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The major developments in Saudi-Iran relations in recent days were covered in yesterday’s State Department briefing [link here]. Today State Department Spokesperson John Kirby continued to address questions about the subject. Here for your consideration is the transcript of the press briefing in its entirety, as almost all of the conversation focused on Saudi-Iranian developments.
Spokesperson – US State Department
Daily Press Briefing
January 5, 2016
1:36 p.m. EST
MR KIRBY: Okay. I do not have an opening statement, so we can get right after what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: Right. So as we just heard from Special Envoy McGurk, the Secretary apparently spent the entire day on the phone yesterday, which we didn’t really know about. We knew about one phone call that he made on Sunday, and so who else did he call other than the Iranian foreign minister?
MR KIRBY: I can assure you there was no conspiracy to —
QUESTION: I’m not suggesting there was a conspiracy. I just —
MR KIRBY: — obscure his phone conversations. The Secretary —
QUESTION: Can you bring us up to date? Let me rephrase the question. Can you bring us up to date on the Secretary’s phone calls?
MR KIRBY: The Secretary has made several phone calls in the last 24 hours or so. He has talked on numerous occasions to leaders in both Saudi Arabia and Iran. So I think he’s talked to the deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia a couple of times, he’s talked to Foreign Minister al-Jubeir, he’s talked to Foreign Minister Zarif a couple of times as well. And while I don’t have additional calls today to read out, I can assure you that he will continue to stay in close communication today on this issue, and what he’s going to be doing is talking to other leaders in the region as well. So I don’t have any new calls to read out, but I can assure you that he is going to stay at it and he’s going to broaden the list of people that he’s going to speak to to include other regional leaders.
QUESTION: Do you know, in the course of those calls, has he made it a specific point, apart from the obvious immediate tension between Riyadh and Tehran – but about the peace talks that are supposed to be coming up and the importance – has he made it – has he stressed that it has a primary point beyond the immediate tensions that those that are set to happen on the 25th in Geneva go ahead as planned?
MR KIRBY: Yeah. Without getting into specific details of each call, which I think you can understand we’re not interested in doing, I can tell you that, certainly, one of the key things on his mind, as we talked about yesterday, is to de-escalate the tensions, restore some sense of calm, encourage dialogue and engagement between these countries bilaterally, but also to make the point that there are other pressing issues in the region too. We understand that this is – we understand this is a source of tension – nobody’s trying to understate that – but that there are other pressing issues that need – that constantly need attention and local leadership, and moving the political process forward in Syria is one of those issues.
So again, I don’t want to detail every line that he’s uttering here, but I can assure you that moving – not letting the Vienna process stall or fall backward is clearly top on his list.
QUESTION: Can I – if I could just – a quick follow-up after —
QUESTION: Let me just say – hold on, hold on. Let me just finish. This is very short. Yesterday, you may have noticed that the Iranians sent a letter to the Security Council expressing regret about the embassy – what happened to the Saudi embassy.
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. Administration, which condemned the storming of the embassy – do you consider that case closed or do you think that more needs to be done from the Iranian side?
MR KIRBY: Well, we – we’re aware of the letter and certainly aware of the comments expressed in that. I think that that’s – it’s an encouraging sign. But in terms of closing the book, this is not something that we’re investigating, Matt. It’s – that’s really a matter between Saudi Arabia and Iran to continue to discuss. It’s not our place to close a book. We’re – as I said, we’re not independently reviewing that attack or this violence.
Obviously, we want to see further dialogue between the two and we want to see some sense of engagement to try to resolve the tensions that resulted in the wake of these executions.
QUESTION: Are you —
QUESTION: I mean, given – can I just follow up on the question before that? I mean, he’s making the point that there are other pressing issues in terms of dealing with Syria and the like. Is there a concern that – the behavior of the country is going forward, the cutting of ties with Iran, and today Iran unveiled this new ballistic missile which we can get into a bit – that they’re using this for, like, political ones-upmanship to affect some of these other issues going on?
