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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 30, 2015

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 16:51

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 30, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

12:24 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Friday.

QUESTION: Friday.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. I have one item for all of you at the top. Secretary Kerry will travel to Kyiv, Ukraine on February 5th to meet with Ukrainian President Poroshenko, Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, and Foreign Minister Klimkin, and members of Ukraine’s parliament. The Secretary’s visit will highlight the United States steadfast support for Ukraine and its people. Secretary Kerry will then travel to Munich, Germany from February 6th through the 8th to participate in the 51st Munich Security Conference. The Secretary will give remarks with German Foreign Minister Steinmeier while there, and while in Munich, Secretary Kerry will also hold a series of bilateral and multilateral meetings, which we’ll have more details on I expect next week. One of those meetings will be with Foreign Minister Lavrov, I can confirm.

With that, let’s go to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Just on that, just logistically speaking, there was a lot of noise, chatter about the Secretary possibly going to Moscow. That’s not happening?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. There’s no additional travel to announce. We have a range – as many of you know, because I know many of you have traveled with us – we often have a range of contingency options. He is the Secretary of State and the nation’s chief diplomat that we always have ready. His role is to engage internationally, but it’s hard to cancel a trip that wasn’t fully planned.

QUESTION: Right. But you do – you did make a point of saying that he would meet with in Munich with Foreign Minister Lavrov.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: There had been some discussion or some thought that he might also meet with Foreign Minister Zarif, if Foreign Minister Zarif was in Munich at the same time. Do you know if that’s a possibility?

MS. PSAKI: Not confirmed at this point. I’d said a couple of weeks ago, and this remains the case, that I expect they’ll meet again in the coming weeks. But the other bilats are still being finalized.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just on the Ukraine part of the trip, what exactly is he going there to do --

MS. PSAKI: Well, he was in --

QUESTION: -- other than show the flag?

MS. PSAKI: He’ll show the flag, certainly. He was in Ukraine about a year ago. Obviously, we remain steadfast supporters of Ukraine. We’ve provided them a range of security assistance, a range of economic assistance. I expect he’ll talk with them about the progress they’ve made and needs to continue to make over the coming months. He’ll meet, as I mentioned, with a range of officials and also talk about how we can continue to work together to de-escalate the situation on the ground.

QUESTION: Okay. The situation on the ground appears to have gotten worse in the last 24 hours. Do you have anything to say about that?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, let me speak to a couple of the specific incidents on the ground. Well, we – I spoke yesterday about the intensifying attacks over the last week along – on Debaltseve, a town about 13 kilometers beyond the ceasefire line. Over the last 24 hours, there was also shelling – the shelling of a cultural center in Donetsk. We condemn that shelling that cost at least six lives, and we express our condolences to the families of the victims. It’s, again, too early to determine responsibility for the shelling, but we call for a full and transparent investigation. Clearly, our effort remains and continues to be – and I expect, certainly, Ukraine will be a topic of discussion with Foreign Minister Lavrov – taking steps to encourage Russia and Russian-backed separatists to de-escalate the situation, abide by the Minsk agreement.

QUESTION: Okay, but the situation in Donetsk, as far as you understand, is held by the rebels. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. So are there people in the Administration who believe that it is plausible or even – that it’s possible or even plausible that the separatists are shelling themselves?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we know – I think, Matt, there’s a lot happening on the ground. We’re not – we don’t have that much visibility, so we just like to see investigations take place. And obviously, as you know, we encourage all sides to abide by the Minsk protocols. But again, this country remains Ukraine, all parts of it.

QUESTION: Right. But I’m just wondering – so you’re not prepared to say who you think is – you’re condemning the shelling, you’re just not going to – you don’t – you are not in a position to say who did it, who it is you’re condemning.

MS. PSAKI: Well, over the course of the last several months, Matt, there have also been a range of events that have happened that have targeted citizens and civilians.

QUESTION: Right. I understand that, but earlier this week you were asking – when you were asked, you said, “Well, what specific event are you referring to?” in the question – not just to me but to someone else. And so you’ve mentioned a specific event right here --

MS. PSAKI: That happened in the last 24 hours.

QUESTION: Exactly. So but what I’m asking is: You’re not prepared to assign blame or to condemn any specific party for this --

MS. PSAKI: That’s correct.

QUESTION: -- you’re just condemning the act itself?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you know if – yesterday up on the Hill there were a number of former secretaries of state who testified before Senator McCain’s committee, and all of them, if I’m not mistaken, said that they believe that it – the United States should provide defensive military equipment to the Ukrainian Government. Does the Administration have a position on this? Isn’t it already providing some kind of assistance in – of that type?

MS. PSAKI: We are. I mean, we’re providing a range of material equipment to the Ukrainians. I think the bar is lethal assistance, which we obviously have not made the decision to provide, and our focus remains on nonlethal assistance. But there have been a range of provisions included in that category.

QUESTION: But you’re talking lethal – so you were – nonlethal military, correct? I just want to make sure.

MS. PSAKI: We have, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay. And then my last one is – now I’ve forgotten what my last one is.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Well, we can come back.

QUESTION: On the Secretary’s trip --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- was he considering traveling to Moscow and he changed his plan, or --

MS. PSAKI: I think Matt just asked that question. Did you just come in?

QUESTION: Yeah – no, no. But he – because we read several stories about this today from Russia saying that he was going on --

MS. PSAKI: Sure, I’ve seen the stories. I think I answered it. I’m happy to reiterate that we always have a range of options, and many of you who have been on trips know that sometimes trips change and sometimes there are trips – components planned that don’t happen. There’s – it’s very fluid as we travel. And again, as I mentioned in my answer to Matt, it’s hard to cancel a trip that isn’t fully planned. So that’s where we are.

QUESTION: A follow up to that. My understanding is it was not spontaneous as all that, as you describe it; it was long in planning, it – the planning started several times, you have changed your plans several times. My understanding is that the request came from your side for him to travel to Moscow. So it was not like a contingency plan that suddenly changed. Do you understand that this constant changing of plans makes it easier to receive him at the right level in Moscow if and when it does happen?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t --

QUESTION: Maybe makes it harder, I’m sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. That’s not an accurate depiction of what happened, so I’ll leave it at what I just conveyed a couple of times.

QUESTION: I just remembered what I --

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you expect – and I – actually, I don’t expect to get a detailed answer on this, but I have to ask anyway.

MS. PSAKI: All right.

QUESTION: Do you expect Secretary Kerry to be bringing with him any new kind of assistance or any new kind of – any – well, anything new? Are there going to be any deliverables from this visit to Ukraine that you can say --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re always considering assistance. As you know, we’ve increased that over and continue to build on that over the last several months. I have nothing to predict for you, as I think you would expect for this particular trip.

Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: I just wondered if by any chance the Secretary may have plans to meet with representatives of the rebels from eastern Ukraine at all.

MS. PSAKI: We don’t have any plans for that, no.

QUESTION: Would it be helpful, do you think, in the situation should such talks occur?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this isn’t an issue – it’s not a negotiation between the United States and --

QUESTION: No, I understand.

MS. PSAKI: -- the Russian-backed separatists.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: I think we have been supportive of, which the Ukrainians have embraced, having the Russian-backed separatists represented as part of a range of discussions. Now, they’re not in equal footing; it’s still Ukraine. But that is appropriate as a part of negotiations.

QUESTION: And can I just ask: There were some talks that were due to start in Minsk today and appear not to have started. It’s a little bit confusing. The rebels are saying that it’s because the Ukrainian Government didn’t send any representatives. I know these aren’t talks that – they’re trilateral talks; they have nothing to do with --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- you don’t involve – they don’t involve you, the Americans. But do you have any clarity on the situation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know that the Ukrainians also claimed that the rebels didn’t – or the Russian-backed separatists didn’t show up. So you’re right; we support these talks and efforts to have these talks, but I would refer you to the Ukrainians and other parties involved on the details of what happened. I don’t have anything else to lay out for you. We certainly encourage and hope that these talks will continue.

QUESTION: Is there any way that the American – that the United States, that this Administration would think about becoming involved in a negotiation which would involve – well, I know you’ve done it before --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- but it seems that you’ve kind of left it to the European track for the time – over the last few months. Is it time for the Americans to sort of step up and try and bring American influence to these negotiations?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that I think any party involved in any of the discussions – excuse me – would agree that the United States is one of the most prominent supporters and backers of a peace process here. And we remain engaged closely with the Ukrainians, as evidenced by the Secretary’s trip, with the Europeans – which, as you know, is often a topic of discussion whenever the Secretary meets with his counterparts or EU High Representative Mogherini; this is often what they’re talking about. Whether there will be a new format or a different format that includes the United States – there have in the past. I think many of the parties want to see a resolution here, so we’re open to continuing to discuss what the best format is.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Jen?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you repeat the – the dates are – the date for --

MS. PSAKI: Of the trip?

QUESTION: -- Ukraine is February 5?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: And then in Munich --

MS. PSAKI: Sixth through the 8th.

QUESTION: 6 to 8.

MS. PSAKI: Exactly.

QUESTION: Okay. And a follow-up to the previous question was today the Polish foreign minister said that they are willing to sell arms to Ukraine because it’s, quote/unquote, “business.” How do you view these plans?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have details on it. But as is true, I would say, in our views of similar issues, every country makes their own decisions. We’ve decided what kind of assistance we’ll provide and why it’s most productive to provide the kinds of assistance we’ve been providing. I’m sure we’re in touch with our counterparts in Poland, but I don’t have any other comment on it.

Do we have any more on Ukraine before we continue?

QUESTION: Yeah. In his meeting with Lavrov, he will be discussing Ukraine only or Syria too, especially that Moscow --

MS. PSAKI: I expect there’ll be a range of issues. It’s about eight days away, so I think we’ll have a little bit more to say about it as we get a little bit closer.

QUESTION: And have they spoken recently? Because I know the Secretary had asked for an update after the Syrian opposition talks – or sorry, the Syrian talks in Moscow, which are finished now.

MS. PSAKI: They haven’t spoken in the last couple of days. I expect they will soon. I think both of them have had pretty busy schedules as well.

QUESTION: And did you have any reaction to the meeting in Russia for the opposition and Syrian regime?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have any particular reaction. As we said in the beginning, we weren’t a party to the talks; we weren’t invited to be a part of them. Obviously, there are a range of different efforts that are ongoing. So I don’t have anything specific for you.

QUESTION: It doesn’t seem to have resulted in anything much, though. Does that surprise you?

MS. PSAKI: I think as we said going in, time will tell if anything comes out of it. And as we know, our belief is that the Geneva agreement needs to continue to be the model of any political transition and political process. I don’t think we’ve seen evidence that there was progress made on that. Beyond that, we don’t have additional details of what came out of it.

QUESTION: But you do expect that this meeting with Lavrov in Munich will cover more than just Ukraine and Syria, correct?

MS. PSAKI: I expect it will cover a range of issues. They often talk about Iran.

QUESTION: How to deal with winter weather, snow shoveling, for example? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: I expect they are both excellent drivers in winter weather. I don’t – I can’t confirm that for Foreign Minister Lavrov, but I would bet that that’s the case.

QUESTION: How about snow shoveling? Do they both do that?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t confirm Foreign Minister Lavrov’s snow shoveling ability. I expect he’s done some in the past.

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Just on that --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure.

QUESTION: Sorry, just – sorry, that’s my colleague at the back. The – you said that the meeting with Foreign Minister Zarif hadn’t been firmed up yet, but the Iranians, however, have already said it’s happening.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, our schedule often comes together, as I’ve said many times – we’re – I expect they’ll meet again in the coming weeks. Our schedule isn’t quite finalized, so that’s sort of where we stand. We’re certainly open to meeting with him, but we’re still putting together the different components of the schedule.

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: One more about Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: As was previously announced, on the 1st of February all American companies have to quit all the business communications with Crimea. Could you please provide us more details about how it will work? For example, could the habitants of Crimea open the account on Facebook or YouTube?

MS. PSAKI: I really don’t have more details on that. I’m happy to – we can get you something after the briefing. As you know, we consider Crimea a part of Ukraine, so that’s how we view it.

QUESTION: Change the subject?

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Ukraine before we continue, or Russia? Russia or Ukraine?

QUESTION: Yeah. Lavrov – Secretary Kerry’s meeting with Lavrov.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I’m not sure if you know yet, but will he talk about Kim Jong-un’s meeting with Putin or Six-Party Talks?

MS. PSAKI: I expect they’ll talk about a range of issues. They often cover the – span the gamut during their meetings. So as we get a little bit closer, I’m happy to talk about that a little bit more.

QUESTION: Can we move to the occupied West Bank?

MS. PSAKI: We can move to Israel and the --

QUESTION: Okay. Yeah. Today, Israel announced that they are building 430 new housing units. I wonder what is your position on this. I mean --

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, we have made clear our position on settlement activities many times. We believe that settlements are illegitimate and are counterproductive to achieving a two-state outcome. We have deep concerns about these highly contentious construction announcements. They will have detrimental effects on the ground, inflame already heightened tensions with the Palestinians, and further isolate Israel internationally.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Now let me ask you something. Considering now there is no engagement whatsoever, at least between now and the Israeli elections and then a couple months --

MS. PSAKI: No engagement whatsoever, meaning what?

QUESTION: Between the American and the Palestinians and the Israelis on these issues --

MS. PSAKI: That’s not accurate.

QUESTION: -- or at least we’re not aware of any --

MS. PSAKI: That’s not accurate.

QUESTION: Okay. My point is the following.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Now over the interim of the next seven or eight weeks until the election, then thereafter – still forming the government and so on – what steps are you taking to sort of impress upon Israel that they ought to stop these activities, these provocations?

MS. PSAKI: Well, one, your statement’s inaccurate, so let’s just be clear about that. We remain very closely engaged with both officials from the Palestinian Authority as well as from Israel at many levels, and we – as you know, we have a large presence in our embassy and our consulate on the ground in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. So we discuss a range of issues. I think they’re certainly familiar with our views, and we reiterate those points privately just like we say them publicly.

QUESTION: But there is quite a bit of activity that has taken place in the last few weeks. I mean, land has been taken and so on, sometimes quietly, sometimes announced like today, and there seems to be no abating whatsoever in the process – no letting down.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Said, our view is that issuing these tenders does nothing to bolster Israel’s security, increase its prosperity, or further the cause of peace. That’s a point that we’re making clear to them on the ground privately as well.

QUESTION: And yesterday, former American envoy Dennis Ross and former member of the team David Makovsky – they gave a presentation at their think tank. And basically, Dennis Ross suggested that the time has come maybe for another exchange of letters of recognition. He cited the letters of recognition that were made on the 9th of September of 1993, and he said maybe the time has come. Is this an idea that you would support, whereby the Israelis say, “We will end the occupation,” and the Palestinians would recognize Israel as a Jewish state?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re private citizens, and they’re certainly free to make their own comments, but I don’t have anything beyond that.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you – the premise of the first question you were asked was that these were new tenders, and my understanding is that, in fact, they are old.

MS. PSAKI: That’s --

QUESTION: They’re not new, but --

MS. PSAKI: Many of them are old, yes.

QUESTION: I suppose – or tell me, does that – I mean, it doesn’t change your position at all --

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: -- but I mean, this does not seem to be something that is going to add to your existing concerns, because they were – you’ve already expressed your concern about these specific ones. Is that correct or am I wrong?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, that’s correct.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m wondering if you have seen the or are aware of the Hezbollah leader’s speech today and if you have any response to that.

MS. PSAKI: I have not seen it. We can take a look at it and offer a comment on it.

QUESTION: And then Senator Cruz has written a letter to the State Department, to Secretary Kerry, asking several questions about something that’s come up in this briefing room over the course of the past two days – that is, the funding for west – I mean for OneVoice.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In the announcement that he was sending the letter, the opening – the headline of it is, “Has President Obama” – now I can’t read my writing again. I wrote it down. (Laughter.) “Has President Obama opened a political” – or “launched a political campaign against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu?” Can you answer that question?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the short answer is no. I’m certain – and we all know the details because we’ve talked about them in here – I’m certain we will respond to Senator Cruz’s letter just like we do to any other letter we receive.

QUESTION: Another thing that’s come up is that apparently there was more than one grant.

MS. PSAKI: More than one grant over the last couple of years --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- or you think the 233 was more than one grant?

QUESTION: I don’t know if that was – I don’t know.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: That’s why I’m asking. And this is mentioned in the letter; it’s one of the questions that he asks.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not certain that’s accurate, but we can certainly check if the 233 was a part of more than one grant or if there was a grant prior to it, obviously which wouldn’t be relevant to the current election, but --

QUESTION: Right, but I just want to make sure that we have the – that I understand whether this was – the 233 was two grants or one grant --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- and there was another one that was earlier. Anyway, regardless of that, you are certain that there was nothing post-November --

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: -- 2014?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

Any more on Israel before we continue?

QUESTION: I just want to follow up on the Hassan Nasrallah --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- speech. He also said that this attack that took place yesterday or a couple days ago is in response to the assassination of or the killing of a number of their operatives. But you still term that as part of Israel’s self-defense, correct?

MS. PSAKI: I was asked a similar question yesterday.

QUESTION: I understand, but --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to add, Said.

Samir, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to the formation of the new government in Saudi Arabia?

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’re watching closely and will work closely with officials as they’re named and selected. But beyond that, we expect our working relationship that’s been a strong working relationship to continue with whomever is in government.

QUESTION: Sorry, I have one more about Israel – relating to Israel and the Palestinians.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: And that is that apparently – well, earlier – actually, it wasn’t earlier this year; it was last year.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Last year, you had expressed concern about Israeli authorities apparently targeting the Khdeir family.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You’ll recall what I’m talking about?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So it seems as though charges against one of them, at least, have been dropped. And I’m just wondering if you have followed up with the Israelis on this or if you have anything new to say on it.

MS. PSAKI: Why don’t I take it, and we can follow up with the team on the ground about that particular issue.

QUESTION: A follow-up on --

MS. PSAKI: I think – Said, I think I just want to give some more people a chance here.

QUESTION: On Saudi --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Very quickly on Saudi Arabia.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you expect that King Salman, now that he reshuffled the government and so on, appointed like 180 people, are you reading the messages as he’s following in the footsteps of King Abdullah, who you termed as a reformer?

MS. PSAKI: I think – the President of the United States was just there, the Secretary was with him. We expect to continue to work closely on all of the issues that we’ve worked closely on, whether that’s the Arab Peace Initiative, our efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL. We expect that will continue.

QUESTION: And there was also – I’m sorry, Arshad. There was also – today was designated as the resumption of the flogging of the Saudi blogger Badawi. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: We have seen the reports, and to our knowledge, they are accurate that it’s been postponed, I think, is what the report said. As we said in our January 8th statement, we’re greatly concerned that human rights activist Raif Badawi started facing the punishment of a thousand lashes in addition to serving a 10-year sentence. Beyond that, we don’t have additional details on the delay.

QUESTION: A follow-on on Israel?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: As you may know, Peace Now says that Israel has submitted plans for the construction of 93 new homes in Gilo.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Your comment – as I understand it, that’s separate from the 450.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Your comment was meant to apply to the 450, most of which are retendered?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is it also --

MS. PSAKI: Not all, I think. Most, though.

QUESTION: Right, right.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Was it also meant to apply to the – what Peace Now says are the plans for the construction of the 93 new homes in Gilo? Or is that not – was that not the subject?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t talked to our team about that specifically. We can certainly follow up with them on that. I assume yes.

QUESTION: Can I ask one on Jordan?

QUESTION: I have one.

MS. PSAKI: Let’s go to Jo and then go ahead.

QUESTION: I just had one on Saudi Arabia.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, okay.

QUESTION: Did you have anything on the reports of the two Americans who came under fire in a part of Saudi Arabia today? I believe one of them may have been wounded.

MS. PSAKI: We have seen the reports that two U.S. citizens were fired upon while riding in a vehicle in the eastern province district of al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia. Our U.S. Embassy in Riyadh and consulate general in Dhahran are working to obtain more information. We don’t have a Privacy Act waiver in this case, so there’s not more I can discuss. We’d certainly refer you to local police authorities in Saudi Arabia for additional information.

QUESTION: No indication or you can’t talk about the circumstances under which this happened?

MS. PSAKI: There’s not more details. There’s – obviously, the local police authorities are looking into it. And again, I can’t discuss specifics at this point in time.

QUESTION: What about American diplomats or officials or any --

MS. PSAKI: I can’t discuss because we don’t have a Privacy Act waiver, but they’re two U.S. citizens. I would say if they were diplomats.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: So speaking to the media a couple days ago, the father of the Jordanian pilot being held by ISIL said that the safety of his son means the stability of Jordan and the death of his son means chaos in Jordan. So does the State Department have any concerns about the stability of Jordan in regards to the pilot being held by ISIL?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly understand the pain and suffering of any father who is waiting to see if his son will be brought home. And I think that’s something that any parent around the world can relate to. This is obviously a very sensitive situation, a fluid situation. We’re in close touch with a range of authorities, as I’ve said a couple of times in here. We’re not going to outline those more specifically out of respect for their efforts and the process.

No, I would not say we think that there’s an issue of the stability of Jordan, nor do I think the Government of Jordan would say that.

QUESTION: And I understand that the father is from a very prominent tribe in Jordan. But in the event that his son is killed, in the unfortunate event that he is killed, do you have any concerns that this might impact negatively Jordan’s resolve to remain part of the anti-ISIL coalition?

MS. PSAKI: We’re not going to speculate on that for obvious reasons. I think though, clearly, the United States, the Government of Jordan, and others have been clear many times in the past that we are not going to succumb to the threats of terrorists and terrorist organizations, and that remains the case.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I change topics?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Oh, wait.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, on this particular issue?

QUESTION: Yeah. There was a report that Jordan says it was going to hang all of the ISIS captives if the pilot was killed. Do you have anything on that? And do you feel that that’s productive?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything on that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. Ambassador Kim was just in Beijing and he made some – he was asked about a potential meeting – bilateral meeting with the North Koreans. And he said that the North Koreans were “aware that I would be in the region and I think they understood that this would be an opportunity for substantive dialogue, but unfortunately we were not – we are not having a meeting on this trip.” Was there – it sounds like there was a meeting on the table that fell through. Is that an accurate reading --

MS. PSAKI: No, it’s not. There was no plans for a meeting. Nothing has changed. North Korea has not taken steps to abide by their international obligations. They’ve not taken steps to abide by the 2005 joint statement. He was there consulting with a range of parties on the ground.

QUESTION: Okay. There was never any kind of discussion whatsoever about a meeting with the North Koreans?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t – I wouldn’t read his comments as you read them.

QUESTION: Follow up that. Also he said the U.S. remains open to talks with the North Korea any time, and also he – the U.S. will continue to impose sanctions against the North Korea. Do you have any preconditions to direct talks with the North Korea, if you have any? What kind of preconditions --

MS. PSAKI: I think I just stated those. I would just say, though, that Ambassador Kim, in his avail, also said the question is not what we are willing to do; I think the question is whether the North Koreans are ready for any serious and productive discussion on the nuclear issue. And that’s something we’re continuing to look for, which clearly indicates they have not taken steps in order to warrant a discussion.

QUESTION: Are you --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Same question. Are you willing to hold bilateral talks with North Korea, even before North Korea takes some steps?

MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve outlined what our position is. They haven’t taken steps. We’ve seen no indication they will take steps. There’s no plans for a meeting.

QUESTION: Jen, just one more. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to press it, but I mean, Ambassador Kim did seem rather disappointed that a meeting didn’t materialize with the North Koreans. I mean, he used the word “unfortunately” that they’re not having a meeting on this trip.

MS. PSAKI: Well, he also outlined that we’re looking for them to take serious and productive steps, which they haven’t taken. So clearly we’re – we’ve been watching. They haven’t taken those steps.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Egypt, there is a huge criticism for the U.S. for receiving a Muslim Brotherhood delegation this week, and they consider the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization and blaming them for supporting the terrorist attack that targeted the Egyptian army, especially yesterday, in Sinai. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you combined quite a few things there, so let’s just actually state what the facts are.

QUESTION: I’m not – what they are saying.

MS. PSAKI: The State Department officials met with a group of visiting Egyptian former parliamentarians whose visit to the United States was organized and funded by Georgetown University. These meetings are fairly routine. The group included some former members of the Freedom and Justice Party, among others.

In terms of the attack, well, let me just take the opportunity to convey we strongly condemn yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Egypt’s North Sinai Governorate, in which at least 29 Egyptian citizens were killed and dozens other wounded. We express our sincere condolences to the victims, their families, and the government and people of Egypt. A group calling themselves ISIL Sinai Province, which we believe is also the group ABM, which we designated last April, has claimed responsibility for these attacks.

QUESTION: But the Egyptians are upset because they say that the Muslim Brotherhood supports such attacks on the army, and at the same time the U.S. receives some of their delegations here.

MS. PSAKI: Do you consider former members of the Freedom and Justice Party and part of a delegation invited here by a university to be the same thing as what you just said?

QUESTION: That’s what they consider them, not me.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know, but I’m having a conversation about the actual facts here.

QUESTION: I’m reflecting their point of view.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. I think I just responded to it.

QUESTION: You’re saying that – regardless of who organized and paid for it, you’re saying that, one, this was not a Muslim Brotherhood delegation --

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: -- and that, two, even the people who are being complained about who are in the delegation are not current members of either the Brotherhood or the Freedom and Justice Party. Is that also correct?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, and they’re former parliamentarians, which was what the category of the group is.

QUESTION: Okay. Did you – I asked yesterday when this came up if you know who else was in the – because these – I mean, how big was this delegation? It seems that these – how – there were how many, two members, former members of the Freedom and Justice Party?

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t get more details, but I’m happy to follow up on that.

QUESTION: I mean, this – these particular individuals seem to be getting a disproportionate amount of attention from – it appears, if it was in fact a delegation of 50 people or something like that.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have the numbers. We can certainly check and see if we have the details on that.

QUESTION: And exactly where and who was it, again, that they met with? Where – the State Department’s involvement in this was hosting --

MS. PSAKI: The deputy assistant secretary for democracy, human rights, and labor, and some other State Department --

QUESTION: And it was in this building? In other words, it was a State-Department-hosted meeting with the entire delegation, not just these individuals --

MS. PSAKI: Correct, yes.

QUESTION: -- who were former --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: And it – but it was here --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- in this building?

QUESTION: Jen, very quickly on --

QUESTION: Jen, there was a report that, following this meeting, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was calling on its supporters to prepare for jihad or “a long, uncompromising jihad.” Do you have any reactions to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, I would caution anyone from linking this meeting of former members of the – that included some former members of the Freedom and Justice Party – a group of former parliamentarians, again, sponsored by a prominent, well-respected university – and a video that we have seen attributed to the Revolutionary Punishment Group. We don’t have confirmation on the authenticity of that video or more details of it. But regardless, I’m not quite sure why you’d link the two, or anyone would.

QUESTION: Can I ask you very quickly, did they get their visas at the embassy in Cairo or elsewhere?

MS. PSAKI: Did they what? Say that one more time?

QUESTION: The – yeah. This delegation that came here --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- where did they get their visas stamped? Was it in Cairo or elsewhere? Or --

MS. PSAKI: As you know, we don’t confirm those details.

QUESTION: You don’t. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: But we didn’t sponsor their trip, so that’s not a question posed to us.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Jen, one member of this delegation posted on social media a picture for him in the State Department with the State Department logo. Do you think that he breached any protocol or any rules here?

MS. PSAKI: I think we have thousands of visitors here every day, often people who take pictures. I’m not sure that there’s a breach or an issue there.

QUESTION: Because he used this picture to show that he is in the State Department and the State Department supports the Muslim Brothers.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we confirmed that we met with a delegation, a diverse delegation that included former members of the Freedom and Justice Party.

QUESTION: Just a technical question, really.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You said that it’s believed that this group Sinai ISIL is – comes out of the ABM movement, which is designated --

MS. PSAKI: We believe it’s the same group as ABM, yes.

QUESTION: So does that mean that they are also then designated a terrorist organization?

MS. PSAKI: Well, ABM is designated.

QUESTION: Yeah. So if they’ve changed their name --

MS. PSAKI: It’s hard to exactly – they’re identifying by, it seems, maybe more than one name. I’m not 100 percent clear. I think, one, we’ve seen reports, as you know – and we’ve talked about this in other places – of some violent extremists who have praised ISIL, sought to associate themselves with them – with it. We continue to look for signs that these statements amount to something more than rhetorical support, so we don’t have details on the actual connections at this point in time. And the group, it seems, has used both names.

QUESTION: Right. So it would be – but it’s not – as Sinai ISIL it’s not designated, or it is?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think they just started referencing that name, so --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) go through a process to have --

MS. PSAKI: There’s a process. Arshad’s right. Exactly.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: But the group, if we know it as ABM, is designated, yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Egypt?

MS. PSAKI: Egypt? In – go ahead.

QUESTION: Regardless of the delegation, the Muslim Brotherhood – actually, you mentioned many times you’re encouraging the Egyptian Government, the new regime, to be inclusive and to work and cooperate with all the political players.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: The Muslim Brotherhood declared jihad in its – regardless of this video from this TV channel, but there is official statement. They are calling on their members to be prepared for jihad and to be inspired by the old military wing that was established in the 40s to kill Jews.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re referring to the video --

QUESTION: No, not the video.

MS. PSAKI: -- of which there have been statements taken from. I haven’t seen an additional, separate statement.

QUESTION: No. There is actually a statement on the Muslim Brotherhood official website.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Well, we’ll take a look at that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I had not seen that before we came out.

QUESTION: And the second question, regarding to your statement about the massive terrorist attack in Egypt yesterday --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- you said that the United States is still committed to support the Egyptian Government to defeat terrorists. How are you going to cooperate with the Egyptians in the future, in the near future? Because it seems that Egypt has a massive problem. The terrorist attack, they are now almost on daily basis, not only in Sinai but also in Cairo, the capital.

MS. PSAKI: How are we going to do it in the future? Well --

QUESTION: How are you going to support them? How are you going to work with them?

MS. PSAKI: -- as you know, we provide a great deal of security assistance for exactly this reason, for our counterterrorism partnership, because we have concerns specifically about violence and events in the Sinai. And as you know, we also recently released Apache helicopters and other equipment. So that’s ongoing. I don’t have anything to predict for you for the future, but we’ve provided a range of security assistance in the past.

Any more on Egypt before we continue?

QUESTION: Can I go back to Ukraine --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- for a second, and then to Russia? When you said that my picture of the events was not correct, did you mean that the Secretary had not offered more than once over the past year to travel to Moscow for a visit?

MS. PSAKI: Well, one, I would say we have a range – an ongoing dialogue with Russia, just like we have with a range of countries. There’s – often, part of that dialogue is discussions of how you can meet and where you can meet. That happens with dozens of countries around the world, not just Russia. What I was conveying is that reports that we were planning a visit, going to do a visit, were premature and inaccurate. I think I just described what the – actually happened.

QUESTION: Okay. And secondly, on Ukraine: Madam Lagarde, a couple days ago in her interview to Le Monde, said that there will be no new aid forthcoming from the IMF until there is a stabilization in Ukraine. And I see a difference in how this is presented by the U.S. Government and the IMF here. So obviously we all want a stabilization. We all want the conflict to stop. How do you view the prospects for new aid from the IMF to develop in view of what the director, the managing director has just suggested?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have her comments in front of me, though I don’t think that was the context of her comments. I think --

QUESTION: It was.

MS. PSAKI: -- we’ve been in – I’m happy to check it out, but I’m not going to take your word for it; I apologize for that. But she has been and the IMF has been outspoken about wanting to support a stable Ukraine and provide economic support. So why don’t we take a look at what the accurate version of the comments are.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Libya, do you have any new information on the attacks earlier this week in the Tripoli hotel? I’ve seen reports that maybe Americans were involved in fighting off the attackers. Is that anything that you can confirm?

And then the Americans who survived the attack, to your knowledge are they still in Libya or have they returned?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on the attack at all.

QUESTION: Can we move to Asia?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have anything – a interview by – well, a report sent – quoting a senior U.S. Navy officer, saying that the U.S. would support the air patrolling by Japan in the South China Sea area?

MS. PSAKI: I had seen those reports. I do think I have something on that. One moment.

I had seen the reports. We’re not aware of any plans or proposals for Japan to patrol the South China Sea. I believe they were comments made by a DOD official. We welcome and support a more active role for Japan in ensuring stability and security in East Asia and globally, including in addressing maritime security challenges. But we’re not aware of plans or proposals for new patrols.

QUESTION: So let’s hypothetical scenario. In the same time, would you consider hypothetically a ADIZ in the South China Sea by any countries who would do or who does or do not have claims over the disputed area?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to entertain that. It sounds like the reports aren’t accurate, and it’s really a DOD question in terms of monitoring and how we do that.

QUESTION: Now, can we stay in Asia?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Tibetan spiritual leader, Dalai Lama, is coming next week to the national prayers breakfast where President Obama is expected to attend? And it might be the first time they meet in public.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything on the President’s schedule or anything more. I’d refer you to the White House on that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Has the Chinese official raised any concerns or complaints to the State Department?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more for you on it.

QUESTION: How – I’m sorry, I don’t plan to --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: How do you respond to concerns or complaints from the Chinese side regarding a meeting between President and Dalai Lama?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of a meeting being scheduled, nor have I seen comments from the Chinese. So I’m not going to speak to that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I was actually --

QUESTION: Just on that – do you know, because you don’t speak for the President or the White House, just is there anything here with the Dalai Lama that you’re aware of?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of. As you know, the Secretary is away next week – most of next week.

QUESTION: Yes. (Inaudible) Afghanistan. The Taliban is taking credit for murdering three American civilian contractors at the Kabul airport yesterday. Were those murders an act of terrorism?

MS. PSAKI: Well, one, I think the Department of Defense has spoken to this a bit, so I’d point you to their comments. There was a shooting at the North Kabul International Airport complex yesterday. We’ve seen reports that the Taliban have claimed responsibility. There’s an investigation going on into this incident. Obviously, any attack that kills contractors, that kills individuals who are working there in harm’s way, is horrific and a tragedy, but I’m not going to put new labels on it today.

QUESTION: Do you have any information on update of ISIS demands of prisoner exchange?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. Again, this is an issue where it’s very sensitive. Obviously, there are lives at stake here. So I’m not going to speak to any private conversations or other issues related to this.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, do you know, will the State Department re-examine the deal with Qatar over the Taliban Five now that it has been confirmed that one of the members have been caught communicating with the Taliban?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just talk a few – about a few of the issues. I know there’s been a lot of reporting, and I know all of you have been trying to report accurately on this. So we, of course, take any indications of possible re-engagement very seriously. We work in close coordination through military intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomatic channels to mitigate re-engagement and to follow-on action when necessary. But none of the five individuals have returned to the battlefield. All five men are subject to a travel ban and none have left Qatar. None of the individuals have engaged in physical violence. Since their transfer, many actions have been taken to restrict the activities of these individuals, and they all have been – are being closely monitored by the United States and Qatar. The fact that our mitigation measures helped alert us to potential concerns about one of these individuals means that our mitigation measures are working and has allowed us to make appropriate adjustments in a timely manner to properly mitigate any potential threats.

So we are in frequent – to get to your question now, but I wanted to go through some of those details – and high-level contact with the Qatari Government, including about these reports and the implementations of measures to ensure our concerns about these individuals are being met. The Government of Qatar continues to cooperate with us and we feel confident about our ability to mitigate these threats.

QUESTION: Can I just – on that, no system is 100 percent guaranteed. So you can’t be sure that this is the only – that your mitigation factor is – that your mitigation process or whatever it is is actually working all the time, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, what I was pointing out --

QUESTION: I mean, nothing --

MS. PSAKI: -- Matt, is that our mitigation measures helped alert us to potential concerns.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: And obviously, we address those as they come.

QUESTION: Right, but you can’t guarantee that they’re going to work 100 percent of the time, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we take every step possible, Matt.

QUESTION: And then --

MS. PSAKI: Obviously – and in order for any transfer to take place, that has to be approved by Secretary of Defense in coordination with the President’s national security team. There are a range of measures we take and we work very closely --

QUESTION: I understand.

MS. PSAKI: -- with Qatar to mitigate.

QUESTION: I want to go back to the question slightly before then --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- about the Afghanistan – the attack at the airport. Do you have any reason to believe that it was not a terrorist attack? I mean, there are – when people are murdered or killed by other people, there’s different – I mean, there’s straightforward murder, a robbery or something like that, which I don’t believe you would consider to be a terrorist attack; and then there is an intentional targeting of people because they are of one particular group – in this case, Americans targeted.

MS. PSAKI: That’s right. And the Taliban has claimed credit. There’s an investigation.

QUESTION: Right. But do you have some reason – I mean, I’m just not sure why you wouldn’t just say: “Of course it’s a terrorist attack.”

MS. PSAKI: It’s an act of terror when American citizens or individuals are killed, like contractors, absolutely. But --

QUESTION: All right. But you have – I mean, you’re not – but you were asked earlier about this incident in Saudi Arabia where people were shot at, one hit.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You don’t know if that’s a terrorist attack or not, right? I mean, you wouldn’t come out --

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, what – when there are incidents that just happened, we let the investigations play themselves out.

QUESTION: Is there – I guess my question, then is: Is there anything that has been uncovered in this investigation into what happened at the Kabul airport to suggest that it was not, in fact, a terrorist attack?

MS. PSAKI: I was not suggesting that. But I think we have a responsibility as the U.S. Government to let processes see themselves out.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: And that’s what we’re doing.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, but do you have some reason to believe that it wasn’t a terrorist attack?

MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t suggesting that, Matt. I just – we let the processes see themselves through.

QUESTION: Considering that it was a policeman, an Afghan policeman that did this, obviously working for the Taliban, are you concerned that this may happen time and time again?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to address your question.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you know if the Afghan Taliban was ever listed as a foreign terrorist organization?

MS. PSAKI: If the Afghan Taliban was?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: So I know there’s been a lot of confusion about this particular question. I think there was – so in 2002, the Department of State designated the Afghan Taliban as a specially designated global terrorist entity. That’s different. I know that there has been – I’m just being specific here in terms of what has been said or what has been determined and what hasn’t. I know the White House has also addressed this pretty extensively as well. Also, back when we made our decision about our combat role in Afghanistan, the President talked about how U.S. forces will continue to target the remnants of al-Qaida in Afghanistan, but the U.S. military forces will no longer target belligerents solely because they are members of the Taliban.

So clearly there have been – we see a difference between Taliban and ISIL, for example. But obviously, there are still horrific acts that have happened that remain concerning to us, and we remain focused on targeting the remnants of al-Qaida. And that’s something that’s part of our ongoing presence.

QUESTION: Jen?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Josh said the Taliban is an armed insurgence.

MS. PSAKI: That – I’m sorry?

QUESTION: The Taliban is an armed insurgence.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Is that what (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, I was just saying – I know the White House has addressed this --

QUESTION: He specifically made a distinction.

MS. PSAKI: And I just made a distinction as well, and I was more trying to clarify that I know there’s been some confusion and there’s a particular State Department piece, but the White House has addressed this pretty extensively, as you pointed out --

QUESTION: Then it’s not a terrorist organization?

MS. PSAKI: I think I just answered it.

Do we have any more on Afghanistan?

QUESTION: Turkey.

MS. PSAKI: Turkey? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Just yesterday, President Erdogan gave an interview and he talked about U.S. relations as well. He said that Mr. Fethullah Gulen, leader of the Gulen movement – this is quote – “If U.S. is strategic partner of Turkey, it has duty to at least deport Fethullah Gulen,” and he also added, “because it is important for – this is important for U.S.-Turkish relations.” What’s your take on this?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry. I’m not understanding what your question is. Can you repeat the beginning part?

QUESTION: The question is: Do you think that, as President Erdogan said, if the U.S. is Turkey’s strategic partner, it has duty to deport, at least, Fethullah Gulen?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve spoken about this issue many, many times in the past. Turkey is an important strategic partner. We work with Turkey on a range of issues. I don’t have any other particular comment beyond that.

Any more on Turkey before we continue?

QUESTION: Yes, I have one.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: President Erdogan said today that – if it’s proven that a massacre took place of the Armenians, that Turkey will pay whatever price if it’s proven. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I haven’t seen his comments. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I wondered if this building had had a chance yet to review the Human Rights Watch report from yesterday that I asked about, whether you had a comment on it.

MS. PSAKI: We haven’t reviewed it, but I can speak to it a little bit more. As you know, it just came out yesterday. So to your question, as I mentioned yesterday, the President has made and the Secretary has made abundantly clear our commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights both at home and abroad. And we’ve obviously taken a number of steps to address past mistakes that the United States has made. We prioritized the closure of Gitmo, we have obviously spoken to the events at Abu Ghraib, and we believe that those events certainly damaged American credibility and broke the trust with many Iraqis we hope to support.

But ISIL did not come from a vacuum, which I think the human rights report addresses, and – but our view is that the failure of governments to serve all of its citizens, protect them from security threats, respect their basic human rights, provides openings for violent, predatory groups like ISIL to terrorize communities and destabilize regions.

In the case of ISIL, as we’ve talked about quite a bit in here, the Assad regime, their role and their horrific acts that they have done against their people have certainly, in our view, made them a magnet for terrorism. These – and they’ve allowed many of these terrorist networks to grow and prosper in their homes. So we haven’t reviewed the entire report, but I think it’s important to note, as I mentioned yesterday, that we continue to take steps to address issues we – as we can in the past that we think we need to do better on and improve our own. And we expect other countries to do the same.

But as it relates to ISIL, there’s no question that the range of reasons why ISIL has grown are focused on individuals like Bashar al-Assad and others who have become magnets for terrorism in the region.

QUESTION: Those are all points that they make in the report, but they also made the point that part of the reason why there was the growth of ISIL was because of what happened in the past. Does the United States accept some of that blame?

MS. PSAKI: I think I just answered it. Obviously, we believe that Abu Ghraib damaged our credibility. But again, our belief is that the – ISIL has been driven and grown from all the events that I just outlined.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: Assad, in the interview with Foreign Affairs, makes a very good case that he’s your natural ally in the fight against terror. He is fighting ISIL, he’s fighting al-Nusrah, he’s fighting – or al-Qaida element --

MS. PSAKI: Do you have a question, Said?

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, wouldn’t it be natural that you, at least for the time being, have some sort of an alliance – coordinated alliance in striking against ISIS in Syria?

