followed a transparent and fair legal process?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize each and every one of the 47 cases and I’m not going to offer a broad characterization of the accumulation of them all in one day. I think as I said at the outset, we made it – we’ve been very clear about our concerns about the legal process in Saudi Arabia. It’s something that we have talked to Saudi officials about before. We will continue to do so.

And what I would also just add is that we continue to call on the Government of Saudi Arabia to respect and protect human rights and to permit the peaceful expression of dissent, and to work together with all community leaders to defuse tensions. So —

QUESTION: Well, I —

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR KIRBY: No, that’s all right. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just curious as to why you’re – the next sentence after what you said when you addressed the attacks on the embassies, you say that you condemn the attacks on the Saudi diplomatic facilities. Why not condemn the executions?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I would just tell you what I said before. We have expressed our concerns about the legal process in Saudi Arabia. We’ve raised those concerns with the Saudi Government. We will continue to do that. What we want to see is for Saudi Arabia to respect and protect human rights and to ensure a fair and transparent judicial process.

QUESTION: But you won’t condemn the executions. Is that right?

MR KIRBY: I think I’ve —

QUESTION: Your White House colleague was asked pretty much the same thing, and he replied, “We certainly would condemn any country that carries out mass executions.” Does that mean that you’re condemning the Saudis for doing this?

MR KIRBY: I’ve answered the question, I think.

QUESTION: Well, actually, you haven’t answered it. I mean, you’ve answered it to your satisfaction —

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: — but I don’t think you’ve answered it to the satisfaction of anybody else, because you’re – you won’t use the same words —

MR KIRBY: We have —

QUESTION: — that you will – that you do with Iran and the attacks on the Saudi embassy as you will – as you do with the executions.

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, they’re two —

QUESTION: I’m just curious as to why.

MR KIRBY: They’re two different issues. I mean —

QUESTION: Well, yeah —

MR KIRBY: — the Saudi embassy came under attack. We have, in the past, been very clear about attacks on diplomatic facilities. You can imagine why the State Department takes a special interest in that, and this was a violent —

QUESTION: Particularly in Iran.

MR KIRBY: This was a – it doesn’t matter what country. An attack on a diplomatic facility is a concern to us whether it’s ours or somebody else’s.

QUESTION: All right. Well, the Iranians – there is a history in Iran of attacks on diplomatic facilities dating back many, many years, and this building is all too aware of what happened in 1979 and the year – more than a year that came after that.

So in his conversation with Foreign Minister Zarif, did the Secretary make it clear in no uncertain terms that these attacks were a breach of international law and that Iran has an obligation to protect both diplomatic facilities and diplomats?

MR KIRBY: Well, without getting into the specifics of the conversation, clearly the issue of increased tensions and potential more violence certainly came up. And the Secretary expressed the same views that I’ve expressed here to you today on behalf of the State Department about our concern over the attacks on those facilities.

QUESTION: All right, then the last one. On the downgrading or cutting of relations, am I to – are we to assume from your comments saying that you’re calling on all sides to – that you take a dim view of the severing of diplomatic relations or downgrading of diplomatic relations?

MR KIRBY: I think what you can take away from this is that we believe in the power of engagement and direct conversation and strong bilateral relations, and we encourage those relations and that engagement to continue.

QUESTION: So you would like —

MR KIRBY: So we would like to see – as I said right at the top, we would – we believe in diplomatic engagement. We would like to see diplomatic engagement continue.

QUESTION: So you would like to see the Saudis change their – and the Bahrainis and the UAE and —

MR KIRBY: Well, each of these are – these are decisions —

QUESTION: — the Sudan and everybody else —

MR KIRBY: These are decisions – these are sovereign decisions that nations make. And I’m not going to parse or characterize each decision that some of these countries make. They have to make these decisions for themselves. It’s not for us to cast judgment on those decisions.

That said, we believe in the power of diplomatic engagement when and where it’s possible, and we believe that it can help reduce tensions. That’s what we want to see happen here.