MR KIRBY: I don’t think we’re trying to make a judgment here about what the – what political motivations may be at work. As I said yesterday, diplomatic relations, those are sovereign decisions that countries make. We’re – what we’ve said and we’ll continue to make the case – and the Secretary continues to make this case and will as he continues to have these conversations – that we believe engagement and dialogue and diplomatic relations are important. We believe that these tensions and the – that specifically related to the executions over the weekend are things that these countries need to work out bilaterally. I won’t speak to their political motivations one way or the other. Obviously, if there is that – if that is an undercurrent, and I’m not saying it is, but if it were, that would be troubling and certainly would be unhelpful and not productive to getting us to a point where we can deal with real key, pressing issues in the region.
QUESTION: Well, in his conversations, without saying – espousing any type of political motivations, is he making clear to leaders in the country, like, don’t let these issues be affected by your tensions right now?
MR KIRBY: I don’t think he’s lecturing, and I don’t think that that’s all our intent here. But he is urging calm. He is stressing the need for dialogue and engagement, and thirdly, reminding that, again, there’s lots of work to be done in the region. It doesn’t mean that we don’t understand the tension caused here by the executions and the events afterward. We do understand that. But we believe that it’s important to work though that tension, work though those disagreements, so that we can all work harder together on other issues which are affecting the Middle East writ large: the fight against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, which Brett just briefed you on; the continuing strife in Yemen; and of course, the need to really keep moving the political process in Syria forward. There’s a lot on the agenda in the Middle East, and the Secretary wants to make sure that we’re all – all of us are still pulling on the rows – pulling on the oars to get at those objectives.
QUESTION: Given the Secretary’s belief in the utility of engagement and diplomatic relations, is he encouraging the Saudis to take the sovereign decision to restore diplomatic relations?
MR KIRBY: Again, we’re not lecturing, we’re not —
QUESTION: I didn’t ask if you were lecturing.
MR KIRBY: No, I know that, Arshad.
QUESTION: I asked if he’s encouraging them.
MR KIRBY: I got it. I’m not going to get into every issue – I’m not going to get into every line he’s uttering on these calls. But as I said to Matt, I think it’s safe to say that his message overall is one to encourage calm, to encourage all parties to look for ways to de-escalate the tensions, to take it down a notch, and to engage. We’re strong believers in diplomatic engagement and dialogue, and we believe we’d like to see leaders in the region espouse the same sort of approach to these problems.
Ultimately, these are decisions they have to make; we understand that too. These are sovereign decisions. Countries get to decide for themselves who they’re going to talk to and who they’re not going to talk to. We just think that at this particular time, with all the other issues going on and the progress that we have made, not just against ISIL but towards a political process in Syria, that it would be detrimental to regional stability if they decide – if the decisions that they make are to disengage and to shut down avenues for conversation and dialogue.
QUESTION: The U.S. Government – its current belief in diplomatic engagement and maintaining diplomatic ties has a long history of cutting diplomatic ties, not least with Iran and Cuba. Libya, you didn’t have diplomatic representation for decades, but they were never formally cut. And it took – has taken you decades – truly, half a century – to get back to diplomatic relations with Cuba. So I find it perplexing that you wouldn’t perhaps, given how strongly you say you believe in this, your own history notwithstanding, that you wouldn’t encourage them to rethink that particular decision.
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that we didn’t encourage them to rethink it. I’m not going to get into the specifics of diplomatic discussions. It’s just not a good policy for us to do from the podium, but what – but I think it’s safe to say that one of the messages that the Secretary has been transmitting and will continue to do so is that the importance of engagement and dialogue and conversation to work through this.
QUESTION: So did you encourage him to rethink it?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the specifics of diplomatic discussions.
