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Saturday, November 5, 2016

SECRETARY OF STATE: VERY STRANGE SUDDEN TRIP TO SOUTH POLE AWAY FROM ANY POPULATION AREAS ON ELECTION DAY

MR KIRBY: (First few minutes of transcript omitted here... this starts at the point of the announcement of Secretary of State trip to Antarctica)


And then speaking of COP22, I think you’ll see a travel announcement from us shortly about the Secretary’s upcoming travel. He will leave on Monday, the 7th of November. His first stop will be Antarctica, where he will have a chance to visit with the scientists and researchers both at McMurdo Station as well as the South Pole. He’ll be the first Secretary of State and the most senior U.S. Government official to ever travel to Antarctica, and he’ll be there from the 10th to the 12th of November. Follow-on stops on this trip include Wellington, New Zealand for bilateral discussions on the 12th and 13th; on the 14th he’ll be in Oman; on the 15th, United Arab Emirates. We go to Morocco on the 15th and 16th for COP22, and then he goes on to Peru for the APEC conference on the 17th and 18th before returning home. So it’s a long trip, lots to cover. But we’ll keep you guys posted as the schedule continues to firm up.

QUESTION: Can I just ask very briefly on the trip and Antarctica? I mean, he’s not going directly there, is he? He’s got to stop beforehand, right? In New Zealand?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, several stops.

QUESTION: Well, in New Zealand, though. I mean, he’s – you can’t just fly --

MR KIRBY: I thought you were talking about fueling.

QUESTION: No. No, I’m just saying you can’t just fly from Washington to Antarctica.

MR KIRBY: No, you can’t.

QUESTION: Right. So --

MR KIRBY: That’s impossible.

QUESTION: Right. So --

MR KIRBY: It can’t be done.

QUESTION: -- he’s leaving – where --

MR KIRBY: So we are – we’re going to --

QUESTION: He’s going to Christchurch or is he going someplace else?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, so we’ll be stopping in Christchurch, but really the first stop in Christchurch will just be to follow on.

QUESTION: Gotcha.

MR KIRBY: We’ll go back to Christchurch for bilateral meetings.

QUESTION: And then what – okay, so he’s going there. What’s he going to – what’s the purpose of going?

MR KIRBY: Of Christchurch?

QUESTION: No, Antarctica.

MR KIRBY: So I think McMurdo Station is the largest research station of the U.S. Antarctic Program, as well as surrounding areas on Ross Island. And he’ll also visit the U.S. Government’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. There he’ll have a chance to meet with scientists and researchers that are studying a wide range of subjects in the extreme south, including, of course, climate change. He’ll also get a chance to see firsthand part of the recently established Ross Sea region marine protected area which we announced a week or so ago, the world’s largest marine protected area, which is 1.5 million square kilometers or about – nearly 600 square miles. So this visit will be hosted by the U.S. National Science Foundation, which manages the U.S. Antarctic Program. So it’s a chance to really see firsthand what’s going on with climate change research.

QUESTION: But it’s – climate change and ice?

MR KIRBY: Of course, yeah.

QUESTION: Has he voted?

QUESTION: He will be – he’s leaving on Monday, so he’s not – so he’s --

MR KIRBY: Wait, wait, let’s just – go ahead. Stay on --

QUESTION: Sorry.

QUESTION: Is the scheduling of this designed to keep him out of the country during the election?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I remember the last --

MR KIRBY: I mean, will it? Yes. But is there some sort of design to keep him out of the country on Election Day? No. I mean, the Secretary has been wanting to get down there for a long, long time, and frankly, this schedule was very literally driven by the weather. As a matter of fact, as I understand it from the briefings that we got last week from scientists, that we are – that you wait much longer in the year and it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to travel down there.

QUESTION: And then – but so do you know, has he voted?

MR KIRBY: I understand that he has voted.

QUESTION: In Massachusetts?

MR KIRBY: I – assuming it’s still his home state. I can check on that, but I know that he has voted, yeah.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Is he physically going to go from the Amundsen station to the spot, the actual spot of the South Pole? Do you – are you aware of that?

MR KIRBY: Yes. So it’s a – it’s – you go to Christchurch, it’s about a five-hour flight to McMurdo. We’ll spend the night there because of just the time it takes to get there and acclimatizing. And then we’ll get up the next morning and it’s about a three-hour flight from there to the pole. There’s an actual research facility at the pole.

QUESTION: So he’ll go outside and go to that marker for the South Pole?

MR KIRBY: I’m assuming so.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know, but the research – as I understand it, the research facility itself is just a few hundred meters from the actual pole, so we’ll --

QUESTION: Yes. You still have to go outside to get there, though.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I’m assuming you have to go outside to get there.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: But the research facility’s right there, so we will be on the South Pole.

QUESTION: Do you know if the foreign minister of New Zealand is going to be going with them, or --

MR KIRBY: He will not be.

QUESTION: So there’s no real like technically diplomatic component to the trip. I understand there’s a climate change --

MR KIRBY: The purpose for the South Pole is to talk to researchers and scientists --

QUESTION: Got you.

MR KIRBY: -- largely about climate change research.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

QUESTION: Well, can I just ask about Antarctica?

QUESTION: Oh.

QUESTION: Just what – I mean, what specifically does he hope to achieve with this visit and how much is it going to cost U.S. taxpayers for him to go look around --

MR KIRBY: I will see if we can get you an estimate. I don’t have that. But I think any basic understanding or attempt to understand climate change, you have to understand what’s going on both in the Arctic and the Antarctic, especially with melting glaciers and ice and the sea level rise that can come from that. And as an individual who has literally championed climate change research and awareness for decades now, the Secretary is and will remain committed to increasing the awareness and education of the public about this. And he himself feels it’s important – particularly in the wake of us entering into force now the Paris Agreement, and in advance of the COP22 discussions which will all be about implementing the agreement, that it’s important for him to see firsthand what we’re learning about the environment down there on the South Pole and what information we can then glean from the research to make better, smarter policy decisions. Because that, in the end, as you’ve heard the Secretary talk about – that’s really the answer here, is energy policy, and he believes it’s important to go down there and see that for himself.

QUESTION: Because there’s some criticism that this trip is basically the Secretary wants to knock Antarctica off his bucket list and he’s doing it sort of on taxpayer expense.

MR KIRBY: Where’s the criticism coming from or – I haven’t seen that. Have you?

QUESTION: I – I’ll send you some, yeah. I mean, it’s --

QUESTION: Really?

QUESTION: It just --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know how there can be criticism of this when we haven’t even announced the trip, but --

QUESTION: Well, you just did. The criticism obviously came in the last 10 minutes. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: It must have come in the last five minutes. But nevertheless, Nick – nevertheless, you’ve traveled with the Secretary. I think you know how packed his schedule is, and he wouldn’t be making this trip – or any other trip, for that matter – if he didn’t think it was important to advancing issues that are important to our national security and our foreign policy. And climate change is – and it’s not just the State Department that said that; the Pentagon has said it’s a national security imperative. And that was a study two, three years ago. So given all the stakes for the planet, particularly for sea level rise, but – by melting ice, the Secretary believes this is an important trip to make and it’s some – and it’s a place that he’s been wanting to go for a while now. It is largely weather-dependent and that has restricted our – somewhat our ability to be able to get down there, plus you want to get down there when there’s research going on that is the most relevant to what we’re trying to learn, and this is a good time to go.