QUESTION: Is it – so you’re saying that —

QUESTION: So John, can I follow up on that one? When you say the diplomatic relations, what do we see as the U.S. role in trying to bring those? Because clearly, there is now a – the tensions have caused such a division that it’s almost irreparable at this stage. What do you see the U.S. role —

MR KIRBY: Well, we hope it’s not. We hope it’s not irreparable. But as I said right at the outset in my opening statement – and it wasn’t inserted there by accident – but the long-term solution to these kinds of tensions are going to be local solutions, and what our message is through all the communication that we’ve had is that we want to see tensions decreased, we want to see engagement continue or to be reinstated when and where possible, so that a better mutual understanding can occur and then that calm can be restored.

So these are – but these are ultimately issues that these countries have got to work out for themselves. And —

QUESTION: The U.S. doesn’t see a role for itself in trying to ease these —

MR KIRBY: If you’re asking if we’re trying to —

QUESTION: Given —

MR KIRBY: — become a mediator of all – of this, the answer is no.

QUESTION: Well, then what happens to the issues that the U.S. is very much engaged with both these countries, as far as Syria —

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: — as far as the Iran nuclear deal, many others?

QUESTION: Yemen.

QUESTION: Yemen as well. These have all —

MR KIRBY: Right. And again, that’s why I referenced Iraq, Syria, and Yemen in my opening statement. We’re mindful that there are a lot of other pressing issues in the region. Not to say that the tensions here over the weekend aren’t important. Obviously, they are. But there are lots of other issues in the Middle East where we need regional cooperation and regional leadership to act upon, and we don’t want to see any progress that has been made or may be made on those issues affected by this, which is why, again, the Secretary – and not just the Secretary but other State Department officials have been in communication with leaders there, to try to get tensions calmed down, to try to get dialogue started or restarted, so that we can focus on these other very pressing issues in the region.

So I know the question is going to come up: What about Syria, where it’s going? We still hope and expect that the meetings between the opposition group and the regime can happen this month as planned. The UN is obviously leading that effort. And the special envoy, Mr. de Mistura, is going to be working that hard this month. So our expectation is that that can continue to happen. Obviously, in light of these events, we’re watching it very, very closely, but what we want to see is we want to see the process, the Vienna process that was codified in that UN Security Council resolution, we want to see that continue.

QUESTION: John, could you please tell us whether the Secretary attempted to call the Saudi foreign minister or not? Did he attempt to call him?

MR KIRBY: I’m not —

QUESTION: Because there are some reports that basically the Secretary tried, but Mr. Jubeir apparently was too busy to respond to the Secretary. Is that true?

MR KIRBY: Without getting into the details of conversations, look, he – first of all, he talks to Foreign Minister al-Jubeir all the time.

QUESTION: Right, but on this particular occasion.

MR KIRBY: And as I – you saw that the Saudi Press Agency actually put a release out today that acknowledged the call with the deputy crown prince. I think you can fully expect that the Secretary will be in touch with Foreign Minister al-Jubeir. I don’t have a call to read out to you right now, but the press reporting that he tried and it failed or he tried and the foreign minister wasn’t available or brushed him off is absolutely false.

QUESTION: So —

MR KIRBY: They have a very strong relationship.

QUESTION: Is it – is it unusual —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) try and call?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not saying that, Matt. But the notion that —

QUESTION: Well —

MR KIRBY: The notion that it was rebuffed is just wrong.

QUESTION: No, I’m not saying rebuffed, but is it unusual that in such a volatile situation, that the Secretary would call the Iranian foreign minister and talk to him about the issue, but he does not apparently communicate with the Saudi foreign minister? Isn’t that unusual?

MR KIRBY: Said, he communicates regularly with Foreign Minister al-Jubeir, and as I said at the outset, you can fully expect that he will have a conversation with Foreign Minister al-Jubeir. I’m just not going to read out every call that the Secretary makes, certainly in a situation like this where it’s very fluid. And as I said at the outset, there is constant communication now between senior State Department officials and leaders in the region, and that’s going to continue. And so this notion that – the idea that one phone call is going to somehow fix it, or one phone call is going to be the metric of success is just – is not realistic. I think you can expect the Secretary to stay engaged in numerous conversations with numerous leaders throughout the region, and certainly Foreign Minister al-Jubeir is going to be at the top of that list.