MS. PSAKI: We have no plans to coordinate or partner with a brutal dictator who’s killed tens of thousands of his own people. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Iraq, do you have any information or confirmation regarding the alleged massacre that occurred in Diyala two days ago?

MS. PSAKI: We don’t have any confirmation. I mean, we’ve seen the reports. Obviously, as – and I spoke to this a bit yesterday, so I’d point you to that – the government is looking into these reports. Obviously, if proven true, they are – those who are responsible must be held accountable, but I’d point you to what I said yesterday on it. There’s also a statement that the UN put out on this as well which I’d point you to.

Go ahead in the back. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Right. A couple of senior officials are traveling to China on the 2nd for U.S.-China Security Dialogue, including under secretary and assistant secretary. Is that part of the inter-sessional meetings under the S&ED Dialogue?

MS. PSAKI: I think – well, have we put out a media note on this?

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I apologize. I should know that answer. But is there – is that where your information is from?

QUESTION: I’m asking: Is that part of – is that part of ongoing inter-sessional meetings on the --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details on their trip. I’m sure there’s a media note being prepared that will have more details on what their plans are while they’re there.

QUESTION: The media note is just saying that he will be there for – they will be there for the meeting --

MS. PSAKI: That Assistant Secretary Danny Russel will be there?

QUESTION: No. Frank Rose and --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Why don’t we look into that and see if there’s more details to share?

QUESTION: And specific agenda to be discussed.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, great.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Pakistan- India?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: The tensions between the two countries continue unabated, and even today there was fighting across the Working Boundary near Kashmir, disputed Kashmir region. What is the U.S. doing to encourage the two countries to resume their peace dialogue, and was this issue discussed during President Obama’s visit to New Delhi?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d point you to the President for that. As you know, the Secretary wasn’t even on the trip with him. As you know, we consistently encourage dialogue between India and Pakistan. And obviously, the scope and scale of the process there is up to those countries to determine.

QUESTION: And also, Pakistani officials, they have expressed concern that operationalization of the nuclear deal – civil nuclear deal will upset the strategic balance in the region. And given U.S. role in maintaining that strategic balance over the last many decades, and given its role on conflict management in that region, what – have you assured Pakistan that this deal – this will not affect the strategic stability drastically?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what we’ve assured both countries is that the United States relationship with India and the United States – sorry – relationship with Pakistan – that was a mouthful for some reason – those relationships are strong, they’re vital to our strategic interests, and they stand on their own. And we work with Pakistan on a range of issues. We work with India on a range of issues. This particular issue is one that’s been ongoing with India for some time, but we certainly have reiterated our strong commitment to our strategic relationship with Pakistan. As you know, the Secretary was just there a couple of weeks ago visiting with them and reiterating our commitment.

QUESTION: But have you made the details of the new success – because this was stalled for a long time, the nuclear – civilian nuclear deal between U.S. and India? Have --

MS. PSAKI: Well, the – it’s an understanding on an administrative arrangement for implementing the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. So I don’t have more details to discuss publicly with you, no.

QUESTION: I mean, because the concern is that it will free up the nuclear material, which could be used to – for weapon aggradations and it will – it can kick up a new arms race in the region.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, there are a range of requirements in these type of deals, and certainly, we factor in a range of factors as we make them. So I will leave it at that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, briefly on Northeast Asia, do you have any readouts from Under Secretary Sherman’s visits in Seoul or Tokyo?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I think she was last in Japan – correct – if I’m remembering – okay.

So Under Secretary Sherman held a series of productive discussions on January 30th with the Japanese foreign minister, the deputy foreign minister, and the national security advisor on a wide range of issues. These discussions were an important opportunity to highlight our strong partnership with Japan, our regional – and our regional and global cooperation. They discussed a broad range of bilateral and regional issues in her meetings, and certainly, this just reiterates our strong commitment to Asia and our important partnership with Japan.

QUESTION: Was the hostage crisis discussed as well?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details to read out for you. As has been true with phone conversations, we’re just not going to discuss those, given the sensitivity of the situation.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: From Venezuela, we had a dissident retired brigadier general show up after almost a year in New York yesterday, asking the UN’s Working Committee on Arbitrary Detentions to work on his behalf to try to stop the warrant, essentially, for his arrest in Venezuela. He says President Maduro called for the arrest after he spoke out against the government’s crackdown on protestors and against Cuba’s influence in the military. Any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, while we don’t have any comment on the specifics of this case, I will say that we routinely condemn – and I’ll – happy to do it again today – the Venezuelan Government’s use of the judiciary to intimidate and selectively prosecute political, civil society, union, and business leaders who are critical of government policies or actions.

In our view, the criminalization of political dissent is not an accepted norm in democratic societies, and we again urge the Venezuelan Government to desist from this practice.

All right.

QUESTION: Wait, wait.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a couple brief ones.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I promise they’ll be very brief.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m wondering --

MS. PSAKI: Even Said’s ready to get up here. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I know, it’s Friday. I want to get out of here, too.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The African Union has chosen as its new chairman President Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Do you have any thoughts on the appropriateness of this choice? Is President Mugabe a good person to lead the African Union?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you well know, we’re not a member of the African Union. The United States respects the essential role played by the African Union on the continent, as well as the issues of – as well as on issues of global concern. Decisions on AU leadership are decisions for the African members. We have a diplomatic mission accredited to the African Union and an ambassador who coordinates regularly with them, and our ambassador will also coordinate with Zimbabwe’s envoy to the AU on issues of mutual interests. Our commitment to the people of Zimbabwe remains strong and certainly as does as our commitment to the AU and our partnership.

QUESTION: As you are probably aware of, the United States has a variety of sanctions against President Mugabe’s government --

MS. PSAKI: I am well aware.

QUESTION: So you don’t have any – you don’t have any thoughts about whether it’s appropriate for him to be leading the African Union?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, those sanctions remain in place. But beyond that, it’s a decision made by the members of the African Union.

QUESTION: Well, I understand that. But the U.S. opines on the decisions of various bodies and countries all the time. You don’t have any specific comment on this one?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to opine today. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Has it – has the situation with the Greek Government reached your – reached the radar screens of people here in the Administration in terms of the stability of – any concerns about the stability of the European Union, or of NATO for that matter?

MS. PSAKI: We I expect will continue to have a dialogue with the European Union as well as Greece. I don’t have any other concerns to discuss.

QUESTION: All right. And then the last one is the – across Europe but particularly in France in recent days, the attempt to combat extremism seems to be going to extremes with the interrogations, arrests of children, teachers. Does the U.S. have any concerns that the crackdown that’s going on in France but also in other European countries is going too far?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, obviously, we always hope and expect that the respect for human rights and freedom of speech will be abided by in all cases – judiciary cases. Obviously, there is – France and other countries in the region have dealt with challenging issues related to threats, related to the recent attacks from just a couple of weeks ago. And we know they’re taking steps to try to mitigate those. I don’t have any concerns to express at this point.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you look into it? Because I mean, it does seem to be that – it does seem as though some of the steps that these governments are taking – and not just France, but France is routinely named because that’s where the attacks were that you’re referring to – go beyond what the United States would either do itself or would condone in an ally – in an ally’s government? So --

MS. PSAKI: We will let you know if we have concerns to express.

QUESTION: On the same subject?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: President Obama in a press conference a few weeks back, he said that you – EU countries have to do a better job of integrating the immigrant populations. So on that question – Matt’s – or do you think the – I mean, France and other countries – are moving in the direction providing economic and opportunity and hope to the immigrants?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s something we’re continuing to encourage. And obviously, the President spoke about it because it’s something we think is important in order to have a thriving society. I don’t have any evaluation beyond that.

Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:25 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 29, 2015

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 16:28

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 29, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

1:27 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. All right. I have a couple of items for all of you at the top.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: We strongly condemn the intensifying attacks over the last week by Russia-backed separatists in – on Debaltseve, a town approximately 13 kilometers beyond the Minsk ceasefire line, a boundary that Russia and the separatists committed to respect when they signed the Minsk agreements. There can be no mistake about this violation of the agreements and who is responsible. The head of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic stated on January 24th that, “In a few days, we will surround Debaltseve.”

Over the past week, the separatists have fired countless rockets at the city, killing and wounding scores of innocent people, and prompting the Ukrainian Government and local NGOs to organize a city-wide evacuation. There can also be no mistake about Russia’s role in the escalation of violence, which is causing suffering and death among those Russia has claimed it wants to protect. Russia has equipped the separatists with tanks, armored vehicles, heavy artillery, rocket systems, and other military equipment, while the Russian military continues to provide ongoing tactical support for separatists’ operations. We call on Russia and the separatists it supports to cease immediately offensive military operations in eastern Ukraine and implement fully their commitments under the September Minsk agreements. Otherwise, U.S. and international pressure on Russia and separatists will only increase.

I’d also like to welcome the group joining us from the University of Southern California – hello in the back – the Public Diplomacy Masters program. They’re in town this week for a series of meetings and we’re happy to have you here at the State Department today. With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m sure we’ll get back to Ukraine a little later on, but I wanted to start with a couple of – basically they’re housekeeping things --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- that have to do with Israel from yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: The first one is: Did you – were you able to get an answer to the question about the funding for OneVoice --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- when the last payment of – for the grant that ended in November was made and how much it was for?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. The U.S. Government grant to OneVoice Israel was for $233,500. The duration of this grant, as I mentioned yesterday but just to reconfirm, was from September 23rd, 2013 through November 30th, 2014. No payment was made to OneVoice after November 2014.

QUESTION: And the project was, again, for what?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the project was to support efforts to support a two-state solution.

QUESTION: Despite the fact that you said that yesterday without the specific dollar amount and money, there was – another report emerged today that says that the State Department is funding an anti-Netanyahu lobbying campaign ahead of the Israeli election. Can you just say once and for all whether that – there is any shred of proof for that? Has your looking into it uncovered some kind of --

MS. PSAKI: It’s --

QUESTION: -- funding for this purpose?

MS. PSAKI: No. It’s an absolutely false report. The reports were stemming from inaccurate reporting – and a lack of reporting, perhaps I should say, on this grant that I’ve given you many details on.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you for clearing that up.

Now, the second one on – housekeeping thing on Israel is the other day, I asked you about any reaction that the Administration might have to comments that Ambassador Dermer made in a speech in Florida on Sunday night. At the time, you said that we’re not going to lose any more sleep over this particular issue. And I thought – I had presumed, perhaps – obviously erroneously, that you were speaking for the entire Administration. Because this morning, there was a report in The New York Times which was highly critical of Ambassador Dermer, quoting senior U.S. officials which also contained the rather bizarre suggestion that the Administration might move to declare Ambassador Dermer persona non grata. Is – have you not – are you still losing sleep over this? Because it certainly seems that way.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, first of all, as is true of the anonymous quotes that appear in newspapers every day, I don't know who this person is. They don’t represent or speak for the Secretary of State. And so I would stand by the comments he’s made and I’ve made.

QUESTION: But you do agree that --

QUESTION: I’m sorry, hold on. So there is no suggestion – have you – that there might be some kind of punishment coming to or some kind of – I don't know – something to respond to Ambassador Dermer’s comments or his actions? There would – there’s no punitive measure that’s being considered?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think there’s a punitive measure that is coming, no, Matt.

QUESTION: I mean, have you been – has the – you said that you recalled that the Secretary had a meeting with the ambassador --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- for two hours or so before the whole Netanyahu invitation was announced, and that it hadn’t come up and that the Secretary was surprised that it hadn’t come up. Would you – would the Administration prefer to have Israel represented by someone other than Ambassador Dermer, or is he okay by you?

MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t suggesting that, and I have no idea who the source was in the story.

QUESTION: Okay. But you don’t have any problems with him representing the government, the Government of Israel as their ambassador?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think there’s any concerns we’re expressing from this building, no.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: I have a couple question on Israel, but I wanted to ask you about the ambassador. You do believe that what he did was actually breach diplomatic protocol? Did he?

MS. PSAKI: I think we spoke about this pretty extensively last week, Said.

QUESTION: To hear it again, he did breach diplomatic --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we need to repeat it. I think we can point to the --

QUESTION: Okay. All right. Let me ask you --

MS. PSAKI: -- twenty times I said it last week. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Great. Let me just follow up on --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- some Israeli issues. The Israelis today cut off electricity or reduced the electricity to the Palestinian Authority areas, saying that they owe them about $450 million or something to that effect accumulated over the last few years, that of course coming at a time when the Palestinians claim that you have reduced their aid to them by a huge amount, more than 50 percent. Is there anything that you can do perhaps --

MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, Said, on the second piece, I think I’ve spoken to this several times in here about the fact that reports or claims that we have reduced our aid or changed our aid are not accurate. Our aid is continuing.

On the first piece, I have not seen those reports. I don’t have confirmation of them. I’m happy to talk to our team about it.

QUESTION: Well, the Israelis, I mean, they announced that the Palestinian Authority said yes, it’s true, they reduced their electricity. Is there something that you can do in this case, perhaps infuse the Palestinian Authority with some emergency funds to deal with this issue?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we provide a range of funds to the Palestinians. That’s continued. I’ll talk to our team and see if this is an issue that we’re closely tracking.

QUESTION: Okay. And let me just quickly --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Israelis, of course, have decided to hold or freeze the tax monies that was going to be – so it seems ironic that on one hand, they’re saying there’s an unpaid bill, but on the other hand, they’re holding the money that they haven’t released to the Palestinians.

MS. PSAKI: Well, and we’ve talked about that in the past. Obviously, we remain engaged with both sides, but I don’t have any other update from here at this point in time.

QUESTION: Would you encourage the Israelis, in this case, to take that tax money and put it towards the money owed by the Palestinian Authority?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not encouraging anything at this moment.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: I want to look into more details.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. I just have a couple more questions.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Both secretaries general of the Arab League and the United Nations spoke today about the situation in Gaza, and it was really deteriorating. I know you from this podium the other day --

MS. PSAKI: About the funding issue?

QUESTION: -- right, about the funding issue – you did call for – on the donors to go ahead and meet their obligations, but nothing has transpired in the last 48 hours, and the situation is really deteriorating, where the school year has not even started.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I mean, the school – the new semester.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as I outlined the other day, we remain a steadfast supporter of UNRWA, we – which plays an indispensable role in the region, particularly in Gaza. We’ve provided over $100 million to UNRWA for their 2015 needs, including 38 million for emergency needs in Gaza and the West Bank. This is something that we continue to support, and we certainly understand the dire needs of the people living there at this difficult point in time.

QUESTION: And finally – I know that the Quartet met the other day, and they issued a statement calling for resumption of talks and so on. Is there anything that this building is – or the Secretary of State is doing, actually, to restart any kind of talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think, as we’ve said many times, we continue to believe that a two-state solution that would come through negotiations is the only way to have peace – a lasting peace and lasting security in the region. As you know, that needs to be up to the parties to take the steps necessary. Israel is in an election season right now, so clearly, this isn’t a process that’s happening right now.

QUESTION: So you expect right after the Israeli election that there may be some sort of initiative?

MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t making a prediction of that. We’ll leave that up to the leaders and the parties to determine.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Israel before we continue? Okay. Should we go to a new topic?

QUESTION: Can we go to Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you really quickly --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- because this is just happening now, there was an attack in Afghanistan at an airbase, and there’s some reports that there were two Americans killed. Do you know anything about that?

MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen the reports. I think my Department of Defense colleagues may have a little bit more on that than I do, and certainly we can get you something after the briefing if they are able to put out more information.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Belarus has announced today there’s going to be a new round of peace negotiations on Friday. I wondered if you had a position on that, given the fact also that the rebel leaders have said that they’re going to send a lower level negotiator because they don’t believe that anything is going to come from these talks.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re referring to another meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group – am I right --

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: -- which they’ve had ongoing meetings, as you know, over the course of the last several months. It remains the case that you can continue to have negotiations and agreements, but if Russia doesn’t back up their words with actions, it’s very difficult to make progress. So certainly, there is some irony in the separatists conveying that they may not attend the talks at the same level. We see that, of course.

But ultimately, we think talking and negotiating is an important thing. Obviously, implementing the Minsk protocols, which have been in place, which have been agreed to, is the action steps that the separatists and Russia can take, and that’s something we’re continuing to push and encourage.

As you also know, the FAC is meeting today in Europe, and they’re discussing further consequences. I don’t have any update on that, but I think that’s just another sign of how concerned we all are about what we’re seeing on the ground.

QUESTION: Well, I think they just believed – the EU’s Federica Mogherini has just said that they’ve agreed to add new names to the sanctions list and are going to work on further restrictive measures. Do you have a reaction to that? Is adding names for a sanctions list enough, or should you not now be thinking about deeper, more biting sanctions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Jo, because you follow this closely, this has been a building process. And the EU and the United States have put in place a range of sanctions on sectors, on individuals. And this is just a further sign that the actions of the last several days and weeks are absolutely unacceptable and that there will be new consequences put in place.

As you know, we work closely with the EU. We’ve been adding – sometimes we add names, sometimes we add sectors or companies, and that’s the same thing for the EU. But it doesn’t mean – the totality of what they’ve done, as you know, is not just a couple of individuals. It’s building on a large sanctions effort that’s been going on for months now.

QUESTION: So you welcome this move that’s just happening?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly we welcome it. It’s a positive step.

QUESTION: And should we anticipate – since you guys have been working in tandem with the EU, should we anticipate today, tomorrow, or over the weekend a similar move by the U.S. Administration?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, over the course of the last several months, we haven’t had exactly the same names and exactly the same sectors or companies. Obviously we’ll continue to consider others that we could add, but I don’t have anything to predict for you in terms of a next -

QUESTION: Nothing to predict tomorrow?

MS. PSAKI: Nothing to predict --

QUESTION: Because it has happened sometimes within a few hours.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. It has. Sure, it has. But nothing to predict. I don’t think there’s anything to expect today.

QUESTION: Can we go to Yemen?

QUESTION: No.

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish Ukraine. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Stay on that just for one second. Has it hit your radar yet that Greece, the new Greek Government, may not be as enthusiastic about sanctions on Russia as you would like them to be?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we talked about this a little bit yesterday, as you know.

QUESTION: I know. But I’m just wondering if after today – there was the EU meeting today that --

MS. PSAKI: Well, and the EU it sounds – and I hadn’t even seen this before I came out – had made some announcements about additional steps they’re taking.

QUESTION: Right. Well --

MS. PSAKI: What I said yesterday is we’ll let that be debated within the EU.

QUESTION: -- I don’t know about adding new names, but I do know that they’ve extended their initial tranche of sanctions, which were put in place as a result of the Crimea annexation. But the Greek Government – the new Greece – Greek Government – has – is not enthusiastic about sanctions. And I’m just wondering if that has caused any concern here yet, since yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to add since yesterday.

QUESTION: No. All right.

QUESTION: What would you --

QUESTION: Can I just clarify --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Are you actively working on new sanctions at the moment, from the U.S. side?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Jo, as you know, unfortunately this conflict is ongoing, so we’re always considering options. But I don’t have anything to predict for you in terms of anything new.

QUESTION: Because --

QUESTION: Jen, the last leader of the Soviet Union --

MS. PSAKI: Is this Ukraine?

QUESTION: -- Mikhail Gorbachev – yes – today said that you are thrusting Russia into a new cold war and this can actually evolve into a hot war. Do you have any comment on that and --

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: -- have you seen those comments?

MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen the comments. We disagree. We continue to work with Russia on issues ranging from Iran to the situation in Syria. We have discussions about a range of issues. Even the tensions on the ground in the Middle East, that’s continuing. That is – our intention here is to bring an end to the illegal actions that are happening in Ukraine. That’s why we continue to work with the Europeans to put in place more consequences.

QUESTION: There are some analysts who suggest --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- that the ongoing imposition of sanctions isn’t deterring Russia from apparently sending in its own forces, providing equipment and support to the separatists. What is this building’s reaction to that analysis, that maybe the sanctions regime just isn’t the tool to persuade Russia to back off?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s no question – I don’t think anyone questions that the sanctions that have been put in place have had an enormous impact on the economy of Russia. Now it’s up to President Putin and the Russians to make the choice as to whether they want to see those sanctions eased, to ease the burden on their economy, or they want to continue down this detrimental path.

We continue to believe that this is the right approach. We also continue to support Ukraine with a range of support, as do the Europeans. But again, there’s been an agreement. The question is will they implement the agreement. So this is something we’ll continue to negotiate on. We’ll put consequences in place if needed. But this is our determined approach at this point.

QUESTION: Just going back to Gorbachev and the Cold War --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: The argument that no, this is not a new cold war or resurgence of the Cold War – the basis that you used to make that argument, that we still work together with Russia on numerous issues, doesn’t really hold water. Because during the Cold War, even at the height of the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union cooperated on things. There was Apollo-Soyuz. There was --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- were arm control agreements. So can you offer any other bit of evidence --

MS. PSAKI: Well, tell me more about what was said and what you need a response to.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just wondering if it is not – I don’t know – if it is accurate to continue to say that no, we’re not in a new cold war just because you are able to cooperate on a very limited number of issues, which is essentially the same as what you had cooperated on during the Cold War.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re also in discussions, as are a range of countries, with Russia about how to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine. I don’t think – I think the question is what are the similarities, not what are the differences.

QUESTION: So you think he --

QUESTION: Oh --

QUESTION: Sorry.

QUESTION: No, go ahead.

QUESTION: No. You think that the former chairman of the Communist Party, the last leader of the Soviet Union, is being hyperbolic and --

MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve answered this question, Said. Do we have any more --

QUESTION: One more.

MS. PSAKI: -- on Ukraine before we move on?

QUESTION: Can I --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: One on – and I appreciate you may not be able to answer this, actually. We’re reporting out of Moscow today that there was a young – a mother of seven children who has been arrested and accused of treason because she called the Ukrainian embassy and apparently discussed some kind of Russian troop movements. I wondered if you’d heard of the case --

MS. PSAKI: I have not. This was in Moscow, or --

QUESTION: This was in Moscow, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I have not seen the --

QUESTION: No, sorry. Her – she lives in the town of Vyazma. Sorry, my Russian’s non-existent.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have details on that. I had not seen the report. I’m happy to take it and we can see what --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: -- if we can get more details on it.

QUESTION: Turkey, Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Let’s finish Ukraine. Go ahead.

QUESTION: It’s --

MS. PSAKI: Or Russia or anything else.

QUESTION: -- yeah, related to Russia. Victoria Nuland said all NATO allies must contribute to the defense of “NATO’s eastern frontline,” and she went on to say, “We must install command and control centers in all six frontline states as soon as possible.” What are those six frontline states that need defense right now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – I don’t have more details on what Assistant Secretary Nuland – and I think you’re referring to her speech yesterday. I don’t have more details. I’m happy to talk to her about it. I think, as you know, we’ve been in touch with and even the President and the Vice President have visited a number of our NATO allies who are concerned about some of the aggressive actions that have happened in Ukraine, and we’ve supported them. But I don’t have a list of six countries for you right now.

QUESTION: Can you name some of those that she may have meant?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on that.

Do we have any more on Ukraine before we continue? Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Iran.

MS. PSAKI: On Iran? Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, please. The Senate sanction – Banking Committee passed the bill that stipulates some new – further sanctions on Iran, should the talks fail.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Any comments on that? Are you worried, concerned?

MS. PSAKI: Well, today’s vote was just the first step in a multistep legislative process before a bill could be enacted into law. But I think, as you all know, the President clearly stated that he will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo the progress we’ve made in freezing and rolling back Iran’s nuclear program. So it’s gone through the Banking Committee, but that’s where it is at this point.

QUESTION: Do you intend to talk more with senators and congressmen on the Hill in this regard?

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. We’ve been in regular contact, as you know. Deputy Secretary Tony Blinken testified this week, and I expect we’ll continue to have discussions and consultations next week as well.

QUESTION: Jen, as you noted, the President has said he will veto any bill that he – that the Administration believes will interfere with or affect – I just want to make sure: Does the bill that passed the Banking Committee today meet that standard for a veto?

MS. PSAKI: I think there’s no question, yes.

QUESTION: Yes? Yes?

QUESTION: Jen, you’ve also --

MS. PSAKI: But it hasn’t even passed Congress, so --

QUESTION: No, I know, I know. But the bill that has now gone to the full Senate --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- would be vetoed if it --

MS. PSAKI: Right. That’s my understanding.

QUESTION: We’ve heard from different Administration officials that should this bill be approved, it’s counterproductive. Senator Corker today said that, “This is a process.” Would you agree with him?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what they mean by that. Or can you --

QUESTION: That they’re getting ready for when and if necessary to impose the sanctions.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve been clear about what our view is, that imposing new sanctions through our Congress would be detrimental to the negotiations, that the negotiators need the room and the space to negotiate. And our counterparts around the world have also spoken to what kind of an impact – a detrimental impact – this could have on the entire sanctions – international sanctions regime. So our position remains the same.

I’m not sure what you mean by their process. I mean, there’s a process by which a bill becomes a law, but obviously, the President’s spoken to what he would do if this bill passed.

QUESTION: Can you sing us the song?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not a great singer, but perhaps somebody can volunteer.

QUESTION: I just want to make what happened – I want to make sure I understand one thing: Do you think that it’s – that passing – that the Banking Committee’s approval of this is detrimental, in and of itself?

MS. PSAKI: No. Putting it in law would be detrimental.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Putting new sanctions in law.

QUESTION: But just the committee’s action today you don’t think will have any effect on the sanctions regime or on the negotiations?

MS. PSAKI: No. I don’t think we’d state it that way. I wouldn’t state it --

QUESTION: During the --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- all the negotiations that have been going on among the P5+1 with Iran --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- have the Iranians in any way hinted or said that such a thing would – they would walk away should such a bill pass?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak on their behalf. I think we expect the Iranians to abide by their obligations under the JPOA. We want to do the same. That’s part of the discussion. But I think many of the P5+1 partners have obviously also spoken to how detrimental this would be, so --

QUESTION: We’re reporting on similar efforts among conservatives in the Iranian parliament to try to punish the U.S. for curtailing Iran’s nuclear program. Does this building have an opinion of those efforts?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything, other than to say again that we expect they’ll abide by their obligations under the JPOA. And obviously, they have their own political constituencies as well.

QUESTION: The Israeli prime minister accused Iran of being behind the attack in Shebaa Farms and so on. How does this – if it turns out to be true, how does it impact the ongoing negotiations?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve --

QUESTION: Or does it?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve long been concerned, as you know, Said, about Iran and Hezbollah’s troubling ties and work together. I don’t have any confirmation of what the Israeli prime minister tweeted, I believe it was, or said publicly in some capacity, so I’m not going to speculate on that. I will say that, outside of the negotiations, as we’ve said many, many times, it doesn’t mean that our concerns about their human – Iran’s human rights record, about their state sponsorship of terrorism, about their engagement in some parts of the world that we find troubling hasn’t changed. It’s hasn’t changed. That remains. But we still believe that preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is a – beneficial to the global community.

QUESTION: On this --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- well, on the Hezbollah issue, yesterday we had a somewhat lengthy discussion about escalatory and what is – what escalates the crisis. And missing from that – I was remiss – missing from that was your reaction to the mysterious airstrike that happened a week or so ago that many people have attributed to Israel. And I’m just wondering if you regard that – would regard that as a self-defense – legitimate self-defense, or if that was escalatory in its own --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think anyone, including the Government of Israel, has confirmed that --

QUESTION: I know.

MS. PSAKI: -- so I’m not going to speak to that.

QUESTION: Okay. So you’re – basically, you’re off the hook in making a determination because no one has claimed – no one has given --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to the military actions of another country.

QUESTION: Well, you do all the time with Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: To confirm them? No.

QUESTION: Well --

QUESTION: Why isn’t the U.S. now with the – with Germany, Britain, and France now --

MS. PSAKI: In Turkey?

QUESTION: -- in Turkey? Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Well, throughout this process over the last several months, we’ve had bilateral meetings. The Secretary has had bilateral meetings with Foreign Minister Zarif. We’ve had meetings with different P5+1countries. This is a meeting, I believe, with the Europeans, so it’s a normal part of the process. We consult very closely and expect we will after this as well.

QUESTION: I have one more on this congressional legislation.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: In the Senate, there was a bill introduced today that would lift the travel – Cuba travel ban for all Americans. I’m just wondering if the Administration would support this or if you – this is something that you think should only happen once the normalization is more fully underway or complete.

MS. PSAKI: That’s a good question. I’m happy to talk to our team about it. I mean, broadly speaking, as you know – and the President spoke to this in the State of the Union – we would support action to end the embargo.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: But let me talk to them about whether we have a view on timing.

QUESTION: Do you – and yeah, on timing and ending the embargo, do you think that it is – that the embargo – yesterday Raul Castro gave a speech. He said that if you want to normalize relations with his country, you’ve got to close down Gitmo and give it back, pay reparations, and end the embargo. Do you think that the – well, what do you think of that, first; and second, would the President or would the Administration support legislation to end the embargo before you have completed the normalization process?

MS. PSAKI: Well, on the second one, I don’t think I’m going to be able to speculate on the timing or the order of it. I would say in the first one there’s a difference between – and in his comments there’s a difference between the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, which is what we’re working on now between our countries and the longer process of normalizing relations. So the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, that would be things like opening of embassies in our respective countries so that we may work toward the longstanding list of issues that have festered over the last half-century and are more about normalization.

So our focus is on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations. There’s still a great deal more work to do there. We understand there are going to be demands that are put out there publicly, and we’ll certainly be discussing a range of issues in the negotiations.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, are any of those demands that he made ones that you’re willing to go along with?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to negotiate from here. I mean, I would say that we – the President has said he wants to close Guantanamo, so we’re working on that now.

QUESTION: Well, there’s a difference between closing Guantanamo, the detention center, and giving Guantanamo back to the Cubans.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I’m not going to negotiate from here, though.

QUESTION: All right, fair enough. But is that off the table? Will the United States ever abandon – get rid of Guantanamo Bay as a U.S. base?

MS. PSAKI: Look, I think there are a range of demands that are out there. I’m just not going to speculate on them from here.

QUESTION: Can I also pick up on that?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: And you may want to take this one too, but --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- if there is a lifting on the economic embargo, what would be the U.S. position on Cuba rejoining economic institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, which they left --

MS. PSAKI: We’re a long time from there, so I don’t – I’m not even going to take it because we’re not going to speculate when we’re not even there at this point in time. We’re far from there.

QUESTION: Okay, fair enough. And can I ask: Do you have a date yet for when the talks will be held, the next round?

MS. PSAKI: For – no, not yet. We don’t have a date yet.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Turkey?

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Cuba before we continue? Okay.

QUESTION: So it may be under this --

QUESTION: Would the next round of talks be here?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, in Washington.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: In Washington. I don’t have a location on it.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: And are there any senior officials going to the Cuban national day party, do you know?

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t get an update on that. Our team was looking into it. We’ll follow up with them after.

QUESTION: Just quick on Iran?

MS. PSAKI: On Iran? Sure.

QUESTION: A follow-up. What is the reaction to Iran’s latest election of a UN envoy – a UN ambassador? The last one the U.S. refused to grant a visa to because of his alleged ties to the 1979 --

MS. PSAKI: Yes, and we’d spoke to that, which you repeated, at the time, and why we had concerns at the time. We’re aware of reports that Iran has appointed Gholamali Khoshroo its permanent representative to the United Nations. I don’t think I have any other comment or reaction than that.

QUESTION: Would you expect him to take up his position in New York soon?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we don’t speak to visa --

QUESTION: I’m not asking about visas.

MS. PSAKI: I understand.

QUESTION: I’m just asking him – asking you if you expect him to be in New York --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to tell you about the expectations of timing either, since they’re all linked.

QUESTION: Well, do you expect him to at some point take up his position, the position that he’s been nominated for?

MS. PSAKI: We’ll let the Iranians speak to where the process sits.

QUESTION: Would Ambassador Power be even meeting with him?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’re getting way ahead of where we are.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Shortly after the Kurdish rebels announced a victory in Kobani, there have been two different reactions from Washington and Ankara. You congratulated the Kurds for the victory and praised the rebels for being brave and so on, but we saw something different from President Erdogan and the military there. First of all, they raised a massive Turkish flag near the border of Kobani. That’s something that could be visible from Kobani, something that the Kurds saw as provocative. And also, Erdogan said what is this, we would not support another autonomous Kurd government to emerge in Syria, and Kobani should not be a cause for celebration. What’s your reaction?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think --

QUESTION: Are you in, like – do you have a entirely different perspective of what’s happening in Syria in relation to Erdogan’s or Turkey’s --

MS. PSAKI: I think we work closely with Turkey on a range of issues, including our effort to degrade and defeat ISIL. That’s ongoing. We continue to believe and agree there needs to be a political solution to have a transition in Syria. Beyond that, I’m not going to comment on their comments.

QUESTION: More specifically, what is your position on a Kurdish government in Syria, an autonomous one similar to the one you have in Iraq?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we have supported a autonomous government there either. Our position hasn’t changed on this issue in some time.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: But related to this issue --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- the Turkish Government also shut off roads and supply lines and so on to Kobani, preventing Kurdish fighters from going to reinforce those that are in the city.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think more than 90 percent, if not 100 percent of Kobani is now overseen and run by anti-ISIL forces.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So I think, one, there has been an effort by many countries to support this effort. There were rumors that there was a not – that they were not letting refugees in. That’s incorrect. There isn’t a rush of refugees into Kobani. As we have also talked about in here – and I think you asked this question – there’s a lot of rebuilding that needs to be done there as well. So there’s a lot of confusing reporting out there. Beyond that, on their border – I mean, that’s a decision they make.

QUESTION: Even though you said just now you don’t support a government in Syria for the Kurds – but, like, your actions – like, seem to contradict that objective. You are providing them with arms, the Kurdish rebels, and the Kurdish rebels have already established several cantons which are basically autonomous governments for every province they have controlled.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we provide arms in coordination with the Government of Iraq --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: -- and in support through our anti-ISIL efforts. So I don’t think your information is quite exactly correct. Our position hasn’t changed; I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: But you said you will continue to --

MS. PSAKI: I think we’re ready to move on. I’m sorry.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: ISIS? ISIS?

QUESTION: Yes, please. Egypt.

MS. PSAKI: Egypt.

QUESTION: Please, can we stay on ISIL?

QUESTION: Another one on ISIL.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, ISIL? Okay. Said, let’s just go around to a few others because --

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: ISIS, ISIS. Pakistan arrested an ISIS commander named Yusuf al-Salafi, who reportedly confessed to receiving funds routed through U.S. banks to recruit people to fight in Syria. Is it possible?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen this report. We’re happy to look into it and we can get something around.

QUESTION: But is it possible that funds can flow to terrorists undetected through U.S. banks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t even know that this report is accurate, so let me look into that first.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: My question is about these – if you know anything about the status of the Jordanian pilot and the Japanese journalist, because the deadline has passed and the Jordanians are requesting that they show proof he’s still alive and so on. Do you have anything on this latest issue?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to report for you, Said.

QUESTION: The Jordanian foreign minister told CNN last night that the deal includes the release of not just the Jordanian pilot, but also the Japanese hostage as well. Does that pose more of a problem for you, given that the Jordanian pilot could be seen as a military POW, whereas obviously the Japanese hostage is a journalist?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Jo, as you know, this is a very sensitive situation. These are ongoing efforts. There are lives at stake here. So we’re just not going to speculate or speak to our views while this is ongoing.

QUESTION: Yes, please.

QUESTION: In the past you have sort of refused the analogy between Sergeant Bergdahl and this exchange, but – and you call him a prisoner of war with the Taliban. Now, this Jordanian pilot would definitely qualify as a prisoner of war. Wouldn’t it then be prudent --

MS. PSAKI: Again, as I just answered in response to Jo’s question, I’m just not going to make comparisons at this point in time.

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. PSAKI: You want to go to Egypt?

QUESTION: Egypt. Yes, please.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Members of Muslim Brothers were in town, and few days ago they met – had meetings in this building. Do you have any like – any details about the meeting, the nature of the meeting, the purpose of the meeting, and whom they met?

MS. PSAKI: Well, State Department officials meet – recently met with a group of visiting Egyptian former parliamentarians whose visit to the United States was organized and funded by Georgetown University. Such meetings are fairly routine at the State Department where we regularly meet with political party leaders from across the world. The Georgetown group included former members of the Freedom and Justice Party, among others. So this was a meeting – we meet on a regular basis with a range of groups, and obviously, as I mentioned, this was a group sponsored by Georgetown.

The meeting was attended by a deputy assistant secretary for democracy, human rights, and labor, and other State Department officials.

QUESTION: The reason I’m asking: because you said Georgetown University, because they are in town and they were talking about – first, they are representing alternative parliament whatever, and beside that they were talking about political solution and being representative of an alternative government for Egypt. Do you have anything to say about that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. This was a diverse group of former parliamentarians. I don’t think I have much more than I just offered.

QUESTION: So let me complete this --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- because the last 48 hours you were silent about these Georgetown visitors.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I was asked about it, so hence I was silent.

QUESTION: No, I mean, you were asked two days ago, I mean, and then we tried to ask you --

MS. PSAKI: And I think I said I need to look into more details.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. That’s hardly silent, but go ahead.

QUESTION: So I’m trying to adjust to – explain myself anyway.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: So in the last 48 hours, just for your information, the tweetosphere, whatever you can call it, was full of members of this Georgetown visitors, saying what they did and what they didn’t do in this town and in this building in particular, saying that it’s a kind of like a – we said our word and we achieved our goals. Are – your team are following what’s going on this town or it’s you don’t care about what they are saying about their meetings here?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I have to say there are dozens if not hundreds of meetings that take place in this building every single day. We don’t announce every meeting. That’s a part of our efforts and engagement as diplomats. So I don’t think it’s more complicated than that.

QUESTION: I’m – can I just – I understand completely what you are saying and --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- we all miss kind of meetings. The only thing I am trying to figure out: If two people meet each other and one person is like give his narrative, that’s why I’m asking your narrative was important to say especially in yesterday in Egypt and people asking the embassy people and the embassy was saying we are still waiting for Washington to talk about it.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I just gave you all the details I have. Again, I think – and it takes a little bit of the mystery out of it. This was a group that was organized and funded by Georgetown. It was a diverse group. It had some former members of the Freedom and Justice Party – they’re former parliamentarians. I think we regularly meet with groups like this, so hopefully you can go back and report and defuse some of the confusion.

QUESTION: All right. Since I’m wearing a Georgetown scarf, are you suggesting that the criticism that has been lobbed at this building from frequent critics of the Administration should be directed at my alma mater?

MS. PSAKI: No, not at all, actually. I was suggesting that this was a group sponsored by a well-respected national university, Matt, and it was a diverse group and something --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- I’m sure they do regularly, and we regularly meet with these groups.

QUESTION: And when they – in this meeting that they had, that a semi-senior official attended, did they discuss overthrowing the – President Morsy?

MS. PSAKI: No, that was not part of the discussion.

QUESTION: Okay. And then you also said that it was a diverse group, with former MPs and also, you said, former member of the Freedom and Justice Party. They are no long members of the Freedom and Justice Party?

MS. PSAKI: My understanding is they’re former members.

QUESTION: Because the party was outlawed, or – why just former members?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details on the group than what I’ve offered.

QUESTION: And who else – who else was in it, then?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more of a description, Matt.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) can we move to --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Why don’t we finish Egypt? Okay.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, just I’m trying to follow up --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- because the question is: You said that they don’t discuss overthrowing it, or whatever. But they – this is what somehow their message was in this town or other places – I mean, in this town especially, in National Press Club, in other places.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I haven’t looked --

QUESTION: I know that you are not supposed to censor or whatever --

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me – then let me just answer your question. I’m sure they had a broad schedule while they were in Washington. I would refer you to them and others for what their schedule included. This was a regular meeting that we have with a range of groups. It wasn’t more complex; it wasn’t a discussion, a negotiation; it was a courtesy meeting, and I would leave it at that.

QUESTION: Can we go to Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Very quickly. Yesterday, your counterpart at the Pentagon said that there are contacts with the Houthis. Can you elaborate on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve said that we are in contact with a range of groups in Yemen. We’ve been saying that for several days now. We’ve also said that we have a range of individuals who remain in contact to coordinate on issues like counterterrorism, but I don’t think I’m going to spell it our more detailed.

QUESTION: So these issues are exclusively connected with counterterrorism and they’re not – they are not involved in any way in, let’s say, security provision and so on for American presence in Yemen or anything like this, is it?

MS. PSAKI: I – we’re not going to discuss it further, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. I know that you did not classify what happened in Yemen as a coup. Is it a coup? Is that a military coup in your judgment?

MS. PSAKI: I’ve answered this several times, so I’d point you to when the last time I answered it was.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we go to Saudi Arabia?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the death of an American defense contractor, Chris Cramer, who died in Saudi Arabia?

MS. PSAKI: I do. We can confirm that U.S. citizen Christopher J. Cramer died outside of the Sahara Makarim Hotel on January 15th. We express our deepest condolences to his family and friends. Officials from the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia are in contact with his family and are providing consular assistance. Out of respect of the privacy of those affected by this tragedy, we aren’t going to comment further. I understand there were reports about the police department looking into it on the ground, so we’d certainly point you to that.

QUESTION: Some of the – his family members are saying that Cramer had sent text messages to them saying his life was in danger and asked his friends to reach out to the State Department. Do you have anything on that?

MS. PSAKI: The police department is looking into it. I’m just not going to speak to it further.

QUESTION: Can I ask something about Iraq?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: The Iraqi Government apparently is investigating allegations that there was a massacre in Diyala province, in which 70 Sunni villagers were killed by Shiite militias. Do you have something on that, given particularly the sectarian tensions we’ve seen under the previous government? Any U.S. comment on it?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, these are serious allegations. And as you mention, the Government of Iraq has initiated an investigation to determine the facts behind these claims. We strongly support this investigation. If these allegations are confirmed, those found responsible must be held accountable.

I’d also note that Prime Minister Abadi has repeatedly stressed the importance of ensuring that all militia fighters are demobilized and integrated into formal Iraqi security structures, and that is something that he has been working on for months now since he took office.

QUESTION: But isn’t it also policy that some of the militias – or you’re trying to train local fighting forces to come together to ward off the – and fight against the ISIL groups? So how does that fit in with the --

MS. PSAKI: That it should be integrated into the formal Iraqi security structure. And so that is the effort, and regulated through that. So that is the effort that has been underway for several months.