QUESTION: John —
QUESTION: Well – and then one other one if I may, Said. Is it plausible to you that – and I know that the investigation, to the extent that there is one, is surely not complete, but is it plausible to you that the Saudi embassy could – in Tehran – could have – a place where you guys have experience in having embassies attacked – could have been attacked, burned, besieged over a significant period of time without some measure of Iranian Government acquiescence?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know the answer to that question. We talked about this a little bit yesterday. Iran has expressed regret. They’ve done that in a letter to the UN. I think that’s an encouraging sign. The tick-tock of what happened – who did what when, who didn’t do things they were supposed to do – I think that’s for the Iranian Government to speak to and to look at themselves and to review, not for us. We’re not doing an independent investigation here on what happened. It was obviously an act of violence, or multiple acts of violence, depending on how you look at it that we condemned very publicly. We take very seriously the safety and security of diplomatic property, as you might expect we would. And we respect that property of other nations here in the United States. So obviously, it was very troubling and disconcerting, and we didn’t – we don’t ever want to see that. But it’s just happened. I think it’s too soon for anybody to know exactly how it transpired or whether there was any lack of effort or alacrity in trying to stop it or stem it once it started. But really, that’s really – that’s for Iranian authorities to speak to.
QUESTION: Wait a second. Did you not get the timeline that we talked about yesterday? Did I – I think you did. Do you somehow doubt the —
MR KIRBY: I’m —
QUESTION: — Saudi explanation or the Saudi timeline of what happened, which was that they requested protection and help from the Iranian authorities numerous times and never got an answer? Are you doubting that account?
MR KIRBY: I have seen the timeline and I’m grateful to have been able to see it, but I’m going to let Saudi authorities speak to the veracity of that timeline, and I’ll let the Iranians speak as well for their react to it.
QUESTION: Okay, but do you have any reason to doubt it?
MR KIRBY: We’re not —
QUESTION: Do you have any reason to doubt that the Saudis asked for help and they didn’t get it?
MR KIRBY: We can’t confirm or deny those reports that were relayed – that were in that timeline.
QUESTION: All right. And then I just wanted to —
QUESTION: John, I – could I just follow up on something that you just said?
QUESTION: Back to my question, which really went to plausibility —
MR KIRBY: Sorry?
QUESTION: Plausibility was my question. My question isn’t about the exact timelines. I just – I don’t understand —
MR KIRBY: I don’t know how to answer that question. I —
QUESTION: Well, is it plausible? I mean, if an embassy in Washington, D.C., many of which have – for which you, the United States Government, is responsible for providing protection, were attacked and they sought help and they didn’t get an answer, it seems to me that it would be hard to view that as somehow implausible that the U.S. Government didn’t choose to do something here. And I just – I find it hard to believe that you find it plausible that the Iranian Government didn’t acquiesce in this attack.
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that it was plausible that they did or they didn’t. I’m saying it’s just happened, too soon for anybody to know – at least for us to know. We’re not conducting an investigation of this attack. This is for Iranian authorities to speak to. They’ve already expressed regret, as I said – or as they said. And I don’t think it’s beneficial for me at this podium to engage in hypotheticals about what might or might not have happened. I think what we want to focus on, what the Secretary is very focused on, is trying to move past this tension right now and get everybody to engage in some form of dialogue and engagement that can help resolve this, but also to get focused on the other issues in the region that we really believe need some attention.
QUESTION: Do you believe that the Saudis overreacted? Do you believe that they have overreacted?
MR KIRBY: Overreacted —
QUESTION: Yes, they overreacted by cutting off relations with Iran so quickly and so on?
MR KIRBY: Well, as I said yesterday, Said, these are sovereign decisions. And the governments that make these decisions, they need to speak for that in terms of the motivation and why they did it and what’s behind it and how long they’re going to abide by those decisions. We’ve made it clear, we continue to make it clear that we believe that diplomatic engagement, particularly in this region, particularly over this issue, is important, and we’d like to see that continue.
QUESTION: But —
MR KIRBY: So our view is engagement, conversation, dialogue can help.
QUESTION: I —
MR KIRBY: And cutting those avenues and pathways off – obviously, it’s hard to see how that’s going to be helpful to some sort of diplomatic, peaceful resolution to this tension.
QUESTION: Let me try it this way.
QUESTION: But is it a concern – just to follow up —
QUESTION: Based – well, based on the Secretary’s conversations with the deputy crown prince, has he been left with the impression that perhaps the Saudis overreacted?