QUESTION: I want to ask you about the legal system. You mentioned the Saudi legal system. Do you have – how do you measure the Saudi jurisprudence in this case? I mean, what kind of legal system are they using in terms of trying people, condemning them, sentencing them, and so on? Do you have faith in their process?

MR KIRBY: I would repeat what I said to Matt. We have expressed our concerns about the legal process in Saudi. It’s not like we don’t have concerns. I’m not going to – I’m not an expert on their legal system any more than I am on our own, and so I’m not going to speak to the Saudi legal system. I think you should talk to Saudi authorities about their judicial processes. What I can say is that, as I said before, we have concerns about those processes and we have made those known privately and publicly, and we’ll continue to do so.

QUESTION: John?

QUESTION: Because it seems this anti-terror law that they implemented in 2011 really encompasses a lot of activities under that. And in fact, it has like an automatic death sentence. I mean, you could go on a demonstration, like some young man who demonstrated even in Bahrain and went back to Saudi Arabia and was apparently sentenced to death. So it covers a huge area that it’s really not that much of an infraction.

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not an expert on the law. But again, broadly speaking, we have harbored concerns about their legal process. We’ve made those concerns known. We’ll continue to do that. And you’ve heard me speak many times about other nations as well passing counterterrorism laws. And certainly, we understand that nations have to do things to protect their people and to protect against the threat of terrorism. We do it here in the United States. But we also want to make sure that freedom of expression, freedom of dissent, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of the media, all those things are also preserved. And so when we have concerns about those kinds of laws, those kinds of processes, we make it known. And we’re not bashful about it. We make it known privately and we make it known publicly. And I would point you to our human rights report that came out this year. You can go – it’s online; you can go look at what we’ve said about Saudi Arabia and some of our concerns with respect to human rights there.

QUESTION: John, regarding the execution of the cleric, al-Nimr, did the U.S. have any indication, one, that he was facing execution? Was there any intelligence gathered from diplomatic channels there in Riyadh, or did this come as a surprise, as some press reports alluded or alleged over the weekend?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is we’ve been in regular contact with the Saudi Government with regard to these cases. Beyond that, I’m just not going to comment on details of diplomatic discussions.

QUESTION: In terms of the phone call between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif, was the U.S. position that this attack was spontaneous, that this was a demonstration or an attack on – or an attempted attack on the Saudi embassy by ordinary citizens, or is there a belief that some perhaps in the IGRC may have ginned up this attack on the Saudi embassy?

MR KIRBY: I – again, without getting into the details of the conversation, I don’t think they went into any great specificity with – on the attack itself. I mean, again, we’ve made our position known about the attack on the diplomatic facility, that one included. And I would just leave it at that.

QUESTION: And then finally, in terms of the Saudi decision not just to recall its staff but also to stop all flights to and from Tehran – is this a ratcheting up? Is this a sign that things could be getting much worse between the KSA and the Iranians?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think you need to talk to Saudi authorities about the reasoning for those decisions. As I said, these were sovereign decisions. And I’m not going to pass judgment on each and every sovereign decision that countries are making right now. What we want to see writ large – and this is why we’ve been in contact with so many of our partners in the region – what we want to see is the tensions reduced. We want to see dialogue restored or continued in the case – whatever case may be, and we want to see diplomatic engagement do the job that it’s supposed to do, which is to foster some mutual understanding and try to get a resolution to these things peacefully, diplomatically, and without violence.

QUESTION: But if the U.S. wants to see a fostering of mutual understanding, why isn’t Washington stepping up and trying to make that happen?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think this gets to my answer to Lesley and to what I said in my opening statement, which is we believe the best long-term solution here are solutions that are – that come from leaders in the region. And we want to see local leadership step up and to make the right decisions moving forward – to look for ways to de-escalate the tensions, look for ways to engage, look for ways to solve these problems peacefully. And while we certainly want to foster that engagement, I don’t think it’s – I think you can all understand that it – that real, long-term, sustainable answers aren’t going to be legislated from Washington, D.C.