QUESTION: Can I get a reaction to a human rights report – a Human Rights Watch report today that essentially says some world governments, including the United States, make the mistake that when they sacrifice a principle of human and civil rights in the name of tightening security measures – in particular they cite national security policies that include mass surveillance programs, and they also cited the Obama Administration’s failure as yet to hold anybody accountable for the actions spelled out in the Senate CIA torture report. Your response?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that those are programs that – as referred to – your last part of your question – that ended more than five years ago, that we have spoken to, we did an entire report on to be transparent. The Department of Justice looked into this and they’ve made their decision. So I’d point you to them for any questions about that.

I believe this is the 25th, if I’m correct, human rights report that Human Rights Watch has issued. Certainly, we congratulate them on that. It just came out. We haven’t reviewed all of the details yet. As you know, we do our own human rights report that we put out every year that I expect will come out soon.

QUESTION: Can I pick up that?

QUESTION: Speaking of --

QUESTION: Because – sorry, Matt – they’re actually a little bit more critical – well, they’re pretty critical of the United States. They say that some of the things like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and the policies that were pursued in Iraq in the – under the previous government, to which the United States to a certain extent turned a blind eye, deliberately and directly – not deliberately – directly helped foster the environment in which we’ve seen the Islamic State grow. I mean, how do you account to those accusations?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we haven’t reviewed the report yet, Jo, so let us do that. I think, one, I’d point to the fact that the ones you’ve mentioned are long ago policies that are no longer active, and obviously there are a number of policies that we’ve changed because we felt that they were not in – consistent with our own values, but we haven’t taken a full review of it.

QUESTION: But would you accept the premise that some of those things – given that they may have been in the past – actually helped fuel the crisis that we’re seeing today?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to accept a premise when I haven’t reviewed the report and our team hasn’t reviewed the report.

QUESTION: Can I pick up on your mention of the word – use of the word “transparency”?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You will have seen that the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction put out their quarterly report today, and it turns out that they can’t say a whole hell of a lot because everything’s been classified. Can you explain how that fits in with the goal of this Administration or the commitment of this Administration to be the most transparent in history?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s exactly the issue. I think there’s two issues you’re referring to: one is ISAF’s decision to classify troop training costs, which is one issue.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: The separate issue is --

QUESTION: So maybe there’s a misunderstanding, yeah?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me try to clarify it a little bit.

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. PSAKI: The second issue is the quarterly report that we do before SIGAR, and that includes a range of responses on things from social issues to economic issues, and that’s something we do quarterly. This quarter took longer than expected to collect and distill the requested information, and our response on social and economic issues missed the reporting deadline. We did, however, convey the delay to SIGAR, and we did not intentionally withhold information for these quarterly reports; expect it will be complete in the next quarter with all of the details across the board.

QUESTION: Okay. So this line in the summary that says, “Despite the requirement of public law that federal agencies will allow, the State Department did not answer any of SIGAR’s questions on economic and social development this quarter and failed to respond to SIGAR’s attempt to follow up,” that’s simply not true?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we --

QUESTION: It’s true that you didn’t get them the information, but you did not fail to respond to follow-up requests because, if I understand you correctly, you told --

MS. PSAKI: We conveyed that we did not unintentionally leave it out and we fully intend to --

QUESTION: All right. So from the State Department’s point of view, you can’t speak to ISAF and its decision to classify it?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. So in terms of the State Department, this is not a situation where you have decided that all of a sudden you’re no longer required or obligated to provide information to a congressionally mandated oversight committee?

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely not. It’s a quarterly report and we fully expect that it will be complete next quarter.

QUESTION: Well, okay. But when – or you mean you can’t get them the information that they asked before the end of the first quarter?

MS. PSAKI: Well, sure, we may, but they’re the same types of questions asked every quarter. So we will continue to work on getting them the information they need.

QUESTION: Okay. But I mean, they’ve been doing this for – they’ve been putting out these reports for quite some time. I don’t remember there ever being a delay like this before. Is there some reason that there was a delay?

MS. PSAKI: It took longer than expected, but you’re right, in the past we have given them all of the information they need in all of the categories, and we expect that will be the case moving forward.

QUESTION: All right, but I mean, it’s no secret that the Administration is not exactly fond of many of – has often not been appreciative, let’s say, of SIGAR findings of projects going on in Afghanistan, and there is no – you’re saying that there is no intention by the State Department --

MS. PSAKI: No.

QUESTION: -- to deny them, to withhold --

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: -- information, or to otherwise – or to massage information to make it look like things are better than they might actually be?

MS. PSAKI: No. No intention. No intention at all.

QUESTION: All right. Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: For my first question, was it ISAF that has classified the information or the Afghan National Security Forces?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, I’m sorry, you’re right. I kind of glossed over that. Let me see. I mean, I’d really refer you to DOD, but --

QUESTION: Well, the SIGAR report says here, “After six years of being publicly reported, Afghan National Security Forces data is now classified.”

MS. PSAKI: Well, but ISAF – but I would point you to DOD, but ISAF does it. I mean, there have been --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: They can explain to you. I mean, we classify our own troop – our own armed forces readiness reports for security purposes, and so there’s a range of reasons why they’ve done it.

QUESTION: So it wouldn’t be a matter of concern for you that the data on how your money is being spent is now classified?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s a decision made by the Department of Defense --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- so I would point you to them. I was just noting these are two separate issues, so – okay, we have time just for kind of maybe one or two more here. Go ahead.

QUESTION: India?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You must have heard that the Indian ambassador to the U.S. has been transferred to India as the foreign secretary. Firstly, any broad comment on that? And secondly, would you like to take this opportunity to suggest that India fill his spot here quite quickly, or does that not matter for the progress in bilateral relations?

MS. PSAKI: I think, clearly, that’s up to the Government of India. As you know, we have an important and growing relationship with India, as evidenced by the fact that the Secretary of State and the President of the United States were both there in the last couple of weeks. We appreciate the productive relationship we had with Foreign Minister Singh – Foreign Secretary Singh – I apologize – and look forward to further advancing the U.S.-India relationship with the new foreign secretary, who, as you know, we have worked quite closely with. But obviously, we’ll look forward to working with the new ambassador whenever they are named.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: So Russia has confirmed that Kim Jong-un will be attending commemorations for the end of World War II in Moscow in May. Will any U.S. officials be attending that meeting as well?

MS. PSAKI: May may seem close, but it’s a long time away. So in our planning schedules, I don’t have anything to announce for you in terms of plans for attendees from the U.S. Government.

All right, thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:17 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Announcement of Special Coordinator for the Post-2015 Development Agenda

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 16:36

Announcement of Special Coordinator for the Post-2015 Development Agenda


Press StatementJen Psaki
Department Spokesperson Washington, DC
January 28, 2015

The U.S. Department of State is pleased to announce the appointment of Tony Pipa as Special Coordinator for the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Mr. Pipa will lead U.S. engagement and negotiations during the intergovernmental process at the United Nations, where the global community will work to define—and agree upon—an ambitious agenda on sustainable development for decades to come. The negotiations will culminate in a presidential summit at the United Nations this coming September.

Mr. Pipa has served as International Policy Adviser to the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Deputy Assistant to the Administrator in USAID's Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning, leading and elevating USAID's international thought leadership as well as engagement with bilateral and multilateral partners on key policy priorities.


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External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views or privacy policies contained therein.

Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 28, 2015

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 15:26

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 28, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:05 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Hello.

MS. PSAKI: Hello. Happy Wednesday.

QUESTION: Wednesday.

MS. PSAKI: So a couple of items for all of you at the top. Secretary Kerry will host his counterparts from Canada and Mexico in his hometown of Boston, Massachusetts, on Friday, January 30th, and Saturday, January 31st for the North American Ministerial. Secretary Kerry, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird and Mexican Foreign Secretary Jose Meade will review efforts to support greater North American competitiveness, advance leadership on energy and climate change, enhance our security cooperation, cooperate on hemispheric priorities, and strengthen education initiatives throughout North America.

One other item. We are deeply concerned by reports that Ukrainian parliamentarian and former military pilot Nadiya Savchenko is gravely ill due to her continued detention by Russia. We understand that Ms. Savchenko has been on a hunger strike since December 13th to protest the terms of her detention. Ms. Savchenko was captured by Russian-backed separatists in June of 2014 in eastern Ukraine, and illegally transferred to Russia by the separatists. We note that Ms. Savchenko is also a delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a body dedicated to protecting human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. We call on Russia to immediately release Ms. Savchenko and all other Ukrainian hostages as well as fulfill all commitments it made under Minsk.

Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. So before we get back to Ukraine and before we get to Lebanon, I just want to ask very briefly if there’s any update beyond the statement that – the joint statement that you put out on the attack in Libya yesterday. Is there anything new that you can report about that – on that or about the American who was killed?

MS. PSAKI: There’s nothing new to report. I believe we put out details on the name of the American, or those have been confirmed out publicly; nothing since then.

QUESTION: Okay. Going to Israel/Lebanon, you – what are your thoughts on this Hezbollah-claimed attack on Israel that killed two IDF soldiers and Israel’s response?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we will have a statement on this that may be going out during the briefing, in my name. So if it does, I’m happy to reiterate that, but you should have that in your inboxes soon. We support Israel’s legitimate right to self-defense and continue to urge all parties to respect the blue line between Israel and Lebanon, as prescribed by UNSCR 1701. We also, of course, condemn the act of violence and will be watching the situation closely.

QUESTION: You condemn the act of violence – you’re referring to?

MS. PSAKI: The attacks.

QUESTION: The Hezbollah attacks?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Just on a technical question: There are some who have made the argument that this area, Shebaa Farms, is Israeli-occupied Lebanon. What’s the U.S. position on the status of this area?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check with our legal team on the specific status, Matt. I’m happy to do that.

QUESTION: Do you know if anyone – the Secretary or anyone else – has been in touch with either the Israelis or the Lebanese about this issue?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls to read out from the Secretary this morning. As you know, he flew back and arrived early this morning. I can certainly check on contacts with our teams on the ground. I would certainly suspect that our teams in Lebanon and Israel have been in touch with relevant authorities.

QUESTION: Jen, do you think that the Lebanese army or the Lebanese Government bear any responsibility in this attack?

MS. PSAKI: I think this is an attack that obviously just happened. We certainly encourage all parties to respect the blue line between Israel and Lebanon. We urge all parties to refrain from any action that could escalate the situation. You’re familiar with our views on Hezbollah. As I mentioned, we strongly condemn Hezbollah’s attack today near the border, but beyond that I’m not going to speculate further.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You began your comments on this by reaffirming your belief that Israel has the right to self-defense, and then – which might be taken as that they have a right to defend against attacks like the one that killed the two soldiers, and now you say, however, that you encourage all sides to refrain from any actions that could escalate the situation. Which is it? I mean, do you feel that the Israelis should not take any actions that would escalate the situation, or do you feel that they have every right to attack in self-defense against such things?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they have the right to, Arshad, but certainly our preference is to reduce the tensions and the violence and the back and forth from here.

QUESTION: Well, let’s put it this way: Do you regard Israel’s counterattack or Israel’s retaliatory actions as being actions that escalate the situation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we believe – and that’s why I stated it – that Israel has the right to defend itself. Obviously, this is a situation where they’re – and I don’t have any confirmation of the specific back-and-forths here, Matt – but they are dealing with a situation where they were attacked by Hezbollah. But again, of course, in this situation and anywhere there’s tensions back and forth, our preference is that all sides refrain from activities that would increase volatility.

QUESTION: Right. But there’s a problem, because if – because if you say that Israel has the right to defend itself, but then you say that you want all sides to refrain from any action that could escalate the situation, and you believe that the Israeli retaliation is escalatory, then you’re saying that you don’t think Israel should defend itself.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I said that, Matt. I said --

QUESTION: No, I am – it’s a syllogism. It’s a logical corollary.

MS. PSAKI: I understand, and Arshad asked a similar question.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: Look, this is a situation where there has been an attack from Hezbollah. Obviously, we condemn that. Is our preference that there are no more attacks and that the UNSCR is abided by? Yes. But we also believe Israel has the right to defend itself.

QUESTION: Maybe the way to state your position would be that you would prefer that Israel not exercise its right to self-defense --

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t state it in that way, though I appreciate your offer for – to give us talking points. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- so as to avoid escalatory actions.

QUESTION: We’re just trying to figure out exactly what the Administration’s position is here. Because either you think that Israel has the right to defend itself, full stop, or you think that Israel, as does Hezbollah, should not take any action that could escalate tensions. And if firing 20 or 50 or however many rockets into Lebanon that may have killed a UN peacekeeper isn’t escalatory, then you should say that that’s not escalatory.

MS. PSAKI: I will leave it at: We – our preference continues to be that there is not violations of the UNSCR and they – both sides abide by that. And obviously, peace and security there along that line, along the blue line, is our preference.

QUESTION: Right. But --

MS. PSAKI: However, does Israel have the right? Yes, they have the right.

QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t have a problem with Israel’s retaliation?

MS. PSAKI: I’m going to leave it at that.

QUESTION: Have you conveyed to the Israeli Government, since the killing of their two soldiers, that it would be your preference that they not undertake – that they and all other parties not undertake escalatory actions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think Matt asked about contacts we’ve had. I’m certain we’ve been in contact on the ground. I can see if there’s more we can spell out about those discussions.

QUESTION: On that particular point --

MS. PSAKI: I understand your question.

QUESTION: I just have one more.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: There is some in Israel and elsewhere who have suggested that there is an Iranian hand in this. Is that something that the Administration is aware of or shares?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen the reports. I don’t think we have any confirmation of that report.

Go ahead, Barbara.

QUESTION: Will this event affect the talks with Iran regarding the nuclear issue?

MS. PSAKI: No, it will not.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: A new topic?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Jordan. Have you been in discussions with the Jordanians about their offer of a prisoner swap for their pilot? And if so, given your well-known position about not having ransom or prisoner exchanges with ISIS, are you saying this might be a counterproductive move, or are you standing back and just – and letting things go as they are? And also, would the Jordanian pilot in your view be considered a prisoner of war?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of reports out there, as we’ve all seen, and many of you have reported on. And we certainly understand the interest in this issue. We’re also watching closely. We’re not going to discuss the details of our diplomatic exchanges with Jordan, with Japan, with any other country involved. Our position is well known. The United States Government policy, in terms of how we operate, is we don’t make concessions to terrorists. That is our policy. I don’t think there’s any secret about that to other countries around the world. But otherwise, in terms of reports of what is being considered or may or may not be considered, I would refer you to the governments of Jordan and governments of Japan?

QUESTION: Can I follow up --

QUESTION: And would the pilot be considered a prisoner of war?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any analysis of that from here. Obviously, we designate our own individuals, as we did certainly with Sergeant Bergdahl, who we’ve spoken about in here.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Aside from not wanting to talk about the diplomatic piece of this, do you support – can you say whether you support or not a prisoner swap between Jordan --

MS. PSAKI: I’m just going to leave it as I’ve said it. Obviously, this is a very fluid situation; there are lots of reports out there. I think everybody understands the pain and the suffering that the people of Japan and the people of Jordan have gone through. We have our own – unfortunately, our own prisoners, but there’s no benefit to us in spelling this out more specifically.

QUESTION: And how is it dissimilar from the Bergdahl swap? Wouldn’t it in a sense be exactly the same, and therefore you would support it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Justin, as you know, there’s lots of different reports out there that I don’t think I need to spell out for you about what is or isn’t being considered. So let’s see what happens and we can speak about it at that point in time.

QUESTION: Put it this way --

QUESTION: There was supposed to be a review of the terror hostage policy. Has that – has anything become of that? Has – is that review complete?

MS. PSAKI: It’s ongoing. Again, I think you’re familiar with the fact that we have confirmed that ransom payments, in our view on that, is not a part of that.

QUESTION: Putting it more broadly – and maybe this will help elicit an answer – does the United States believe that foreign governments have the sovereign right to do whatever they can to release their own prisoners of war? Or is that a right or privilege that the United States believes only belongs to it.

MS. PSAKI: Well, every country has the ability and the right to make decisions --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- about – obviously, within the realm of what is acceptable by international law. We have our own positions, our own views that are well known, and there’s reasons behind them.

QUESTION: Do you believe that the swap for Bergdahl, which has been mentioned, fell within the realm of international law, of legality?

MS. PSAKI: We do, yes.

QUESTION: We do. Okay, you do. So in other words then, given those – given that stated position, you shouldn’t have a problem with the Jordanians releasing a prisoner to get their pilot back.

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, there’s lots of reports out there about what’s being considered. Let’s see what happens. I’m not going to speculate on what that may or may not be or what will happen.

QUESTION: Right, but let me – I just want to make sure – you think that foreign governments have the right to do whatever they deem necessary to get their own prisoners of war released from --

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are certain international laws and policies.

QUESTION: -- as long as it complies with international law, right? Correct?

MS. PSAKI: We – as you know, different governments make decisions about what’s appropriate.

QUESTION: I know. But you don’t – you’re not telling – you’re not saying that you think that other governments don’t have the same rights as the United States does when it comes to getting – winning the release or getting the release of their prisoners.

QUESTION: Broadly speaking, that is our view, Matt, but I’m not going to speak more hypothetically about this.

Go ahead, Elliot.

QUESTION: I just have one on that.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: If it is wrong for the United States to make concessions to win the release of hostages, why is it not wrong for every other nation to make concessions to secure the release of hostages?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as we have this discussion and debate, which unfortunately has been happening around the international community given the number of hostages held by ISIL, we have conveyed why that is our position. Beyond that, I’m not going to get into discussions we’re having private – through private diplomatic channels.

Go ahead, Elliot.

QUESTION: Thanks. I was just a little confused by your continued reference to the range of reports. I mean, it seems like the Jordanian Government has pretty clearly stated its intention to swap the prisoners. I mean, is that in your view still unclear or --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – Elliot, I don’t think I have to spell out for you the range of reports out there. I’ll encourage you to Google when you get back to your desk and see what’s out there.

QUESTION: I actually already have.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) statement by the Jordanian Government that was released on the (inaudible) official newswire --

MS. PSAKI: I understand. We’re not confirming any details of it, Arshad.

QUESTION: -- and then emailed out to every reporter in this room. There’s no ambiguity about that.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on it to offer.

Do we have any more on this to talk about?

QUESTION: Can I have a new subject?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Oh, can I just --

QUESTION: I have on this – actually --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure. Let’s finish this, and then we’ll go to you next, I promise. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, I just – I don’t know if you’ll have an answer to this, but obviously prisoners of war are different than civilian hostages, at least in terms of what their status is.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But is it fair to say that if you, as you said in response to one of my earlier questions that – believe that governments have – foreign governments have the right to do whatever the – whatever they can within international law to win the release of prisoners of war, is it also correct that the United --

MS. PSAKI: Well, with full well knowing we have our own positions, as many other countries do, on things like ransom and swaps for a reason.

QUESTION: No. Is it to your understanding a violation of international law to pay ransom or trade people for civilians, private citizens who are held hostage by whoever?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything for you on international law, Matt. I think there have been UN Security Council statements and others, but we can certainly check with our lawyers and see if there’s more we can offer.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jennifer, I have a question on the sanctions – on the new sanctions – European Union against Russia. The new Government of Greece --

MS. PSAKI: I believe it’s a – they’re having a discussion.

QUESTION: Yes, I know.

MS. PSAKI: So I don’t think there’s been any confirmation, but --

QUESTION: Okay. But the leader of the new Government of Greece, Minister Tsipras, has raised yesterday a formal objection to this statement. Obviously, he’s against the sanctions, as we understand. He spoke with Mrs. Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief. He sent her a letter, and according to his office, we – means that Greece – underline that it does not have our country’s consent. Do you have any comment on this? I mean --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we are – these are deliberations --

QUESTION: -- he’s in agreement with you, with the Europeans?

MS. PSAKI: These are deliberations that are happening within the EU, so I’m certainly not going to speculate on that. Obviously, we appreciate the cooperation of our European partners in implementing the sanctions adopted by the EU, and we continue to work with them in helping to end the crisis in Ukraine. There’s been a meeting – this week’s meeting of the EU foreign ministers to discuss escalating violence in eastern Ukraine and what to do about it. And obviously, this discussion is a part of that, but we’ll let that discussion happen between the EU ministers.

QUESTION: Can we tease that out a little bit more?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Are you concerned at all that Russia is trying to somehow hive the new Greek Government, and therefore Greece, away from the European Union, specifically in relation to Ukraine, the situation in Ukraine and sanctions – but more generally in terms of European Union unity, such as it is or ever was?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, the new Greeks – Greek Government, I should say, is only a couple days old, Matt. And obviously, we expect they’ll have conversations with a range of countries. There have been in the past, as you know, debates or discussions about what is beneficial or not on EU sanctions leading up to decisions that are made. So that has not been uncommon. I don’t think we’re at the point where we have concern.

QUESTION: Okay. And then – in the – in Greece, are you aware of any contact that there has been between the Secretary or other senior officials and the new Greek leadership, recognizing that I don’t think the government’s been fully named yet?

MS. PSAKI: I think it’s still in process, as I understand the status.

QUESTION: So is he --

MS. PSAKI: He – I don’t have a call from him to read out. Obviously, he’s been traveling and been on a plane, I think, for 23 hours yesterday. So, nothing to read out. We can see if there’s more to say about other officials, certainly.

QUESTION: But is he planning to call his counterpart in Greece?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls to predict. I expect when there’s a new government, often that’s what happens. So let me see if there’s a call planned and we can let you know about it.

QUESTION: Another question: Do you think it’s a problem that Greece is against the sanctions against Russia?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to speak on behalf of Greece. I know they have made their own comments. There are often discussions and debates leading up to the EU decisions about sanctions. That’s a part of the process, so we’ll leave that process where it is.

New topic?

QUESTION: Well, I have a question about Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but the head of the parliament, Russian parliament, is – says that parliament is going to consider a resolution, which would be symbolic in nature, but that would condemn the reunification of East and West Germany. I’m just wondering if you guys have any thoughts about that.

MS. PSAKI: We haven’t seen that. I think if it’s a proposal I’m not sure we’ll have much to say, but I’m happy to talk to our European team on that, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. And it’s just a question of the tenor and the overall --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- atmosphere of East/West relations.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, understood. I will see if there’s more details or where it is in the process.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: There are reports based on sources from the State Department and some Syrian opposition groups in Daily Beast --

MS. PSAKI: Uh-oh. Okay. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- says that the U.S. has cut off the funds of some Syrian opposition groups and brigades for their failure against al-Nusrah Front in northern Syria. And these reports also say that some of these brigades have been dropped from the list of ratified militias. Do you – first of all, do you confirm this? Secondly, can you give us an update how many groups the U.S. is supporting? What kind of support is U.S. giving to these groups?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I spoke about this pretty extensively yesterday, so I would point you to that. I had mentioned that I can’t speak to reports about covert programs, which I believe is what you’re referring to. I can speak to what we’re doing from the State Department, and we are continuing to support the Syrian opposition. Obviously, we’re supporting the DOD train and equip program, which is expected to launch this spring. We continue our – are continuing our ongoing nonlethal assistance programs to provide food, medical supplies, winter gear, and trucks. We’ve been providing a range of nonlethal support to moderate civilian and armed elements of the Syrian opposition. That’s all continuing.

I don’t have a number for you, and I don’t think we’ve given a number for the number of groups. There are a range of groups that go through a vetting process in the moderate opposition that we continue to contribute to. Since the first of the year, we have delivered approximately 2.7 million in nonlethal supplies and equipment to the moderate opposition, including, as I mentioned, water trucks, back hoes, generators, winterization gear, and more than 17,000 food baskets. So that support is ongoing from the State Department.

QUESTION: Food baskets?

MS. PSAKI: Baskets of food.

QUESTION: Well, I got you, but I mean, what --

MS. PSAKI: Do you want to know what’s in them?

QUESTION: Well, I don’t know. It’s MREs, right, or is it not?

MS. PSAKI: I think that’s – I can find out more specifically what it contains.

QUESTION: I mean, it’s not like Pepperidge Farms, Harry and David food baskets.

MS. PSAKI: It’s unlikely it’s Pepperidge Farms, Matt. I think it’s food that can be transferred.

QUESTION: Okay. On – I understand.

MS. PSAKI: Transported I should say.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. I don’t mean – I’m not intending to make light of this. Did – on the vetting though --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- the vetting issue, is it the State Department that does vetting for all of the U.S. Government or do different agencies have their own vetting process?

MS. PSAKI: I believe it’s an interagency, depending on what the issue is. Obviously, when it’s weapons and things, it would be the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: Right, but I mean if DOD decides that one group no longer meets the qualifications – the vetting qualifications, does that mean that the State Department is obligated to end – to also cancel the okay?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, humanitarian assistance is provided across the board often. So I’d have to check on what the program is. I’m sure I can talk to our team about how it impacts.

QUESTION: Well, are you aware of – assuming for the moment that the State Department does its own vetting for its own programs, are you aware of it – of the State Department dropping the approval for any groups in Syria to be – to receive assistance?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think most of the reports are referring to military assistance, obviously, which wouldn’t be the State Department.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check if there’s more to convey from any concerns we’ve had about it.

QUESTION: Can I go to Kobani?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I just wondered if it was still the U.S. position that the anti-ISIL fighters had secured 90 percent of the town, or whether you now believe that they were in total control of the town.

MS. PSAKI: Well, that was CENTCOM’s update from yesterday. I haven’t seen an update from them over the last 24 hours so it may have increased since then, but I don’t have a new number for you.

QUESTION: Okay. And just going forward, we’ve had a team in Kobani today and there’s sort of, obviously, as expected, I would imagine, massive destruction after a four-month heavy – four months of heavy fighting. I wondered if there was any U.S. aid, if you’ve been approached for any help now going forward for – whether there’s anything that you can actually help provide for people.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, one, we firmly support the humanitarian principle that refugee return should be strictly voluntary. As it – we’re not aware at this point – and it may be because it’s fairly fresh – of a significant number of refugees returning to Kobani, but we’re actively monitoring the situation. There are a number of countries, including Turkey, that has been providing assistance and protection for refugees from Kobani. We, of course, remain, as you know, the largest humanitarian donor in the world. That will continue and that will certainly continue in this area, as it does in others. And we’ve also indicated we’ll continue to help them militarily as well.

QUESTION: I believe that yesterday, or even maybe today, there was a few numbers of – large numbers of Kurds on the border, on the Turkish side of the border, who were wanting to go back and cross into Syria back to Kobani and weren’t being allowed; the border remains closed. Do you have a position on whether the Turks should allow that border to open or not, given that, obviously, Syria is in a – is a conflict zone?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, I think, obviously, there have been some concerns given the conflict that’s happening in Kobani. I don’t have a particular update on that, so I’m happy to talk to our team and see if there’s more we can convey about that border.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you think that the Syrian Free Army played – did it play any role in the liberation of Kobani, or only the Kurds played the major role?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there are a range of groups and individuals who supported it. Obviously, the United States was a prominent part of that, as were the Kurds. I don’t think I’m going to give out awards or trophies today. There’s a long way to go.

Do we have any more on Syria?

QUESTION: On Syria. There are social media reports that Abu Muhammad Al-Amriki, an ISIS commander who, as his name would imply, has claimed to be an American citizen --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- have you seen any confirmation of a U.S. citizen --

MS. PSAKI: Seen the --

QUESTION: -- killed in Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Seen the reports. We don’t have any confirmation, though, of the reports on social media.

Any more on Syria before we continue? Okay, go ahead. Do you have another issue? Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. As you’ll have seen, the Thais have not reacted – the Thai Government has not reacted well to Assistant Secretary Russel’s suggestion that they should end martial law. And there are also reports that the U.S. charge was called in.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are the reports of the charge being called in correct? And does the U.S. Government, which, as you’ll well recall, took a number of steps last year after the coup, plan to curtail further its cooperation with the Thai Government, notably by not including them in Cobra Gold?

MS. PSAKI: Well, in terms of the meeting, at the request of Thai deputy minister of foreign – of the Thai deputy minister of foreign affairs, our charge on the ground, Patrick Murphy, met on January 28th to discuss – with him to discuss Assistant Secretary of State Danny Russel’s visit. During the meeting, in addition to discussing our bilateral relationship, the deputy foreign minister explained the Thai Government’s point of view on comments the assistant secretary made regarding the importance of freedom of expression, the lifting of martial law, and perceptions of political fairness. Certainly, as you would expect, our charge repeated – reiterated our point of view and expressed our hope that we will continue to have an ongoing dialogue.

I think we’ve conveyed this before, but on Cobra Gold, in light of the coup, we have refocused and scaled down the Cobra Gold 2015 exercise. This year, Cobra Gold will focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief with the aim of expanding regional cooperation and coordination in these vital areas. That’s something I think we decided some time ago. So in terms of additional changes to that – and the exercise, as you know, is next month – I’m not aware of plans for additional changes.

QUESTION: But – so in other words, you would still expect the Thais to participate in Cobra Gold next month?

MS. PSAKI: For – with this --

QUESTION: For those purposes?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And then you said “at the request of.” You wouldn’t dispute the characterization of the charge having been called in?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, I think it’s another way of saying “at the request of,” but I think that’s accurate. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So basically, the deputy prime – the foreign minister asked the charge to come in, the charge went in, the deputy prime minister complained about Assistant Secretary Russel’s speech, and the charge repeated what Secretary – Assistant Secretary Russel had said criticizing the Thai Government.

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Is that a succinct way to put it?

MS. PSAKI: I think I was trying to convey it in a succinct manner. Obviously, Thailand is a valued friend and ally, and we have a range of conversations with them.

QUESTION: But --

MS. PSAKI: But those are our positions.

QUESTION: Right. And it’s – so suffice it to say, the difference of opinion over the issues --

MS. PSAKI: -- remains.

QUESTION: -- remains.

MS. PSAKI: I think that’s fair to say.

QUESTION: And one other thing: Have the Thais – has the Thai Government given you any indication that they themselves might choose to withdraw from Cobra Gold as a result of this?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I have heard an indication of, Arshad.

QUESTION: Can I stay in the region?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Yes. I think today there was a joint statement put out by the foreign ministers of ASEAN expressing concern about land reclamation in the South China Sea. I was wondering if you share those concerns and if you have anything. I think Danny Russel might have spoken to this issue a little bit, but I’m just wondering if you have anything --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. We talked about it, I think, a little bit yesterday too. I don’t believe I have anything new to add. I’m happy to take a look at it and see if we want to echo it or add anything further.

QUESTION: Okay. You still support negotiations toward a code of conduct between the parties?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, we absolutely do. That remains our position.

QUESTION: In your view, is there anything that particular countries could be doing to move that along? The process has been --

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, this is a primary topic of discussion every time there’s an ASEAN meeting, and there’s generally, as you know, broad agreement among these countries about what needs to happen. So -- and the question of how to move it along, I think they’ll continue to discuss it, and we’re hopeful that all of the parties that would be a part of this will agree to take substantive steps.

QUESTION: I also wanted to ask about the Freedom House 2015 Freedom in the World report – I think came out today – noted that – it was a rather dim outlook on many countries’ records, including China, Turkey. I was wondering if you broadly share those assessments.

MS. PSAKI: Well, without going country by country, as you know, we put out our own reports on an annual basis that address many of the same issues. So I think those speak to what our views are. I expect that will be coming out somewhat soon. I don’t have a date yet. But in terms of where we stand on those issues, I would refer you to last year’s report.

QUESTION: You’re referring to the Human Rights report?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can I ask you if you – if the great minds in this building have come up yet with an answer on the beheading question that I’ve had for the last two days?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to offer, Matt. Obviously, we don’t condone that – those activities, but I think you know that.

QUESTION: And – you don’t condone what, capital punishment in general, or beheading as a form of capital punishment?

MS. PSAKI: Beheadings, which is the question you asked about.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m going to have to ruminate about that for a little bit and get back to you.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. We’ll let you ruminate.

QUESTION: Can I – go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, I was just going to ask if you had any position on the announcement from Tehran today that the Iranians and the EU members of the P5+1 will meet in Istanbul on Thursday. I wondered about the choice of venue, whether you had any concerns about that.

MS. PSAKI: I have not heard any concerns expressed about the location or the venue, no.

QUESTION: And is this just another of the round of normal bilateral meetings?

MS. PSAKI: That’s my understanding. As you know, there have been meetings that the United States has had, there have been meetings that different countries have had, and that certainly has been a standard part of the process.

QUESTION: And in some of the – well, in many of the Iran-U.S. bilateral meetings, there’s been an EU presence, namely Helga Schmid.

MS. PSAKI: And many there have not.

QUESTION: And many there have not. But I was asking – I was going to ask whether you anticipated whether there’d be a U.S. presence at these talks on Thursday.

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check and see if anybody from our negotiating team will be a part of them. And as you know, even when the EU is not in – sitting in the room with our talks, we often have readouts immediately following the meetings with our partners. And I expect it would be the same here.

QUESTION: Okay. Any update on when there might be another either Iran-U.S. bilat or a global P5+1 meeting?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an update yet at this point in time.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: There’s a report out that a U.S. State Department-funded group is financing an Israeli campaign against Prime Minister Netanyahu. Do you have any response to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this is a report – just so people who haven’t followed this as closely know what the details are – about a group called OneVoice. The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv provided a grant to OneVoice to promote dialogue and support for peace negotiations and a two-state solution. That grant ran from September of 2013 to November of 2014. During the period of the grant, as is standard practice, the U.S. Embassy approved OneVoice Israel’s implementation plan for the grant and monitored its performance. And, as is routine for such a grant, final payments are disbursed after the grantee provides documentation showing completion of the grant terms. Now you’ve learned more about U.S. Government grants than you ever thought you needed to know.

The grant ended before the advent of V15. It ended before there was a declaration of an Israeli election. We’ve seen the media reports about the activities of V15, but the embassy has not provided any funds, support, or direction to the group.

QUESTION: How much was it?

MS. PSAKI: How much was the grant from last year?

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on that for you, Matt.

QUESTION: And how long has the U.S. been funding it prior to the grant that was – prior to --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a history of grants prior to last year. This was related to supporting a two-state solution. I’d also note for you that in one of the stories, the – one – sorry, OneVoice spokesperson is quoted saying, “No government funding has gone toward any activities we’re doing right now whatsoever,” and that the grant money was going to build public support for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

QUESTION: So when was the last – do you know when the last – you said that even though the grant expired in November, they might be – have gotten money after November as part of that grant because the money is not disbursed until they provide proof that their program has succeeded --

MS. PSAKI: Which is for the two-state – promoting a two-state solution.

QUESTION: I understand that, but were – do you know, were there payments made as part of this grant or to complete the grant after November 2014?

MS. PSAKI: We can certainly check. They were not for – they were for promoting a two-state solution regardless, but we’ll check on that question.

QUESTION: All right. I understand. The reason that the question arises is because – one of Arshad’s favorite words – money is fungible. And so if this group was doing your – the two-state solution stuff and they finished doing that, but they were still getting money afterwards, there could be a way that somehow – that this money indirectly funded some of their post-November 2014 activities.

MS. PSAKI: Well, but the point is, Matt, that there --

QUESTION: I understand what you’re saying and I understand you didn’t – the U.S. Government – what you’re saying is that the U.S. Government hasn’t funded anything, any political activity by this group, and any activity at all after November 14 – November --

MS. PSAKI: Thirtieth.

QUESTION: Right, after --

MS. PSAKI: Well, November 2014.

QUESTION: -- last November.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But it would be interesting, I think, to know if payments on that grant could --

MS. PSAKI: Well, and we approve exactly what the money is used for, so that’s where it becomes --

QUESTION: I understand, but --

MS. PSAKI: -- a little tricky to do what you’re talking about.

QUESTION: Well, to find out when the last payment was made?

MS. PSAKI: No, to use money for anything other than what they’ve been approved to use the money for. That’s – it’s very specific and complex in that way.

QUESTION: Right, but if you give money for them to do one project, it saves them – they don’t have to spend their own money on that project, which frees up the money to do – for them to do something else. I’m just curious as to know when the last payment on the grant was made, even --

MS. PSAKI: Certainly, but last thing I would say is they were doing that project, in part, supported by funding from the U.S. Government. So it’s also speculating that they would have done that project without that funding. I don’t know if that’s the case.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, the other thing is that the peace process was well and truly cooked, done, over by November.

MS. PSAKI: Correct. It doesn’t mean that we haven’t continued to support, as many, many in the world have, efforts to engage and discuss the benefits of a two-state solution. And that’s obviously what – part of what their objectives were.

Do we have any more on Israel before we continue? Okay. Any more topics?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: All right. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Oh, I was hoping we could go back to Libya just for a minute.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You might not have anything on this, but maybe you could take the question. There’s this group claiming to be an ISIS affiliate in Libya that’s claiming responsibility for the hotel attack. And I don't know if you have an understanding that this group is in some way in contact with ISIS leadership, or is this more of a support generally?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re aware of claims of responsibility for the attack by a group claiming association with ISIL. We’re monitoring closely indications that several extremist groups in Libya have aligned themselves openly with ISIL. But I don’t have – I’m not going to have any more to offer for you in terms of analysis of that or the reports.

Any more on Libya? Okay.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask --

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- if you had any more on the question about the arrests in Bahrain that Matt raised yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more on that.

QUESTION: Is that finished? Is it over?

MS. PSAKI: We don’t have a Privacy Act waiver, so there’s not more I can speak to about it at this point in time.

QUESTION: Do you know if there is still – if there are individuals still held in Bahrain?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have an update. I can see if there’s more we can offer.

QUESTION: I have three extremely brief ones --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- probably less than 10 seconds each.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: First, any update on the status of the embassy or situation in Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: No, nothing has changed.

QUESTION: Two, Venezuela. This country seems to be abuzz about the alleged defection of this former bodyguard to the United States – defection to the United States of this former bodyguard who some reports claim is going to implicate the country’s number-two in a drug-smuggling ring. Can you speak to these – this at all? Is it --

MS. PSAKI: No. It’s an ongoing law enforcement matter, so I can’t speak to it.

QUESTION: Is this guy in the U.S.?

MS. PSAKI: I just – I’m going to refer you to the Department of Justice. Don’t have any more details.

QUESTION: So there is a case going on? Is that --

MS. PSAKI: I would encourage you to pose your question with the Department of Justice.

QUESTION: Well, is the Department of Justice going to tell me or one of my colleagues that – they’re going to refer me back to the State Department?

MS. PSAKI: I think that’s unlikely. Do you have a third question?

QUESTION: Thank you. I do.

MS. PSAKI: You said three. Go ahead.

QUESTION: And this is just very – and I don’t expect that you’ll --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- have an answer off the top of your head. I’m just wondering – the Cuban interest section was having their celebration for the national – for Cuban National Day this Friday. I’m just wondering if there’s any high-level State Department people planning to attend given the recent changes or attempts to change the nature of the relationship.

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, but we can check that question for you, sure.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Under 10 seconds on every reply.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, I felt pressure. (Laughter.) All right. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:44 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 27, 2015

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 15:58

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 27, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:14 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.  Many people here despite the snow.  It’s not too bad, I guess. 

QUESTION:  I don’t know.  I’m kind of lonely here in the front row.

MS. PSAKI:  You are?  Everyone’s sort of crowded in the second and third row.  Don’t take it personally, Matt.  I’m sure other people will join you.

QUESTION:  I am taking it personally.  (Laughter.) 

MS. PSAKI:  Okay, a couple of items for you guys at the top.  As you’ve noted from the White House’s announcement, the Secretary is on travel today in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with President Obama and other members of the U.S. delegation to offer condolences for the passing of King Abdullah.  He’s, of course, participating in the bilateral program, and any readouts of that will certainly come from the White House. 

Today, we also mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945 by the Soviet Army.  As we face a global rise in anti-Semitism, it is more important than ever to remember these terrible death camps the Nazis created in order to wipe an entire race of people – men, women, and children – from the face of the Earth.  They systematically swept up not only Jews, but millions of other innocents because of race, sexual orientation, disability, or political beliefs.  On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the United States joins many others in paying tribute to the millions of victims who lost their lives under the Nazi regime.  We also honor those who survived but still carry its lasting scars and burdens.  We owe it to these people to never forget what can happen when hatred is allowed to flourish unchecked.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION:  Well, just very briefly on that, your – Auschwitz, you mentioned – you made a point of mentioning that it was liberated by the Soviet Army.  I’m wondering if the Administration takes – has any thoughts on the fact that President Putin, who now is the leader of what succeeded the Soviet Union, was not invited to the commemoration.  Do you have any thoughts on that at all?

MS. PSAKI:  I think we’ve spoken to that in the past.  I can certainly check in that.  Obviously, Russia has been invited to many international events, and certainly we share commemoration of many of these events.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS. PSAKI: But I think one thing I would note is that I believe if you’re referring to the Auschwitz commemoration, there was some confusion – I realize this was not what you were asking about – whether a government invite – issued the invitations.  It wasn’t the Government of Poland; it was the foundation that issued invitations.

QUESTION:  Okay.  But you don’t have any particular thoughts about – okay. 

On to something a little bit more current, at least in terms of happening this morning, and that is – there was an attack on the Corinthia Hotel in Libya, in Tripoli, this morning, in which a number of foreigners are reported to have died.  There are at least a couple reports and one eyewitness account that I’m aware of – there may be more – that an American – private American citizen was among the foreigners who were killed in this attack.  I realize you don’t have an – the embassy is not open right now there, and you may be limited in what you know, but do you have any information about this?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, let me first say we condemn the terrorist attack on the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli which was carried out earlier today.  We send our condolences to the victims and their families.  We remain firm in our commitment to supporting the UN efforts that are underway to help the Libyan people build an inclusive system of government.  Violence will not resolve Libya’s problems, and this attack cannot be allowed to impede the critical work that is underway to find a political solution.

We are aware of the reports of a U.S. citizen being killed in the attack at the Corinthia Hotel.  We’re closely tracking this incident, although we cannot confirm the report at this time.

QUESTION:  Okay, do you – presumably, there – even though the embassy staff is not on site in Tripoli, they have contacts in Libya that they’re getting in touch with? 

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  We have a range of ways of acquiring information, including with companies and individuals who have staff and employees there too. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  And you are in touch with all of them, trying to find out --

MS. PSAKI:  We’re reaching out through all of our different avenues.

QUESTION:  Okay.

QUESTION:  Can I follow up?

MS. PSAKI:  Any more on Libya?  But – go ahead, Said.  Or, new topic? 

QUESTION:  Just the President --

MS. PSAKI:  Your choice.