MR KIRBY: I won’t speak to the specifics of the conversation, Ros. You know I won’t do that, and I certainly won’t speak to decisions going forward that the Saudis might or might not take. They should speak to that.
QUESTION: But I’m speaking about the Secretary’s assessment.
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the details of these discussions. As I said, he has been having several – and I think you can expect that he’ll continue to reach out to counterparts in the region – and his message will be the same for all of them, which is what we’ve been talking about in terms of restoring calm.
QUESTION: Has the United States given any thought to restoring its own democratic – diplomatic ties with Iran?
MR KIRBY: There’s been no decisions in that regard.
QUESTION: But you’re very keen on diplomacy and outreach for others.
MR KIRBY: Yes. But as I said, sovereign decisions, right? And the United States has made its own sovereign decisions with respect to certain countries.
QUESTION: Well, would you have more credibility to the Saudis to restore ties?
MR KIRBY: I know of no plans to restore diplomatic ties with Iran at this time.
QUESTION: Well, how about this: Do you find it unusual at all that now that you and the Saudis at least share one thing in common; neither of you have diplomatic relations with Iran, but the Secretary is on the phone with the Iranian foreign minister talking about something that has nothing to do with the nuclear deal? Is that —
MR KIRBY: Every opportunity that he has to speak with Foreign Minister Zarif, they talk about the JCPOA and the nuclear deal as well as the cases of missing Americans in Iran. So look, I – these are —
QUESTION: Do you find it —
MR KIRBY: This is an exceptional —
QUESTION: Do you not find it unusual that the foreign minister of the United States of America, which has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since 1980, is on the phone to this guy constantly —
MR KIRBY: No, look, even before —
QUESTION: — perhaps even as much as he is on the phone to the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, which has been a U.S. partner for half a century?
MR KIRBY: I think given – look, I think given the tensions over the weekend, the conversations he’s having are wholly appropriate.
QUESTION: I’m not asking if you think they’re inappropriate. Do you find it unusual that here you are, a country that does not have and has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since 1979 or 1980, being in some ways – I know you don’t want to call yourself a mediator or a broker or whatever – but encouraging discussion with a longtime – Iranian discussion with a longtime partner of yours, the Saudis?
MR KIRBY: No, I don’t.
MR KIRBY: No, we don’t.
QUESTION: It does speak to the evolution of the relationship between the U.S. and Iran, and particularly between Foreign Minister Zarif and Secretary Kerry, as Matt said, that he is able to talk to him not just about the nuclear issue but about other issues of regional concern. I mean, it does speak to growing if not warming ties.
MR KIRBY: I don’t know that I’d characterize it that way, Elise. Obviously, until —
QUESTION: How would you describe it?
MR KIRBY: Until this weekend, the discussions with Iran have obviously centered on the nuclear deal and on the case of the missing Americans.
QUESTION: Centered but not been exclusive.
MR KIRBY: Been exclusive to that. But we have —
QUESTION: No, they have not. They’ve talked about —
QUESTION: You don’t talk to them about your Americans —
QUESTION: And you also talk to them about —
MR KIRBY: Obviously, there’s been a Syria political process —
QUESTION: You don’t talk to them about Iraq?
MR KIRBY: Hang on a second.
QUESTION: You talk about lots of things.
MR KIRBY: Hang on a second.
QUESTION: Well, don’t misspeak.
MR KIRBY: I’m not misspeaking, Arshad.
QUESTION: You said they were exclusive to the nuclear deal. They weren’t.
MR KIRBY: Up until recently, yes, the discussions were on the nuclear deal and on the case of the missing Americans. Obviously, we have opened up an engagement with Iran on the Syria political process. And they have been – and we want them to continue to be – a constructive player on that process, clearly. But we don’t have, obviously, normal diplomatic relations with Iran, where we talk about a full spate of issues that we would with a country that we do have diplomatic relations, whether it’s economics, trade, people-to-people exchanges, all that kind of thing. We don’t talk about that with Iran.