QUESTION: But let’s be realistic. These two countries are probably the —

MR KIRBY: I thought I was being realistic.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, they’re probably the most powerful countries in the region right now. Do you expect, for example, the Egyptian Government to be the one to try to mediate some sort of truce between the two?

MR KIRBY: No. Ros, I think —

QUESTION: Do you expect the Jordanians will be able to do it?

MR KIRBY: No, I think you’re approaching this – well, you’re approaching it from a different perspective, at least, than what we are. We’re not in the market for a mediator here. What we want to see are the countries involved to work through these issues peacefully and through dialogue. That’s what we want to see. We want to see these kinds of tensions solved bilaterally. And we recognize that it’s – obviously, given recent events, it’s bigger than just Saudi Arabia and Iran right now; understand that. But we – we really want these nations to work through these issues themselves. We’re not looking for a referee.

QUESTION: Well, I promise, this is my last one: Moscow has already suggested that it might to try to take on the role of mediator, of trying to get Tehran and Riyadh to work through what has happened in the past 72 hours. Is that a concern? Does the U.S. welcome that sort of intervention?

MR KIRBY: Well, I would let Moscow speak for itself and for President Putin to speak to what his intentions are. Again, diplomatic engagement – that involves some sovereign decisions. I think we’ve been very clear about what we want to see happen, and I can only speak for the United States.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: John, Under Secretary Stengel met today with the Saudi minister of information. Can you give us a readout on —

MR KIRBY: This was a meeting – yes. Under Secretary Stengel met with their minister of information. This was a long-planned meeting. It was on his calendar for quite some time, certainly had nothing to do with recent events, and was principally designed to talk about strategies for better strategic communications in a very dynamic information environment, media relations, processes and procedures. And I think that the – Under Secretary Stengel was also going to use the meeting as an opportunity to talk about counterterrorism messaging, particularly in the campaign against ISIL.

I would fully expect, although I don’t have a readout of the meeting, that Mr. Stengel would also pass along the same message that every other State Department official has been passing along in the wake of this weekend’s events, which is, again, to urge calm and for tensions to be de-escalated and for the nations to work these issues out bilaterally. But that’s not the purpose of the meeting. It was long scheduled and really was designed to be a professional meeting between two professional communicators.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, Goyal.

QUESTION: India.

QUESTION: No, no, no.

QUESTION: No, no, no.

MR KIRBY: Wow, all right. Goyal, I’ll come back to you. You got vetoed, my friend.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. So in the statement, you just said that you’re worried – you’re concerned that the execution of al-Nimr might exacerbate sectarian tensions. Would it have any specific adverse impact, do you believe, on your diplomatic efforts on Syria?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think I’ve answered that question. I mean, we certainly hope not. We want to see this tension reduced. We’re mindful that increased tensions, particularly tensions along Sunni and Shia lines, are not going to be helpful in and of themselves to moving the Syria process forward. But we see no reason why there should be a negative impact on the Vienna process.

QUESTION: Do you believe Iranian and Saudi officials would sit together at the same table like they did recently in New York?

MR KIRBY: They have sat together, as you rightly pointed out, and —

QUESTION: But from now on.

MR KIRBY: Well, we want – that’s certainly what we want to see, and certainly it’s our expectation. But again, we want this – these tensions reduced. We want them – we want these issues worked out bilaterally. And we see no reason why that can’t occur, and we see no reason why the Syria peace process shouldn’t move forward as planned. Obviously, the last thing we’d want to see is for there to be an impact on that or any other significant regional issues by the tensions over the weekend.