QUESTION:  The President’s visit to --

MS. PSAKI:  Yes. 

QUESTION:  -- Saudi Arabia.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Abdullah – the King Abdullah, who just passed away, was described or touted as a reformer in many ways.  There are conflicting reports, maybe you can set it straight, on the new king, King Salman.  Is he going to be in the same mold, a reformer as his predecessor?  Or do you expect him to improve?  How do you see the issue of human rights moving forward?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, there’s a couple questions in there.  So let me see if I can address them.  One, as I mentioned at the top, I would expect any readout or impressions of the meetings with the new king would come from my colleagues over at the White House, and I certainly expect they will do that at the conclusion of the trip.

As I mentioned last week when the king passed, we’ve had a long working relationship with Saudi Arabia, an important working relationship with Saudi Arabia.  We expect that will continue; don’t expect that will change.  Now there are a range of issues that we will continue to work on: fighting against ISIL, efforts to achieve a two-state solution in the Middle East.  Those are some of the issues, as you know, that we work closely with Saudi Arabia on.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t express concerns about issues like human rights when we have them.  I believe my colleagues at the White House did a preview of the President’s trip and mentioned that they expect human rights, of course, will continue to be a part of our dialogue.  They also referenced specifically to the meetings today that our efforts against ISIL, the situation in the region, including Yemen, around nuclear negotiations and the broader U.S. Saudi relationship would be central to the conversations while the President and the delegation are on the ground.

QUESTION:  Oh, well, can I then – if we’re on Saudi for the moment, is there an answer to my question from yesterday about whether the United States regards beheading as a form of capital punishment to be a human rights abuse?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything new to offer.  I don’t know if you had chance to look at the Human Rights Reports from the past.  You said you may.

QUESTION:  I will confess that I did not.  Is there a section on beheading?

MS. PSAKI:  There’s a lot going on in the world.

QUESTION:  Yes.

MS. PSAKI:  I understand that. 

QUESTION:  Is there a --

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything new, Matt.  If there’s more to offer --

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS. PSAKI:  -- we will get it to you first and everyone else as well.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Is there – do you know if there is a section on beheading as a method of capital punishment?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any more specifics on it for you today.

QUESTION:  On this very topic --

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  -- because the Saudi foreign minister was absent, or seems to be absent, conspicuously absent from all these meetings.  Is there anything wrong with his health as far as you know, or anything like that?  Saud al-Faisal.

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t.  Obviously, I would refer you to the Government of Saudi Arabia.  I would also emphasize, though --

QUESTION:  He’s saying that Secretary Kerry --

MS. PSAKI:  -- let me finish – that Secretary Kerry, as you know, has a great working relationship with Foreign Minister Saud.  They speak frequently, they meet frequently, and that will continue.  I don’t have any more specifics on his schedule.

Any more on Saudi Arabia before we continue?  Go ahead, Elliot.

QUESTION:  Could we go to ISIS and the Japanese hostage situation?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Have you seen the latest video that was posted, issuing a 24-hour ultimatum and also threatening the life of a Jordanian pilot?

MS. PSAKI:  We’ve seen, of course, reports of the video.  We would refer you to the Japanese Government and Jordanian Government for any more specifics.  Obviously, we continue to coordinate closely with the Japanese Government, continue to call for the immediate release.  The Secretary also spoke again yesterday with Foreign Minister Kishida.  He again offered our condolences – which he’s already done, but again, it’s very difficult, as we all know – and conveyed our solidarity with the Japanese people. 

QUESTION:  Is the U.S. position on the issue of the prisoner swap still the same as --

MS. PSAKI:  It’s been the same for some time and it’s the same as when we spoke about it yesterday.

QUESTION:  Was that communicated by Secretary Kerry directly to --

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to get into our diplomatic exchanges, but our position is well known, and I think certainly the Government of Japan and others know our position.

QUESTION:  On this point, the Turks exchanged prisoners, their diplomats for some ISIS prisoners, some time back.  So there is precedent if Jordan does the same.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’d encourage you to ask Turkey about that question.  I don’t speak on their behalf.

QUESTION:  Yeah, I know.  But I’m saying that – yeah, but Jordan is your ally, as Turkey was your ally.  Would you counsel the Jordanians not to do a deal or to go ahead and pursue a deal, an exchange?

MS. PSAKI:  Our position is well known.  We don’t make concessions to terrorists.  That’s a well-known position by countries around the world.

QUESTION:  And the exchange --

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to get into diplomatic discussions beyond that, Said.  That’s our position.

QUESTION:  How about your --

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  How about your deal with Taliban last year?

MS. PSAKI:  I spoke about this yesterday.  I think one of your colleagues with the red scarf on over here, right to your left, asked this particular question.

QUESTION:  I wasn’t here.  Sorry.

MS. PSAKI:  And I conveyed that that is – was a case where Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was a member of the United States military, he was a prisoner of war, and that is a different circumstance, as we’ve said in the past.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike).

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead, in the --

QUESTION:  Kind of a related question:  Do you have any precedent where the United States carried out a rescue mission for a foreign national who was a hostage of a terrorist organization?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, there have certainly been cases where we have worked with other countries sometimes.  I don’t have a history to outline for you here, but we offer our services.  Oftentimes, unfortunately, there are hostages from different countries held together, and so there have been times where we have certainly contributed to the rescue operation of other hostages.  But I don’t have any history to outline for you right here today.

QUESTION:  I see.  So as a general rule, if you have an actionable intelligence about the whereabouts of a foreign national – like this case, Japanese hostage – would you do a rescue mission?

MS. PSAKI:  There are a range of factors that go into that decision making, and I think you can understand why we would never predict that in advance.  I don’t have anything to speak to in this case, and I’d refer you to the Government of Japan.

QUESTION:  Getting back to the Bergdahl comparison, I mean, doesn’t it strike you as a little bit hypocritical that – for the U.S. Government to say it’s all right for us to make concessions in order to get one of our guys back, but we discourage other governments from doing the same thing?

MS. PSAKI:  I have just been conveying, I think, from the start of our exchange here what our position is as the United States Government.  That’s our position.  Do we have any more on Japan?

QUESTION:  The position is that you’re not hypocritical, right?

MS. PSAKI:  Our position is that he was a prisoner of war and a member of the United States military.

QUESTION:  No, but the question is:  Isn’t it a bit hypocritical?  You would say no, it is not hypocritical, right?

MS. PSAKI:  Correct, no, it is not.  Go ahead, new – let’s finish this before we move on.  Any more on this?  Okay.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  Just on the rocket fire from Syria into the Golan Heights, do you have a comment?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  We’ve seen reports of this incident in the Golan Heights, and we do not want to see an escalation of the situation.  We support Israel’s legitimate right to self-defense, and have been clear about our concerns over the regional instability caused by the crisis in Syria.  We call upon all parties to avoid any action that would jeopardize the long-held ceasefire between Israel and Syria and abide by the 1974 disengagement of forces agreement.  We don’t have any confirmation of it; that’s just our view.

QUESTION:  Speaking of Israel and Syria, and also bringing in a third country, the --

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  This sounds exciting.

QUESTION:  Yes.  The Iranian foreign ministry says that it has asked the United States through some diplomatic channel, one diplomatic channel or another, to convey to Israel that it is displeased by the fact that one of its generals was killed in what appears to have been an Israeli airstrike in Syria, and to convey to Israel that there will be some kind of retaliation.  Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I know you didn’t ask me this, but let me just reiterate that we did not confirm nor will we confirm any details of those reports of which you’re referring.

QUESTION:  Right.  Well --

MS. PSAKI:  In terms of – I know you didn’t ask that. 

QUESTION:  In terms of the --

MS. PSAKI:  I just needed to get that out first.

QUESTION:  Gotcha.

MS. PSAKI:  We’re not going to comment specifically or confirm private diplomatic communications.  I understand the Iranians have spoken or have commented to this.  We’ve seen the reports.  We absolutely condemn any such threats that come in any form, and we continue to strongly support Israel’s safety and security. 

And while side issues – I know this wasn’t your question, but some others have asked this, so let me address it – while side issues in the news may be mentioned on the margins of the nuclear talks, as we’ve said before, the only issue that is being discussed within the talks concerns Iran’s nuclear program.  So you can assume that was not a channel in this case.

QUESTION:  So if such a threat was conveyed, it would not have been through – in either the Wendy Sherman meetings or the Secretary’s meetings with Foreign Minister Zarif?

MS. PSAKI:  Correct.

QUESTION:  You say, then – that seems to suggest that although you won’t confirm that such a communication was made by the Iranians, you’re not denying it either; is that --

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t think I have any more to offer.  I’ll let you do your own analysis.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  In the area --

MS. PSAKI:  Any more on Iran just before we continue?

QUESTION:  Yes.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead, Michael.

QUESTION:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yeah.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

QUESTION:  No, no.  On Iran?

QUESTION:  Yeah.  Well, I was just going to ask about Senator Menendez’s letter.  Do you consider this – I should outline it – he has sent a letter to the President saying that he will not support a vote on his own bill, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013, until March 24th.  Do you consider this a victory?  This is what you sought.

MS. PSAKI:  I would point you to the White House, broadly speaking, for a response, since it was a letter to the President.  As you know, our position has been – and we’ve stated it many times – that new legislation, putting new sanctions in place, could be detrimental to the ability of the talks to continue, and could even be detrimental to the entire international sanctions regime.  So our position on that is well known.  Obviously, we have an ongoing dialogue with the Hill, with Senator Menendez, with members from both parties.  So that will continue.

QUESTION:  Well, recognizing that this is a letter to the White House, let’s just say for a fact that one of the sponsors of this legislation has made it public --

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  -- that he will not push for a vote on it until March 24th, which is a week, in fact, before the – what you guys regard as the deadline for a framework agreement.  My question is:  Is that long enough a wait, or would you prefer to have – would you prefer not to see a vote on this legislation until after the deadline that has been set for a whole or full agreement, which would be the end of June?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, broadly speaking, while the negotiations are ongoing and there’s room and an opportunity for the negotiators to make progress – and I appreciate the opportunity to add a little more on this – we would – we do not think sanctions – we think sanctions legislation could hurt that effort.

QUESTION:  No matter when it happened?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’m not going to get ahead of what’s going to happen in March.  You’re familiar with what our objectives are and what we’re aiming towards in March.

QUESTION:  Right, I understand that.  But as long – so as long as negotiations are underway, whether it is for a framework in the shorter term at the end of March or a final, full-on deal in the middle of the summer, you would oppose – you oppose sanctions legislation?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, but if I just play this back – I mean, I don’t like to get into hypotheticals, but I’m just going to do it this one time.  If there’s a framework agreement, why would there be sanctions legislation put in place?

QUESTION:  Well, I think the concern is from the Hill that there won’t be, that there won’t be a framework agreement.  And I realize that that’s a hypothetical, but that there won’t be a framework agreement, that there’ll be another extension, and that you’ll still be opposed to the legislation all the way up until July, and maybe even after July if there’s another extension.  So --

MS. PSAKI:  Well --

QUESTION:  So the concern is is that the Administration wants --

MS. PSAKI:  There’s not an – but there’s not an extension required past March.  We’ve been clear that there is – the timeline goes until July – the end of June.

QUESTION:  Yeah.

MS. PSAKI:  Obviously, we’ve been clear and stated very publicly what we want to achieve by the end of March.

QUESTION:  So the – so you will – the Administration will oppose new sanctions legislation until the end of June?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’ll let the White House speak to this, and specifically the letter.  But I think we’ve been clear – and this is not going to change – that as there’s been – as there are ongoing negotiations, there is no benefit – in fact, it is harmful to have legislation on sanctions.

QUESTION:  Well, the concern has been expressed over and over and over again that the sanctions would give you added leverage in negotiations.  What you’re saying now sounds like --

MS. PSAKI:  And there’s a strong disagreement on that point.

QUESTION:  Right, I understand that.  Right, and that is – that is a contested pointed.  But you seem to be saying that even after – should March – the end of March come around and there isn’t a deal, you’ll still oppose --

MS. PSAKI:  We can discuss that at that point, Matt, but the March – end of March is when we want to achieve a political framework, as we’ve talked about in the past.

QUESTION:  Right.

MS. PSAKI:  But the JPOA allows for working on this until the end of June.

QUESTION:  Right, and then – but then, as we’ve seen twice before, there could be another extension.  So you’re – the Administration --

MS. PSAKI:  There’s five months from now.  I’m not predicting an extension.

QUESTION:  I understand that – okay, but the Administration seems to be – and correct me if I’m wrong – putting out – making the case that there should never be any new sanctions legislation --

MS. PSAKI:  That’s --

QUESTION:  -- as long as you think the Iranians are at the table.

MS. PSAKI:  No, that’s not at all --

QUESTION:  Well – okay.

MS. PSAKI:  We’ve been clear, the President’s been clear, the Secretary’s been clear that if there’s – no deal’s better than a bad deal.  They will lead the charge for sanctions legislation, but – and that is not a hard vote to take, but it is detrimental to the talks while they’re ongoing.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  But – right, I understand that.  But when will they – when will you decide that the point – that you’re going to lead the charge for new sanctions legislation?  Because it sounds like you’re never going to be in a position to lead the charge.

MS. PSAKI:  That’s inaccurate.  We’re focused on leading to the end of March.  We can keep talking about it then.

QUESTION:  What do you think is the appropriate mechanism for Congress to express disapproval of a deal or a political framework agreement, should one be reached in March?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first I’d say, Michael, that the deputy assistant – deputy assistant secretary – deputy secretary of State is up on the Hill today testifying on Iran.  We have a range of dialogue, conversations publicly, privately; briefings – they can pick up the phone.  There are a number of ways that they can speak publicly, that their views can be expressed.  I expect, as we continue, that will continue as well.  They have not been held back in expressing their viewpoints.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) handled better – is that like a – it shows that the initiative was – sort of backfired, so to speak – the initiative of the Congress and the Israeli prime minister?

MS. PSAKI:  I wouldn’t put it in those terms.  It is not related to the prime minister’s trip, so I wouldn’t link the two.

QUESTION:  Let me ask you a question about Kobani?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, let’s finish Iran.

QUESTION:  Let me ask Michael’s question --

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

QUESTION:  -- more bluntly:  Are members of the U.S. Senate basically acting out of their lane, try to engage in foreign policy?  Isn’t that the Executive Branch’s responsibility?

MS. PSAKI:  We certainly wouldn’t at all put it in those terms.  There’s a Senate Foreign Relations Committee the Secretary was chairman of before he became Secretary of State.  There’s a very important role for Congress to play in foreign policy, in a range of areas and on a range of issues.  And they’re an essential partner as we work to get legislation through, whether it’s for funding, whether it’s for policies, whether it’s for sanctions.  But this is a case where there are negotiations that are happening with a negotiating team, and we need to give them the room and the space to get those negotiations done.

QUESTION:  Well, would it not be appropriate to say that members of Congress, both in the House and in the Senate, are essentially interfering with this Administration’s ability to negotiate? 

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t think we’ve made a secret, Roz, of our views on this, and so I’m going to leave it at the thousands of words that have been said on this by senior officials.

Any more on Iran before we continue?  Go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  The biggest challenge in Kobani seems to be over.  The Kurdish officials from Iraq and from Kobani have declared victory there.  But as you know, there are many more challenges that faces the rebels protecting the city.  Of course, they have said it officially that they don’t have ammunition – enough ammunition and stuff.  Also the civilians who want to go back to the city, when they want to rebuild the city – I’m wondering whether the United States is going to be a major player in terms of providing humanitarian and military assistance for the people and the rebels there to help alleviate the challenge that remain. 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we have been, continue to be, have consistently been the largest provider of humanitarian assistance as it relates to the Syria conflict in the world, and that won’t change.  And certainly, as there are humanitarian needs, whether it’s in Kobani and other places, I expect that we will contribute – continue to be major contributors.

This is – I know you’re looking ahead, but obviously the point we’re at now, so let me just reiterate this.  As CENTCOM announced yesterday, anti-ISIL forces now control approximately 90 percent of the city of Kobani, and we congratulate its brave defenders.  We’ll continue to support them as we look to the coming weeks ahead.  This is an important step in the first phase of a long-term campaign to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL, because of the strategic value ISIL places on Kobani.

I think, broadly speaking, the fight – as CENTCOM also stated yesterday, the fight against ISIL is far from over, but we do feel that their failure in Kobani has denied them one of their strategic objectives.  And over time, we’ve seen that they’ve not only used Kobani as a base for driving their own narrative of inevitability, but also they’ve put a lot of resources and people into Kobani as well.

QUESTION:  I mean, there is no doubt that without the United States military support, the rebels would not have been able, probably, to do what they have done.  But as you know, the United States has helped transfer weapons to those rebels.  But should we expect that they would receive more ammunition?  Because probably the United States is the only partner they can look up to now.  Turkey is not going to do that; Syrian Government is not going to do that.  Should we expect the United States to do that?  Because ISIS could, at any moment, when the airstrikes are gone, come back and recapture the town and attack the town.

MS. PSAKI:  As I mentioned, we will continue to support the effort.  In terms of more specifics, I’d certainly point you to my colleagues at the Department of Defense.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Jen, can I just revisit Iran very quickly?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  In the State of the Union, the President said that obviously a quality, comprehensive nuclear accord will guarantee the safety of – the security of Israel.  Obviously, the current Israeli Government, at least from what it’s seen, disagrees that the current deal under discussion --

MS. PSAKI:  There is no current deal. 

QUESTION:  That what folks in the Israeli Government have seen is not inspiring confidence that such a --

MS. PSAKI:  Do they disagree that the JPOA has halted and rolled back parts of the program, major parts?  Because that’s just fact.  I haven’t seen them say that.

QUESTION:  That – I think that’s separate and apart from what they’ve seen.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, it’s very relevant, because that’s what’s happening now, in terms of that being implemented.

QUESTION:  Right.  But surely that is separate and apart from what they have seen from all of these unprecedented briefings that the Administration has given them of the current talks underway for a comprehensive --

MS. PSAKI:  But we’re not talking about a final deal that’s in place or being briefed.  That doesn’t exist yet.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Just – I’m talking about the components that the Israelis have seen, but regardless, given the fact that obviously the President values Israel’s national security interests, why is it inappropriate for the prime minister to have a venue here in the United States to express this?

MS. PSAKI:  That’s not at all what we said.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS. PSAKI:  What we said was that it was unusual how --

QUESTION:  Right.

MS. PSAKI:  -- the process went about last week.  We said that we – as a policy, we’re not going to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu while he’s here because it’s two weeks before the election, as you know.  But there’s also an ongoing dialogue with Israeli officials up and down the chain about everything from security to the Iran negotiations, and that’s continuing.  He has come many times to speak to – and many prime ministers in the past have to speak to a joint session.  So that is what that is.  But go ahead.

QUESTION:  Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. was saying how yes, there is an election in March; there is also this deadline in March, right.  So obviously, these two things coincide, but not intentionally so.  The prime minister’s obligation as prime minister – is what he says – is to speak up while there is time, when there is time to influence the process, and to be a part of the conversation that affects Israeli national security.

So with that in mind, given that he’s also prime minister and --

MS. PSAKI:  Do you have a question, or just --

QUESTION:  I do, I do.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Is it not appropriate for him to be speaking on this issue of such --

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t think I or anyone else said it was inappropriate for the prime minister of Israel to talk about Iran --

QUESTION:  Yeah, but since --

MS. PSAKI:  -- or speak publicly about Iran.

QUESTION:  Can I --

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Just before we get – I have one on Syria.  But just on this:  Ambassador Dermer, with whom Secretary Kerry had a meeting last week in which he expressed – after which he expressed surprise that he was not told of the potential or impending visit by the prime minister – said in a speech on Sunday night that it was not the prime minister’s intention to embarrass or humiliate or somehow denigrate the President of the United States.  Do you accept that explanation?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t think anyone said we were embarrassed or humiliated, so I’m not sure why they used those terms.

QUESTION:  They didn’t use those terms.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

QUESTION:  Oh, sorry.  What was the term he used?

QUESTION:  Disrespect.

QUESTION:  Disrespect --

QUESTION:  Yes.

QUESTION:  -- to show – sorry – that the Ambassador said it is not the Prime Minister’s intention to show disrespect to the President of the United States on this trip.  Do you accept that explanation?

MS. PSAKI:  I think we’re not losing much more sleep about this particular issue.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  And then the other thing that the ambassador said was that – was also not the prime minister’s intention to somehow interfere in the American political process.  Do you believe that?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t think I have any more to add on this, Matt.  We’ve discussed and debated this quite a bit.

QUESTION:  And just one more, then.  Do you believe that the invitation was given with a political motive in mind?

MS. PSAKI:  I’ll let others evaluate that question.

QUESTION:  Can I – I wanted to go back to Syria for one second.

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  There was a report this morning – actually two – a couple reports – about the ineffectiveness or paucity of assistance going to the Syrian rebels.  There were two reports.  Maybe you could take one that said that the cash to rebel commanders has been – that the President has ordered a stop to that.  Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I can’t speak to those specific reports.  I can speak about State Department support, which, as you know, is ongoing and continues, whether it’s in the area of nonlethal assistance to provide food, medical supplies, winter gear, and trucks; or nonlethal support to provide moderate civilian and armed elements of the opposition with assistance.  And obviously, as you know, we’re supporting the effort to train and equip that the Department of Defense is leading.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And as far as you know, from – and speaking of the programs that the State Department runs, there hasn’t been any slowdown --

MS. PSAKI:  Correct.

QUESTION:  -- or cutoff of that?

MS. PSAKI:  Correct.

QUESTION:  But you were specifically saying you can’t speak for what some other government agency might be doing.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure – reported covert programs, no.

QUESTION:  All right.  And then the other report was – I guess it’s probably better directed at the Pentagon, but it was about the military – about overt, I believe, military supplies.  Is – can you speak to that at all?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything specific on that.  I would certainly point you to the Department of Defense.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Can we go to Middle East peace?  Yesterday, the --

MS. PSAKI:  Any more on Syria before we continue?

QUESTION:  Yeah.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead, Roz.

QUESTION:  Have you seen the interview that Foreign Affairs did with Bashar al-Assad?  And --

MS. PSAKI:  I have, or I’ve seen – certainly the reports of it.

QUESTION:  One of the things that Mr. Assad was critical of was the U.S. effort to train up to 5,000 opposition fighters.  And he said that if they --

MS. PSAKI:  Does it surprise you he’d be critical of that?  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Well, what is --

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  -- what is the U.S. reaction that their presence inside the country to fight ISIL would be “illegal” and that if that – if there’s anyone that should be fighting ISIL, it should be the Syrian military, and other countries should be talking to the Syrian Government about that effort?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, as we have stated in the past, we’re not asking for permission to fight ISIL or to train and equip the moderate opposition.  So I would leave it at that.

QUESTION:  He also --

QUESTION:  He also suggested that they could find themselves being targeted by the Syrian military if indeed they come in having been trained by the U.S. and other countries to fight ISIL.  Is the U.S. concerned about that?

MS. PSAKI:  The moderate opposition could be targeted by the – are they not already targeted by the Syrian military?

QUESTION:  Let me just follow up on this issue.

MS. PSAKI:  The one – the opposition?

QUESTION:  I think what he meant --

QUESTION:  On this issue.  Okay.  I mean, haven’t we learned that training these rebels, they end up somehow either with ISIS or al-Qaida?  Isn’t there plenty of evidence to prove that, as a matter of fact?

MS. PSAKI:  We have not learned that.  We have a vetting program that the Department of Defense runs.

QUESTION:  But in fact --

MS. PSAKI:  It’s difficult, it’s thorough.  Obviously, my colleagues over at the Defense Department have given many updates about when this program would start, how it will work, how it will proceed, and I’d certainly point you to that.

QUESTION:  But there are lists and evidence and – of hundreds of these fighters that you have helped or trained, or your allies helped train and equip and so on, found their way to Jabhat al-Nusrah and ISIL and al-Qaida.

MS. PSAKI:  I’d love to take a look at your evidence you’re referring to.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Assad also said that the Israeli air force has been targeting Syrian army positions unrelated to Hezbollah and that they are acting as the air force for al-Qaida.  You don’t have a comment on that, do you?

MS. PSAKI:  I would point you to the Israeli Government for any reports or accusations out there.  And I would just reiterate we believe they have the right to defend themselves.

QUESTION:  Can we go to Middle East peace?  Yeah, Middle East.  Yesterday, reports that --

MS. PSAKI:  Can we do – any more on Syria?  Said, and I promise we’ll go to you right next. 

Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  I just wanted to ask you very quickly – the Quartet concluded a meeting yesterday calling for a resumption of talks.  Do you feel that the Quartet is still relevant?

MS. PSAKI:  Of course.  The Quartet is an important partner in this effort.  We’ll continue to consult closely with them on the way ahead.  We, of course, continue to believe that final status negotiations are the only way for the parties to reach a peaceful resolution, and we continue to work to move forward that objective.

QUESTION:  But other than the rhetoric – I mean, you being a robust member of the Quartet – what has the Quartet done in this effort for the past, let’s say --

MS. PSAKI:  Well, they’ve been an important partner, an important convener.  There’s a need to continue to talk about and discuss and push forward on these efforts, even when they’re frozen and not possible right now.

QUESTION:  Mm-hmm.  I wanted to ask you about UNRWA.  They said in a statement yesterday or the day before that they can no longer dispense aid or money into Gaza because they only received $135 million from a promised total of 724.  And there’s going to be some sort of riots in Gaza.  The situation is quite bleak.  Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, let me first say the United States remains a steadfast supporter of UNRWA, which we believe plays an indispensable role in the region, particularly in Gaza.  You’re right, over the past few years UNRWA has been dealing with chronic budget shortfalls as donor contributions have not been able to keep pace with the rising needs in places like Gaza and Syria.

Our specific assistance – and I think the reports are referring to the cash assistance program.  That hasn’t been a program that the United States has been focusing or contributing our efforts to.  We announced an initial $100 million contribution for UNRWA’s 2015 needs, including 38 million for emergency needs in Gaza and the West Bank.  These funds support lifesaving interventions like emergency food assistance and management of UNRWA’s collective centers, which are still housing some 12,000 displaced persons through this difficult winter.  This funding is in addition to the $74 million the United States provided to UNRWA’s flash appeal in 2014.

So we remain committed.  We certainly encourage other states to pledge and promptly deliver the funds they’ve already pledged to fully meet the urgent needs to Gaza’s civilian population.

QUESTION:  New topic?

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead, Elliot.

QUESTION:  On Cuba?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  The letter that Fidel Castro has apparently published in Cuban state media.  What was your response to that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’ve seen comments purportedly from Fidel Castro that have appeared in the press welcoming the new approach to relations laid out by President Obama and President Raul Castro last month.  We take his reference of international norms and principles as a positive sign and look forward to the Cuban Government implementing those international norms and principles for a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba. 

Now, it’s important also to note that, of course, our negotiations and the process moving forward is with the Cuban Government.  There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.  Obviously, Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson had a first round of talks.  The next step is we’ve invited Cuban officials to Washington in the coming weeks.  That’s not yet set, but obviously there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.

QUESTION:  What --

QUESTION:  Sorry, if I could just ask a couple more on this.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  So you have no – have you received any indication from the Cuban side that those comments were actually written by Fidel Castro himself?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any other confirmation of that.  It’s more we’ve seen, of course, the reports that you’re referencing.

QUESTION:  Great.  And I think --

QUESTION:  You mentioned --

QUESTION:  Sorry, just one more.  I think I know what your answer to this one is going to be, but --

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  That’s always fun.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  The reference to Fidel Castro’s lack of trust in the U.S. – was that disappointing to you at all?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Elliot, it’s not about trust; it’s about what’s in the interest of the people of Cuba, what’s in the interest of our own national security interests, our economic interests, and that’s why we’re pursuing this new path forward.

QUESTION:  Do you also have lack --

QUESTION:  So you --

QUESTION:  Do you also have lack of trust in Cuba?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, there are places where we have a lack of trust, but there are diplomatic reasons and strategic reasons to pursue a different path forward.

QUESTION:  So can you say that it’s mutual? 

MS. PSAKI:  That there’s a lack of trust?

QUESTION:  On both sides?

MS. PSAKI:  I think it’s fair to say there’s a lack of trust, but we’re working to build that trust.

QUESTION:  You mentioned that your negotiations are with the Cuban Government.  I’m curious, does that mean that you think that Fidel Castro has no influence or role in his brother’s government?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, technically, he’s not an official part, as you know.  That’s what I was referencing. 

QUESTION:  Well, technically – a lot of things are technically true.

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any other analysis of his influence, but I think you know who the interlocutors are in this case. 

QUESTION:  Well, right.  But the interlocutor is not necessarily Raul Castro either. 

MS. PSAKI:  Correct.  The President’s spoken with him.  But I’m referring to the negotiations, of which I don’t --

QUESTION:  Right.  But you don’t think that --

MS. PSAKI:  -- think anyone thinks Fidel Castro is planning to be a part of or will be a part of.

QUESTION:  Well, no, not personally.  But I mean, do you think that he plays no role in the Cuban – in the government hierarchy at all?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any analysis of the influence he has, Matt. 

QUESTION:  All right.  I --

MS. PSAKI:  I just was making a reference to the fact that when we invite negotiators – I think you know this, but it’s worth noting – it’s obviously not him.  So --

QUESTION:  Well, yeah.  All right.  But this is my problem here, because you have these negotiations, let’s say, going on with Cuba.  You also have them going on with Iran.  Do you think the Supreme Leader of Iran plays no influence in the negotiation process of the Iranians?

MS. PSAKI:  I think we typically don’t do analysis on Iran’s political climate or --

QUESTION:  Right.  So --

MS. PSAKI:  -- who has influence on whom, and I’m not going to do it here. 

QUESTION:  All right.  So you then – but you’re – you take Fidel Castro at his word that he is retired and is not – doesn’t have any role.  Is that right?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Matt, again, we can’t even confirm these comments were actually from him.

QUESTION:  All right.

MS. PSAKI:  We’ve seen the reports.  That’s what I was speaking to.

QUESTION:  Okay.  The reports that you mentioned, that you can’t confirm, you said you see that his reference – take his reference to international standards and norms as a positive sign.  Can your remember the last time the U.S. Government has said anything that attributed to Fidel Castro as positive?

MS. PSAKI:  My bet is you remember.  Okay.  There’s your answer.

QUESTION:  I cannot, but I’m just wondering if – is there a little asterisk in there that says this is the first time --

MS. PSAKI:  Noted.

QUESTION:  -- we’ve ever said anything nice about Fidel?

MS. PSAKI:  Noted. 

QUESTION:  No?  All right. 

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any analysis of that, Matt.  We’re not trying to overstate it here.

QUESTION:  Fair enough.

MS. PSAKI:  Obviously, it’s more about actions and not words.

QUESTION:  Who’s head of the Cuban delegation?  It’s like the deputy foreign minister or --

MS. PSAKI:  The foreign minister – I mean, the foreign minister has been who the Secretary has been engaged with, but Assistant Secretary Jacobson has had negotiations and discussions with Josefina Vidal, so she’s been --

QUESTION:  So she will be coming (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t think we’ll – we won’t get ahead of what will happen with – the date isn’t quite set yet.  I think, Said, we’ll have more on that in the coming days or weeks. 

More on Cuba, before we continue?  Okay.  Okay. 

QUESTION:  Yeah. 

MS. PSAKI:  Why don’t we go to the back?  Pam and Michele.

QUESTION:  What is State’s reaction to the arrest of the three individuals on charges of spying for Russia?  And then a broader question.  This is, of course, coming on the heels of the increased tensions between the U.S. and Russia over the situation in Ukraine.  Does this further muddy the waters in terms of U.S. relations with Russia?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, on the first, I think the DOJ put out an extensive set of documents on this, which I’m sure you’ve read through.  I know others have, but I would encourage anyone who’s interested to do that.  We’re, of course, aware of the charges filed yesterday in the Southern District of New York against three Russian citizens, including against one accused of acting as a covert intelligence agent on behalf of Russia.  We’ve been in touch – in contact with the Department of Justice.  Given this is an ongoing criminal matter, I’d refer you to them for more specifics on it.

In terms of our relationship with Russia, I think we’ve been very open about our engagement with Russia and where we see things.  Obviously, there are issues where we feel we can continue to work together on – the Iran negotiations, those talks are ongoing; they had meetings this weekend.  We’ve continued to be partners on those.  There are issues where we have disagreements.  Ukraine, of course, is an issue we talk about frequently here, and we have strong concerns about their support for Russian-backed separatists, which we’ve made no secret of. 

There are certain cases in any relationship where we – there’s legal action that will be taken by the Department of Justice, and that’s something that will continue.  But certainly, we hope and expect that areas where we continue to cooperate and work together on will continue.

QUESTION:  Has there been any talk within the past 24 hours about this specific case involving these individuals accused of spying, and also Russia’s denial of the fact that they were spies?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, specific discussion in what capacity?

QUESTION:  Between State – between State Department officials and officials in Russia.

MS. PSAKI:  Not that I’m aware of, no.

QUESTION:  Jen, because – given the fact that there were two Russians who are named in the complaint who are Russian officials, and apparently enjoyed diplomatic immunity although they were not arrested and they’re apparently no longer in the United States --

MS. PSAKI:  Correct.

QUESTION:  -- are there – does the State Department have any equities in this complaint?  Or is it because – given the diplomatic immunity part of it, even though they’re not in the country anymore?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, that’s typically, to your point, how often we get engaged in this in some capacity.  So we – the two diplomats, we understand, are no longer in the United States.  While they were here, both had immunity and could not be arrested.  Otherwise, I don’t know what role we would specifically have in that regard.

QUESTION:  Well, I’m just curious about the equities.  I mean, and I know this is a hypothetical, but is this a situation in which if they had still been in the U.S. you could have – you would have or could have expelled them, not charging them – if DOJ was unable to charge them because of the immunity issue?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, in this case what I can confirm for you is that a request for a waiver of immunity was not a factor.  Beyond that, in terms of specifics on how this happened, I would point you to the Department of Justice. 

QUESTION:  Was it not a factor because they’re no longer here or because Justice determined that what these two guys were doing wasn’t necessarily illegal in general or espionage more specifically?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, obviously, there were charges filed, right.  But typically, when individuals are no longer here, it’s no longer applicable.  But I don’t have any more details to confirm for you.

More on – anything more on Russia?  Let’s go to Michele.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  I have a question about Argentina.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

QUESTION:  I know you spoke last week about the death of the prosecutor Alberto Nisman.  There are WikiLeaks cables that show that he had a lot of contacts with the U.S. Embassy over the years.  Some local commentators say that all those suggested that he was taking direction in some way from the U.S. Embassy, and I wonder if you think that’s a fair characterization of U.S. relations with him.

MS. PSAKI:  I certainly wouldn’t characterize it in that way.  As we’ve said before, we were supportive of prosecutor Nisman’s investigation into the bombing.  We’ve collaborated and consulted with a range of officials, including with him, over the course of this investigation and this process to get not only periodic updates, but to provide any relevant information we have.  And that’s kind of been the extent of our contact, not just with him but with other officials who are involved.  As you know, this is an ongoing law enforcement matter as well.

QUESTION:  Do you have any comment – the president of Argentina gave a speech last night in which she called for the dissolution of the intelligence service and a reformation of it under – with new rules, and she denied that there was any – or she said that this was all – what’s happened was all part of a plot to hurt her.  Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI:  I would simply say this is an ongoing investigation, so we don’t have any other comment on it.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yemen?

MS. PSAKI:  Yemen?  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  The latest on the Embassy?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any new updates from yesterday or last week.

QUESTION:  Are you – were you in touch with President Hadi the last 24 hours?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any updates on contacts either.

QUESTION:  Do you still encourage him to reconsider his resignation?

MS. PSAKI:  I think we still consider him the president of Yemen.  Obviously, there’s a process that would need to take place.  The parliament has not yet decided when the emergency session will be.

Any more on Yemen before we continue?  Okay.  Why don’t we go to you, Pam?

QUESTION:  On Bahrain, there are reports that six young Americans were arrested yesterday in Bahrain.  Does State have any information on them and their status?

MS. PSAKI:  We are aware of reports that a group of U.S. citizens were recently detained in Bahrain.  The U.S. Embassy is in touch with the Government of Bahrain regarding these reports.  We take our obligation to assist U.S. citizens overseas seriously.  Due to privacy considerations we don’t have any more details to share or discuss at this point in time.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Can you just – on that, can you say if you’re concerned about the situation of any Americans in Bahrain at the moment?  I’m not asking who they are, where they might be.  But I mean, is there an issue right now that you’re concerned about with U.S. citizens being detained in Bahrain?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think we’re trying to obtain more information, Matt, so that’s where we sit at this point.

QUESTION:  I’m trying to figure out whether this is over or whether it is still an issue of concern.

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any assessment on that at this point in time, so we’ll see if there is an update after the briefing.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Do you have any message regarding Wendy Sherman’s first day talk in Beijing --

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  -- and what other key issue she try to sort out in there?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, as you all know, Ambassador and Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman is in Beijing for consultations the 27th and the 28th.  Yesterday she met with senior government officials and scholars to discuss a wide range of bilateral and regional issues, including the P5+1 negotiations with Iran and the situation in the Middle East.  She also met with members of civil society for a roundtable discussion.

QUESTION:  A follow-up:  In the – Assistant Secretary Daniel Russel in Thailand; I think Obama in New Delhi – all talk about South China Sea.  I mean, Obama talk about – express, again, concern about the freedom of navigation.  But the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said today in Beijing – basically said the situation in South China Sea has been overall stable.  And she said there has never been an issue, a problem with freedom of navigation, whether on the sea or in the air, and she believes there won’t be one if China and ASEAN work together.  And this is my question:  She said she hoped – China hopes certain countries, if they truly want to see peace and stability in the region, they should say more and do more that will help improve the mutual trust and cooperation in the region.  I interpreted it as sort of a pointed words at the U.S.  What’s your comment?

MS. PSAKI:  In what capacity was it pointed words at the U.S.?

QUESTION:  Well, I mean, there is a perception in China that U.S. is being biased in sort of being a referee between its allies and non-ally, which is China, regarding the South China Sea issue.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, as you know, we’ve had the same position on this particular issue for some time and we don’t take a position on the sovereignty.  We do continue to encourage dialogue and for all sides to reduce tensions.  And when there has been a need, we have expressed concerns at times about the actions of China.  We’ve done that on occasion and we’ve certainly raised it privately as well.

Any more – why don’t we go in the back, if that’s okay, because he just hasn’t – go ahead.

QUESTION:  President Obama, during a press conference with Indian PM Modi – he said that we support a reformed UN Security Council that sees India as a permanent member.  If you talked about that yesterday, sorry about it, but if you can, please give us a little bit insight on why the U.S. particularly wants to see India as a permanent of the UN Security Council.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think the President addressed this.  It’s been our position for some time.  Obviously, India remains not just an important partner to the United States, but an important country and leader in the international community.  I don’t know that I have any more analysis than that.

QUESTION:  Are there any other countries as well the United States want to see as a member of the – permanent member of --

MS. PSAKI:  We talk about it country by country, but certainly the fact that the President mentioned it while he was there was only natural, given that he is – he was in India.

QUESTION:  And last one, this one:  In general term, what is this building’s approach toward reform of the UN Security Council, how it should be reformed?

MS. PSAKI:  How should – can you say that one more --

QUESTION:  How should it be reformed?

MS. PSAKI:  Are you referring to something the President said?

QUESTION:  No, no, no.  This building’s approach towards the reform of the UN Security Council – how it should be reformed?

MS. PSAKI:  I would – I’m not sure there’s a particular – that’s a very big question that we could probably talk about for some time.  I don’t think I have anything to address for you today.

QUESTION:  Sorry, you just said you would address country by country?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, no, I said --

QUESTION:  I’d like to go down the list.  (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI:  Thanks, Matt.  I appreciate it.

QUESTION:  Let’s start with, say, Bhutan, Malta --

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not providing any list.  I’m not providing a list, is what I was conveying.

Go ahead, Michael.

QUESTION:  The leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee – including Eliot Engel, the ranking member, and Ed Royce, the chairman, and basically everybody else – sent a letter to Secretary Kerry about Palestinian aid today.

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  The letter says:  “We believe the actions that the PA has taken require an immediate and forceful response from the United States that is commensurate with the gravity of its decision.  We understand the State Department is conducting a review of assistance to the PA in light of recent developments.  The United States should not support direct economic assistance to the PA until it demonstrates a meaningful reversal of this destructive course,” and it goes on.  Does the Secretary have a response?  Do you have a response?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’m sure we’ll respond to their letter, as we respond to every letter.  I will say, though, that we’re – there are a number of not just public comments or letters; there are a number of draft bills that have been proposed that would place further restrictions on assistance to the Palestinians.  No new legislation has passed.  We remain in close contact with Congress about this.  Our view continues to be that U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority plays a valuable role in promoting stability and prosperity not just for the Palestinians, but for – also for Israel as well.  There have been reports or some have asked about U.S. assistance.  U.S. assistance to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza has not been suspended.  Our assistance programs continue.

QUESTION:  In terms of the review that they’re referring to, is that in a stage with any --

MS. PSAKI:  We continually evaluate our assistance to ensure that it supports our policy, and we’ll make adjustments if necessary.  But our assistance continues.

QUESTION:  You believe – you continue to believe that your assistance to the PA is a – plays a valuable role in – I can’t read my writing.  (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI:  I know where you’re going, Matt, and I think the point is that more economic --

QUESTION:  In promoting stability and prosperity, right? 

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) in promoting stability.  So how stable and prosperous do you think that the life under the Palestinian Authority is?

MS. PSAKI:  I said “promoting.”  I don’t think anyone’s saying it’s been achieved.

QUESTION:  Okay. 

MS. PSAKI:  All right.

QUESTION:  I have just one more.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION:  I’m just wondering if you have any new thoughts on the formation of the government – or the ongoing formation of the Greek – new Greek Government?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any new thoughts, no.  Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:05 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 26, 2015

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 17:47

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 26, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

12:59 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Hi.

MS. PSAKI: Welcome back, those of you who were in Cuba or other places around the world. I have a couple of items at the top.

The Secretary remains on travel today. On Saturday in Davos, he met with Canadian Foreign Minister Baird, and in Zurich he met with the U.S. negotiating team on the Iran nuclear talks, which are ongoing there.