But there are some specific issues where we have and will continue to have a dialogue with them. In light of what we have done with Iran since the deal and moving forward in the political process in Syria, the Secretary believed that, in the wake of the issues over the weekend regarding the executions and the activities that followed them, he felt it was prudent to have a discussion with Foreign Minister Zarif about that, as he did with Foreign Minister al-Jubeir and the deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia. I mean, it’s – he feels that’s wholly appropriate, given the spate of other issues that we’re dealing with in the region.
QUESTION: I didn’t say it was inappropriate, but I do think – it does seem as if his growing discussions with the Iranian foreign minister, whether it’s on Syria, whether it’s on Yemen, whether it’s on other issues, that it’s an effort to bring Iran into the regional discussion as a productive member in the region. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that.
MR KIRBY: No, these discussions are really, again, point specific and not part of a larger effort by the United States to, quote/unquote, “bring Iran into the international community.” The degree to which Iran is or isn’t a part of the international community falls to them. It falls to them to make those decisions. And in many ways, they have not yet made that kind of a decision, because they still are a state sponsor of terrorists and they still have a ballistic missile program and we still have concerns about destabilizing activities that they continue to propagate in the region. So there’s no effort here as a result of this – these incidents to sort of open up or warm ties with Iran. As we have said, our discussions with Iran have been very specific to very specific issues, and I don’t see that changing in the near future.
QUESTION: Yes, Iran continues to do all those destabilizing things, still a state sponsor of terror, still has ballistic missile program, still does – still holds Americans in prison that you want released; and yet, the Secretary is on the phone with him, the foreign minister, quite a bit in the – at least as many – you said a couple times with him and a couple times with al-Jubeir and the deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
MR KIRBY: Well, go back to what I said before. Well, go back to what I said before, though: There are other issues in the region: issues such as the implementation of the nuclear deal, which has regional implications; issues such as the political process in Syria that they have been a part of and we want them to continue to be a part of; and, of course, issues of our American citizens there, I mean, there – that warrant discussions of their own right and certainly in the wake of the tensions are all that more important. As I said, one of the messages the Secretary continues to deliver in these conversations is there are other issues in the region that we don’t want to see derailed by this tension. Obviously, Iran is at the center, as is Saudi Arabia, of this recent tension. It just follows that he would have a discussion about that —
QUESTION: Well, are there other state sponsors of —
MR KIRBY: — to make sure that the other pressing issues, which we are continuing to work with Iran on, continue.
QUESTION: Are there other state sponsors of terrorism that you can consider – like the Sudanese or the Syrians, for example – that you would consider opening up a connection, a dialogue with?
MR KIRBY: There are no – I know of no such plans, Matt.
QUESTION: No? All right.
MR KIRBY: Yeah. Jim.
QUESTION: Just quickly, you’re aware of the Saudi view that they’re standing up to Iran because the U.S. isn’t anymore. And when you look at the series of events in the last few weeks: you’ve got a ballistic missile test, no sanctions to follow; you have Jason Rezaian, continued detention along with the other Americans there; you’ve got rockets fired by a U.S. carrier, which didn’t seem to be an accidental message at the time; and you’ve got a burning embassy, Saudi embassy, in Tehran. And I just wonder, how do you fight that perception that to protect the Iranian nuclear deal that the U.S. is soft-pedaling these other issues that in the past they would’ve taken them to task for?
MR KIRBY: There’s absolutely no soft-pedaling with respect to Iran and their destabilizing activities. What we said on the ballistic missile program – there have been sanctions put in place as a result of that program, and as I said yesterday, we’re still working through potential sanctions on more recent ballistic missile tests.
QUESTION: Delayed, though, right?
MR KIRBY: We’ve got some technical issues we’re working out, but we are still working our way through that. There’s no queasiness here in the United States about holding Iran accountable for their destabilizing activities in the region, which continue. And what we said all along on the Iran deal is that an Iran without nuclear weapons is arguably safer for the region – everybody in the region – than an Iran with nuclear weapons.
So do we want to see the Iran deal implemented? You bet we do. And are we going to do everything we can to meet our commitments inside the JCPOA? You bet we will. And our expectation is that Iran will do the same, and they are working towards implementation of that deal, which ultimately does help decrease Iran’s ability to destabilize the region. Does it take it away altogether? Absolutely not, Jim. We know, again, they support terrorist networks throughout the region. They are still working a ballistic missile program that gives everyone pause. But there are levers at our disposal and tools at our disposal which we have used and we will continue to use.