QUESTION: My last question: Some people, some commentators have seen the killing of this prominent activist in Saudi Arabia was enormous. It was – had enormous influence on the Shia youth throughout the region in Iraq, Iran, and Syria as an intentional move by Saudis to harm U.S. diplomacy, especially as it’s trying to bring all the players together to solve the crisis in Syria and also especially it’s also a sign of – the latest sign of Saudi’s displeasure with U.S. diplomacy, with your previous rapprochement with Iran and everything. Do you agree with that statement, with that comment?

MR KIRBY: You have to talk to Saudi authorities about their processes. I mean, I’m not going to parse each and every one of these cases any more than I’m going to parse the issue itself. As I think I answered – even though unsatisfactorily, to Matt – what we want – we have certainly expressed our concerns about legal processes there in Saudi Arabia. And in the wake of these executions, as I put in my statement over the weekend, we want to see tensions decreased. But if you’re – to the question about whether there’s other motives at play here, you’d have to talk to leaders in Saudi Arabia for that. I’m not at liberty to know the answer to that.

Yeah.

QUESTION: John, the family of the executed Sheikh al-Nimr has apparently made statements asking that his body be returned to them and that the Saudis have so far refused to do this. Are you urging the Saudis to take that step?

MR KIRBY: That’s the first I’ve seen of that report. I don’t know that – I haven’t – I don’t have anything to confirm whether or not that’s true, that there’s been a request. Obviously, we always want to see family wishes observed, of course. But I don’t have any comments specifically on whether or not the Saudis are refusing to return the body or – I would have to look into that. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: And is there any – is there any consideration at all of sort of reassessing any U.S. military support to Saudi Arabia, given your ongoing concerns that you stated —

MR KIRBY: I’m certainly not aware of any, but I’d refer you to DOD for anything on that. Again, what we want to see is that the tensions caused by these executions over the weekend – we want to see those reduced. We want to see diplomatic engagement restored. We want to see a sense of calm here so that leadership in the region can focus on other very pressing issues that are affecting the Middle East right now.

QUESTION: John, this is a —

QUESTION: John, (inaudible) sovereign Saudi decision, which is fine. But you’re not a passive observer. I mean, Saudi Arabia is a major partner of the United States. It’s a big ally. You have a great deal in common. You have political partnerships and so on. So what – these kinds of decisions will impact your policy in the region. Right?

MR KIRBY: What kinds of decisions?

QUESTION: I mean, the – what they do in terms of the executions, their means of carrying out —

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: — in terms of maybe —

MR KIRBY: And I didn’t – I didn’t just —

QUESTION: — disregarding the United States position on these issues.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t brush it – I didn’t brush it off as a simple sovereign decision, did I? I said we’ve expressed our concerns about the legal process in Saudi Arabia; we’ll continue to do that. I mean, this is not a new issue for us, concerns about human rights in Saudi Arabia and expressing our concerns. And inclusive of that is, of course, the legal process. And we’ve been very clear about that. Even before this weekend’s events, this is not the first time I’ve dealt with it from this – this issue from this podium.

So we’re going to keep making our case, we’re going to keep expressing our concern. But Saudi Arabia is an important partner in the region. They do play a role in the coalition against ISIL. And they do have a leadership role in the region with respect to larger counterterrorism concerns. It was in Riyadh where the opposition groups – 116 participants – came together to unify around a common set of negotiating principles. And we’re grateful for Saudi leadership in that regard. That’s why – all the more reason why we want to see diplomatic engagement restored here. We want to see a sense of calm. We want to see these nations bilaterally work through these issues, which we understand. We understand the tension here. We want to see them work through this so that we can all focus on the other very pressing issues in the region.

Pam.

QUESTION: Can we go to —

QUESTION: John, you mentioned that the U.S. does not want to see this impact efforts such as the Syria peace process. You also indicated that Secretary Kerry and other State Department officials have had direct meetings with both Saudi and Iranian officials. Is there any U.S. effort under consideration to bring both Saudi and Iranian officials together to host a meeting ahead of the next phase of the Syria peace process?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any plans to do that, Pam. As I said, we really want to see these issues resolved bilaterally.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the Iran part of this equation for a second? Recognizing that you’re not directly involved in the incidents that happened over the weekend, does the United States hold the Iranian Government responsible for what happened at the Saudi embassy there?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s too soon to tell right now. I mean, it just happened. It’s difficult with attacks like this of a violent nature to determine who exactly and precisely is at fault, certainly in the hours afterward. Obviously, for an attack like this we want to see the perpetrators brought to justice. That’s clear; we’ve said that before. But I don’t know that we’re in a position now to know with any great detail who exactly is responsible.