On Sunday, he traveled to Lagos, Nigeria to emphasize the importance of ensuring the upcoming elections are peaceful, nonviolent, and credible. The Secretary met with candidates President Goodluck Jonathan and Major General Retired Buhari. He also met with staff and families from Embassy Abuja and Consul General Lagos.

He’s currently in Geneva, where he met with staff and families from the U.S. mission. Many of you have asked what is next. The White House will, of course, announce the delegation to Saudi Arabia. You can expect the Secretary will be a part of that.

A couple of other things: The United States Government continues to urge all parties, including former General National Congress members to participate in the discussions that are underway in Geneva, convened by Bernardino Leon, the special representative of the UN Secretary General, to form a national unity government. Those who choose not to participate are excluding themselves from discussions which are critical to the peace, stability, and security of Libya. The United States Government does not recognize the Government of National Salvation, GNS, in Libya, and is not engaged with any person purporting to act on behalf of Omar al-Hassi or the GNS, contrary to some reports.

Finally, we congratulate SYRIZA and the new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, on their victory, and look forward to working with the new government in Greece. Greece is a historic friend and ally of the United States, and we look forward to continuing to work closely with the Government of Greece to the benefit of both of our nations. As the new government begins its work, the United States will continue to support domestic reforms and international efforts to foster Greece’s economic recovery. The U.S. interest has been and remains that Greece emerge from its prolonged economic crisis stronger and more stable.

With that – I like that you two come together. It’s so sweet. Go ahead.

QUESTION: We’re a matched pair.

MS. PSAKI: I know.

QUESTION: Or not.

MS. PSAKI: Or not. Let’s see.

QUESTION: Since I was late, being held up by security outside, I will let my colleague Brad ask the first question.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead, Brad.

QUESTION: Just on what you raised at the top, first Geneva. Beyond meeting with – what was it, staff and families – he has no other plans in Geneva?

MS. PSAKI: No, and I wouldn’t over-read into it. He’s going to be traveling, as I mentioned – once the delegation has put out – you’ll see this, but as a part of the delegation and – it was sort of a place to be and sleep in between.

QUESTION: And then secondly, on Syriza, you said you looked forward to working with them. Do you think that their election will have any implications for not so much the diplomatic policy, but the financial policy and the policy of helping the Euro emerge from its troubles?

MS. PSAKI: Well, European leaders have made clear that they want Greece to remain in the Euro area while respecting its commitments to reform. And the United States supports these efforts. To that end, obviously, these elections just happened. We remain in regular contact with the IMF and European leaders on the measures necessary to secure the progress that Greece has achieved in its economic recovery, which has required great sacrifices by the Greek people. There’s no question Greece has made significant progress on a very difficult economic adjustment and reform program. There are indications that the economy is poised for renewed growth, but many challenges remain. So at this point, we’re in touch with our European counterparts, with the IMF, and we’ll see what happens from there.

QUESTION: Now that the election’s over, can you say if you were concerned by any of the rhetoric during the run-up to the election, including suggestions of not paying back debt or demanding significant changes in how Europe – in conducting the bailout process?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to wade into domestic elections, one that happened in Greece certainly, and kind of the back and forth of the views of different candidates. It hasn’t been a concern that’s been expressed by the team I’ve talked to.

QUESTION: Can I ask you – stay on Greece?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just want to clear up the logistical questions about Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Which, over the course of the last hour or so, or two hours, or three hours --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, I know there’s been some confusion on this.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can you just explain to us what exactly is going on with the Embassy there and if you think that – is this something unusual, what’s going on?

MS. PSAKI: No. As we indicated --

QUESTION: Well --

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me be clear.

QUESTION: -- there is something unusual. I don’t know --

MS. PSAKI: I think you’re asking me – obviously, the situation on the ground in Yemen remains tense, difficult --

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: -- and there’s ongoing concern about violence. In response to the changing security situation in Yemen, as we announced last week, we further reduced our personnel – I know this is not what you asked me, but just it’s part of it – and non-emergency employees and family members were ordered to depart last September. So there’s been a series of building up. The U.S. Embassy in Sana’a remains open. Only routine consular services are closed to the public. We’re still providing emergency consular services to U.S. citizens in Yemen. And due to ongoing security concerns, which we indicated last week we’d continue to evaluate and make staffing and other decisions accordingly, we’re unable to provide routine consular services, but as I mentioned, we remain open and operational.

We’re continuously analyzing the security conditions and will remain – will resume regular consular operations as soon as possible.

QUESTION: What’s an example of an emergency consular situation? Like if you lost your passport or something? (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: That’s a good example. If there’s a death. I mean, obviously this is something that the consular officials evaluate on the ground.

QUESTION: And what is your take now on the political situation, or lack of a political situation, in Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the President outlined kind of some of our key priorities and where we stand at this point in time. And obviously, the situation remains fluid, but let me just reiterate a couple of these points to all of you. He – our top priority has and always will be to make sure that our people on the ground in Yemen are safe. Obviously, that’s something we’re continuing to evaluate and take steps accordingly. A second priority is to maintain our counterterrorism pressure on al-Qaida in Yemen, and we’ve been doing that. There were some reports over the weekend which have been disputed, but just taking the opportunity, that suggested we were suspending out counterterrorism operations. That’s not true; any suggestion to that is incorrect. And we remain, of course, concerned by what has always been a fragile central government and the forces inside of Yemen that are constantly threatening to break apart between north and south, between Houthi and Sunni, inside of Yemen.

As you know, there was a delay in the parliamentary session yesterday. I don’t have any analysis of that at this point in time. We remain engaged with a number of Yemeni parties, and obviously, we’re continuing to encourage a peaceful transition.

QUESTION: My last one.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: When you say the reports that there was some kind of a suspension or an interruption in the counterterrorism operation, that that’s absolutely incorrect, or were there some things that did have to be put on hold?

MS. PSAKI: I asked that exact question, Matt, and my understanding is it’s incorrect. We have longstanding partnerships with elements of the Yemeni security forces, and those are continuing. For obvious reasons, I’m not going to get into the specifics of those.

QUESTION: All right. So there was no suspension or delay or alteration --

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: -- of any of the kind – so does that mean then that there are officials in this government someplace who are involved in Yemen who don’t have any idea about what’s going on there?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I – again, Matt, there are ongoing contacts between a range of officials at a number of levels that allow us to continue these operations.

QUESTION: Right, but there were multiple – I mean, there was more than just one report about this, and they both – or – and they – well, the ones that I saw all cited U.S. officials. So they’re just wrong?

MS. PSAKI: Well, then the President of the United States and his chief of staff at the White House went out on the record and said it was incorrect. So --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Yemen or --

QUESTION: I was just – yeah, Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: And (inaudible). So it is safe to assume that the strike that took place today and targeted three al-Qaida operatives was not coordinated with any Yemeni official institution, security or otherwise?

MS. PSAKI: Said, as you know, I’m not going to get into operational details.

QUESTION: Okay. But I mean, how do – there are ongoing security arrangements and security measures that are taking place. Are you talking to any --

MS. PSAKI: I think I conveyed that.

QUESTION: I’m sorry?

MS. PSAKI: I think I just conveyed that, right?

QUESTION: I know. And so you’re not talking to anyone, I mean, the people that are in control, let’s say, of the capital, the Houthis today in Sana’a? So you are not talking to them in any capacity? You have no contacts with them whatsoever?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to get into more specifics. Obviously, as a new part of Yemen’s leadership, the Houthis will have many reasons to talk with the international community, including to implement their public assurances regarding the safety and security of all diplomatic personnel and to articulate their intentions. Again, we remain engaged on a number of Yemeni parties, with a number of Yemeni parties on a range of levels. I’m not going to detail those further.

QUESTION: There is an ongoing now, I think, meeting at the United Nations, at the Security Council. What is hoped to come out of that? I mean, as far as the --

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to my colleagues up at USUN, Said, for that.

More on Yemen before we move to a new topic?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Yemen? Go ahead.

QUESTION: It’s tangentially related to Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: In your various meetings with Iranian officials, you’ve often said that you’ve had side conversations on matters from Iraq and Syria to Americans detained. Have there been any discussions about Yemen in the previous discussions with Iranian officials?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of prior to this weekend; not that I’ve heard of from this weekend. I will check with our team and see. And as you’ve noted and properly referenced, there are times when obviously there are big events in the news where they come up on the outskirts. That doesn’t mean it’s a point of negotiation. But I will check with them on that.

QUESTION: Can you – that’s all. Sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Any more on Yemen before we continue?

QUESTION: On Iran?

MS. PSAKI: On Iran? Okay, let’s go to Iran. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. An Iranian parliamentary committee has been discussing a legislation mandating that the government enrich uranium up to 60 percent and using the new generation of centrifuges. It seems like this is conditional on what the U.S. Congress does, should they pass their legislation on more sanctions against Iran. Do you have any comments on this and how it may impact the ongoing negotiations?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I would say a couple of things. One is, as you noted, this is just discussion and reports of parliament drafting a bill. We don’t have more details on that. Just as we have kept all of our commitments made under the JPOA, we expect Iran to keep its commitments as well. But beyond that, I’m not going to analyze or speak to Iranian politics.

I think on the question of Congress, I would caution anyone – I don’t think there’s been – I know there’s a lot of reporting on this – but complete, accurate, or confirmed reporting on the connections between all these pieces. Obviously, there’s a range of – there’s an audience in Iran that many are appealing to, just like there’s an audience in the United States, right. We’ve been clear, the members – foreign ministers from across Europe have been clear, that the impact of sanctions could be detrimental to the talks, could cause the entire international sanctions regime to fall apart. So I don’t think there’s been any secret about our views on that and whether or not Congress should take those actions.

I don’t --

QUESTION: Was this brought up between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif during their stroll in Geneva?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more to read out, and I don’t expect I will in terms of specific details of discussions on Iran.

QUESTION: One of the Japanese hostage --

MS. PSAKI: Well, let’s finish Iran --

QUESTION: Staying on Iran, just for a second.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I was looking at something else.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: But did you – were you – was the original question – did that ask – were you asked about the Iranian parliament --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah. Summoning Zarif?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, no, that wasn’t asked.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. Well, that’s what I wanted to – I mean, do you – is a stroll in Geneva something that you – that the United States would regard as some kind of an unusual diplomatic activity?

MS. PSAKI: No. I think, Matt, as you know because you’ve been on a number of these trips, Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif have now met innumerable – I’m sure it is numerable; we can count them – but a number of times in various venues working towards arriving at a final agreement. We believe these meetings are useful and important, and certainly, we don’t think anything out of the norm. Beyond that, I’m certainly not going to comment on internal Iranian politics.

QUESTION: All right. Well, how about just the Secretary’s strolls in general? With Foreign Minister Lavrov --

MS. PSAKI: He likes to stretch his legs.

QUESTION: With Foreign Minister Lavrov, these strolls do not appear to have had much of an impact on the situation in Ukraine as it relates to Russia. So do you continue – does the Secretary continue to believe that his strolls through various world capitals with his foreign minister colleagues are an effective and useful tool of diplomacy?

MS. PSAKI: I think his strolling will continue, Matt.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Can I ask just on the Iran negotiations, there was some talks in Zurich on Friday, Saturday – bilateral negotiations?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: I don’t think we ever had any kind of readout or note about what happened.

MS. PSAKI: I will check with our team and see. I don’t expect we’re going to give an extensive readout, which I’m sure won’t surprise you. This is one in what will be a series of meetings, and we’re not getting into the content. But I will check with them and see if there are any comments we’d like to offer on it.

QUESTION: When is the – that you’d like to offer. Okay. When is the next in this series of meetings going to be held?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything on that yet at this point. As you’ve seen over the past couple of weeks, often it’s announced in a couple days in advance and sometimes the Europeans do. So I can check and see if there’s anything we know about the next set of meetings or round of discussions.

QUESTION: And there wasn’t a meeting between Secretary Kerry and the Iranians whilst he was in Zurich?

MS. PSAKI: Right. There was a – because of the Saudi Arabia and the, obviously, the funeral and the decision for many to travel there, correct.

QUESTION: Right.

QUESTION: Jen, as you know, that one Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, has been murdered by the ISIL terrorist group. How did you support to Japan for the remaining one person in – still hostage in there?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m sure many of you saw the statement we put out from Secretary Kerry this weekend. The White House also put out a statement from the President. So certainly, I would just reiterate we strongly condemn ISIL’s murder of Japanese citizen Haruna Yukawa. We extend our condolences to his family and to the people of Japan.

We continue to call for the immediate release of Kenji Goto and all other hostages. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our ally Japan and continue to coordinate closely. We also applaud Japan’s commitment to peace and development in a region far from its shores and their contributions in that regard.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: So the terrorists have changed their demands from demanding a ransom to having a prisoner exchange with the Iraqi suicide bomber. And I was wondering: What is the U.S. position on prisoner exchange? And then have you made aware your position to the Japanese? When? At what level? And what was their response?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have ongoing discussions, diplomatic exchanges with Japan. I’m not going to detail those further. Our views on this are well known. We’ve spoken about them frequently publicly and have for years. We don’t make concessions to terrorists. That remains the case.

QUESTION: Okay. Sorry --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) about the exchange?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. That’s in the same category, yes.

QUESTION: So you don’t make concessions to terrorists. But at the same time, was there not a prisoner exchange for Bergdahl?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as we’ve talked about quite a bit in here, Sergeant Bergdahl was a member of the United States military and he was being held as a prisoner of war. That’s an entirely different situation.

QUESTION: So are you – sorry, can I just follow up on this?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are you communicating to the Jordanian Government that they shouldn’t release this woman?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to detail our diplomatic exchanges any further with Japan or Jordan or other countries --

QUESTION: President Obama called to Abe yesterday --

MS. PSAKI: He did. He spoke with --

QUESTION: Yeah, while in India. So do you know what his conversation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I would refer you to the White House. Obviously, they put out, I think, a brief statement on it. So I don’t have anything further to add.

Any more on Japan before we continue?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Well, wait a second. Can we stay with the prisoner exchange?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I think we can do this as short work. I’ll defer to my colleague over there.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I think it’s the same thing.

QUESTION: Yeah, on Qatar.

QUESTION: Qatar, yeah.

QUESTION: On Qatar. In light of a report over the weekend, was there a proposed swap to release Ali al-Marri in exchange for the American couple held in Qatar?

MS. PSAKI: There was no proposed – there was no discussion of that, no.

QUESTION: Did Qatar approach any State Department official here or abroad about a potential prisoner swap as it relates --

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speak to what Qatari officials did or didn’t do. But I can assure you that wasn’t part of the discussion.

QUESTION: Could we go back to Japan, for a second?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Was there just a coincidence that last month the Huangs were released and now Ali al-Marri was transferred out of the Supermax (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as I mentioned in response to your question last week, I would refer you to the Department of Justice and any questions about al-Marri’s release. On terms of the Huangs, we’ve put out all of the details we’re putting out on that. We have been asking for their release on humanitarian grounds, as have many international organizations and individuals out there. So I would leave it at that and their release. It was not tied to a exchange.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I just make sure I understand what your response to the – you’re not saying that a Qatari official did not approach a State Department official and make this kind of suggestion. You’re just saying that if they did – and you’re not saying one way or another – but if they did, it was never contemplated – excuse me – never contemplated by the Administration? A swap was never contemplated --

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: -- for this specific person?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Can you – but you – can you or do you not know definitively if someone in the Qatari Government approached a U.S. official about this?

MS. PSAKI: That’s all I’m going to offer at this point in time.

QUESTION: Or is it just that it might have happened but – and if it did, it was no dice from you guys --

MS. PSAKI: I think I’m going to leave it at what I’ve said.

QUESTION: Iraq?

QUESTION: Egypt?

MS. PSAKI: Iraq. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Let’s do Iraq and Syria. Does that work? Okay.

QUESTION: I sent a question to your colleagues. I’m not sure if you have a response to this.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I think they mentioned it to me.

QUESTION: Okay. Mullah Krekar – he’s an Iraqi Kurdish Islamist. He was running an Islamist group in Iraqi Kurdistan. In 2003 the bases of that organization were bombed by the United States because of alleged links to al-Qaida. Now he was released in Norway because he’s based in Norway two or three days ago. I wonder what – what’s his status in terms of – is he a terrorist from the U.S. perspective?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the U.S. Government designated this group as a specially designated global terrorist entity in 2006, which I’m sure you’re aware of. The consequences of that designation include a prohibition against U.S. persons engaging in transactions with the group and the freezing of all property and interests. In terms of specifically what would happen or what we would do, I would refer you to the Department of Justice.

QUESTION: Why haven’t you sought his arrest or handover from --

MS. PSAKI: I would refer you to the Department of Justice.

QUESTION: On Iraq, can you share with us any more information with the tribal leaders that were here last week and that may still be here?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on that, Said. I can see if there’s anything more we have to offer on that.

QUESTION: Jen, on ISIL.

MS. PSAKI: On ISIL? Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can I ask if you have any confirmation about the reports today that the Kurdish fighters seemed to have chased ISIL out of Kobani?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve seen those reports and I think my colleagues over at the Department of Defense may have addressed this a little bit this morning. ISIL – Kobani remains contested. We continue to support local forces contesting ISIL territory, and our efforts alongside brave fighters on the ground have reversed ISIL’s gains. Anti-ISIL fighters now control approximately 70 percent of the territory, and – in and near-Kobani, and certainly that is progress being made. As we all know, ISIL has put a great deal of resources into Kobani. They’re clearly not succeeding and we are pushing them back. But I don’t have confirmation fully of it being a complete process.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Sorry, one question.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Initially, as you know, most – many of the U.S. leaders – military and political leaders – they said Kobani was going to fall. What’s your – what do you think now, when Kobani is actually – it didn’t fall?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we said it certainly could. And obviously, there are – in our effort to degrade and defeat ISIL, our point was this was not the only place that we were fighting, and certainly our efforts were widespread for a range of strategic reasons. Certainly, this is a positive that anti-ISIL – an anti-ISIL effort has had success in pushing back against ISIL here, and we support those efforts. And the fact that they have put so much – so many resources in, financial resources, human resources in and they are not successful is a good sign.

QUESTION: Can we say you either overestimated initially the power of ISIS or underestimated the power of the Kurdish fighters in that city?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t put it in either terms. There is a – continues to be a long road ahead to degrading and defeating ISIL. Certainly, we support and think it is a positive sign that we are having success working with Kurdish fighters, working with anti-ISIL – the anti-ISIL coalition to push back in Kobani, but there are a range of efforts that continue to be underway.

Syria? Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Syria. Just one Kobani to follow up. Are you satisfied with your Turkish ally in terms of cooperating against ISIL with regards to Kobani?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – and we haven’t seen you in a while, because this is your favorite question, which is perfectly fine. Look, I think we have been very closely engaged with Turkey, as you know. I don’t have the number of trips that General Allen and Ambassador McGurk have taken there and the number of times they’ve engaged with our Turkish partners. They have contributed in every line of effort, so we certainly feel good about our ongoing cooperation, which is not just about one area but is about this entire effort to defeat ISIL.

QUESTION: Today President Assad gave an interview to Foreign Affairs, I think. Did you have a chance to look at it? What do you think about the --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve seen, certainly, the reporting on it. The delusions that Assad presents here only reaffirm our – reinforce our firm belief that he no – he long ago lost all legitimacy and must go. There can never be a stable, inclusive Syria under his leadership. There are a range of pieces to pick apart in his interview, but the fact that he seemed to deny the existence or the sufficiency of the Caesar photos, that he denied or didn’t seem to be aware – not aware of, but kind of conveniently forgot the fact that tens of thousands of people have died in his country on his watch is, I think, all we needed to know and all the international community needed to know.

QUESTION: May I ask you a second question?

QUESTION: Even though, Jen – one more --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Even though you continue to say that the Assad must step down, there seems to be a consensus building in U.S. media and international media that Assad is becoming this Administration man, as Wall Street Journal put it, in Damascus. What – why do you think there is this image for --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can just reiterate to you what our position is. There’s no question Assad has been there longer than we would like, and we’ve long felt that he’s lost his legitimacy. Obviously, there are a range of circumstances that have made it difficult on the ground, including the fact that a year and a half ago, a range of external forces began to help and boost support for him. We’ve talked about that quite a bit. Our position hasn’t changed. Some of it, I think, is an over-reading into one comment the Secretary made that is an inaccurate reading of what the United States position is.

QUESTION: Can I ask for sort of (inaudible) the weekend that the Secretary had spoken with Foreign Minister --

MS. PSAKI: Foreign Minister Lavrov.

QUESTION: -- Lavrov and asked to be updated on progress of the talks in Moscow this week. Has he – have they spoken at all today since the Secretary’s been in Geneva?

MS. PSAKI: They haven’t spoken today. I will tell you that their conversation was really focused on Ukraine. It was briefly at the end about the upcoming meetings in Moscow.

QUESTION: So does he expect to be briefed at the end of the talks? Because they’re two or three-day talks, aren’t they?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I expect they’ll talk in the coming days. I don’t have anything set in terms of a time or anything like that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Ukraine?

QUESTION: How did those conversations on Ukraine go?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: How did they go?

QUESTION: How did they go?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re familiar with our view on Ukraine, and certainly the events over the past couple days. And we put out a statement, but let me just reiterate some of the important points included there. We join our European counterparts in condemning in the strongest terms this weekend’s horrific assault by Russia-backed separatists on civilian neighborhoods in Mariupol, and a peaceful city 25 kilometers outside of the Minsk ceasefire line, using Grad rocket systems and other advanced weaponry. OSCE monitors have confirmed at least 30 dead, including women, children, and the elderly. It is reprehensible that the separatists are publicly glorifying this and other offensives in blatant breach of the Minsk agreements they signed.

And let’s be clear – this wasn’t in the statement, but I think it’s been widely reported – the shelling of Mariupol was conducted by Russian-backed separatists on a peaceful city. As I mentioned, the shelling cost the lives of 30 innocent civilians. While Russia talks about peace, the separatists they support continue to kill, and we continue to believe that they will be judged on their actions, not just on their words. The OSCE has also confirmed the shelling came from separatist territory, as has been widely reported in major media outlets as well.

QUESTION: President Putin seems to have a different view of it. He’s blaming the Ukrainian Government for all of the latest violence. Do you share that opinion?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think not only do we not share that opinion; that opinion isn’t shared by the OSCE, which has confirmed that the shelling came from separatist territory, and I think it’s clear what happened here.

QUESTION: So I’m just trying to understand what’s been the effect, then, of all this diplomacy, including these latest discussions on Ukraine, if essentially you’re having even worse violence and a completely different view of everything that you hold for reality here.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, one of the impacts of what – the steps we’ve taken, which isn’t the negotiations, has certainly been a dramatic impact on the Russian economy. And we’ve seen fits and starts of abiding by the Minsk protocols – obviously, not enough. There continues – we remain and continue to have a range of tools at our disposal. Secretary Lew spoke about this today in Europe, and I believe European leaders have said the same exact thing. We continue to believe that abiding by the Minsk protocols and the path that has been laid out there is in the interest of Russia, it’s in the interest of Ukraine, it’s in the interest of everybody involved in this process.

QUESTION: Can I --

QUESTION: But even the President – I mean, the President himself said in his State of the Union Address the other day that the effect of your – of your – of you and the EU sanctions policy has been to leave the Russian economy in tatters. But that doesn’t even seem to have convinced President Putin at all to pull back his forces, to stop his backing for these Russian separatists. Destroying the economy of Moscow – or Russia, rather, doesn’t really seem to be helping to stop the war in Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as I mentioned, there have been some fits and starts. There have been agreements. The issue is implementing and abiding by the agreements. And as I mentioned, there are also more tools at our disposal. I don’t have anything to announce or predict for you, but that’s something that we continue to discuss with our European counterparts as well.

QUESTION: And can I just ask, there’s been some reporting out of eastern Ukraine about the measures that Kyiv have taken, including – such as sort of a no-travel policy, and they’ve stopped medicines going into that part of Ukraine. It seems that the residents who are caught between the Russian-backed separatists and the Kiev authorities – and I just wondered if you had any opinion about whether Kiev should actually allow things like medication and stuff through to the residents who need it.

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me look into this with our team and the specific details of it. Obviously, I’ve seen some of the reporting, but I just want to get a little bit more of the facts and we’ll get you a response.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Jen?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Ukraine?

QUESTION: Yeah, staying in Ukraine: Is it the Administration’s position that the government, that the Ukrainian Government has committed no violations at all of the Minsk accords?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as we’ve said, we expect both sides to abide by the Minsk protocols. I don’t have anything. I’m not going to use a straw man on accusing them of not abiding by it. I haven’t seen accusations out there that they haven’t.

QUESTION: Well, they’re all over the place in --

MS. PSAKI: But from the Russian side, where it’s been --

QUESTION: Well, right, but I --

MS. PSAKI: -- disproven by the OSCE and other independent monitors?

QUESTION: Well, surely there must be some violations by – I mean, there has to be some violations by both sides. It’s not just one side that’s fighting here, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly as I mentioned last week – and we had a similar discussion, Matt – obviously we would ask both sides and call on both sides to prevent civilian casualties. We’d call on both sides to abide by the Minsk protocols.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: That doesn’t change the fact that Ukraine has completed and made significant progress on abiding, while – as Russia and the Russian-backed separatists have not.

QUESTION: Well, I understand what you – but you have not, that I can recall yet, accused or condemned any action by the government of Kiev, the government in Kiev, for violations which you say – or I don’t know. I mean, are there no violations on the government’s side?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this sounds similar to what Russia Today was asking last week.

QUESTION: Well, right, but I mean, if you look --

MS. PSAKI: Is there a specific violation that we’re talking about that we should discuss?

QUESTION: You’re – the U.S. is very quick to condemn the separatist side and the – for violations of the Minsk agreement, and your allegations about them, which may or may not – which you say have been proven by the OSCE, are fine. But the Russians make their own allegations. And you’re saying that all of those are flat-out wrong --

MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re --

QUESTION: -- and all of yours are 100 percent --

MS. PSAKI: They’re standing alone while the rest of the --

QUESTION: -- correct?

MS. PSAKI: -- international community is on the other side with a different understanding of what’s happening.

QUESTION: Okay. I – there have been – there are – and Russian media has made a big deal out of some – apparently, some fighter from the Ukrainians who spoke – speaks fluent English and suggesting that there are U.S. mercenaries or U.S. troops operating with the Kyiv government. Can you speak to that? Is that not true? Is that --

MS. PSAKI: There are not U.S. troops operating. There was also an accusation that there was a NATO legion in Ukraine --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- which NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg has spoken to. So there have been a range of rumors out there, which are inaccurate. And again, if there is a specific violation that Ukraine is being accused of, I’m happy to discuss that. But --

QUESTION: Well, there was the bus incident.

MS. PSAKI: Of which there is an investigation into it, and we made clear that we would condemn either side being responsible.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Are you aware of private armies that operate in Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: There have been rumors of that, which my understanding is they’re false, Said. So --

QUESTION: Okay. And let me ask you about the Minsk protocol.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there, like, a watchdog group that determines who violated what, when?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the OSCE --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- is an international organization that is there monitoring a range of actions and inactions in Ukraine.

QUESTION: And do you have, like, a balance sheet on this thing?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point you to the OSCE. I think they’ve spoken to that as well.

Any more on Ukraine before we continue?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION: You mentioned that the U.S. and its allies have more tools at their disposal in terms of responding to Russia, but specifically with the State Department, considering that Russia has stepped up its attacks and also its rhetoric and its accusations, what’s being done on the diplomatic front to address these concerns directly with Russia? What are – is the State Department looking at or has the State Department implemented any new tactics, any new approaches in its response to Russia?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of things that are happening at the same time. As I think we’ve discussed a little bit and we put out a readout of, the Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov just yesterday. So obviously, that’s a part of our diplomatic effort in terms of outreach. There are ongoing meetings. There’s an EU meeting on Ukraine this week. That is for them to discuss where things stand and have a discussion about that internally. We, of course, stay in lockstep with them. There have been a range of meetings. There is a meeting in Berlin, which the United States wasn’t a part of but we’re in close touch with all of the participants in. And for any decision made in the Administration, whether it’s sanctions or otherwise, we’re part of an interagency process of determining that. So anything that is done as it relates to our policy with Ukraine is something that we would weigh into and be a part of the decision-making on.

QUESTION: But, Jen, has anybody talked with President Putin? I mean, with respect to the Secretary and his efforts with foreign – with Minister Lavrov, in the past months, State Department officials have conceded that Minister Lavrov doesn’t actually hold the power in this dossier. So is anybody speaking to President Putin about it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you would know if there were conversations between President Obama and President Putin, which would be the proper channel for that. There have been over the course of time. I obviously don’t have anything new to read out for you. There are other officials we work – I shouldn’t say just officials – government leaders we work closely with around the world, whether that’s Chancellor Merkel or others who have had conversations and engaged with President Putin as well.

QUESTION: But it does seem that currently, the U.S. diplomacy on this is stalemated, that it’s not – in fact, the fighting’s getting worse. A year ago almost, we had the annexation of Crimea. Now we’ve got almost full-out war in eastern Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t agree with that. I think, one, obviously, we are concerned about the violence over the past couple of days, but it’s inaccurate to say diplomacy is stalemated. It’s not just the United States. In fact, many of these negotiations and discussions we’re not a part of. They’re happening with European leaders; there were meetings just last week in Berlin where there were discussions and agreements that came out of it. Those are ongoing. So there are several different diplomatic efforts that have been ongoing and will certainly continue that we’ll be engaged in in one way or the other.

QUESTION: Jen, can I --

QUESTION: So is it something that’s better left to the Europeans, do you feel?

MS. PSAKI: I think there are times when it’s appropriate for those discussions to be with European leaders. There are times when the United States is involved. Our efforts and our goals remain the same.

QUESTION: Jen, just two very brief things on this. One: Over the weekend, the Security Council was unable to reach agreement on a statement that would’ve condemned the violence in Ukraine. I’m wondering if you have any comment on that or why that happened.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we saw where Russia stood on that statement, so that’s why that happened. But in terms of the language in it or the effort behind it, obviously, as you know, that was something we reported and it’s similar to condemning, as we have done publicly.

QUESTION: Right, right. But you don’t see that as your – I mean, there’s two ways to look at it. One is that Russia was pushing to get language that it wanted in there and you guys refused, or the other side – the other way to look at it is that you had language that you wanted and Russia refused to agree to it. The reason I bring this up is it goes back to my – the earlier question, which is: My understanding of what the Russians wanted in there was condemnation of both sides, or of killings committed by both sides. And by – if you guys refuse to have that language in there, it suggests that you don’t believe that there are any violations by the Ukrainian Government. Now, that may – or maybe not – may not be true, but is that – I mean, does it suggest that you don’t think that there have been violations of the Minsk accord on both sides?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speak to hypotheticals, Matt. Obviously, we continue to --

QUESTION: But it was – it’s not a hypothetical. I’m asking you whether --

MS. PSAKI: But you’re using a straw man as if I should just condemn violations that only the Russians have accused the Ukrainians of. If there’s a specific violation, then let’s talk about it.

QUESTION: All right. I’m --

MS. PSAKI: And let’s – it’s also divorced from the reality of what’s happening on the ground, which is the preponderance of attacks, the preponderance of violence --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- is happening from the Russia side.

QUESTION: Well, all right – preponderance. But that’s not all. Preponderance is not all, and so I think that it might not be a bad idea to have to look at it with a – to even it out a little bit if it comes close to – if it even comes close to being even. So if you’re suggesting that --

MS. PSAKI: It doesn’t come close to being even.

QUESTION: Okay. But it doesn’t merit a mention at all? That’s the – I guess that’s the question.

MS. PSAKI: Look, I think we’re talking --

QUESTION: The other thing --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- is totally different.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The other thing – well, it’s not totally different, but do you have the – Standard & Poor’s has just cut the Russian bond rating to junk levels. Is this the kind of thing that you think is good and helps put pressure on the Russians and follows with what President Obama said about their economy being in tatters?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I think President Obama’s lines in the State of the Union were about what the results have been of the actions that we’ve taken. It wasn’t that our goal is to have a negative impact on the Russian economy. Our goal is to have a peaceful resolution to the situation in Ukraine. So certainly, we’ve seen that our sanctions have had an impact, the impact of the European sanctions has had an impact, and this may be one of the latest examples of that.

QUESTION: Okay. But you don’t have anything specific on this --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything specific, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: I mean, talk about specific – that Matt was – Moscow is saying that where Kiev has been particularly – has broken its word is that it hasn’t – it’s refused to pull back its heavy weapons from the front and negotiate directly with the rebels.

MS. PSAKI: Well, one, I think we all know that the rebels have been invited – the Russian-backed separatists to a variety of different meetings by the Ukrainian Government. So that’s just false. The second piece is Ukraine is a sovereign country. Russia has heavy weaponry, has materials, has individuals who are in Ukraine and on the border of Ukraine violating the sovereignty of their country. Do they have the right to defend themselves? Absolutely they do, and putting the two in the same category is ludicrous.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: You’re saying that there are Russian arms and heavy equipment?

QUESTION: Under the Minsk accord, are they not required to at least pull back from the Minsk separation line their heavy weaponry?

MS. PSAKI: Well, but again, remember why we’re in the situation we’re in. Are we expecting they’re going to pull back when the Russians are not when it’s talking about defending their own territory?

QUESTION: No, I know we’re getting into a chicken-and-an-egg situation --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- but neither side has fulfilled its requirements. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, but I think the context of it is incredibly important here as to why we’re in the situation we’re in.

QUESTION: Well --

QUESTION: I just want you to clarify something that you just said. You’re saying that there are Russian arms and heavy equipment inside the Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve seen Russian-backed separatists using a range of equipment. Yes, we’ve seen all that.

QUESTION: Yeah, but not Russian-backed separatists, I mean actual Russian units and heavy --

MS. PSAKI: Russian-backed separatists. I think we’re moving on from this topic. Do we have anything new?

QUESTION: Can I change the subject --

MS. PSAKI: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- to the Philippines?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: We’ve been asking your bureau about the Philippines – this clash between security forces and Muslim rebels, and apparently, you have a comment for us. We’re particularly interested whether – in whether the U.S. knew about this operation, and whether you can confirm that one of the leaders, Zulkifli, has been killed.

MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen the reports. I can’t confirm any individuals who have been killed or haven’t been killed. I don’t have much to offer, Lesley, aside from saying we’ve seen media reports that at least 41 members of Philippines – of the Philippines elite police forces were killed, and a handful more captured in a firefight with one or more armed groups. We offer our condolences to the family members of those who died. It’s uncertain at this point which armed groups were involved. And otherwise, I would refer you to the Government of the Philippines.

QUESTION: And can you give us a little bit – this leader that I’m talking about, this Zulkifli, has he – is there a bounty on his head, I understand?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on it – on him specifically. I can see if there’s more we can – I’m sure we may have more on that.

QUESTION: Can we go to Egypt?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Any – Philippines or Egypt?

QUESTION: Back to Japan, actually.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. We’ll go back to Japan in a second. Let’s do Egypt and then we’ll go back to Japan.

QUESTION: Okay, great.

QUESTION: Okay. I just wanted your comment on this past weekend that was marked by violence and repression of demonstrations and so on. And I wonder if you have any kind of direct communications with anyone from the Egyptian Government to ease up.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as you know, we have an embassy in there that’s --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- widely staffed and also an ambassador on the ground. So we certainly have ongoing communication. We strongly condemn the violence that took place over the weekend in Egypt, whether against peaceful protestors or security forces. We urge the Egyptian security forces to show restraint and to provide a safe environment in which Egyptians can peacefully express their views. We urge all Egyptians to exercise calm and restraint, and to unequivocally condemn all acts of violence.

QUESTION: Are you urging the government to allow peaceful protestors to protest as they please?

MS. PSAKI: As you know, that’s been one of our universal values that we talk about around the world, Said.

Let’s go to Japan. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, on this one, a news report said today that a Muslim Brotherhood delegation is in town and meeting with State Department and other U.S. officials. Do you have anything on --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on that, but we can certainly look into it.

Japan?

QUESTION: Yeah. There’s been some confusion over the weekend about the authenticity of the video that ISIS allegedly released with regards to the hostage. Does the U.S. believe that this video is authentic, and does it believe that Kenji Goto is actually the person speaking in the video?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first I’d say the Government of Japan has stated that it believes reports of Haruna Yukawa’s killing to be highly credible. The U.S. intelligence community has said it has no reason to doubt the authenticity of the video.

New topic? Go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION: Nigeria.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: In his comments over the weekend, Secretary Kerry said that – indicated that the United States may be prepared to offer additional assistance in the fight against Boko Haram depending on the election outcome. The U.S. has been involved with some training efforts. What other measures would be considered if the election outcome is favorable and there is a lack of violence?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think everything the Secretary mentioned is that anyone who participates in – including by planning or ordering – widespread or systematic violence against a civilian population may be found ineligible for a visa and would not be welcome in the United States.

We have provided ongoing assistance to Nigeria. We remain engaged, including through military-to-military cooperation on security challenges of mutual interest. We continue to provide intelligence related to Boko Haram and engage on a broad range of security cooperation. I don’t have anything to predict for you. I will just convey that, obviously, he was there to reiterate the importance of peaceful elections, and that all candidates encourage that no matter what the outcome.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: All – mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Special Representative for North Korea Policy Ambassador Sung Kim traveled to Tokyo for three-party talks – U.S., Korea, and Japan – this week. Is these talks will be prepared for the Six-Party Talks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me see. I think I have some details from last week on his travel. Let’s see here. (Inaudible) I think we put out a media note, so maybe those details are out there.

QUESTION: This is for --

MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed on our policy here. The fact is that the ball remains in North Korea’s court. They need to abide by their international obligations. As you know, we remain in close touch with our Six-Party partners, but nothing has changed or no indications have changed from North Korea.

QUESTION: Can I just ask --

QUESTION: Just – on that?

QUESTION: No, no. I wanted to change topics.

QUESTION: Oh. I just wanted to ask if Wendy Sherman’s visit to North Asia signals anything about North Korea possibly.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more on her agenda. I’m happy to get more for you later today or for tomorrow. Obviously, there are a range of issues we certainly talk on these trips with, but it’s more about our broad bilateral relationships, relationships in those countries she’s visiting.

QUESTION: Staying in the region, I wanted to ask about Assistant Secretary Russel’s trip to --

MS. PSAKI: Thailand?

QUESTION: -- Thailand --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and whether you had anything on his meetings today in Bangkok.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let’s see. Assistant Secretary Russel met today with Foreign Minister Thanasak, former Prime Minister Yingluck, Democratic Party Leader Abhisit and a roundtable – and he also had a roundtable of civil society leaders. He also gave a speech at a prominent university and gave a television interview to Thai PBS.

With Foreign Minister Thanasak, Assistant Secretary Russel highlighted the importance of U.S.-Thai relations, but also made clear that the lifting of martial law, the re-establishment of fundamental freedoms, including the freedoms of assembly and speech, and a transparent and inclusive constitution drafting process are crucial to re-establishing a stable democracy in Thailand. He underlined that our relationship with Thailand cannot return to normal until democracy is re-established. He obviously – those meetings have concluded at this point, given the time change.

QUESTION: And he’s staying or he’s now leaving Thailand?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything on his forward travel. I believe that concludes his trip there, but --

QUESTION: And what was the purpose – why did he meet with former Prime Minister Yingluck given that she’s under an impeachment?

MS. PSAKI: Well, he determined that – the team determined, he determined that he would have a meeting with a wide range of leaders and officials in the government. And this is – I think she qualifies in that category.

QUESTION: And it wasn’t determined – it could be seen as inflammatory given that some of her supporters have been pretty angry about the impeachment. It doesn’t seem to be feeding into the instability in Thailand?

MS. PSAKI: There was a determination made that it was important to have a diversity of meetings, so that’s what he did while he was there.

All right, thanks --

QUESTION: I have one more. Just apropos of the Secretary and – or the President and the Secretary’s upcoming visit, I guess tomorrow, to Saudi Arabia, does the U.S. – does the U.S. have a global position on the use of beheading as a form of execution?

MS. PSAKI: I think, Matt, any issue like that we address in our Human Rights reports. I would point you to that. I don’t think I have anything more for you on it today.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering if you view beheadings by Saudi Arabia – there was one today, the first under the new king – as being part of a legitimate justice system, or if there are some forms of execution that the United States regards as out of bounds or as a violation of human rights.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Matt, we review all of this in our annual report. I’m sure we can get you the specifics on that. And as I mentioned last week, clearly, our relationship with Saudi Arabia is important and vital and one we plan on continuing. But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues that we have – we raise.

QUESTION: Right, okay. I can find the Human Rights report myself --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- so you don’t need to do that.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: But what I am interested in is whether or not this is the kind of thing that either the President or the Secretary, for whom you speak, might be raising with the Saudis if it is, in fact, a concern. Now, if – and if it isn’t a concern, then I would like to know that as well.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we regularly raise human rights. The Secretary, I don’t think, will have --

QUESTION: Is this – but is this one of them?

MS. PSAKI: -- independent meetings on his own. I don’t have any more about the President’s trip to predict for you.

QUESTION: So we don’t know if – it’s not clear whether the Administration regards having one’s head cut off as a human rights abuse?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve spoken to this in the past, Matt. I’d point you to that.

Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:48 p.m.)

DPB # 14


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 23, 2015

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 08:29

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 23, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

1:10 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Friday.

MS. PSAKI: Friday. New scarf. Okay. I have a couple of items at the top. As all of you have seen on the news, the Secretary is in Davos, Switzerland today to attend the World Economic Forum. He's meeting with the world leaders from government, business, and civil society. In addition to addressing the forum, which he already has done, he met with Cypriot President Anastasiadis; Dr. Klaus Schwab, who is the founder of the World Economic Forum; and he will be attending – he may already be attending a dinner hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on sustainable development.

We also put out – I believe it should have gone out – a note on additional travel to announce. The Secretary will travel to Lagos, Nigeria – he also mentioned it in his remarks this morning – on January 25th, which is Sunday, to emphasize the importance of ensuring the upcoming elections are peaceful, nonviolent, and credible. The Secretary will meet with the candidates President Goodluck Jonathan and Major Buhari, Retired Major General Buhari, while he is there.

And last item, we remain deeply concerned by the increasing violence and bloodshed in Eastern Ukraine which has resulted from a surge in Russia-backed separatist attacks against the ceasefire line in what appears to be a general offensive in complete violation of the Minsk agreements. Ukraine has implemented ceasefire after ceasefire, but the Russia-backed separatists have responded with violence, carrying out 1,000 attacks since early December resulting in the deaths of 262 people in the last nine days.