And the message to anyone thinking that the United States is somehow becoming weak on Iran or soft-kneed, our message would be that is absolutely false and not true. We still have a very strong, very robust military presence in the region under Central Command. That will continue. We have been sailing U.S. Navy ships in and out of the Arabian Gulf now since the end of World War II. That will continue. And I don’t think anybody can just – if you just take a look at not only our presence but our activities, our leadership of the coalition against ISIL, nobody can look at that menu and say that the United States is somehow turning a blind eye or weak-kneed towards Iran. It’s just not true. It’s not borne out by the facts.
QUESTION: Could this crisis (inaudible) —
QUESTION: Can I ask you to address that – excuse me, Said. Can I just ask you to address that last week, in the week between Christmas and New Year’s – we talked about this a little bit the other day that the sanctions – some people had said that they expected sanctions, ballistic missile – new ballistic missile sanctions to be announced sometime during that week, and they weren’t. At the same time as they were saying that, there were also people on the Hill and elsewhere putting out the idea that the State Department had stopped Treasury from putting those in place as – when they had expected because of Iranian objections. Are you aware of that at all?
MR KIRBY: I’ve seen reports on that. What I can just say —
QUESTION: Well, forget about the reports on it. Can you address the allegations that are being made by people on the Hill?
MR KIRBY: I mean, I was getting there. I was getting there.
MR KIRBY: I just – just trying to work my way into my answer here.
MR KIRBY: Look, I’ve seen those – the reports, Matt. What I can tell you is that we take very seriously the ballistic missile program that Iran continues to pursue. We have tools at our disposal in the terms, particularly in terms of sanctions that we have used in the past. We are still open to using that in the future. I – as I said yesterday, we are fully prepared to continue to use sanctions with respect to this most recent ballistic missile test. We are still working through some technical issues there. And I just don’t have any sanctions to announce today.
QUESTION: Okay. I understand that. But can you at least —
MR KIRBY: This idea —
QUESTION: — address what the technical issues are or address the claim —
MR KIRBY: I cannot.
QUESTION: — that’s being made by some that the State Department stopped these sanctions from being imposed because the Iranians objected to them?
MR KIRBY: What I will tell you is there continues to be a robust interagency discussion about moving forward on sanctions for this particular program. And that’s about as far as I’m going to go.
QUESTION: Well, that’s not much of a denial. So if it’s – because I would think that if it was not true that the Iranians said, “Hey, wait a second, you can’t put these sanctions in place or —
MR KIRBY: These —
QUESTION: — we’ll walk from the nuclear deal,” —
MR KIRBY: Yeah, but that —
QUESTION: — that you would want to – I would think that you would want to deny that.
MR KIRBY: Those claims are fairly simplistic, that somebody just raises a hand —
QUESTION: That doesn’t mean that they’re not true.
MR KIRBY: That somebody just raises a hand and says, “Nope, nope. Stop the bus.” That’s not the way it works. And there is a lengthy and involved, and appropriately so, interagency discussion about the use of sanctions for Iran or for any other country that we impose sanctions on. And that discussion is ongoing right now.
QUESTION: Right. I know. But are these claims simply made up out of whole cloth or —
MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know. You’d have to talk to the sources that offered these claims. But —
QUESTION: I’m – they’re saying that the State Department intervened and stopped these sanctions from being imposed last week. And I’m just – at the behest of the Iranians. I just want to know whether that’s true or not. And it would seem to me that if it’s not true you would want to come out and say, “No, it’s not true.”
MR KIRBY: We don’t take sanctions advice or guidance from Iran or any other country, okay.
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: But we do make the decisions on an interagency basis between all the appropriate agencies. It’s not about one agency or another stopping a train. It’s a constant process of interagency dialogue and discussion. But we don’t take foreign policy advice and guidance from Iran or from any other country.