QUESTION: Well, does that mean that you – then you don’t – I mean, did you see the timeline that the Saudi officials offered for what happened there?

MR KIRBY: I have not.

QUESTION: Well, they say – and I don’t – I have no reason to suspect that – to think that they’re lying – that they called multiple times on the Iranian authorities to send security forces to protect their embassy and their consulate, and that none came. How can you not hold them responsible for failing to protect it —

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen —

QUESTION: — protect them?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that timeline, Matt, and so therefore it would be difficult for me to cast judgment on any one piece of it.

QUESTION: I’ll print it out for you and send it to you. It came right before Foreign Minister Jubeir’s announcement of the severing of diplomatic relations.

MR KIRBY: I look forward to seeing it.

QUESTION: And then the second thing is that you do say that you have raised concerns, longstanding concerns about the legal process in Saudi Arabia. You’ve also expressed longstanding concerns about the legal process in Iran. And so two questions on that. One, do you think that Iran, since it did not act to protect the Saudi facilities in its own country, is a legitimate or a reliable partner for any kind of international agreement, considering they just blew off the Vienna Convention?

MR KIRBY: Okay. I don’t know the – I haven’t seen the report you have, so I don’t know about the timeline and whether or not they were asked for support and failed to provide it. So again, I’m not in a position to say who is responsible or not responsible for responding in an nappropiate way to the attack on the Saudi embassy.

QUESTION: Did you see any response?

MR KIRBY: But —

QUESTION: We’ve all seen the footage. Do you think that the Iranians did what they should have done to protect this —

MR KIRBY: It’s just too soon to know right now, at least for us to —

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I’m looking at stuff on YouTube that shows the embassy in flames. That certainly cannot be protecting the —

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, we – we’re not disputing the fact that the embassy came under attack, Matt.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is we haven’t done a quick independent investigation to know exactly what happened at what minute. But to your larger question, look, I mean, nobody is turning – take a – let’s put the embassy issue aside for a second. Nobody’s turning a blind eye to the capability of the regime in Tehran to further and conduct destabilizing activities in the region. We still believe Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. We know that they continue to support bad actors in the region. That is why we have a wide array of tools at our disposal unilaterally to deal with that, particularly on the sanctions front.

Now, if the question is about the Iran deal, it’s important to remember – you know – that the deal was all about one thing, and that was cutting off their pathways to a nuclear bomb. We – as we understand it – and you saw the Secretary certified this a couple of weeks ago to Congress – they are moving forward with implementation. We do believe that implementation could come in the near future. But we’re watching that very, very closely. This is not about trust. This is not about, again, turning a blind eye to their capability to continue to destabilize the region.

QUESTION: But you think that they’re a reliable partner in the – in broader international agreements still? This doesn’t detract from —

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that. I said – and the nuclear deal is the only agreement that I know of that we’ve made here with Iran, and thus far, from everything we’ve been able to gather, they have been tracking towards implementation and meeting their goals. But they’re not there yet.

QUESTION: Right. Your tools for dealing with Iranian quote/unquote “misbehavior” or “destabilizing actions in the region” – you mention sanctions. I was away last week, but it has come to my attention that the Administration in fact did not go ahead with sanctions for destabilizing activity in the region which – related to the ballistic missile tests.

MR KIRBY: We have in the past dealt with their ballistic missile activity through sanctions, and I would fully expect that you can —

QUESTION: And you will continue?

MR KIRBY: — that you can – that you will see us continue to hold them accountable for violations of the ballistic missile – violations of the UN Security Council resolutions with respect to their ballistic missile program. I don’t have anything new to announce today. There are sanctions under consideration. There are still some technical issues that need to be worked out. But I – I won’t get ahead of the process.