Russia is actively supporting the separatists by supplying them with heavy weaponry and vehicles, including tanks, armored personnel carriers, and heavy artillery pieces, as well as providing military personnel for exercising ongoing tactical support. Not only have we seen no commitment by the separatists or Russia to implement the January 22nd Berlin Statement on upholding the Minsk Agreement, separatist leaders have publicly stated their intention today to take more territory.

We again call on Russia to denounce its separatist patrons, withdraw all support to them, and stop the flow of heavy weapons, fighters, and advisors, and restore Ukraine’s control along its side of the international border and allowing OSCE monitoring all along both sides of the border. Russia holds the keys to peacefully resolving a conflict it started and bears responsibility to end the violence which has devastated the lives of so many innocents in Donetsk and Luhansk.

And I have a meeting I have to go to at 2:00, so let’s just get to as many as we can.

Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Great. Well I’m sure we’ll get back to Ukraine –

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- a little bit later, but I want to start with what – the travel announcement.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Because I’m a little confused. Yesterday here you said in regards to Prime Minister Netanyahu that it’s a matter of longstanding practice that neither the President nor the Secretary of State meets with candidates in close proximity to their election so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country. Is there an exception for West African countries that begin with the letter N and end with the letter A, or what’s going on here?

MS. PSAKI: They’re entirely different scenarios in our view, Matt. I mentioned why the Secretary is traveling there, which certainly there are concerns about violence, about the implementation of the elections. Obviously, he’ll be talking about all of that, the importance of enforcing the electoral process, and he’ll underscore international concern about serious post-election violence or destabilizing – or a destabilizing, fractious outcome.

That’s something we’ve done other places as well, most recently in Afghanistan. It’s something past secretaries of state have done as well. Israel in the situation with the prime minister’s visit – which, again, we’ve said we welcomed – we’re just not meeting with him as a policy because it’s different. There’s a difference between hosting a meeting exclusively with one candidate in your own country and visiting a country and making clear to all candidates and all parties about the need to keep – reduce violence, about the need to see the electoral process through.

QUESTION: So is he going to meet with the 12 other candidates in the Nigerian election?

MS. PSAKI: He’s meeting with two candidates, as I mentioned. He’s only going to be there a short period of time. But it’s not a situation where we’re hosting one candidate or another in our country or he’s meeting to support one candidate or another.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, it’s not out of the Administration’s control to invite some other Israeli politicians to come at the same time as Prime Minister Netanyahu. And I believe, in fact, some will be here for the big conference.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, we’ve made a decision which the White House announced yesterday and we echoed about our plans as it relates to this visit. We remain in close contact with Prime Minister Netanyahu as well as many other officials in Israel.

QUESTION: And the Afghanistan exception scenario that you mentioned, that was a case in which the Secretary was trying to broker a deal after the election; am I correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, he was there before as well. I mean, obviously, the upcoming elections in advance of the elections were a key part of his message as well.

QUESTION: On Israel specifically, there were some quotes in a couple reports today from unnamed officials, U.S. officials, one of which says – this is attributed to a source close to the Secretary, “The bilateral relationship with Israel is unshakable, but playing politics with that relationship could blunt Secretary Kerry’s enthusiasm for being Israel’s primary defender.” And I believe that referred specifically to the – at the United Nations.

Is that accurate?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to speak – I’m sure that it won’t surprise you – to unnamed anonymous quotes from the podium.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, take it from me; I’m going to say it right now. Playing politics with the U.S.-Israel relationship could blunt Secretary Kerry’s enthusiasm for being Israel’s primary defender. Am I lying or am I correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as the Secretary said himself, certainly the way that Israel went about announcing this trip or confirming the trip was unusual. Clearly, we’re going to – the trip is going to happen. He has remained engaged with Prime Minister Netanyahu. There’s a great deal that he does behind the scenes to support Israel. I’m going to leave it at that.

QUESTION: But does that mean that the Secretary’s enthusiasm for defending Israel could somehow be blunted?

MS. PSAKI: I think the Secretary spoke to this himself just a couple of days ago. I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: A couple of days ago?

MS. PSAKI: Yep, two days ago.

QUESTION: He spoke to the idea that his enthusiasm --

MS. PSAKI: He spoke to his views on the prime minister’s visit.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just looking – I’m just trying to find out if it is correct that the Secretary might be less enthusiastic in his defense of Israel at international fora now because of the “unusual” nature of the prime minister’s upcoming trip.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, the reason I pointed to what the Secretary said is that he spoke to the fact that he remains engaged with Prime Minister Netanyahu, that there’s a range of issues we work together on.

QUESTION: I understand that. But either the relationship is unshakable or it’s not unshakable. And if it is unshakable, then it would seem to me that a – that the annoyance or whatever, the surprise with which you view the prime minister’s upcoming visit would not potentially – does not have the potential to blunt the Secretary’s enthusiasm for being Israel’s --

MS. PSAKI: The relationship is unshakable. That hasn’t changed. I’m just not going to speak further to unnamed quotes.

QUESTION: Well, but – okay. Forget about the unnamed official saying it. I tried to put this in my mouth, so it’s me --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Well, we’ve already --

QUESTION: Me saying it. Am I right or am I wrong?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve already addressed this extensively, so I’d leave you – leave it – you with those comments.

QUESTION: Let me just take the flip side of that. Is there an absence of sort of an outrage from this Department, I mean, the Secretary of State being the top American diplomat and this is really a foreign policy issue. This is a foreign leader who is basically intervening in the American process. Shouldn’t have been there a sort of a stronger perhaps reaction to this thing by the Secretary of State?

MS. PSAKI: I understand your desire to weigh into this further, Said. I’m just not going to weight into it further.

QUESTION: No, because – and by the way, I think there was precedent, an Israeli precedent for meeting before elections with Peres back in ’96 – I mean, you can look it up – by President Clinton right before the election.

MS. PSAKI: And you should look up who criticized that at the time.

QUESTION: And I think it was – yeah, when Netanyahu criticized him tremendously at the time. But the point is, I mean, there is a lot of talk around this town that this was basically, I mean, a blatant and basically crude the way it was done. Don’t you think that should have sort of caused perhaps a stronger expression of annoyance --

MS. PSAKI: Said, we’ve spoken to this extensively. I’ll leave the analysis to the analysts, including yourself. Do we --

QUESTION: Can I ask about a factual bit?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Sure.

QUESTION: Is it correct that the Secretary met with Ambassador Dermer for two hours the other day, and this – the subject of the prime minister’s visit was not --

MS. PSAKI: Yes, that’s correct.

QUESTION: That is correct? And was the Secretary surprised after learning of the invitation and the prime minister’s acceptance that Ambassador Dermer did not mention this to him?

MS. PSAKI: I think that’s safe to say.

QUESTION: It is? Okay. So why is – if that’s safe to say, why is it not – why can’t you address the other part of it, or my initial question about potential blunting of his enthusiasm for defending Israel?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, clearly not only the Secretary but others in the Administration, including myself, have spoken to this repeatedly. I just think there’s no benefit in speaking to it further from the podium.

QUESTION: Do you know if the Secretary has been in touch with the ambassador since, or is he now kind of persona non grata?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls – I mean, he’s been – obviously, he left on this trip, as you know.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe – I’m not sure if he’s spoken with him since then. I can certainly check on that.

QUESTION: And where was that meeting? Here?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In --

MS. PSAKI: In the State Department.

QUESTION: In the State Department.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Israel before we continue?

QUESTION: Yeah. (Inaudible) that the Administration essentially would be looking for some sort of payback against the Netanyahu government for this visit. Is that something that the Secretary would endorse – payback?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not even sure what that means, and I’m not, again, going to speak to an anonymous quote. The Secretary spoke to his views on this two days ago.

Do we have any more on Israel?

QUESTION: Just one last – yeah. Did the Secretary play any role in putting off the meeting from the 11th of February back to --

MS. PSAKI: No, we had no role in that whatsoever.

QUESTION: Different topic?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: The anti-ISIS coalition. The Kurdish President Masoud Barzani – I’m not sure if you’ve seen his remarks.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. I did see this, I think, what you’re referring to.

QUESTION: Yeah. He slammed the West for not inviting the Kurds. He said it’s disheartening. What do you – what’s your response to his criticism?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say --

QUESTION: The London conference, I mean.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I know what you’re referring to. I’d say a couple things.

We have enormous respect for the courage the Kurds have shown and the tremendous fight they have taken to ISIL to recapture territory. We’ve seen consistent and continued gains by Iraqi Security Forces, including Kurdish forces in recent weeks in coordination with the Government of Iraq. The United States and the coalition have been very supportive of Iraqi Kurdish forces and will continue to do so.

London was an opportunity for a small group of coalition members to work directly with the Iraqi Government to identify areas where we can enhance our assistance and cooperation, including to the Kurds, even as we continue to apply pressure on ISIL to end its siege on the Iraqi people. As head of government, Prime Minister Abadi was the representative of the Iraqi Government at the conference.

QUESTION: So you believe because Prime Minister Abadi was there, there was no need for the Kurdish president to --

MS. PSAKI: He was – as the head of government, he was the representative. I would also remind you – as you probably know, because you cover this closely – General Allen and Ambassador McGurk have met directly with senior officials from the Kurdistan Regional Government on every trip they’ve taken to Iraq, and they will continue to do so.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: Was it the – sorry. Was it the United States’ decision to not invite the Kurds?

MS. PSAKI: I would not put it in those terms. I --

QUESTION: Because the United States is leading the coalition.

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish, let me finish. As appropriate, the head of government attended to represent all of Iraq. The Kurds are part of Iraq, and so they represented their interest. As you know, they work together – as we work with all of them – to defeat ISIL.

QUESTION: I know, Jen, and you know very well Iraq is about basically two states – it’s Kurdistan and it’s Baghdad. And you have militarily and politically worked with both of them independently. So --

MS. PSAKI: Kurdistan is a part of Iraq, as you know.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you have – like, you have provided them arms --

MS. PSAKI: In coordination with the Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: With Iraq. So now they are really angry because they believe, as the most probably effecting fighting force on the ground, they haven’t been even – no representative of their – of the Kurds have been invited.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think our actions --

QUESTION: So don’t you think their criticism is fair?

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. Our actions over the course of several months, including supporting them in a range of ways with material support --

QUESTION: But on this specific issue --

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish my answer – in cooperation with the Iraqi Government answers that question. We also have many meetings with them. But they are a part of the Iraqi Government. I understand the views of some and your personal views, but that remains the case. President Abadi remains the – Prime Minister, excuse me, Abadi remains the head of the Iraqi Government. We’re going to move on.

QUESTION: Just one more question. One more question.

MS. PSAKI: No, no. We’re done. We’re going to move on.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: There were reports that the two Japanese hostages have been killed by ISIS. Do you have anything on that?

MS. PSAKI: We have seen those reports. I believe you are referring to reports on Twitter. We don’t have any confirmation of those reports. I’d certainly refer you to the Government of Japan, but I don’t believe they’ve put anything out specifically. We certainly strongly condemn ISIL’s threat to murder Japanese citizens. We continue to call for the immediate release of these civilians and all other hostages, and we’re of course, fully supportive of Japan and continue to coordinate closely.

QUESTION: About 200 --

MS. PSAKI: On Japan?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: About $200 million demanded by the ISIL, so what do you think or what the United States think about the currency ISIL wanted?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I spoke to this a little bit yesterday. Our position on ransoms is well known. We believe that granting such concessions puts all of our citizens overseas at greater risk for kidnapping. That’s something we’ve spoken about publicly frequently, and I don’t think there’s any secret about that.

Japan? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, please. Have you analyzed the video at all and have any questions about its authenticity, whether it was made – actually made inside or outdoors, or those kind of questions?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Government of Japan. We’re obviously very supportive of their efforts and in close contact, but I don’t have any independent analysis from here.

QUESTION: Can I have one more?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday, you said that you’re prepared to provide any support you can. Does that include like military support or intelligence sharing?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to get into diplomatic exchanges that we have with Japan and the government.

QUESTION: You said the other day the U.S. support efforts of Japan in this matter, but what actions actually are U.S. taking (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I think that’s similar to your colleague’s question. I’m just not going to detail our private conversations. We remain in close contact with the government. They’re a close friend and a close partner. Obviously, this is a terrible situation but I’m not going to detail that more publicly.

Do we have any more on Japan before --

QUESTION: On Saudi?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: So I’ve seen the statements put out by the Secretary and obviously by the President as well following the death of King Abdullah. I don’t know if you’ve seen that there are already some heads of government, foreign ministers, who are going to go to Saudi Arabia tomorrow. Is there any change in the Secretary’s travel plans, given that he’s already on the road?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any travel plans to announce. You saw, and I’m sure you’ve all seen, the statement that we put out from the Secretary last night about the death of his friend King Abdullah. As you know, the Secretary – and I just announced – has a planned trip to Nigeria on Sunday, so nothing further to announce at this point in time.

QUESTION: And I wondered if you could speak to the announcement of the new king, King Salman. Do you think this is a – he will be somebody who will steer Saudi Arabia well? Do you foresee any kind of changes in the close ties, although sometimes complicated ties that you’ve had with Riyadh?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we look forward to continuing the close partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia under the leadership of King Salman. Obviously, they’re in a period of mourning right now, but there are a range of issues that we have worked together on, whether it’s the Arab Peace Initiative or it’s the campaign to degrade and defeat ISIL. We have a long history of cooperation. We don’t have any indication that that cooperation will change.

QUESTION: Do you --

QUESTION: Do you have any indication that the – or they say that the new king will – he objects less to some sort of a deal with Iran. Can you comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any analysis, Said. I think, obviously, the king passed away yesterday. They’ve been an important partner. I’m not going to analyze Saudi politics from here.

QUESTION: Also a very close ally – a very close ally within the Saudi system, Mohammed bin Nayef has been named as a deputy, I guess, deputy crown prince. Is that something that you look at with --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we will continue to work with a range of officials, senior officials, leadership in Saudi Arabia, in the weeks, months, years ahead. Obviously, we’re going to have the period of mourning at this point in time, but I think it’s safe to assume we’ll remain in very close contact on the ground and through the Secretary as well.

QUESTION: But what role --

QUESTION: How confident is the --

QUESTION: I’m sorry, Roz. What role do you see for the new Saudi king or the new Saudi Arabia under the new king in Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: What will we see in Yemen?

QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, are you talking to the new – I assume that you are – the new king and the new administration (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I would remind you that he was named king yesterday.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: King Abdullah passed away yesterday.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: The funeral is today.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So obviously, we will be in close contact. But I’m not going to analyze what their role will or won’t be in different conflicts around the world. We expect our close cooperation to continue.

QUESTION: But the collapse in Yemen continues.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) given that he was crown prince for several years before his half-brother passed away, what is this building’s assessment of King Salman’s views on human rights, on freedom of expression, on the ability of women to participate fully in Saudi society?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to analyze his personal views from here. I would say, Roz, that as you know, we have a long history of cooperation on a range of issues. I mentioned a few of them – the effort to degrade and defeat ISIL, the Arab Peace Initiative, a range of conflicts around the world.

As you know, as is true with many of our important partners, there are still issues where we have disagreements on, and issues like human rights, freedom of speech, equal rights for women, are issues that certainly we’ve raised in the past with Saudi Arabia. It’s not that our concerns have changed, but we’re going to give them, certainly, a period of time before we engage in diplomatic discussions with them.

QUESTION: Have U.S. officials actually engaged with Salman while he was crown prince on these human rights issues?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know there are a range of officials who are in meetings when the king has meetings, so I would leave it at that.

QUESTION: But you would expect though that your – that there would not be any change in your raising these issues and concerns with --

MS. PSAKI: Correct. Exactly. That’s what I’m conveying. We expect we’ll continue to work on the same issues.

QUESTION: All right. Can we go next door to Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So last night it was revealed that the embassy staff had been reduced further, although it does not appear that there was any kind of an evacuation.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering what the status is there right now, and how – whether or not you believe that the upcoming, I guess, parliamentary – emergency parliamentary meeting on Sunday is actually – is a good thing, and where you see this transition going.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, on the security piece, the information we put out last night, just to reiterate for everyone here, in response to the changing situation – security situation in Yemen, the United States Embassy in Sana’a has further reduced its American personnel working in Yemen. Our Embassy in Sana’a has been on ordered departure since last September. The embassy remains open and is continuing to operate. We may continue to realign resources based on the situation on the ground. We’ll continue to operate as normal with reduced staff. And we’ll also continuously assess the situation on the ground for its impact on our staffing levels. There’s no new update beyond that since last night in terms of staffing or changes to a security posture.

On your second question, as you noted, we understand there’s a plan for a meeting – an emergency session on Sunday to decide whether to accept President Hadi’s resignation. When that meeting takes place, the constitution provides that the speaker of parliament will become acting president until an election can be – if they accept his resignation, I should say – that the speaker of the parliament would become acting president until an election can be scheduled in the next 60 days. If a majority vote fails to accept Hadi’s resignation, President Hadi will remain president for an additional 90 days. If President Hadi submits his resignation again in 90 days, parliament must accept it. That’s just some technical details of how their process works.

We’re in touch with a full spectrum of political leaders in Yemen, both to hear from how they believe the political transition can move forward as well as to make clear that we will oppose any continuation of the violence we have seen in recent days, and that we expect that the parties will observe the constitution, UN Security Council resolutions, and the provisions of the GCC initiative in determining their next steps. That’s the next step in the process. Clearly, the situation is very fluid on the ground, but we’ll be watching closely over the course of the next coming days.

QUESTION: Well, do you have any preference as to whether they accept or reject his resignation? And in the interim – so today and tomorrow up until the meeting – do you still regard him as the president?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. President Hadi remains the president. It’s up to the Yemeni people to determine what the future is.

QUESTION: So you don’t have any preference as to whether they accept or reject – I mean, you would think that you – that if you’re calling for a peaceful – if you’re calling for things to calm down, that a rejection of the – of his resignation would be what – a preferable – would be preferable than – would be more preferable than an acceptance of it, but I don't know. Is that not correct? You don’t care one way or another?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think we’re in a position to assess what the impact would be, Matt. I understand why you’re going down that road. But our focus is on encouraging a reduction in violence and abiding by the constitution and the GCC initiative and the national – and the UN Security Council resolutions.

QUESTION: All right. And then my last one, this has more to do with the security. Does the Administration believe that the Houthi rebels and their military pose a direct threat to U.S. interests?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they have made public statements that indicate otherwise. Obviously, we expect and call on them to abide by them. In the meantime, we take every precaution to keep our men and women safe and secure.

QUESTION: Right, but what I guess I’m – is it the judgment of the Administration that these guys are not a direct threat or do not – or don’t have the intention or desire to attack the embassy or U.S. personnel or other --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I understand what you’re saying, but they’ve said that they don’t. Now obviously, we watch the situation on the ground. There’s a great deal of violence. It’s very fluid. So we still watch that very closely.

QUESTION: But they do on occasion chant “Death to America” and that kind of thing. So it’s not as if they haven’t expressed anti-American sentiment in the past.

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, Matt, as I mentioned, we continue to assess our security needs every day, regardless of what’s been said. But it is important to note that just this week, they stated that was not their intention.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Have U.S. officials spoken directly with President Hadi?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve been in touch with a range of political leaders. I’m not going to get into details of whom we’ve been in touch with.

QUESTION: Can you say whether the U.S. ambassador is still in Sana’a?

MS. PSAKI: He had prior planned leave and he will be returning, I think, in – later this week or early next.

QUESTION: And then are the employees who were moved from the Embassy, are they staying in the region for the time being? Are they coming back to the United States?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on their status. Some may be relocated where they can better do their jobs. But I’m not going to give you an update on where personnel may be moving to.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: But you – but you’re clear that the Embassy is still open for business?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, yes. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you tell us how the staff who were – were evacuated?

MS. PSAKI: They were not evacuated. They’ve been leaving – departing voluntarily. It’s a reduction in staff. I’m not going to get into details of how, for security purposes.

QUESTION: Just so I can understand clearly, when you talk about what you’d like to see – you don’t expect the situation to go back to the status quo and to, let’s say, before the resignations and before their takeover of Sanaa, do you?

MS. PSAKI: Well, what do you mean by that exactly?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) By that I mean there is a new order in Yemen. Obviously, there are new forces that you might have to work with. So it is something that you would consider.

MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly – Said, clearly there have been a range of events that have happened over the course of the last weeks.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: We’re not naive about that.

QUESTION: Okay, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: But obviously, there are also, as I outlined, a number of steps that parliament will take, that will be taken through the constitutional process, that we’re going to see that process play through.

QUESTION: But seeing how they are – the Houthis are really fervent opponents of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, you would like to see some sort of coordination or cooperation with them continue or occur, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Houthis are a legitimate political constituency in Yemen and have a right to participate in affairs of the state. We urge them to be a part of a peaceful transition process. That said, we condemn their use of violence and are concerned by their noncompliance with agreements they have been signatories to. So we certainly have concerns, but I’m not going to get ahead of where we are in the process.

QUESTION: And finally, I have a very quick question. Now, it seems that the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh still plays a major role in this thing. I wonder if you have a comment on that, or if you have any contact with him and his forces?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve spoken to the former president, and as you know, I’d point to the fact that the U.S. Department of Treasury imposed sanctions on him just last November for engaging in acts that directly or indirectly threaten the peace, security, and stability of Yemen. So I don’t have anything more specifically on his engagement.

QUESTION: Yeah. The reason I ask this is because Yemenis say this is basically Ali Abdullah Saleh going back to power in a different dress, in a Houthi dress. That’s their description, not mine. So a new reality.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think when we put sanctions in place because of our view that he was engaging in acts that threaten the peace, stability, and security of Yemen, I think that clearly illustrates what our concerns were at the time.

QUESTION: Can I ask: What’s the U.S. position currently on the territorial integrity of Yemen? It used to be two different countries; of course, they were united. There are some indications or perhaps observations that there could be a split again between south and north. So what is the U.S. position?

MS. PSAKI: We continue to support the unity of Yemen and Yemen’s legitimate institutions. That’s what we feel is in the interest of the Yemini people.

QUESTION: But if there was a move towards a split --

MS. PSAKI: Well, there --

QUESTION: -- are there circumstances under which you would support that?

MS. PSAKI: There’s been a range of chatter out there. Our view continues to be that we support the unity of the country.

QUESTION: No, but you know in reality on this very point – I mean, four big governors in the south seceded, basically. They conduct their affairs autonomously and they control a very strategic area. I mean, now you have Iran’s influence in the Strait of Hormuz and in Bab al-Mandab as well.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve – I’ve spoken over the last couple of days about our concerns about Iran’s influence.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) tribal Anbar leaders are reportedly here. I’m not sure you if you have talked about them in the past --

MS. PSAKI: Tribal Anbar leaders --

QUESTION: They are in Washington.

MS. PSAKI: -- are in Washington?

QUESTION: Yeah, they’ve been here for a few days.

MS. PSAKI: Let me see I have anything on it. If not, I’m happy to talk to our team and we can see if we have anything specific. And then let’s just finish Yemen before we move on to the next topic.

QUESTION: Given the events of the last 24 hours, how worried is the U.S. about its ongoing counterterrorism operations inside Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, I think that is one of our primary objectives, as you know, and our partnership and cooperation with the Yemini Government. It has been. We hope it will continue to be. It’s ongoing. So at this point, I don’t have any concerns to express, but obviously it remains a priority and remains one of the reasons we feel it’s important to have a strong presence there.

QUESTION: As you’re assessing the security situation (inaudible) though, are you also reassessing the counterterrorism strategy in the way it has played out in Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: In what capacity? What do you mean by that?

QUESTION: The U.S. counterterrorism strategy, the way it’s been in effect so far, are you also assessing how you can conduct that counterterrorism strategy right now?

MS. PSAKI: Do you mean with whom or with – in what way?

QUESTION: Given that there is no clear government right now.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as I mentioned, we’re in touch with a range of officials. I’m not going to get into more details on that. Our cooperation on that front is ongoing. Obviously, it’s something that we feel is a priority and we hope it will continue.

QUESTION: Is the Yemeni national security apparatus intact?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there’s no question, Roz, that there’s tensions and a great deal of violence on the ground. It’s an incredibly fluid situation and we’re watching very closely, but I’m not here to proclaim what is or isn’t. Obviously, institutions have been at risk over the last couple of days. You saw the submission of – or the resignation of the prime minister. There’s no question this is a challenging situation.

QUESTION: Is it – who is running the country? Do you have any idea who is running – I mean --

MS. PSAKI: President Hadi remains the president of Yemen.

QUESTION: Well, I mean who is administering the country. I mean --

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, parliament called an emergency session on Sunday. Obviously, this is a fluid period of time. We remain in touch with a range of officials.

Any more on Yemen before we continue? Go ahead.

QUESTION: What can you say – yeah, what can you say about the relation between the U.S. and the Houthis? Are you cooperating with them? Is there any relation with them?

MS. PSAKI: There’s no meetings I have to read out for you or to confirm for you. There haven’t been.

QUESTION: Could the shared concern or distaste for AQAP possibly be the basis for a relationship between the U.S. and the Houthis, should they come to power?

MS. PSAKI: We do have that shared concern. There are countries we have shared concerns with that we don’t engage with as well. So as you – as I noted just a couple of minutes ago, or not even that long ago, we – the Houthis are a legitimate political constituency. We encourage them to be a part of a peaceful transition. We still have concerns about their – the involvement in violence, and certainly we continue to make that case.

QUESTION: Have you been able to ascertain the extent of their relationship with the government in Tehran?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any assessment of that. I’ve spoken about our concern about the history or recent history of their engagement. We didn’t have – I don’t have anything new in terms of their recent engagement or anything to confirm for you.

Let’s just finish Yemen. Yemen or a new topic?

QUESTION: Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: Yemen, okay.

QUESTION: Yeah. Any backchannel talk with the Houthi?

MS. PSAKI: No, there’s no meetings to confirm or read out for you.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: The newly appointed chief executive of the BBG said his agency faces a number of, quote-un-quote, challenges – Russia Today, the Islamic State, and Boko Haram – all in one sentence. Would you call those remarks appropriate or inappropriate?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, let me note that the Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency supervising all U.S. Government-supported civilian international media. I’d certainly point you to them for specifics. I think the broad point is the U.S. Government – would the U.S. Government put those three in the same category? No, we wouldn’t. However, there are concerns, I think, that our – we agree with in terms of the fact that the – Russia’s own independent media space is shrinking and the Kremlin continues to apply pressure on the few remaining outlets. And while RT is available to many viewers in the United States – you’re here in the briefing room today – many Russian authorities have curtailed the ability of BBG broadcasters to broadcast there. So those are challenges and certainly concerns that I think the new head of BBG was expressing.

QUESTION: Do you have – just to clarify, do you have any problem with the way he put it?

MS. PSAKI: I think I’d point you to them, and I just stated that wouldn’t be the way that we would state it from here.

QUESTION: How would you state it?

MS. PSAKI: We wouldn’t state it in those terms.

QUESTION: Well, the Secretary of State is a member of the BBG.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I just stated the concerns we have, which we agree with.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I would state it in that way.

QUESTION: Okay. So you would not, then, put RT in the same category as Boko Haram and --

MS. PSAKI: That’s what I just said two minutes ago.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you would agree that it is a challenge and --

MS. PSAKI: Correct, I said both of those things.

QUESTION: Can we stay on – roughly on this subject, I’m just wondering if you have – on Ukraine, you had some pretty strong comments at the top. And I wanted to know if you had any further information about the bus incident.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any further information, no.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you know – and I suppose that this is probably better addressed to Secretary Kerry --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, I do have one thing. This may have been out there, Matt, but I didn’t talk about it yesterday. Yesterday’s report from the OSCE established the trolley bus was likely destroyed by a mortar or rocket coming from a northwestern direction. Based on this information alone, it isn’t possible to definitively conclude who was responsible. Obviously, we would condemn, of course, the attacks, the impact on the local population, and certainly we continue to call on all sides to take every precaution to prevent the loss of lives.

QUESTION: Do you know if Secretary Kerry has any Ukraine-related meetings?

MS. PSAKI: Bilateral meetings?

QUESTION: Phone calls?

MS. PSAKI: Let me see if there are any calls –

QUESTION: Given – I mean, just – your comments at the top were very – were quite strong, and it evinced a more particular concern perhaps than you have had in the past for that situation, so --

MS. PSAKI: As you know, he met with EU High Representative Mogherini yesterday, and certainly they talked about --

QUESTION: Right, but I mean with Russian or Ukrainian officials.

MS. PSAKI: He doesn’t have any calls I have to read out. He’s also had a pretty back-to-back schedule over the course of the last two days.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: Do you have any more on Ukraine before we continue? New topic? Happy Friday?

Go ahead. Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Sorry, very short.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Could you give us an idea of the status of the dialogue between the normalization of diplomatic relations between Bolivia and the United States, please?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, sure. I think you’re referring to – and tell me if I’m correct here – some comments that were made by Bolivian Government officials. We welcome the recent comments by the Bolivian Government concerning their interest in strengthening the bilateral relationship. There are a number of areas in which we find common ground with Bolivia, including the environment, commerce, rule of law, and education.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the impeachment of the former Thai prime minister and the ban on her participation in politics?

MS. PSAKI: I think I have a little bit of something. Let me see. We have previously expressed our concerns about the political situation in Thailand. In that context, the United States takes note of the appointed legislative body’s decision to impeach retroactively former Prime Minister Yingluck. We also have noted the separate criminal charges that have been filed against her this week. We believe that the impartial administration of justice and rule of law is essential for equitable governance and a just society. We believe it is a matter for the Thai people to determine the legitimacy of their political and judicial processes. Assistant Secretary Russel is visiting Bangkok next Monday where he will meet with political leaders on all sides, civil society leaders, and others and will also discuss our current – our concern for the situation in Thailand directly with the government.

QUESTION: I believe that his trip will be the most senior – he will be the most senior U.S. official to visit since the coup. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: That may be right, Matt. I’m happy to double-check with our team if that’s correct.

QUESTION: Can you, and can you also – I’ve forgotten what the consequence was or whether there was any for U.S. assistance --

MS. PSAKI: Well, there were some impacts on assistance.

QUESTION: Could you just --

MS. PSAKI: We can certainly recirculate that to all of you if you’d like.

QUESTION: All right. And then I just have one more, and apologies if you have addressed this previously.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: But do you have – does the Administration have any thoughts on this case of this Argentine prosecutor who was --

MS. PSAKI: I actually have not addressed this. I would keep your expectations low.

QUESTION: Never.

MS. PSAKI: We are aware of the allegations against President Kirchner, but as this is an ongoing investigation, we have no comment on the specifics and refer inquiries to the Argentine Government. The United States and the international community continue to work with the Argentine Government as well as victims of the AMIA bombing and their families to seek justice.

QUESTION: Right. Well, I’m less interested in what you had to – what you think about what the prosecutor was saying than about his sudden and untimely death apparently at the hands of someone other than himself.

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s an ongoing investigation that remains applicable as well, Matt. I would say, just since you’ve given me the opportunity, we express our deepest sorrow for the tragic death of Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman and extend our most sincerest condolences to his family. He courageously devoted much of his professional life to pursuing the perpetrators of the 1994 terrorist attacks on the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 and injured hundreds. Judicial authorities are investigating his death, and we call for a complete and impartial investigation. For over 20 years, the United States, we have continued to work closely with the international community and the Argentine Government seeking justice.

QUESTION: As you know, there’s widespread suspicion that Iran had played a role in this attack. Does the United States share that?

MS. PSAKI: There’s an investigation by Argentine authorities. We’re just not going to weigh in or speculate.

QUESTION: And does that include any potential Iranian hand in his death?

MS. PSAKI: We’re not going to speculate in any aspect of his death.

QUESTION: Any quick update on the Cuba talks?

MS. PSAKI: On the Cuba talks?

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MS. PSAKI: Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson gave a press conference today. She gave one yesterday. So I would certainly point you to both of those for more specific details.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: One on Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Forgive me if you already addressed this, but this barrel bomb today in – just outside of Damascus in (inaudible), have you issued any statement or any condemnation?

MS. PSAKI: We haven’t, but it’s a good question. Let me talk to our team so we can get you all some comments on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Okay? Great. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 p.m.)

   


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 22, 2015

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 15:57

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 22, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:12 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Said is back. Uh-oh. (Laughter.)

Okay. I have two items for all of you at the top before we get started. As all of you have seen, the Secretary is on travel today in London to consult with the United Kingdom and other counter-ISIL coalition partners on our shared efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL. His schedule today included meetings with UK Foreign Secretary Hammond, French Foreign Minister Fabius, with EU Special Advisor Cathy Ashton, Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi, and with the counter-ISIL coalition’s small group steering committee, as well as a meeting on Libya. He also had a press availability a couple of hours ago with Foreign Secretary Hammond and with Prime Minister Abadi.

You may have also seen this yesterday, but I just wanted to bring to your attention the statement that was put out by Alex Lee, our Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Yesterday, January 21st, U.S. and Cuban officials met in Havana to discuss technical issues related to the Migration Accords of 1994 and 1995 between the United States and Cuba. The Cuban delegation was chaired by Foreign Ministry’s Director General for U.S. Affairs Josefina Vidal Ferreiro. Alex Lee led the delegation for the United States. The United States hosted the last round of these semi-annual talks in July 2014 in Washington.

During these meetings, the United States and Cuba restated their commitment under the Migration Accords to ensure that migration between the two countries remains safe, legal, and orderly. They also agreed to regularly review the implementation of these accords. Continuing to ensure safe and legal migration between Cuba and the United States is consistent with our interest in promoting greater freedoms and increased respect for human rights in Cuba. The productive and collaborative nature of yesterday’s discussions proves that, despite the clear differences that remain between our countries, the United States and Cuba can find opportunities to advance our mutual shared interests, as well as engage in a respectful and thoughtful dialogue.

In addition to discussing the bilateral implementation of the Migration Accords, our teams also exchanged ideas on other aspects of safe migration, such as the return of Cuban excludable aliens, the Cuban Family Reunification Parole program, and the monitoring of repatriated Cuban nationals.

As you’ve also seen, Assistant Secretary Jacobson arrived in Havana yesterday. Yesterday, she met with the Jewish community as part of her engagement with civil society groups in Cuba. There was a working delegation with – working dinner with delegations at the chief of mission residence yesterday evening. This morning, she has been meeting with the Cuban delegation to discuss the reestablishment of diplomatic relations. She’ll also be having a press availability on the ground to discuss that as well.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. Well, I want to start somewhere further afield than Cuba, and that would be Yemen, where the government has evaporated, essentially. There’s no president, there’s no vice president, there’s no prime minister, there is no cabinet. What’s your take on the situation, realizing that this is just happening now?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. It just happened. We’ve, obviously, seen the reports. Our team is seeking confirmation of all of the reports. We continue to support a peaceful transition. We’ve urged all parties and continue to urge all parties to abide by the PNPA – the Peace and National Partnership Agreement – the GCC initiative and its implementation mechanism.

As I think you also saw, there was a reported agreement last night between the Yemeni Government and the Houthis. This is a potentially positive step to de-escalate violence in Sana’a and return to established processes of dialogue. There’s no question that implementation of that by the Houthis and taking specific steps, including the immediate release of the presidential chief of staff, pulling back of armed Houthi forces, and steps to get Yemen’s political process back on track are key to determining the success of that.

QUESTION: Well, I understand that, but that’s kind of OBE, as we would say – overtaken by events. There is no government now.

MS. PSAKI: I don't think we look at it in that way, Matt. We’re still seeking confirmation, but we’re also assessing what that would mean.

QUESTION: Right. But you’re referring to an agreement that came out yesterday between a government that no longer exists and a rebel force that appears to have control of – not just appears, does have control of the capital. So I’m wondering how it is that you can continue to support a peaceful transition. I mean, a transition to what?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, again, we don’t have confirmation of it. But we haven’t yet assessed – we’re not going to jump to conclusions about what it means until we have a confirmation and we have time to assess, working with the Yemenis, discussing internally what it means.

QUESTION: In terms of – well, okay. But – I understand that you need the time to assess what it means, but I don’t understand the lack of confirmation, because it’s pretty clear that it’s chaos, that there is no government right now. So I’m not sure that – when you say you continue to support a peaceful transition, are you saying that you continue to support an agreement that was reached yesterday between a government that no longer exists and the Houthis?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, broadly speaking, of course we continue to support a peaceful transition. There have been dialogue, there has – dialogue that we expect and hope will continue. And that’s the only way, in our view, to de-escalate the situation on the ground.

QUESTION: All right. And in terms of the embassy --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- what’s the status of that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as I noted yesterday, but it’s worth repeating, of course the safety and security of our personnel are of paramount importance. We are prepared to adjust our presence if necessary, but there has been no change in our security posture.

QUESTION: So there hasn’t been any change? So basically, anarchy is not enough to get you to adjust your presence?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, with all due respect to your assessment as an AP reporter --

QUESTION: Well --

MS. PSAKI: -- we have the United States Government and our team on the ground --

QUESTION: Okay. That’s fine.

MS. PSAKI: -- assessing what is needed.

QUESTION: I’m not --

MS. PSAKI: And we take it very seriously, and we’ll make changes if we need to.

QUESTION: Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that you should or that I think you should. I’m just wondering what it – what would it take, because it seems pretty bad right now.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve all seen the images on television, and certainly we’ve seen violence escalate over the last several days. There was a lull in that a bit yesterday. But we want to assess what’s needed, and we’re certainly prepared to take steps if we need to.

QUESTION: All right. Last one: Do you know when the last contact was between a U.S. official or State Department official and the now ex-president?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything on that for you. I can see if there’s more we can offer.

QUESTION: So you don’t agree with the assessment that there’s anarchy in Yemen, then?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’d put it in those terms, so I’ll leave it in my own terms.

QUESTION: What would you describe the situation as, then?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think – I’ll leave it as I just described it, Jo. We’re obviously – there’s news that’s been breaking. We’re assessing what that means. We’re looking for confirmation of that. We’re continuing to encourage and support a peaceful transition. And obviously, we’re not in a position – and I don’t think any of you are, either – to assess what it means at this point in time.

QUESTION: But I just wondered if you had any further updates on the investigation you said was going to take place into the attack or the shooting of your diplomatic vehicle at a checkpoint yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any updates on that at this point in time.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Can – is it on Yemen, or – just so we --

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, on Yemen. Yes, absolutely.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: First of all, you are not opposed to the principle that the Houthis can actually be part of the government, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this is a discussion – this has been a discussion happening between parties on the ground. We support that effort, but we’re not making a decision or assessment of that.

QUESTION: Because, although there are different factions and different political agendas, there are mainly two groups, basically. And ultimately, they would have to somehow – to coalesce to form a government. You would support that kind of effort, right?

MS. PSAKI: I think we have to see how this all goes. Obviously, it’s in our interests to have a return to – or a peaceful transition, and we certainly support that, as I’ve stated, Said. But I’m not going to get ahead of where we are. There’s no question it’s a very fluid situation on the ground. Violence has been increasing. It’s something that, certainly, there have been ongoing discussions about internally within the Administration.

QUESTION: The United States and Yemen had very close relationship in fighting terrorism --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- especially al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, and that presumably will continue to be the case.

MS. PSAKI: You’re right.

QUESTION: Who are you talking to? I’m sure there are – I mean, you said that there were no contacts or – in response to Matt’s question – at the level --

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say there were no contacts. I said I didn’t have an update. We have remained in touch, certainly, on the ground. I’m not going to outline for you the specific contacts. I will say that our top priority in Yemen remains the counterterrorism effort, where we’ve been targeting al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula for a number of years. That’s ongoing. We targeted – we’ve been targeting AQAP for some time now.

QUESTION: Okay. And my last question is: Are you in contact with the Houthis in any way or at any level on security matters?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any more. I will say for you – say to you, Said, and you know this already – that the Houthis don’t want to see the rise or success of al-Qaida in Yemen either.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So certainly, counterterrorism is an effort that is ongoing, but I don’t have any assessment of that at this point.

QUESTION: So that can be construed as common grounds between the United States and this group, right?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’m going to assess it further.

QUESTION: They may not have an interest in seeing AQAP gain ground, but they do have an interest in a – basically creating an Iranian ally. Is that not of concern?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I spoke to this a little bit yesterday.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I think we remain troubled by the long –

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- the history of work between the Houthis and the Iranians. Now, we don’t assess that there is – or don’t have information on sort of new cooperation on that front.

QUESTION: All right. And I don’t expect you to be able to answer this because literally these reports are just coming in.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: But apparently, the Yemen parliament has rejected President Hadi’s resignation. Realizing that you’re not aware of this – or probably not aware of it since it literally just happened – is that the kind of thing that you would like – it called for an emergency session tomorrow. Is this the kind of – would this be the kind of thing that you would encourage?

MS. PSAKI: I think, Matt, we – I just have to talk to our team. I mean, they’re assessing this as we speak, so I just don’t have any analysis at this point in time.

Any more on Yemen before we continue?

QUESTION: Very quickly.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: What kind of international law could there be for Yemen, I mean, for the next sort of – next phase now, I mean, as things happen now? Or what your ally would say, like Saudi Arabia, and people who brokered the deal to begin with for Yemen – the GCC. What are they doing in terms of --

MS. PSAKI: Well, as I noted, I think there are proposals and initiatives – the GCC put forward one – that have been out there, and certainly we would support the implementation of. I think there are many countries that you mentioned, and certainly the United States, who have a stake in seeing a peaceful transition. So I’m sure this is a topic that the Secretary and others will continue to discuss with his partner – with his counterparts.

QUESTION: Do you know if it will be raised at all since some of the Gulf countries were at the meeting in London? Was – do you know if it was – any – was there any part of the Secretary’s discussions there --

MS. PSAKI: Let me talk to the traveling team. I hadn’t asked them that specific question, but I can see if it was raised and – on the margins. I wouldn’t be surprised, but I’ll check.

QUESTION: See if Yemen was raised?

QUESTION: Syria?

QUESTION: Yemen, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I have a couple of questions on Syria, but before that, is there any way who can give us a perspective about Secretary Kerry’s visit to Britain with regards to anti-ISIL coalition you just talk about? What is the current – what is the aim of the visit? Is there any way you can --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would just point you – the Secretary gave extensive remarks and also did a press availability, so I would really point you to that. He outlined the purpose why he was there, what they accomplished, and spoke about it pretty extensively.