QUESTION: John, a quick follow-up on the point of the Iran deal. Could this crisis potentially unravel the Iran deal in your view?
MR KIRBY: Could the current tensions?
QUESTION: Could it – yeah. Could it basically —
MR KIRBY: Look, everything —
QUESTION: — scuttle the deal that has already been signed, and maybe that’s Saudi Arabia’s intention?
MR KIRBY: I’m really not – I’m terrible at hypotheticals, Said, so I don’t know how to answer that, other than to say that we continue to march towards implementation and meet our commitments. The Iranians, from everything we’ve seen, continue to march toward implementation and meet their commitments. That’s our expectation.
QUESTION: Change the —
MR KIRBY: Yeah, Michel.
QUESTION: On the execution of Mr. al-Nimr, do you view that Iran is intervening in the Saudi internal affairs when they condemn the execution of Mr. al-Nimr, especially that he is or he was a Saudi citizen, not an Iranian citizen?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – I’m not in a position to answer that, other than to say that the Iranians should speak to their public pronouncements about what they choose to condemn or not condemn. We made it clear here from this podium what our view was about – and continue to make our view known about – our concerns about the legal process in Saudi Arabia. So I mean, I can’t speak for another nation, what they decide to say and why they decide to say it. I can only tell you what our view is. And our view is that the current tensions are not helpful to moving forward on some very key issues in the Middle East that need constant attention. And that’s why the Secretary is going to stay laser-focused on this.
QUESTION: But they didn’t say only. They put the Saudi diplomatic facilities on fire in Iran.
MR KIRBY: Look, we’ve been through this, the issue of the attack on the diplomatic facility. We condemn that. We’re not bashful about doing that. And we’ll let Iranian authorities speak to what happened and how it happened, Michel. What we want to see – and I think this is really important. There’s a lot of finger pointing going on, and I get that. But what we want to see here is moving forward and moving past this. That’s what’s really important here. It doesn’t mean that – it doesn’t mean we dismiss the concerns. We understand the concerns. But we also continue to make the case that focusing on that, affixing blame, and a refusal to engage and to have a dialogue to work through the problems, none of that contributes to getting at some very real, significant security challenges in the Middle East – and commitments, oh by the way, by many nations in the region, security commitments, to solving some of these great problems. So what we want to see is we want – again, we understand the concern, but we want to see people trying to work through those and then move forward. There’s just too much going on right now. There’s too many big, important issues in the Middle East that need to be solved.
QUESTION: By saying that you are concerned about the legal process in Saudi Arabia, do you mean that you do not accept the accusations by the Saudis to Nimr? They accused him —
MR KIRBY: No, we have been very careful not to get into the specifics of each individual case.
QUESTION: Because they accuse him of arming people and creating cells.
MR KIRBY: No, I know that. We have abstained and will continue to abstain from speaking to each individual case. We have concerns —
QUESTION: But the perception here is that he is an innocent. Like, by not saying anything, you are giving a perception that you consider him innocent.
MR KIRBY: We are not going to make a judgment on each of these cases. We have expressed our concerns about the executions to the Saudis. We expressed concerns about the legal process in general before that. We’ll continue to do so, but we’re not going to get into legislating each and every case here from the podium.
QUESTION: Can I ask why not? I mean, you seem to do that with all sorts of other countries, including Iran, when they’ve executed individuals before or when they’ve tried individuals before – not just Americans. You’ve condemned it. You do it with the Chinese all the time; every time they round up a poet or a dissident or whatever, you use – you cite their individual cases and you say that you think that their treatment has been wrong and they should be released.
MR KIRBY: This was a pretty – a pretty big group – 47. And I’m —
QUESTION: Yeah. But it’s only – it’s because of one person that all this stuff happened.
MR KIRBY: And as I said yesterday, Matt, we very – we specifically – I told —
QUESTION: Well, then you do talk to individual cases.
MR KIRBY: Well, I said we made – we certainly made our concerns known about the al-Nimr cases to the Saudis beforehand. And I spoke to it yesterday, about our concerns that – in that particular execution there was concern by the United States about it exacerbating tensions. But I’m not going to – we’re not going to get into making an individual judgment on each of the 47 cases.