QUESTION: All right. The last thing on the legal – your concerns about the Iranian legal process. Can we assume, or is it safe to assume, that the Secretary in his call with Foreign Minister Zarif, although it was based on Saudi-Iran tensions, saw fit to mention the cases of the detained Americans once again?

MR KIRBY: There is no conversation he has where he doesn’t raise the issue of —

QUESTION: So he did raise it?

MR KIRBY: He raises them at every turn.

QUESTION: So he did in this conversation yesterday?

MR KIRBY: He raises them at every turn.

QUESTION: John?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Could you —

MR KIRBY: Oh, David. I’m sorry. I wasn’t looking at you, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Oh. Well, if you’re looking at somebody else, call on them first.

MR KIRBY: No, no, it’s all right. Go ahead. You were already started.

QUESTION: Okay. So you said at several occasions that you did not want to go through and litigate each of the 47 different cases of executions, but there’s really only one here where people are looking to see if the United States reaction is significantly different. I mean, you had a cleric who does not have a history of violence, who certainly called for a separation of a Shia part of Saudi Arabia, called into question the legitimacy of the regime, but was not himself acting in a violent way, whereas most of the others were suspected or convicted of al-Qaida-related activity.

So I’m wondering if you would focus in a little bit on what you said was particular concern about that one execution and give us a little more of a sense of whether or not the United States had ever specifically urged the Saudis not to execute Mr. Nimr.

MR KIRBY: I am not at liberty to go into great detail about the discussions that we’ve had specifically on that or any other case. But it is safe to say, David, that we raise our concerns specifically about the al-Nimr cases with the Saudis, and we have raised that concern on numerous occasions. And as I said over the weekend and again today, we have particular concerns about the exacerbation of tensions that has and potentially continues with respect —

QUESTION: When you raised those concerns, did you specifically warn them that executing him, which you obviously knew was a possibility, would lead to an increase in tensions and perhaps worse in the region?

MR KIRBY: I think as far as I can go with you on your question is to just say that we raised the al-Nimr cases in the past and our concerns about them with Saudi officials, and we’ve certainly, in the wake of these mass executions, reiterated concerns that we had about those cases in particular. But I really can’t go into more detail than that.

QUESTION: The last question for you: Several former officials of the Administration – nobody who I’ve heard there right now – have made the point in the past two days that this gets to the fundamental question of whether or not we’ve got the right ally in the region. As you heard many times during the Iranian talks, there were many people saying Iran could, over the long term, be a more natural ally with the U.S. And obviously, that’s part of what’s upset the Saudis and the Gulf states. Is there a concern within the Administration that actions by the Saudis like this fundamentally undercut the nature of the U.S. alliance?

MR KIRBY: The actions like this that happened over the weekend – again, we’ve talked about this publicly, but actions like this certainly don’t do anything to help with stability in the region. And again, we have and will continue to express our concerns about the legal process in Saudi Arabia.

That said, Saudi Arabia is, as I said earlier, an important friend in the region, an important partner in the region. They are a member of the 65-member coalition against ISIL. They did host — they are playing a very helpful role— leadership role— in the Vienna process, trying to get to a political transition in Syria. They hosted the meeting of the opposition in Riyadh. That was a Saudi-led event and we appreciate that.

Even the best of friends don’t always agree on everything. And again, we’ve made our concerns known about the legal process there. We’re going to continue to make those concerns known. But it doesn’t mean that – to my larger message, it doesn’t mean that bilaterally you don’t keep working through these problems in a relationship and you keep trying to find peaceful, diplomatic solutions to tough problems. And we’re going to continue to do that.

But again, I would just go back to the main point here that Saudi Arabia is a key partner in the region, a key leader. They have a leadership role. And as I said at the outset, we want them to play a leadership role. We want all local leaders in the region to take upon themselves the responsibility for solving these issues bilaterally and peacefully.

END

Source: U.S. State Department

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