QUESTION: You were not asked about this, I believe, yesterday, that the President’s Union of – State of Union speech and his reference to Syria, many people take it as – let me ask this way: Does the U.S. Government still ask Assad to step down at this moment?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure why anyone would have a different assessment from the President’s State of the Union speech. We maintain our belief that Assad has lost all legitimacy and must go. There can never be a stable, inclusive Syria under his leadership. We’ve said that since August of 2011.

QUESTION: Just today, Fred Hof, a former State official, wrote a piece and he was arguing that the current Assad regime terrorizing attacks on civilians still continue after three years that you have been calling. And Mr. Hof’s argument is that U.S. does not give strong message to Iran and Russia to make sure that they put pressure on Assad regime to stop at least attacking civilians with barrel bombs – just happened today in Hasakah, I believe, killing 65 people.

What would you say to that? Are you putting enough pressure to Russia and Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, our discussions with the Iranians are focused on the nuclear negotiations, and that’s our primary focus there. As it relates to Russia, the Secretary, as you know, speaks with Foreign Minister Lavrov on a regular basis. Often Syria is a topic of discussion. We certainly understand that their relationship with the regime is different from our relationship with the regime. We’ve spoken publicly, privately countless times about our concerns about the Assad regime’s attacks and deplorable actions against civilians. There are – the Secretary also had recent meetings on his last trip with de Mistura about his efforts and his initiatives. So we’re really discussing and supporting any option that could reduce the suffering in Syria.

QUESTION: It’s more than a difference. You don’t have a relationship with the Assad regime.

MS. PSAKI: Fair enough. That’s a more clear way of stating it.

QUESTION: And are you saying, based on your answer to the first – the State of the Union question, are you saying – and then your response about Assad having lost legitimacy, are you suggesting that certain people may have over-interpreted what Secretary Kerry may or may not have said in Geneva with Envoy de Mistura?

MS. PSAKI: I think that’s an accurate assessment, yes. And I know Marie spoke about this quite a bit --

QUESTION: She did.

MS. PSAKI: -- last week.

QUESTION: But can I just ask --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- on that point, there – the Russians are putting together talks early next week in Moscow with the Syrians, and some of the Syrian opposition have said they won’t go, some have said they will go.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: What is your feeling about these talks? And what is your advice at the moment to the opposition, with whom you’re in touch?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you noted, this is a Russian-led initiative with Syrians. At this time, the United States has not been invited to participate, nor have we been involved in the planning. I think that’s – we’ve spoken about that many times in the past. We welcome any effort to make progress toward addressing Syrians’ core grievances, and anything that would produce a sustainable solution to the conflict. Time will tell whether this meeting is a forum that will make any progress on that front.

On this topic of the opposition, we have been in touch with the opposition. We certainly conveyed we’d support them attending the meetings, but it’s their decision to make.

QUESTION: And you say that the United States hasn’t been invited. Would you like to be invited? Do you think there’s a role for the United States at such talks?

MS. PSAKI: I think there are a range of options, a range of talks under discussion. I don’t think it’s something that we are angling for an invite to.

QUESTION: You’re not sitting by the phone waiting for the call? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Or you could say it that way.

QUESTION: And you don’t think it – but I mean, considering that the United States has had such an investment in – certainly in the Syrian opposition, would it not be helpful at least to have some kind of observer status at these talks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we remain in close touch with the opposition. They know they can call us. We call them. We’re in close touch with them. We’ll see what comes out of these talks and discussions and what the next step is.

We have been in touch with Russia over the course of the last two years about what role we can all play in a political transition. We’ll see if there’s anything that comes out of this meeting.

QUESTION: And the Assad regime – government has seemed to make it clear that what they want to talk about is an end to terrorism and not really about an end to – or not really about a political transition away from the Assad government.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So given that, do you really believe or do you think that this could actually address what you call the Syrians’ core – the Syrian opposition’s core demands?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not just the Syrian opposition’s call. If you dial back to a year ago and the meeting of, I think, more than 60 countries and entities in Geneva, it was the call of the international community to have a political transition consistent with the principles of the Geneva communique, which are, by mutual consent, a transition of the government in Syria.

Of course, terrorism remains a concern. Obviously, ISIL is a concern that many countries, including the United States has. But that needs to be the objective of these discussions and negotiations and that remains our view.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Jen, reconcile for us, if you can, all these statements that you make. On the one hand you say that he lost all legitimacy, knowing that Assad represents a large minority in the country, there is a huge number of people that actually look to Assad as their representative. And on the other hand, you’re saying you want a political solution. How could you reconcile these divergent positions, in essence?

MS. PSAKI: I frankly don’t see – think they contradict, Said. It’s long been our position that when you have a dictator who has --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- killed tens of thousands of his people or tens of thousands of people have died on his watch, he no longer is the legitimate leader. But we believe that transitioning through a political process is the right way to move forward.

QUESTION: I understand, but, I mean, he’s not going anywhere. He’s been around for a long time. This killing will continue to go on, and obviously the best solution would be to bring all these groups together. So wouldn’t it be wise and prudent for you to encourage the opposition to go to these meetings in Moscow and elsewhere and perhaps restart some sort of talks, maybe Geneva 3, like you said.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said --

QUESTION: Sixty countries participate and so on.

MS. PSAKI: -- I know you often like to bring up Geneva 3, and you’re a fan of that. But --

QUESTION: I’m not a fan of that. I’m a fan of any country that would --

MS. PSAKI: -- I would say, Said, that again, we support – there are a range of discussions and mechanisms by which talks can happen. It’s up to the opposition. We conveyed to them we would support them attending. They’ll make those decisions.

Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: Were you able to get a U.S. reaction to the Israeli killing of the Iranian general on the Golan Heights?

MS. PSAKI: There’s just nothing I’m going to add to what I said yesterday on that.

QUESTION: Could we stay --

QUESTION: But you condemn – you condemn --

QUESTION: -- on that same topic?

MS. PSAKI: Hmm?

QUESTION: I want to stay on Israel for a second.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday, in his press conference, the Secretary quoted an unnamed Israeli – senior Israeli intelligence official as telling a congressional delegation that new sanctions on Iran, quote – imposing new sanctions on Iran now would be like, quote, “throwing a hand grenade into the process.” It – the way that he presented it – the Secretary – it sounded as though whoever this senior intelligence official was was opposed to sanctions. It now emerges that this official may have, in fact, been either supporting the sanctions because they want the talks collapse and then resume with more pressure on the Iranians. So I’m wondering, does the Secretary believe that whoever told him about what this intelligence official said was misleading him?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to speak – I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you – to – further to private discussions that happen with Israeli intelligence officials about intel assessments other --

QUESTION: Well, he brought it up, not me.

MS. PSAKI: Well, other than to convey it was a discussion of assessments, not policy recommendations. Intelligence agencies do assessments; they don’t make policy recommendations.

QUESTION: But the way the – the context in which the Secretary said this was that even the Israelis think that it’s a bad idea for – or even an Israeli intelligence official thinks that it’s a bad idea to impose sanctions. And that does not seem to be the case.

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me unpack that a little bit further. We are quite familiar with the views of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the policy advisors within the Israeli Government about sanctions and what they view as – whether they should take place and when they should be put in place. We agree that sanctions have helped get us to the point we’re at. We have a disagreement about the way to achieve our shared goal, which is preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. I’m not going to confirm or speak further to conversations members of Congress may have had with intelligence officials other than to convey they were about intelligence assessments; they’re not about what their view is on policy. We know what the Israeli Government’s view is on sanctions.

QUESTION: Well, the official in question – or at least who has released a statement about what he told the Congressional delegation – says that what he meant to say or what his hand grenade reference to was the fact – was that his assessment was that if new sanctions were introduced, the Iranians might walk away, but then it would be temporary and that they would eventually come back to the table and that you – meaning the P5+1 negotiators and in particular the U.S. – would be in a better position to negotiate with Iran than you are right now. It seems from the context that the Secretary used this quote yesterday is that the Administration is trying to suggest that there is daylight or a rift or some kind of a gap between what Prime Minister Netanyahu thinks and what the Mossad – what the Israeli intelligence – at least this one official – thinks. That does not appear to be the case. So I’m wondering if you can say whether the Secretary was misled into thinking that that was actually the situation.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have an assessment for you on what was or wasn’t discussed during the meeting with Congressional officials. What I can convey is that there are many around the world who have assessed – whether you want to call it a political assessment or what you want to call it – including a range of European leaders who put out an op-ed today in the Washington Post – that if we move forward with sanctions, that could blow up the negotiations and could even destroy the international sanctions regime as it exists. So whether or not that specific assessment was made during a private meeting, I don’t have any confirmation of that.

QUESTION: Right. But the problem with that is that the Secretary himself raised it. He is the one who said it. He did it unprompted and the context in which he presented it was to suggest that there is some – there is disagreement that Israel – the Israeli Government and its – elements of the Israeli Government are not united about this, and in fact think that new sanctions – some of them think that new sanctions are wrong. So that’s why the question arises to you, and I realize we probably should be asking him. But the second thing is is that you say – you point out this op-ed that the Europeans wrote, but yesterday in the press conference with the external affairs – or whatever her title is now --

MS. PSAKI: EU high representative.

QUESTION: Right. When – after the Secretary said that his opinion was that new sanctions would hurt rather than hinder – would hurt rather than help the process and blow it up, she pointedly said – and I recognize that she’s not in these negotiations, but she said she couldn’t offer any prediction about what sanctions would do. So there seems to be a disagreement in --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can assure you those who are on her staff who are in the negotiations feel that it would have a detrimental impact, and that’s what they’re conveying.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Staying on this --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Suppose there is that rogue element; suppose that the Mossad has gone on its own in opposition to Netanyahu. Is that a good thing? Would that be, like – would that augment the call for no more sanctions, do you think?

MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand your desire to go down this road, but I’m not going to journey down it with you.

QUESTION: Okay. And let me ask you another question on the same topic.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you believe that the Israeli prime minister is completely focused on his re-election and come what may? I mean, they go, they strike in Syria, they do all kinds of things basically to sabotage whatever chances for a deal. Are you – is that the feeling in this building?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have an assessment of the prime minister of Israel’s views on his election.

QUESTION: Do you feel that the prime minister of Israel is basically doing all he can to obfuscate any effort in terms of reaching a deal?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Said, we have – we agree on the objective, which is to prevent Iran --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We disagree on the way to get there. There are many who agree with where we are, which is that putting new sanctions in place would be incredibly detrimental to the process and could even destroy the international sanctions regime.

QUESTION: So --

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure when the prime minister comes here and visits the United States he’ll talk about this, and we’ll continue to have a discussion and debate.

QUESTION: Okay. By the way, when he comes here to the United States on February 11 --

QUESTION: No, no.

QUESTION: No?

QUESTION: It’s March.

QUESTION: March. Okay, all right. March 11th.

QUESTION: It’s March 3rd.

QUESTION: March 3rd. Okay, that’s AIPAC. Yeah, right. Anyway, let me go back --

MS. PSAKI: We should just get a calendar out here on upcoming events. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: The White House has said that the President – that President Obama will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu when he comes. Will Secretary Kerry see him? Is there some prohibition against that kind of thing, given the election?

MS. PSAKI: He will not, and just for the benefit of everybody, let me just repeat the reasons why. I know some of you have seen the White House statement. But as a long – as a matter of longstanding practice and principle, we typically – the President obviously does not see heads of state or candidates, and neither will the Secretary of State, in close proximity to their elections so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country. So the White House announced the President will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and neither will Secretary Kerry when he’s here.

QUESTION: This expression, this entire expression --

QUESTION: Does that apply to lower-level officials?

MS. PSAKI: I think it’s – I think the --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I’m just curious. I mean, he is a – he’s not a head of state, actually. He’s a head of government. But --

MS. PSAKI: Okay, sorry.

QUESTION: But when --

MS. PSAKI: We were saying a general --

QUESTION: I understand.

MS. PSAKI: -- a general – if it were others as well, Matt.

QUESTION: I understand. But when a head of state does come here, there is some coordination usually --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- just security-wise or whatever.

QUESTION: You’re right. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So I mean, are you saying that there will be no contact at all between Administration officials --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of plans for other meetings, Matt, but I can certainly check. I don’t think there will be.

QUESTION: And this – you make this an emphatic expression of basically distrust in the American position by the Israeli prime minister saying and despite repeated announcement by the President and by the government that we have Israel’s back, we will continue, we will not throw it under the bus, to use the term that they use and so on. But they are relentless. He is relentless in saying no, no, no, no, and so on, that in spite of saying --

MS. PSAKI: Do you have a question in there?

QUESTION: My question is --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- do you think that he’s basically driving his own political agenda on this issue and not really the nature of the talks?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to do political analysis on the Israeli election from here.

QUESTION: Can I ask --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- specifically on Keystone. Sorry to --

MS. PSAKI: Can you – we finish Israel? Is that okay?

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. PSAKI: And then we’ll go back to Keystone. Any more on Israel before we --

QUESTION: Yeah, regarding the Palestinians. I mean, Israel and the Palestinians.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, let’s do one more and then we’ll go to Keystone. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Yeah, because I have some questions on the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Today, the Israelis authorized the building of 62 – 66 housing in an illegal settlement basically on – that is in the courts. Do you have any position on this or do you know anything about it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our settlements on – our position on settlements are well-known. I had not seen that report. I’m happy to follow up with our team on our specific view on that if there’s anything additional to add.

QUESTION: Okay. Now on the issue of aid to the Palestinians, we know that in the bill that was passed, I think in December and so on, calls for cutoff of aid for the Palestinians. And we know that the budget, the 2015 budget does not include a waiver clause in it for the President to basically do aid. So if the – if Congress decides to cut off the aid, what is the next step for you, knowing that the Palestinian situation is very precarious and very critical?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s exactly right, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. But like --

MS. PSAKI: But why don’t we get you some more specifics on where things stand.

Keystone?

QUESTION: Okay, and my last question --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. My last question is between now and let’s say the election, do you have any plans to meet with any Palestinian officials?

MS. PSAKI: We remain in touch, as you know, on the ground and over the phone with Palestinian officials, absolutely. I don’t have any meetings to read out for you, but --

QUESTION: So at least for the time being, you are reconciled to the fact that they did file with the ICC, they may try again at the --

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t say reconciled. Our view is well-known. We’ve stated it many times on this position. But it doesn’t mean we don’t maintain contact. We do.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I ask – today up on the Hill, the Canadian ambassador, Gary Doer, was up there supporting in a press conference the bill to authorize Keystone XL. He said a couple of things which were perhaps a little bit undiplomatic – I’m not sure – of saying that he had heard the President’s speech at the State of the Union in which he talked about science. He says the science in the State Department report backs up the – giving approval to Keystone and says it’s our job to correct the facts and correct the myths that have been established around Keystone, basically making a plea for the Keystone.

Do you have a reaction to that? Does the science in the State Department report back up having a – giving approval to the pipeline?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’re all familiar with the view of the Canadian Government on this issue, and they have spoken about it quite frequently. And we have an ongoing dialogue with them about a range of issues. The fact is, and what we certainly convey to any official in Canada, is that there is an ongoing process. As you know, last week – but we were on the trip, so just to update those of you who didn’t see it – the Department of State – we notified the eight agencies identified in the executive order that they have until February 2nd to provide their views on the national interest with regard to the Keystone pipeline permit application. Obviously, what will be taken into account is all of the information and the studies that have been under – that the agency and others have undergone over the past several months, and certainly responses by the eight federal agencies listed in the executive order are part of our internal process.

So there’s an internal process. There’s lots of information that comes in and will continue to come in, and we’ll look at all of that as we make an assessment.

QUESTION: And have you given yourself a deadline beyond the February 2nd to determine, to come up with the State Department’s determination on this?

MS. PSAKI: No, there’s not another deadline. That needs to be looked at an assessed. That’s the next step in the process.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead. Ukraine?

QUESTION: Yes. Do the actions of the Ukrainian Government comply with the Minsk agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Are you referring to something specifically or --

QUESTION: Yes, using heavy artillery, shelling residential areas.

MS. PSAKI: And where are you referring to that happening?

QUESTION: In areas near Donetsk. Is it – is it not happening? Are you suggesting that it is not happening?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m just asking because, obviously, there was a terrible attack, as – and I’m not sure you’re referencing this – at a bus stop in Donetsk --

QUESTION: There have been a few days of shellings. No, that – including --

MS. PSAKI: -- this morning. Okay.

QUESTION: Please go ahead.

MS. PSAKI: And there’s an investigation on that particular incident that is ongoing by the OSCE. And certainly, we call on all sides to assist with the process. We understand that they have visited the scene and will produce a report once it’s concluded its fact-finding. And this incident certainly goes the heart of why we must see immediate implementation of the agreement made at yesterday’s Normandy format meeting in Berlin, which included Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany.

I would say that we’ve seen a preponderance of violations by the Russians and the Russian-backed separatists, whether that’s the movement of artillery or military equipment, or – and I’d also remind everyone that the country is Ukraine, so Ukraine is defending their own territory. There are a larger number of political prisoners.

QUESTION: I didn’t mean --

MS. PSAKI: So there are a number of steps that Russia and the Russian-backed separatists need to take, but we certainly expect both sides to abide by it.

QUESTION: I didn’t mean just this incident. There have been a few days --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- of shellings. Do these actions comply with the Minsk agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, without speaking generally, because I always think there’s a danger in that if you’re not talking about specific incidents – in general, Russia has illegally – and Russian-backed separatists – have illegally come into Ukraine, including Donetsk. Ukraine has a responsibility and absolutely the right to defend themselves. Now, we certainly expect both sides to abide by the Minsk agreements. We have not seen that happen. We’ve seen a lot of talk, not a lot of backup, from the Russian side. If there are specific incidents, I’m more than happy to talk about them.

QUESTION: I’m specifically asking about the actions of the Ukrainian Government. Can you give a more definitive answer whether or not they comply with the Minsk agreement?

MS. PSAKI: You’re not talking about a specific incident. I think I’ll leave it at what I said.

QUESTION: Well, wait. Go ahead.

QUESTION: With the Minsk agreement, do they comply? You pass a judgment that Russia is not complying with the agreement. Can you assess whether Ukraine is complying?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I listed a range of specific ways that Russia is not complying, and those are all public information. So if there’s a specific incident where Ukraine is not, let’s talk about it.

QUESTION: Yes, there is. Well, under the agreement --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- sides must avoid deploying and using heavy artillery. Isn’t it what the Ukrainian Government is doing right now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, let’s start again with the fact that Russia is – has illegally intervened in Ukraine and come into a country that was a sovereign country.

QUESTION: I’m asking specifically about the actions of the Ukrainian Government --

MS. PSAKI: So I’m not sure if you’re proposing that a sovereign country doesn’t have the right to defend themselves.

QUESTION: -- veering off and toward Russia.

MS. PSAKI: I think we’re going to leave it at that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you just specifically about the incident this morning with the bus.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: What was your – you said it’s under investigation?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: But can you not at least condemn whoever it was that did it?

MS. PSAKI: Of course, of course. We condemn the further violence in eastern Ukraine at a bus stop in Donetsk this morning, which claimed at least a dozen innocent lives. Absolutely.

QUESTION: And that means that you would condemn if it was the government that did it, right? The Kyiv government.

MS. PSAKI: Of course. The loss of lives --

QUESTION: And you would condemn it if it was the separatists who did it?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Can you say – but at the same time, you’re saying that the Government of Ukraine has the – I think you said the right and – the responsibility and the right to defend itself. Do you see actions like that, like the shelling – or this shelling of the bus as being within the – being within that purview?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to speculate on that, Matt. We don’t have information on the specifics here. Obviously, when it’s the death of innocent civilians, that’s something we would condemn in Ukraine or anywhere around the world. The point I was making was a larger point about whether or not Ukraine should be able to use military equipment in their own country.

QUESTION: Well, okay, understandable. That – I understand that. But the problem is that you seem to be – you’re condemning the separatists for doing things that presumably you also don’t have full investigation into.

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of incidents we certainly have seen --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- exactly what’s happened. So broadly speaking --

QUESTION: But when --

MS. PSAKI: -- the preponderance of violations are on the Russian --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- and Russian-backed separatist side.

QUESTION: And – which may be the case, but I don’t – I can’t say that. I don’t know that. But this – it just seems to be that when the Government of Ukraine is accused of shelling, of bombarding civilian targets when they are – that accusation is made, you refrain from – you don’t take – you say let’s have an investigation into it. And when there are incidents that you ascribe to the separatists, there’s an immediate condemnation. So I think that’s where these questions are coming --

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t say that’s exactly what’s happened. There are times where it’s clear who is responsible. This is a case where there’s going to be an investigation.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: There are also violations like the failure to release certain prisoners --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- the fact that they are moving military equipment across the border, things that are violations that don’t involve attacks.

QUESTION: But this bus incident happened in a place that’s controlled by the separatists, and it’s probably unlikely that the separatists would bomb themselves. Is that not correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ll let the investigation see itself through, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, I understand that. But it would seem, just if you were, like, looking at it from the outside, that this was not a self-inflicted wound; that it was done in the course of what you say is the right and responsibility of the Government of Ukraine to defend itself. Is that not correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I understand why you’re putting together different details to come to that point, but we’re going to see the investigation through.

QUESTION: All right. It’s pretty obvious, though, isn’t it, no?

MS. PSAKI: We’ll let the investigation --

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: -- see itself through. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Pakistan --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- there are reports about two organizations, Jamaat ud-Daawa and Haqqani Network, being banned by Pakistan. Have they informed you or have they really been banned?

MS. PSAKI: Can you say this one more time?

QUESTION: Jamaat ud-Daawa and Haqqani Network, the two terrorist organizations, have they been banned by Pakistan? Have they informed you about it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve certainly seen the reports, and there have been a range of reports.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: The Pakistani Government has made clear in both private conversations and public statements that it’s in Pakistan’s own interest to take steps against all militant groups in Pakistan, and explicitly to not differentiate between such group. We support this commitment and believe that it’s fundamental to addressing terrorism and ensuring attacks such as the horrific one that happened just weeks ago at the – that impacted the Peshawar schoolchildren never occur again. We recognize that Pakistan is working through the process of implementing measures to thwart violent extremism, including the national action plan. We don’t have any confirmation of specific steps.

QUESTION: But at the same time, they are having a huge march later this week. How do you see that? On the one hand, they have banned organizations; the other hand, the leaders are roaming around in public.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have – do you have more details on the march and the purpose of it? I don’t have details on that.

QUESTION: I can send you the details.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Okay, great. More on Pakistan or India?

QUESTION: One more on Ukraine. I’m sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I just want to make sure that it’s clear.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: The Ukrainian Government is using heavy artillery in residential areas, is it not? Isn’t it a violation of the Minsk agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, one, as I’m sure you’re aware, there was an agreement for Russia to pull back their heavy artillery yesterday as part of the agreement made in Berlin. I would go back to the same point I made. Without getting into speaking to generalizations, Ukraine is a sovereign country.

QUESTION: It’s a specific question. It’s not a generalization.

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish – let me finish my answer, please. Thank you. There – they have the right to defend themselves. If you’re talking about specific incidents, then I’m happy to speak to them, but I’m not going to answer your questions on broad generalizations.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I got two more on Syria. One is that these two Japanese hostage, as far as I know, deadline is tomorrow. Do you have any update? Do you talk to Turkish Government on this specific issue?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have updates on conversations with the Turkish Government. Obviously, as you know, we have a range of conversations with the Turkish Government about Syria and other issues. I talked a little bit a few days ago about the Secretary’s conversations with Foreign Minister Kishida and others about how horrific this is, the video, the threats. I unfortunately don’t have any updates on the status.

QUESTION: On this. Okay. The second one is about the train and equip program. Last time, I believe we were told that this program should kick off in March. We are almost end of January. Do you still think this timetable is going to work?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to my colleague, Admiral Kirby, over at the Pentagon who spoke to this extensively last week --

QUESTION: Okay. I will see --

MS. PSAKI: -- in terms of the timing and the specifics.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: And I think that might help you in terms of where things stand.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Japan?

MS. PSAKI: On Japan? Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. Did you have any advice for them about regarding the ransom that they were (inaudible) to pay?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re all familiar with what the view of the United States is on ransom payments – that it puts citizens at risk, and it certainly is not a policy that we here in the United States implement or we support. So that certainly is something I think Japan knows our longstanding position on that issue.

QUESTION: Follow-up on that?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: How confident are you that Japan will abide by U.S. position on ransoms? And if it doesn’t, how will this affect U.S.-Japan relations?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, I’m not going to get ahead of the process here. Obviously, our view is known. The reasons for our view is known. I don’t have any assessment of Japan’s plans.

QUESTION: Do you know, though, if you’ve had contact with the Japanese to tell them of your position or to suggest to them that it might not be a wise idea to pay a ransom?

MS. PSAKI: We have conveyed privately our position and they’re familiar, certainly publicly, of course, with our position as well.

QUESTION: And your position is that in this specific case that if Japan paid a ransom it would put other Japanese citizens at risk?

MS. PSAKI: Well, and all citizens. Yes.

QUESTION: And – right. But you’re --

MS. PSAKI: For kidnapping, and only sustains the terrorist organizations.

QUESTION: Follow-up on Japan?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So if there’s any – is there any specific coordination or supports that the U.S. has provided to Japan or is willing to provide?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to get into specific details about our private diplomatic conversations. As you know, the Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Kishida just two days ago, I believe, and certainly we’re prepared to provide any support we can.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Change of topic. Qatar?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: And admitted al-Qaida operative in the United States, Ali al-Marri, was released last week from federal prison and then transferred to Qatar. What was the State Department’s involvement in his transfer?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any details or specifics I can confirm on that. I think it’s more of a question for DOJ and others, but I can certainly follow up and see if there’s more we can offer.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, that is called the million march. It’s to be held in Karachi on Sunday, and it’s a call being given by Hafiz Sayeed of Jamaat-ud-Dawa. This is a protest against the publication of cartoons in the latest issue by Charlie Hebdo issue.

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to talk to our team about it. Did you have a specific question about it? What our view is or --

QUESTION: No. If there is a ban on the organization, how come they are having the public rally of millions march?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not – I don’t know enough about the march to know if there’s a specific connection there.

QUESTION: And coming to India about – after Secretary’s trip where he met the prime minister, and now President is traveling, did Secretary get a chance to brief the President on his India trip?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary has certainly been over at the White House for a range of meetings over the last couple of days. I know, obviously, they plan to discuss his meetings while he was in India, and the Secretary’s had lunch with – I believe just a few days ago with National Security Advisor Susan Rice. So he’s certainly seen the President quite a bit about a range of topics, but he certainly has passed on his meetings and his assessment of what happened there.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: I just – I wanted to bring it back to Yemen for one second.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: There are some reports of secession, the possibility of secession in southern Yemen. Is – would the U.S. support that as part of its support for a political – peaceful political transition, or would you have specific comments on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know there were a range of proposals – I think this is what you’re referring to – that were kind of being worked through in the political agreement between the Houthis and the Hadi government. I don’t have any particular assessment of particular components we support or don’t support. In general, we support de-escalation, we support a peaceful transition. I can see if there’s anything we have particular concern with.

QUESTION: Well, actually I think it’s the security directorate in the Aden – the port has – is expected to make an important announcement later.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Well --

QUESTION: And we’re not sure this is part of the deal between --

MS. PSAKI: Okay, separate issue then. Okay.

QUESTION: If she’s referring to the same thing.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Is that what you’re referring to? Okay, we’ll look into that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just a clarification on Iran deadlines?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In his testimony at the Committee on Foreign Relations, Deputy Secretary Blinken mentioned that for a political agreement, we’re looking for a conclusion by the end of March.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But Senator Menendez was talking about March 24th for some reason. Is March 24th a specific deadline as well, or is it March 31st?

MS. PSAKI: March 31st. It’s approximately four months past the timing of the last meeting. So we know there has been confusion, and we wanted to be a little bit more clear about how we’re looking at the timelines.

QUESTION: So March 24th was just Menendez’s personal question?

MS. PSAKI: I think it was just adding four months, but March 31st is the timeline.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a question on Cuba.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You began by talking about Cuba. Today, apparently, the talks began on the issue of diplomatic exchange and so on.

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So if this happens, what is, like, the timeline? I mean, when is it likely that a Cuban embassy would be opened in Washington and vice versa, and people begin to travel?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have an exact timeline for you. It’s something that we’ll continue working on over the coming weeks. And the Secretary spoke a little bit yesterday to some of the specifics that would need to be worked through, including lifting travel restrictions on diplomats, lifting caps on the number of diplomatic personnel, unimpeded shipments for our mission, free access to our mission by Cubans. Those are all issues that are being discussed on the ground, and Assistant Secretary Jacobson is doing a press avail as we speak, perhaps, to talk about these issues.

Now, we didn’t expect that this would all be worked through or determined. It’s just a beginning of the discussion. And clearly, we hope that the speed at which these issues are resolved will escalate now that we’re engaging in dialogue.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just back to Qatar, are you saying the State Department had no involvement in this transfer?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any more --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- to offer for you.

Okay. Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: I have just one more which is --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- completely different from everything else.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Which is, I believe the Turkish Government has invited leaders to the 1915 Battle of Gallipoli remembrance ceremony. Does Secretary Kerry plan to attend? If not, is the U.S. sending anybody else?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I believe that is in April, if I’m correct about the timing of it --

QUESTION: April 24th, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: -- which, believe it or not, is about a century away in travel. So I don’t have anything to announce. Approximately. It’s a figure of speech, Matt. Matt is rolling his eyes at me up here. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You mean it’ll be in 2115?

MS. PSAKI: You’re so exact. It’s quite some time away in how we do travel plans, so I have no travel plans to announce for the Secretary or any other official here.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: An eon, perhaps, not a century.

MS. PSAKI: An eon? I think that’s longer than a century, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Whatever. I got two really brief ones.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: First is on Bahrain.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: I don’t know if Marie last week spoke to this at all or if you have been asked this before, but I’m just wondering if you have any thoughts on the conviction of Nabeel Rajab – the sentence that he was given and the travel ban that was imposed upon him.

MS. PSAKI: I believe we have – well, maybe not. Let me repeat --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- some points here, and I apologize if this is repetitive. We’re disappointed by the sentence. It is our understanding that Mr. Rajab may appeal the case. As we have consistently say around the world – as we consistently say around the world, the United States does not agree with the prosecution of individuals for crimes of peaceful political expression. As we said last October, we urge the Government of Bahrain to drop the charges against him.

QUESTION: Okay. And release him, presumably?

MS. PSAKI: Presumably, yes.

QUESTION: All right. And then the second one is on Egypt. First is a logistical one.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: And I don’t even know if this is possible, because I don’t know if President al-Sisi is going to be in Davos when the President – when the Secretary gets there or not. Do you know --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure they’re overlapping, but --

QUESTION: Well, okay. Do you know if there are any plans for him on his current trip to see any Egyptian officials, whether it’s the president or not?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check. Not that I’d seen on the last schedule, but I’m happy to check --

QUESTION: All right. The --

MS. PSAKI: -- where the bilats sits right now.

QUESTION: Yesterday – this is a little convoluted.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Yesterday, in his meeting with the Australian foreign minister, do you know if the Secretary raised the case of the Al Jazeera journalist – the Australian Al Jazeera journalist who’s being held in Egypt? Did that come up at all, do you know?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe that was a part of the discussion they had at – they had a few minutes one-on-one, but not in the meeting that I was in. Obviously, I would just reiterate it was not a very long meeting, because it was between the meeting with EU High Representative Mogherini and he had to get to a meeting at the White House, so it was a bit condensed.

QUESTION: Right, okay. But it is safe to assume, though, that your position on the jailing and the prosecution of these journalists in Egypt is something that --

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. And it’s something --

QUESTION: -- you’re opposed to?

MS. PSAKI: -- we’ve talked about in the past and we certainly talk about at a range of levels.

QUESTION: That you’re opposed to it? That you think that they should be released?

MS. PSAKI: The Al Jazeera journalists?

QUESTION: Right, yes.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: I have a very quick question --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- Iran-related. Yesterday, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sent a letter or addressed a letter to Western news, telling them not to prejudge Islam. Is that – is he within his right to do so? And did he breach any protocol by doing that? Or what is your reaction? Have you read it?

MS. PSAKI: I --

QUESTION: And then maybe you can comment on Deflate-gate. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: We’ve certainly seen that letter. I don’t have a comment on it, including any breaches of protocol or otherwise.

All right. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:03 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 21, 2015

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 11:50

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 21, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

12:19 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Good afternoon.

MS. PSAKI: Good afternoon. We tried to do this briefing as early as we can today so we can get to as many topics as we can before our bilateral meeting at 1:00 p.m.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: I have one item at the top. We strongly condemn today’s stabbings on a bus in Tel Aviv. There is and can be no justification for such attacks against innocent civilians. We continue to urge all sides to work cooperatively together to lower tensions, reject violence, and seek a path forward toward peace. And as many of you know, the Secretary will also have a press avail with EU High Representative Mogherini as well after his bilateral meeting.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: U.S.A. hockey – that’s the scarf today.

QUESTION: Yes, it is.

MS. PSAKI: To note for transcript. Go ahead.

QUESTION: U.S.A. hockey. Of course, this was for the Olympics and then they didn’t --

MS. PSAKI: It’s almost the anniversary.

QUESTION: Exactly. Let’s start with Israel since you started with Israel. I’m curious to know if you share the view of the White House, your – of your colleague, Mr. Earnest, that Speaker Boehner’s invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress next month is a – was a – or is a breach of protocol, and whether or not the Administration – I’m also interested in knowing whether or not the Administration opposes or would not support Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking to Congress.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I think I haven’t seen my colleague’s comments, but certainly, traditionally, we would learn about the plans of a leader to come to the United States separately from learning from it – about it from the Speaker of the House, which is how we learned of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans to come and speak to a joint session. Now, he has spoken to a joint session many times in the past. That’s certainly not something we have opposed nor do we oppose it in general in this case. We don’t have information at this point on what he’ll be speaking about. Obviously, we have ongoing discussions – the Secretary does – with Prime Minister Netanyahu about a range of issues – security, the ongoing tensions. Those will certainly continue.

QUESTION: So despite the fact that it – you say it was a breach of protocol, you’re not against the idea. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: No, I wouldn’t – exactly.

QUESTION: Okay. And you said you don’t know what he is going to speak about. Well, the invitation is pretty clear that he – the invitation from Speaker Boehner that wants him – Speaker Boehner wants him to discuss Iran and the threat of radical Islam. Is that --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t have more details on what he’ll say. I think we can all make a guess, but what I’m conveying is there hasn’t been a discussion about that at this point in time.

QUESTION: Does the Administration have any view as to whether Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking to Congress on his well-known positions about Iran and about militant or radical Islam is necessary or helpful to the discussion going on about --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think --

QUESTION: -- how to respond to (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: -- it’s no secret, Matt, that we have a different point of view as it relates to the benefit of ongoing negotiations with Iran and our efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And Prime Minister Netanyahu has spoken to that extensively. So that’s – but there are many leaders who have spoken to joint sessions in the past and there will be many in the future. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has on many occasions.

QUESTION: You said that there’s a – you both share the same aim, right, which is to prevent or keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon?

MS. PSAKI: That’s right, and we’ve talked about that as well in the past.

QUESTION: Okay. I’ll cede, but I want to stay on Israel.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the timing of the invitation?

MS. PSAKI: The timing of the invitation?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any analysis on that I’m going to do from the podium.

QUESTION: After the day of the presidential – of the President’s speech yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details on when the invitation was made or accepted.

QUESTION: Do you know anything about the reported Israeli strikes in the Golan Heights that killed an Iranian general and apparently the son of Imad Mughniyeh?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details to speak about on that, no.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, the result of this strike, whoever did it, is that a good thing or a bad thing in the view of the Administration?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, I know our view on a range of issues that these reports take into account, whether it’s the engagement of Hezbollah, their destructive engagement from the outside is well known. Obviously, the details haven’t been specifically confirmed by many of the parties so I’m just not going to speculate on them further.

QUESTION: Well, but let me – the Iranians have said publicly that one of their generals was killed. They had a massive funeral for him today in Tehran. And Hezbollah itself has said that Jihad Mughniyeh was killed. So --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Now, others haven’t --

QUESTION: -- there are some details. Do you have reason to doubt those?

MS. PSAKI: No, I’m not suggesting that.

QUESTION: Oh.

MS. PSAKI: But others haven’t confirmed the specifics of what happened here or the alleged Israeli action. That’s what I was referring to. I don’t have any particular comment on the outcome or anything beyond that.

QUESTION: Well, does that mean the Administration doesn’t have a point of view of whether it’s good thing or a bad thing that these two, and others, actors were taken off the world – or the stage of (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I just reiterated the fact that we’ve long believed that Hezbollah plays a destructive role. We condemn their direct intervention; that’s consistently been our view. I just don’t think I’m going to add too much more to it than that.

QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe that Hezbollah was preparing for some kind of an operation against Israel?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more I can speculate on that.

QUESTION: Can I also stay in Israel --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and just ask about the attack today by a Palestinian on a morning bus?

QUESTION: She --

MS. PSAKI: I spoke to it at the top.

QUESTION: Oh, you – sorry, I missed that.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details at this point. If that changes – I just condemned, obviously, the action. But if more becomes available we can speak to that later.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can we talk about Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So what’s the latest on the security situation around the embassy? Have you had any change of heart about a possible evacuation? What’s the security situation there?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, as you know, Justin, the safety and security of our men and women serving overseas is a top priority for the President, for the Secretary of State, certainly for everyone in the State Department. We’re continuing to not only monitor but, I think you’d all expect, to discuss internally the situation on the ground in Yemen, as well as developments in Yemen, and we will adjust to the embassy security posture response in accordance to the situation on the ground.

As you also know, following the – the embassy has been operating with reduced staffing and heightened security since ordered departure happened in late September, but there has not been a change at this point in our security posture on the ground.

QUESTION: So what’s your assessment of whether or not a coup has actually occurred? Do you feel there’s been a shift in power? Is it too difficult to say? What’s the status of the Yemeni Government’s control?

MS. PSAKI: The legitimate Yemeni Government is led by President Hadi. We remain in touch with him. He is in his home. Clearly, we’ve seen a breakdown in the institutions in Yemen, and obviously, there’s a great deal of violence and tension on the ground. We’re certainly closely monitoring that and continuing to encourage the parties to continue dialogue, and they are talking.

QUESTION: Do you think the President has lost control? Do you worry that he will? I mean, because there was this – the question is: If he loses control, will you lose your counterterrorism ally in the region?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s getting a few steps ahead of where we are at this point in time. I would say that throughout the last several weeks and days, and long before that, our ongoing counterterrorism cooperation with Yemen has continued. As you know, we believe that’s it’s in our national security interest to have a presence there, and a strong presence there, which is one that we continue to have. But obviously, we weigh the safety and security of our personnel as – very highly in this internal discussion.

QUESTION: Jen, don’t you think it’s a bit disingenuous to say President Hadi is in his home?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re continuing to --

QUESTION: He’s in his home because he’s surrounded by Shiite rebels who are – who may or may not want to kill him.

MS. PSAKI: And he remains the legitimate president of the country, and we remain in touch with him, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, all right, but there’s a – there are cases where legitimate leaders are not in position in to actually exert their legitimate authority or what you think is their legitimate authority. So I mean, I fear that we’re leading down a path where you guys are going to start twisting yourself into pretzels again, like in Egypt, over whether this is a coup or not. Who does the United States believe is in fundamental control of the Yemeni Government and military, if anyone?

MS. PSAKI: President Hadi remains the legitimate leader of the Yemeni Government.

QUESTION: Yeah, but does he actually have authority? Can he --

MS. PSAKI: He remains the legitimate leader, Matt.

QUESTION: If he gives an order, do you think that the government or the military will carry out his order while he’s under --

MS. PSAKI: Matt, clearly --

QUESTION: -- while he’s relaxing at home, as you seem to suggest?

MS. PSAKI: Clearly, Matt, this is a very fluid situation on the ground. It’s a challenging situation on the ground. As I mentioned, the parties are talking. We’re continuing to encourage that, having discussions about a ceasefire; obviously, that hasn’t been abided by. But we’re not going to get steps ahead of where we are. Things continue to develop every single day.

QUESTION: Does the Administration see the hand of Iran in what’s going on?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have talked in the past about the fact that we believe the Houthis have concerning relations with Iran, and we’re certainly aware of reports of a variety of support provided by Iran to the Houthis, but I don’t have any more details or specifics on that at this point in time.

QUESTION: And then, this is just – takes it a little bit more – makes – brings it in a little broader perspective here, given the testimony that was on the Hill from Deputy Secretary Blinken this morning. You see – you have – you say you have concerns about an Iranian hand in Yemen. An Iranian general was killed in the Golan Heights, where you say you have also concerns about Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Given the fact that you believe Iran to be a bad actor, if that’s the right word, why on Earth would you possibly think that Iran can be trusted to negotiate or to abide by a nuclear agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, it’s never been about trust. As you know, the nuclear negotiations are about the nuclear issue. If we reach an agreement, it doesn’t mean the other issues are resolved. As you know, there are a number of sanctions and restrictions on Iran related to other issues, but we have a fundamental belief that preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is in the interest of the United States and the global community. That’s why we’re continuing to pursue it.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Let – can I say one more thing? And our belief is that it is not – Iran is not engaged in these negotiations as a favor to the United States or to the Western countries. They’re engaged in them because of the crippling effect of sanctions. And so we believe that this is an opportunity to finally bring an end to their ability to acquire a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: I don’t think anyone denies that the – you have a – that the U.S. or the Administration has a fundamental interest in preventing Iran from getting a bomb, and I also don’t think that anyone disputes that Iran is in this not for the hell of it, but because they want relief from sanctions. So I don’t think that taking issue with those ideas or suggesting that people disagree with them makes much sense. So I mean --

MS. PSAKI: They’re important contextual points, so I thought I’d share them.

QUESTION: Fair – well, okay, fair enough. But I mean, I don’t think anyone’s challenging those points.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: What the question is, is that you have observed and seen – the Administration has – Iran acting in what you believe to be a nefarious way in places – very far-flung places, but places very close to their own territory. Why is it that on this one issue you think that they can be trusted? And the verification is a separate issue. They have to think that they have to actually agree and then be serious about an agreement, right?

MS. PSAKI: You’re right, it’s trust but verify and verify again. It’s not about trust. It’s about having requirements in the JPOA, which they’ve abided by for the last year-plus, and then any agreement that are verifying, that are monitoring that they’re abiding by their agreement.