I’ve only got time for one more. Yeah.
QUESTION: To change the subject – about Poland. Recently there were some critical voices here in U.S. media about Polish, new Polish Government. And among others, Washington Post editorial board claimed that Poland new rightwing leaders have crossed a line. And last week your colleague Mark Toner was asked about it, and he said, I quote, “We raised question with the Polish Government about actions with regard to constitutional tribunal.” So my question is: On which level did you raise those questions? And what was the response?
MR KIRBY: I think you won’t like my answer, but the answer is as a standard rule we don’t talk about the details of our diplomatic discussions. But Mark was right; we did raise our concerns and questions with the Polish authorities. We do that at multiple levels here at the State Department, and we don’t typically get into the details of how that’s done or with whom.
QUESTION: Sorry. On the Gitmo detainees story, are you —
MR KIRBY: Which one? Which story?
QUESTION: Excuse me. The – it’s been reported that there will be some that are transferred soon, as early as this week.
MR KIRBY: I don’t have any transfers to – any pending transfers to speak to. I just don’t.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:10 p.m.)
Source: U.S. State Department
READ MORE on this topic:
- For the Record | State Dept Spokesman on Saudi/Iran/Region Issues – Jan 4 – SUSRIS – Jan 4, 2016
- Saudi Foreign Minister Announcement on Severing Iran Ties – SUSRIS – Jan 3, 2016
- Breaking – Saudi Arabia Cuts Diplomatic Ties with Iran – SUSRIS – Jan 3, 2016
- Saudi v Iran Confrontation | Analysis – Clemons (Video) – SUSRIS – Jan 3, 2016
- Saudi Arabia Executes 47 Over Terrorism Offenses – SUSRIS – Jan. 2, 2016
- Saudi Arabia Cuts Ties with Iran Amid Fallout from Cleric’s Execution – New York Times – Jan 3, 2016
- Saudi Arabia severs Iran ties – Arab News – Jan 3, 2016
- Iran warns of ‘divine vengeance'; Saudi Arabia breaks relations – WashPost – Jan 3, 2016
- Saudi Arabia severs ties with Iran: minister – Reuters – Jan 3, 2016
- Iran: Saudis face ‘divine revenge’ for executing al-Nimr – BBC – Jan 3, 2016
- Saudi Arabia severs ties with Iran as Mideast protests rate (Video) – CNN – Jan 3, 2016
- Saudi: “Iran is last country to talk about terrorism” – Saudi Gazette – Jan 3, 2016
- EU warns new Mideast tension risks Syria peace effort – Reuters – Jan 3, 2016
- Hezbollah chief blasts Saudi execution of Shiite cleric – Daily Star – Jan 3, 2016
- For Iran’s Rouhani, the buck stops somewhere else (firebombing embassy) – Quartz – Bobby Ghosh – Jan 3, 2016
- Iranian Protestors Damage Saudi Embassy in Tehran After Execution – NBCNews – Jan 3, 2016
- Iron fist against terror – Saudi Gazette – Jan 3, 2016
- Gulf States back Saudi in its fight against “terrorism” – Al Arabiya – Jan 3, 2016
- Iraqi figures urge severing of new Saudi ties over Nimr execution – Newsweek – Jan 2, 2016
- Shi’ite cleric among 47 executed in Saudi Arabia, stirring anger in region – Reuters – Jan 2, 2016
- Factbox – Troubled History of Iran-Saudi Relations – Reuters – Jan 3, 2016
- On the execution of Saudi Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr – Joseph Braude – FPRI – Jan 2, 2016
- Nima al-Nimr…Calling for Incitement from Qom – Asharq Al-Awsat – Jan 3, 2016
- First Among Equals – Omar Mohamed – Newsweek – Dec 2, 2015
- Iran and Saudi Arabia ramp up hostile rhetoric to new levels – The Guardian – Oct 23, 2015
- “Cut off head of snake” Saudis told US on Iran – Reuters – Nov 29, 2010
- Saudi-Iranian Relations Are Being Restored (1991) – New York Times – Mar 17, 1991