QUESTION: But I’m talking about in the run-up to where you get to verification. And then let’s leave verification aside, whether or not you believe that that can actually be done or not, the verification part. But in the run-up, do you believe – or you believe that so far, since the – and where did this JPOA thing from?

QUESTION: Yeah, can we stick with J-P-O-A? I noticed that the deputy secretary was saying JPOA on the Hill and --

MS. PSAKI: I’ll let the deputy secretary of State know that Arshad from Reuters would like him to change how he refers to the Iran agreement. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Not just him. Other people --

QUESTION: Yes, Matt --

QUESTION: But I – it’s the run-up to actually getting an agreement. You have to trust them to negotiate in good faith, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve always said – and I – we could go around and around on this, I realize, but there are requirements – the verification part is very important. It’s essential. You can’t have an agreement that’s workable without it.

QUESTION: But you believe that the Iranians have shown to date enough good faith that you can continue to trust them to negotiate in good faith?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t put it in those terms, but they have abided by the J-P-O-A, the JPOA, whatever you would like to call it.

QUESTION: Jen, follow-up on this issue --

MS. PSAKI: On Iran? Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Don’t you see that the Iranians are benefitting from the negotiations with the P5+1 and with the U.S. to expand their influence in the region in Yemen, in Syria, elsewhere?

MS. PSAKI: And how do you think that’s the case? In what capacity?

QUESTION: Because look what happened in – or what’s happening in Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: And what’s the connection that you draw between the ongoing negotiations and their engagement with the Houthis and others?

QUESTION: There are negotiations – they are negotiating with the West, with the P5+1 at the same --

MS. PSAKI: Correct, they’re happening at the same time. What’s the rest of your connection?

QUESTION: Look what’s going on in Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: Right. You’ve talked about --

QUESTION: Expanding their influence in Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: You’ve mentioned two events that are happening, not a connection between them.

Do we have more Iran?

QUESTION: I’d like to ask where we are in the talks, actually.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Sure.

QUESTION: What’s happening now? I mean, they were meeting – the P5+1 was meeting the weekend in Geneva.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are they still meeting? Have they wrapped up? What’s the next stage? Was there any progress made? What happened?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. They – last week’s – the meetings have wrapped up. Under Secretary Sherman is back for a couple of days and she has quite a bit of travel planned. I don’t have any announcement on the next round. I expect we’ll have more details on that in the next 24 to 48 hours, Jo, if sooner than that. We’ll make it available. Last week’s discussions were serious, useful, and businesslike. We’ve made progress on some issues, but gaps remain on others. Clearly, there are going to be more rounds of negotiations.

As you’ve seen, and the Secretary has talked about, certainly we anticipate he’ll meet with Foreign Minister Zarif again in the coming weeks. I don’t have anything specific on that yet at this point.

QUESTION: You said she has a lot of travel upcoming. Is that with regard to the Iran negotiations or --

MS. PSAKI: No, not necessarily. I just mean she’s here, but I don’t have anything more on her travel schedule to announce today.

QUESTION: Can I ask – there has been this idea of a – sort of a framework deal by March.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And the President actually referred to that in his State of the Union Address last night, talked about by spring there could be something in place. Can you sort of – is there a sort of date for that? And what exactly are you hoping will be pinned down in March, and then what do you expect will be --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- left towards the end after those negotiations?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. So Deputy Secretary Blinken spoke about this a little bit during his hearing, but let me reiterate some of the points he made. So on the deadline question, which I know you’ve had in the past, the P5+1, coordinated by the EU and Iran, agreed to extend the nuclear talks until March 31st to reach a political agreement, and then June 30th to reach all of the technical details. So a political agreement means, in our view, a political understanding on the elements of a deal so that we can use the remaining months to work out the technical details by June 30th.

QUESTION: All right. Okay. And --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Sorry, just after these talks.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So we’re now January the 21st, so that’s kind of nine weeks away --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- from March 31st. How are things going?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any more assessment to add, other than the short readout I just gave you of last week. There’ll be ongoing talks, gaps remain, we’ve made some progress, but clearly, there’ll be many more rounds of discussions and negotiations.

QUESTION: Is – do you believe that there could be talk of another extension?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get ahead of where we are. It’s only January at this point. So I just laid out kind of what our points are that we’re looking ahead to over the coming months.

QUESTION: Jen, can we go back to Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you view any role that former President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been playing in the latest events in Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any speculation on that.

QUESTION: I have a question on Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: On Yemen? Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, great. I just want to follow up on some of the line of questioning, all right? I mean, the Houthi leaders called for constitutional changes to increase its power. We have the president, the prime minister surrounded; aviation college, missile base all taken over. Why is there such reticence by the United States to call this a coup?

MS. PSAKI: We don’t just throw out words just to make all of you feel better. There is a legal --

QUESTION: It’s not a question of feeling better, though.

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. There is a legal analysis that would be done in any circumstance regardless around the world. This is a scenario where President Hadi remains the legitimate leader of Yemen. We remain in touch with him. There are discussions and negotiations between the parties. We’ve seen reports of ceasefire talks. We continue to urge all parties to abide by the terms of the Peace and National Partnership Agreement, the GCC initiative and its implementation mechanism.

That’s where we feel – is it easy? No. But that’s how we feel is the best path forward. Those are the discussions we’re having with the parties on the ground.

QUESTION: So with regard to the legal analysis, again, this seems similar or reticent – or reminiscent, rather – of Egypt and that same reticence to call it a coup. I mean, why is that? Is it because of the U.S. counterterrorism efforts that are there? Is that what this is about?

MS. PSAKI: It’s an entirely different situation. Every country, every situation is different. That, you were talking about military engagement. Obviously, at that time, our policy teams, our legal teams looked at that scenario. If it warranted, we would look at it here, but we’re not at that point at this point in time.

QUESTION: So what is the legal analysis that is making this a concern why there is (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: There’s no legal analysis. President Hadi remains the legitimate leader of Yemen.

QUESTION: But you said it was legal analysis that is making this --

MS. PSAKI: I said in any scenario around the world, we would do that if it warranted. We’re not at that point at this time.

QUESTION: Jen, can --

QUESTION: Can I just ask, there was – there have been reports that the prime minister has been allowed to leave his house, unlike the president. Have you any idea where he may be? Have you heard those?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on that. We can certainly check if we have more details, Jo.

QUESTION: You said that you don’t throw words around just to make us feel better. Well, let me tell you what would make me feel better: knowing where the Administration stands on what’s going on in Yemen, and what – whether or not the millions of dollars in counterterrorism assistance and other aid is going to continue to flow. I mean, I think that that – I don’t think that’s a question of just making us feel better.

MS. PSAKI: Well, you haven’t asked that question, Matt. I’m happy to answer it.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. Good.

MS. PSAKI: On counterterrorism operations, I think I mentioned in response to maybe Justin’s question that that cooperation and work is ongoing, and it has been for weeks and days and months before that.

QUESTION: So you don’t anticipate or foresee a situation where you would have to reduce or end your assistance, your cooperation with the Yemeni Government and military?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, we don’t make predictions about weeks and months in the future. I know you’re not asking me to.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) today, right now.

MS. PSAKI: But I think it’s important to note at this point in time, it’s ongoing. We see, certainly, value in having a strong presence in Yemen, in part because of our continuing work on counterterrorism efforts.

QUESTION: Okay. But the question is being asked not to feel better, but to know what exactly it is the Administration thinks about what’s going on and what it’s going to do about it, if anything. And right now, it sounds as though you’re going to wait and let it --

MS. PSAKI: Well, what are you confused about? Our security situation? What we want the parties to do? Which piece do you not feel you have an answer on?

QUESTION: I’m confused about whether the Administration is comfortable, for lack of a better word, for continuing its cooperation with a government that seems to be – and a president who seems to be teetering on the brink, if not hanging on to the little branch on the side – off the side of the cliff.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, just like many scenarios and places where there is violence on the ground, where there’s tension on the ground, we’re working with the legitimate government, which we believe is President Hadi, to continue to ease tensions, work toward ceasefire talks, see if we can make political progress on that front. That’s what our effort is focused on at this point in time.

QUESTION: Do you know – has there been contact between U.S. officials and President Hadi --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- as he’s relaxing in his home, completely at ease?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, we’ve been in – we’ve remained in contact. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You have?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you know who it is? Is it the ambassador?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an official. I can see if there’s more details on that.

QUESTION: And do you know if that’s been by phone, by radio, by smoke signal? Have you actually gone to the residence?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure we’re going to get into that level of detail, Matt.

QUESTION: Do you know --

MS. PSAKI: I can certainly see if there’s more.

QUESTION: Do you know if he’s gone or if someone – U.S. have officials have been – gone to and been able to get in to see him in person?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re going to get into that level of detail, Matt.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to see, though.

QUESTION: And then there was an incident, apparently, yesterday or the day before in which a vehicle was shot.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have --

MS. PSAKI: There was. It was last night. So last night their time, morning our time, an attack on a U.S. diplomatic vehicle occurred at a checkpoint in the vicinity of the embassy. Houthi gunmen at the checkpoint opened fire on the vehicle, but no injuries were sustained during the incident. There is an investigation, of course, that’s – will happen into this incident.

QUESTION: Okay. So Houthi gunmen, who are backed by Iran, opened fire on a U.S. diplomatic car – vehicle, and I guess that’s --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details on it, Matt, and I’m not going to --

QUESTION: That’s okay?

MS. PSAKI: -- get ahead of the conclusion of the investigation.

QUESTION: Well, but you – the conclusion? The conclusion is that Houthi gunmen supported by Iran opened fire on a U.S. diplomatic vehicle. Isn’t that a problem?

MS. PSAKI: I understand your views. We’re looking into it. We take our – the safety and security of our men and women very seriously, but I won’t get ahead of an investigation.

QUESTION: Jen, there was this picture – real quick on this, there was that picture that was all around the internet yesterday of that Toyota 4Runner – I’m not sure what model it was, but was that the car?

MS. PSAKI: I – sorry, yesterday was a bit of a busy day. I didn’t have a chance to see the footage on TV, but --

QUESTION: No, no, there was a picture --

MS. PSAKI: -- but I’m confirming the detail. I’m not aware of another incident like this.

Any more on Yemen before we continue?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. What’s the difference between what’s happening in Yemen and what you considered a coup?

MS. PSAKI: I think I just answered that. I don’t have anything to add.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead in the back, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You said that you were having discussions with all the parties on the ground. Are you in contact or have any of the rebels reached out to be in contact with you and/or members of the military?

You also said that you’re working with the legitimate government to ease tensions and – toward ceasefire talks. Does that mean that you’re working as a sort of go-between between --

MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t suggesting that. We’re supporting their efforts – thank you for the opportunity to be more clear. We’re supporting their efforts to reduce the tensions on the ground. That’s certainly something we support.

Any more on Yemen before we finish? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Did President Hadi, like, ask for your help or support through any, like, possible --

MS. PSAKI: Well, President Hadi has been a partner on these efforts as legitimate leader of Yemen. I’m not going to get into more details than that.

QUESTION: But, like, for the current crisis, now that he’s, like, surrounded and in his house --

MS. PSAKI: No, I understand your question. I’m just not going to get into more details. We remain in close contact.

I have to go in a few minutes, so let’s try to get to some other topics.

QUESTION: Russia?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, Russia.

QUESTION: I wondered if you’d got a response to the response from Foreign Minister Lavrov on the State of the Union Address last night. He says the Americans are – want to dominate the world, they’ve set a course for confrontation; America’s saying we’re number one and the rest of the world should acknowledge that. Could I have the U.S. response to that, please?

MS. PSAKI: I frankly haven’t seen Foreign Minister Lavrov’s comments today. I’m happy to take a look at them. I think it’s unlikely I’ll have a specific response to them.

QUESTION: Okay, but just on that – when you’re taking a look at that, can you ask – the President, somewhat proudly last night in the State of the Union Address, said that the – that president – that Mr. Putin thought that – there were some who said that Mr. Putin was acting very wisely and sagely and showing his – and then he said that now the Russian economy is in tatters, as if this was a great accomplishment. Is that what the Administration considers to be a great accomplishment, to have the Russian economy to be in tatters?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the context of what he was conveying is stating that President Putin is out there touting his leadership of a country where the economy is in tatters. So I’m not sure I would – I heard it or read it the same way you did, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, it’s not the way I read it; it’s apparently the way Foreign Minister Lavrov took it --

MS. PSAKI: Okay, well --

QUESTION: -- and the way others in Russia did as well. So when you’re looking into that and see if there is any reaction to Foreign Minister Lavrov’s press conference and comments, I would appreciate if you could --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Uh-huh.

QUESTION: On Russia still – on Russia, the – Poroshenko – Ukrainian President Poroshenko has said today that there are more than 9,000 Russian soldiers currently backing the pro-Russian rebels in the east. Does that – is that something you would agree with? He was speaking in Davos. Is – are those the figures that you --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation of the figures. I’ve certainly seen the comments he’s made. There have been an increase – there has been, I should say, an increase in separatist violence, including renewed attacks – excuse me – on the Donetsk airport in recent days, and separatist seizures of more territory. We’ve also seen reports that two tactical battalions – Russian tactical – Russia has moved two tactical battalions into Ukraine. I don’t have additional information or independent confirmation of that, but we’ve certainly seen that.

We can confirm, as we’ve been talking about a bit, that Russia continues to move tanks, armored vehicles, trucks, artillery pieces, and other military equipment to deployment sites near the Russia-Ukraine border which serve as staging points before transporting military equipment to pro-Russia separatists. That is something we’re seeing; I don’t have any confirmation of his specific comments.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: DPRK?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: As we know, last week --

MS. PSAKI: Okay, let’s do that and then we’ll do you, and then I may have to go here.

QUESTION: Okay. Jen --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, sorry.

QUESTION: As we know, some former U.S. officials and experts and some DPRK diplomats had a meeting in Singapore to talk about the nuclear issue. And even after the meeting, the DPRK’s chief negotiator for the Six-Party Talks, he still emphasized that he wanted the United States to suspend the military trio with South Korea. As I understand, last week you have already rejected the proposal suspending the military trio. But I wonder, it looks like during the meeting they explained the intention and the purpose of the proposal. So I wonder if you have changed your position or if you are considering making some changes about the position.

MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed on our position and we’re not considering making changes to our position.

QUESTION: And also according to some media coverage, the chief negotiator of the Six-Party Talks, he said this time it’s the first time he proposed no precondition to return to the negotiating table. So what do you think of this approach?

MS. PSAKI: The chief negotiator from North Korea?

QUESTION: The DPRK.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the important point here is that the view of the United States, as well as our Six-Party partners, is that the – North Korea would need to abide by their international obligations, including the 2005 joint statement. And so we – the ball has long been in their court, but we certainly reject new proposals that don’t have any backing.

QUESTION: It looks like this is a positive signal sent by him. So are you still going to just passively waiting for their – to fulfil their commitment?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we don’t take threatening rhetoric and empty proposals as a positive signal.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Russia, and forgive me if this isn’t new, but apparently they ended officially in December an agreement to work with the U.S. to protect their nuclear stockpiles and prevent them from being stolen, which is apparently a major breakdown. Is this – do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to look into that. It may be something that I talked about back then or we did, but I’d have to talk to our team about specifics on that.

I can do one or two more here.

QUESTION: I’ve got two really brief ones.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. And then we’ll go to you right there. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, have her go first.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Oh. I wanted to go back to the Iran (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: First, one thing going back to the deadline: Deputy Secretary Blinken said that an extension was possible if they didn’t dot the Is and cross the Ts of the technical details by the June deadline. But is there a similar consideration of an extension if the main components aren’t met by March?

MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I think right now what we’re focused on is what our goals are and our objectives are. And I laid out what we want to try to achieve by March. I’m not – certainly – I certainly agree with what the deputy secretary said, of course, but at this point in time we have about two months, if my math is correct, a little over two months until we get to the March timeline. So we’re not going to get ahead of what would happen past that.

QUESTION: And then there was also a lot that came up in this hearing about whether the State Department and the Administration were adequately consulting versus informing Congress about the progress of these talks. Can you weigh in on any of the specifics of who you’re regularly in touch with on the Hill?

MS. PSAKI: Well, a range of officials on the Hill. As you know, many of the discussions and briefings we have with members of the Hill, and even their staff, are done in a classified setting, given the sensitivity of these negotiations. But those are ongoing. Over the course of the last week, I know just from morning meetings here that everyone from Under Secretary Sherman to, I believe, Secretary Kerry to other senior officials have been doing a range of calls with members of the Hill, so it’s not just about briefings. There’s person-to-person contact that’s happening as well.

QUESTION: And then one more quick one on this.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Senator Menendez at one point said that what he’s hearing from the Administration on the progression of these talks sounds more like talking points coming from Tehran. Do you have any kind of reaction to that statement?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not quite sure what that means. I think our objective has long been to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. I don’t think that’s their talking point. So certainly you have hearings, and we sent our deputy secretary to have this debate and have this discussion. And we respect the views of Congress, but I don’t really have more analysis on what he meant by that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: So first of those two brief ones – on Burma: Do you have any reaction or comment on the rape and murder of these two Kachin teachers by the Burmese – members of the Burmese military, particularly as it happened around the same time as the U.S. and Burmese military were meeting to discuss human rights protection?

MS. PSAKI: I have a little bit on this, Matt. And if there’s more we can address, I’m happy to go back to our team. We are aware of reports that two volunteer teachers with the Kachin Baptist Convention were murdered in a village in northern Shan State. We express our deepest condolences to the families of the victims. We call on authorities to investigate this crime and bring the perpetrators to justice in a credible and transparent manner. The Government of Burma has informed us that they are looking into the case. The facts are still being determined, as far as we know, at this point in time.

QUESTION: And then the second brief one is on France specifically, and Europe more generally. It doesn’t have to do with James Taylor though.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Has it raised any concerns in this building or within the broader Administration, the steps that the French Government and, in fact, some other governments in Europe are taking to – in response to the terrorist attacks in terms of what appears to be curbing freedom of speech?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, a discussion of this is something that’s continuing on the ground with our Embassy. But I would say that certainly any government, including the Government of France, takes steps to protect their people, and certainly we hope and expect that that will be done with a balance of human rights and media freedoms. But I’d have to look more closely on the specific piece you’re looking at and talk to our team about concerns if we have them.

QUESTION: Well, there have been a number of cases reported where people have been detained or arrested or questioned over speech that stops short of actually violating any particular law; that they’ve been accused of encouraging or promoting or glorifying terrorist attacks without actually having done anything. Is that problematic?

MS. PSAKI: Well, each case is different, Matt. I know there have been a couple cases reported out there. I don’t have any concerns to express at this point, but I’m happy to talk to our team and see if there’s any were have on the ground.

QUESTION: And then the city of Paris, the mayor has said that she is going to sue Fox News for reports or this commentary that they aired about the no-go – alleged no-go zones. I mean, is that the kind of thing that the U.S. thinks is worthwhile or is something that a foreign – even though it’s a municipal government, that a foreign government should be spending its time and money and effort doing?

MS. PSAKI: I would leave that between the mayor of Paris and her office and Fox News.

All right, I’m sorry, guys. I have to go to the bilateral meeting. Thank you, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:53 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 16, 2015

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 20:50

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 16, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

2:07 p.m. EST

MR. RATHKE: Good afternoon, everybody. I imagine many of you were also watching the press availability at the White House, so understand why we’re a little bit late today. I have a couple of things to mention at the top – three, actually, to be precise.

First, Ukraine. It is one year to the day since Ukraine’s former government passed the so-called Black Thursday laws, draconian laws that denied the right to peaceful protest and freedom of speech. Ukraine has come an enormous distance since then to meet its people’s aspirations. And the current government remains committed to advancing important reforms, despite ongoing violence in eastern Ukraine. These steps include last year’s free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections, the signing of an association agreement with the European Union, and a focus on anti-corruption efforts, including this week’s move by Ukraine’s parliament to increase the independence of the judiciary. These are critically important steps to help the country move forward, and we congratulate the people of Ukraine on how far they have come in such a short time, especially on this significant anniversary. And we continue to stand with them as they press forward on critical reforms.

Second item is Libya. We welcome yesterday’s announcement that the UN-led talks in Geneva will continue next week, and we applaud those Libyans who are participating. We reiterate our strong support for this UN effort and urge all parties invited by Special Representative Leon to engage in dialogue aimed at producing a unity government that the international community can support. The United States remains committed to working with the international community to help the Libyan people and the government build an inclusive system of governance to address core needs, to provide stability and security, and to address the ongoing threats.

And then the last item, the Secretary’s travels. As many of you have seen, Secretary Kerry was in Paris today where he met with Foreign Minister Fabius and President Hollande to offer condolences after last week’s attacks. He also laid wreaths at Hypercache Market and the Charlie Hebdo office with Foreign Minister Fabius. And the Secretary also laid a wreath at the site of the fallen policeman near the Charlie Hebdo office. He then met with the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, and they both gave remarks. So a very moving day expressing U.S. support and underscoring our deep ties and ongoing, intensive cooperation.

Before leaving Paris, the Secretary met with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif who was also in town for previous scheduled meetings, and they followed up on the ongoing nuclear negotiations in Geneva.

That’s what I have at the top. Brad.

QUESTION: Since you just brought it up, do you have a fuller readout of what the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif spoke about?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have a further update on or details on the conversations. Of course, they’ve met a few times this week in Geneva, and then they followed up today. Of course, the focus is on the nuclear talks. I would also highlight, of course, that as we’ve said many times when asked if other topics come up in these conversations, we always mention our concern for American citizens in Iran. And so in that regard, nothing different to report.

QUESTION: So there were already reports from Iran that the Secretary and Mr. Zarif spoke specifically about the Washington Post reporter. Do you know what the Secretary said or what he – what sentiment he --

MR. RATHKE: I don't have that level of granularity. But of course, we continue to call for his immediate release – that is Jason Rezaian – as well as the immediate release of detained U.S. citizens Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati, and for the Iranian Government to assist us in locating Robert Levinson so that all can be returned to their families as soon as possible.

Okay. Anything on that topic?

QUESTION: A follow-up on Iran?

MR. RATHKE: On that topic? Yeah..

QUESTION: You saw the President say today there’s a 50-50 chance of a diplomatic deal. Given the discussions over the – I mean, Paris was the second meeting this week. How would you describe those talks going?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to get into the details of exactly what they discussed. Of course, the Secretary is focused on the Iran nuclear issue, and that’s why he went to Geneva for those to meet with Foreign Minister Zarif. There was an opportunity today because they both happened to be in Paris and so they held another meeting, but I’m not going to characterize further the nature of the discussions.

QUESTION: So this is a matter of taking advantage of --

QUESTION: Any plans --

MR. RATHKE: Just – yeah.

QUESTION: So it was simply a matter of taking advantage of the timing to keep talking? There wasn’t any sense that there was an urgency for this meeting? I mean, people can coincidentally be in the same place and not need to meet.

MR. RATHKE: Right. No, but they both happened to be in Paris. They took the opportunity to meet. I wouldn’t go further beyond that.

QUESTION: Do you know if they said they’d meet again or when they would meet again?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any details like that. Of course, they’ve met a number of times in the past. But I don’t have anything to preview as far as when the next meeting might be.

QUESTION: Do you have more of a readout on the ongoing discussions in Geneva?

MR. RATHKE: Well, the discussions in Geneva are ongoing, as you say, Roz. There have been bilats over the last couple of days, not only bilateral meetings with Iran but since other P5+1 countries are there, there have been U.S. bilats with other countries that are involved in the process. I don’t have details to read out of those. And then Sunday is the day when there will be a meeting in the P5+1 format. So those are ongoing. I don’t have details to read out from them.

QUESTION: So you’re not able to say whether they’re focused on any particular technical issues or dealing with any reports of efforts to, for example, try to enhance the capability of Bushehr reactor?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any readout to give from the talks that are ongoing in Geneva.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about Bushehr? Because I asked Wednesday, and I think Marie said at the time that she would look into it. Do you have a response to the talk about two additional reactors coming online at some point?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’re aware that there was an announcement, and so we’re reviewing the details that surround it. I don’t have a specific comment on that. But in general, the construction of light-water reactors is not prohibited by the UN Security Council resolutions, nor is it in contradiction to the JPOA. And we’ve been clear in saying throughout the negotiations that the purpose of these negotiations is to ensure that – to ensure verifiably that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for civilian and peaceful purposes. So the talks that are ongoing are focused on closing off the possible pathways to acquiring a nuclear bomb. That remains our focus. But I don’t have more specific reaction on that particular announcement.

QUESTION: I’m a little confused because – are you saying that a light-water reactor can have no effect on a potential military nuclear program? Because you’re saying that your goal is to close off all pathways, and then you say light-water reactors are essentially okay.

MR. RATHKE: No, I didn’t say that – I didn’t say that it’s okay. I said that it is --

QUESTION: You said it is not --

MR. RATHKE: -- not prohibited, not prohibited by the UN Security Council resolutions, nor does it violate the JPOA. That’s --

QUESTION: So you’re not concerned by them increasing their – you’re not concerned by this activity?

MR. RATHKE: I didn’t say that we weren’t concerned. But I said --

QUESTION: Are you concerned by this activity?

MR. RATHKE: What I would say is that the whole purpose of the negotiations with Iran is to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for civilian and peaceful purposes, and that that is verifiable. So I’m not going to get into one part or another of the dialogue happening in the negotiations, but just to reiterate that our point is closing off the pathways to acquire a nuclear bomb. I’m not going to offer a technical --

QUESTION: Hasn’t part of that effort been to --

MR. RATHKE: -- analysis of light-water reactors from the podium.

QUESTION: Hasn’t part of that effort been to lower Iran’s enrichment capacity that was seen as a major breakthrough of the JPOA?

MR. RATHKE: Again, I’m not going to get into details of the negotiations --

QUESTION: I haven’t even asked the question yet.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, if you --

MR. RATHKE: I can see where you’re going, but go ahead.

QUESTION: If you want to deny that the JPOA was --

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead, finish.

QUESTION: Okay. Doesn’t – I mean, if they’re building two new reactors, wouldn’t that imply that they need more enrichment to feed them?

MR. RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: I don’t see how this is – you have such a neutral position on this, given that it seems to go against all your efforts.

MR. RATHKE: All I’ve simply outlined is the Security Council resolutions which have certain requirements and are – anyone can read, also the JPOA, that in our view the construction of light-water nuclear reactors is not prohibited by those two documents. That’s separate from saying whether it’s a matter of concern and whether it’s an issue of discussion. I’m not going to get into what’s being discussed in the room either in the bilateral talks with Iran or in the P5+1 talks.

QUESTION: I didn’t ask you that. I mean, I’m only talking about what’s been publicly spoken about by the Iranians, not what’s been conveyed in the room.

MR. RATHKE: Right. And what I’ve said is that we’re aware of the announcement and we’re reviewing the details. So we’re looking at this. I’m not offering a final position on what we think about that announcement. We’re aware of it and we’re reviewing it to understand it better.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

MR. RATHKE: Anything else on Iran?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: During this Vibrant Gujarat event where Secretary Kerry was in attendance, there was a delegation led by one of the top advisors of the Iranian president. What is the U.S. view on the cooperation and the business deals that India and Iran are going ahead with? Are they not coming under the sanctions, or we are just turning a blind eye to whatever is going on?

MR. RATHKE: I wouldn’t suggest we’re turning a blind eye to anything. But I’m not familiar with that report. And of course --

QUESTION: It’s not a report but a --

MR. RATHKE: Of course, Vibrant Gujarat was an event organized by the Indian side, so I would refer you to them for any – for any details about participation. But beyond that, I don’t have – I don’t have in front of me an analysis of Iran-India ties, so I don’t have feedback on that.

QUESTION: I’m not asking for the participation. The participation and the – Prime Minister Modi’s pictures with the Iranian guy are all over on his website, on Indian external affairs, everywhere, with the flag of Iran and India behind them. I’m asking that if the – whatever comes out of this meeting and there is a business cooperation that is – do these cooperations falls under the U.S. sanctions, or not?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t know the details of whatever discussions are that you were referring to, Tejinder. So I’m not in a position to analyze them from here. But of course, our – the existing sanctions, both the UN sanctions as well as U.S. sanctions and sanctions by many other partners, remain in effect. That’s part of the JPOA approach. But I’m not going to get into the – into analyzing agreements to which the U.S. Government might not be privy and certainly which I’m not familiar with.

Nicolas.

QUESTION: Can we talk about the aftermath of the attacks in Paris?

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: There have been very serious clashes in Pakistan, Karachi, outside the French consulate. Three people have been injured, including an AFP photographer. One, I’d like to have your reaction to that; two, does the U.S. share the concerns or the anger sometimes of some Muslim populations about these cartoons; and would you advise the French authorities and maybe the publisher of Charlie Hebdo to be super cautious for the circulation and distribution of this newspaper?

MR. RATHKE: Well, with respect to Karachi, we’re aware of these reports. I don’t have any details that I can confirm from here, but we certainly urge all to refrain from violence, exercise restraint, and respect the rule of law. For further details, I would refer you to the Pakistani authorities and to the French Government for details of what precisely happened.

Now on the question of the cartoons, I think this is something we’ve spoken about, I know Marie addressed the last couple of days. And I think we stand by that point of view. First of all, no act of legitimate journalism, however offensive some might find it, justifies an act of violence. That’s, I think, an important starting point. Now there is content published around the world every day that people might take issue with, but that doesn’t mean that we question the right of media outlets to publish information. Our view is that media organizations and news outlets often publish information that’s meant to cause debate, to stir debate. And while we may not always agree with any particular judgment or every item of content, the right to publish that information is one that we – that is fundamental and that we see as universal. So I think that’s about as far as I would go in commenting on that.

QUESTION: Apparently there are more and more clashes. There have been clashes also in Niger. So do you fear that it could trigger more violence in the Muslim world?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t have an analysis to offer on that, I think, though our view on freedom of speech and freedom of the press is clear.

Anything on the same topic?

QUESTION: On the investigative side --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- the raids in Belgium overnight, the ongoing reports of arrests of people who may be co-conspirators in the Paris attacks – what cooperation is the U.S. Government providing to the French and Belgian Governments as they try to run these cases down?

MR. RATHKE: Right. Well, of course we are aware of the reports from a number of countries about police operations. We’re monitoring the situation in Belgium very closely. Belgium certainly has our full support and solidarity in its counterterrorism efforts. Now, you didn’t ask, but just to make it clear, the U.S. diplomatic presence in Brussels, they are – they all are open – maybe they’re not open now, since it’s later in the day. But anyway, they’re open for business as normal and we are coordinating with our partners. But I’d refer you to the Belgian Government for details. We, of course, are supportive and we’ve got active and ongoing law enforcement and information sharing arrangements with our allies in Europe, and naturally those contacts continue, especially given what’s been going on.

QUESTION: So you’re helping? Is that what you’re saying?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to read out any specific information sharing or so forth, but we are supportive and we stand with our Belgian allies in their counterterrorism efforts.

QUESTION: What about the content of the AQAP video? Have there been any more efforts to --

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have anything new to add to what’s already been said about the video.

Yes, Abbie.

QUESTION: Going back to Niger and the protests that he was mentioning, the U.S. Embassy in Niamey tweeted out: “Protesters burn churches, French flag, and other items in Zinder, chanting ‘Charlie is Satan. Let hell engulf those supporting Charlie.’” Is that cause for concern? Are there – is there any concern with people down there at the Embassy or is there anything on that situation?

MR. RATHKE: I wasn’t aware of that report, so we can certainly check and see if we have anything more for you. But of course, I would go back to what I said in response to Nicolas’ question – we certainly call on everyone to exercise restraint and to express their views peacefully, and we certainly reject any kind of violence.

QUESTION: Is there any expectation that the general Travel Warning that went out in recent days might be updated in light of these protests outside U.S. installations?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any updates to that to announce. For those who are familiar with that worldwide caution, which was updated just recently, it’s quite detailed. And so I’m not aware of any move to change it in any way, but certainly it’s comprehensive and tries to give American citizens the best information and advice before going overseas.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any confirmation of – apparently, the Saudis have postponed the flogging of the activist?

MR. RATHKE: Yes, we’re aware --

QUESTION: Apparently, they postponed it on medical grounds, that the doctor who carried out a pre-flogging checkup said – recommended that he does not go ahead.

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, we are – we’ve seen the reports, and to our knowledge, they’re accurate. I don’t have anything to contradict them. I would go back to what we’ve said on this all along in our January 8th statement: We are greatly concerned that human rights activist Raif Badawi started facing the punishment of 1,000 lashes in addition to serving a 10 year sentence for exercising his rights of freedom of expression and religion. So we call on Saudi authorities to cancel this brutal punishment and to review Badawi’s case and the sentence.

QUESTION: Do you have anything – the BBC is reporting that the case of this blogger has been referred to the supreme court by the king’s office.

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have anything to confirm that. I wasn’t aware of that.

Anything on this topic, or a new topic, Nicolas?

QUESTION: Nigeria?

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: We have reports coming from N’Djamena, Chad about army vehicles sent from Chad to Cameroon. And apparently, the Chad parliament has voted for supporting Nigeria and Cameroon in their fight against Boko Haram. Does the U.S. – were you notified in advance about this, and do you support this regional military response?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’re not in a position to confirm precisely what sort of support Chad has offered. And – but we certainly support a regional solution to the problem of Boko Haram, and in particular through the establishment of a multinational taskforce. And now, there is additional security assistance to countries in the region in the fight against Boko Haram. That’s under full consideration. And I don’t have any detailed updates to provide about that, but it’s certainly something we are considering. And so that’s our view on the assistance. We certainly support regional approaches.

QUESTION: So Jeff, are you talking about that you support the creation of a new force, a regional force? Because you got the Ghanaian president today talking about considering creating a military force to fight Boko Haram. It’s unclear whether that’s a regional force or whether – I doubt he’s talking about a Ghanaian one.

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm. I don’t have details on that. I haven’t seen that report. So we can see if there’s more that we have to say and get back to you about that.

QUESTION: And do you know, perhaps, what the Secretary was talking about, about the – a new – the possibility of a new British-U.S. initiative to fight Boko Haram that he mentioned yesterday?

MR. RATHKE: Right. I don’t have anything new to read out about that.

Yes, Scott.

QUESTION: There was some concern about the conduct of Chadian troops in the Central African Republic when they intervened in that crisis. Does the United States carry any of those concerns into potential Chadian involvement in Nigeria?

MR. RATHKE: Well – I see. Okay. So you’re asking about Nigeria, though, in this particular case. I don’t have any views to offer on that. I understand the point you’re raising, so let us check into that and come back to you.

Brad.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the ICC preliminary probe in the Palestinian territories?

MR. RATHKE: Yes. Well, as we’ve made clear over the last couple of weeks, we are deeply troubled by Palestinian action at the ICC. Our position on this is clear, and we don’t think that the Palestinians have established a state, and we don’t think they’re eligible to join the International Criminal Court. I would highlight that many other countries share this view, and we’ve put out a lengthy position paper on that to which people can refer. So our --

QUESTION: But wasn’t there – I mean, this is a prosecutor of the --

MR. RATHKE: Right. That’s – so that’s – no, I wanted to start, though, just to remind.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR. RATHKE: So to be clear, what the prosecutor announced today is not an investigation. It’s a preliminary examination. Now, I don’t have any further comment on it, and in general, as we’ve long said, the United States strongly opposes actions by both parties that undermine trust and create doubts about their commitment to a negotiated peace.

QUESTION: Okay, but --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: No, wait --

MR. RATHKE: No, go ahead.

QUESTION: Your comment – except for “no comment,” the rest was extraneous to the question, right?

MR. RATHKE: This – well this has just happened in the last couple of hours. I don’t have any further comment to offer on the announcement by the ICC prosecutor.

QUESTION: Would you hope that, if the prosecutor moves forward, he would examine the possibility of infractions by both sides and not just one side?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t think we’re in the position of giving advice to the ICC prosecutor on that score.

QUESTION: Even on impartiality you don’t give advice?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, we – going back to where I started, we don’t believe that the Palestinians have formed or established a state, and we don’t think they’re eligible to join the International Criminal Court, so --

QUESTION: But I don’t think this investigation necessarily hinges on that, because they still haven’t joined and this prosecutor is investigating regardless. So that comment – that notwithstanding, your point’s noted on the Palestinians, they’re not a member, and this thing has been opened nevertheless. So what’s your position on the investigation, not – or the preliminary examination, not the Palestinians’ course of action?

QUESTION: Is it an illegitimate preliminary examination?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to characterize it. Again, this has just happened, so I’m not going to characterize it further at this point.

QUESTION: Both the Israeli prime minister and the foreign minister have condemned the ICC’s decision to open this preliminary exam. Would it be fair to say that the U.S. Government shares their view?

MR. RATHKE: Well, look, our view on the Palestinians joining the ICC I would go back to, so I’m not – I haven’t seen those particular statements by Israeli officials, so I’m not going to say anything one way or another about them. Again, this is an announcement that has just taken place. We’re looking at it. Our view is – on the broader question of the ICC, we don’t think the Palestinians have met the necessary requirements to be a part of it.

QUESTION: I’m not sure that’s the broader question. I think that’s a completely separate question, but --

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think --

QUESTION: -- I don’t quite --

MR. RATHKE: -- it’s certainly related, so --

QUESTION: Is it conceivable that the U.S. will appeal to the ICC to drop the preliminary examination?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to speculate about anything like that. As you know, we’re not a member of the ICC, but I’m not going to speculate about any particular steps.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. ever asked the ICC not to look into any particular case involving human rights violations?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have that at my fingertips, Roz. I’m happy to look, but I don’t have that.

QUESTION: Yeah, if you could, please.

MR. RATHKE: Tejinder.

QUESTION: I’m not asking you to speculate or – but this is a subject that’s being discussed in Delhi, and – that Delhi has a thick fog in the mornings. And usually – and so when the Air Force One goes, is it going – how is it going to land if there is a fog on that day? Will it go to Ahmedabad or Islamabad?

MR. RATHKE: It won’t surprise you that I’m not going to comment on the air operations of Air Force One. I’d refer you to the White House if you’ve got questions about that.

QUESTION: But this – I raised it here because it is being discussed in the State Department.

MR. RATHKE: It won’t surprise you that we are not going to comment on air operations of Air Force One for obvious reasons, I think.

Right. Nicolas.

QUESTION: Last question about the country we never talk about, Switzerland.

MR. RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: Is – do you have views about the surge of the Swiss franc, which apparently rocks the global currency market? Is it a source of concern for U.S. interest and American tourists going there?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not aware and I don’t think we normally comment on currency issues in that respect. I’ll --

QUESTION: You’re not aware of conversation between the two governments?

MR. RATHKE: Not that I’m aware of.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: You put out a statement yesterday that Ambassador Sung Kim, the deputy assistant secretary for Japan and Korea --

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- he will be traveling to Brussels next week to attend Japan trilateral forum. And Spokeswoman Marie Harf said at a Foreign Press Center briefing that this will be a key forum for discussion on trilateral cooperation between U.S., Korea, and Japan. Can you explain what this forum means and what it’ll be discussing, who else will be participating, and how it is related to Korea-Japan cooperation?

MR. RATHKE: Okay. I think, yeah, there are two different things here. Let me make sure and I want to highlight – I think Marie said this yesterday, but I can go over it again. So Ambassador Sung Kim, who is the special representative for North Korea policy – he’s also deputy assistant secretary for Japan and Korea – he’s traveling to Brussels in the next few days, January 19th and 20th, and he’s attending there the Japan trilateral forum. This is an event organized by the German Marshall Fund of the United States. It was established with the purpose of bringing together policy makers, intellectuals, journalists, business leaders from Japan, Europe, and the United States, and for dialogue on matters of mutual interest.

There is separately a – there will be a trilateral in Tokyo for Special Representative Sung Kim. He mentioned this in his testimony earlier this week. And if you’re interested in the details of the scheduling, I’d refer you to the Government of Japan. At this point, we don’t have details on that to announce right now.

So there are two different events. There is the event in Europe, which is not a government-to-government multilateral meeting. It is a meeting that brings together policy makers as well as people from outside of government. It’s Japan, Europe and the United States. Then there will be a trilateral in Tokyo, and that’s what Special Representative Kim was referring to in his testimony on the Hill earlier this week.

QUESTION: So the meeting in Brussels, that has nothing to do with Korea, right?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I wouldn’t say – I wouldn’t put it that way. There – he will be – of course, security in Northeast Asia is an important part of our relationship with Japan, as well as with our other allies and partners in Northeast Asia.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead, Lesley.

QUESTION: A new subject, or --

QUESTION: No, same subject.

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I want to ask just about one that we already discussed here, and that is a – today, there were two analyses on – saying that last year was the Earth’s warmest on record. Given the Secretary’s interest in this, do you have any comment on that?

MR. RATHKE: Right. There – we, I think, have just released a statement by the Secretary on this, and if you haven’t seen it, I’m happy to quote it for you. It’s fairly short.

The – in the Secretary’s words: What’s surprising is that anyone is surprised that 2014 was the hottest year on record. The science has been screaming at us for a long, long time. We’ve seen 13 of the warmest years on record since 2000. Greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are at an all-time high, which we know leads to a warming planet. And we’re seeing higher than ever occurrences of extreme weather events like catastrophic droughts, storm surges, and torrential rain. These events are having devastating economic, security, and health impacts across the planet. So this report is just another sound in a steady drumbeat that’s growing increasingly more urgent. And the question isn’t the science. The question isn’t the warning signs. The question is when and how the world will respond. And as the Secretary closes: Ambitious, concrete action is the only path forward that leads anywhere worth going.

QUESTION: So how do these analyses bode for an important year in climate talks that – and they hope to reach in a – or efforts to reach a deal in December?

MR. RATHKE: Well, certainly, it only underscores the urgency. And the Secretary, of course, has been actively engaged. I would also refer you to the press availability over at the White House today where this was also discussed. So this only reminds, if any reminder was needed, how important it is to work toward the goals that the Administration has set.

Tejinder.

QUESTION: Do you have any readouts or confirmations of any talks with the Belgian counterparts or the EU counterparts in Brussels about this after the attacks --

MR. RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: -- and the arrests?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any specific meetings or exchanges to detail, but certainly, we stand in support of and solidarity with our partners in Europe. And as I said before, we have active security cooperation and information-sharing arrangements with them, and it’s precisely at a time like this when those are most important.

QUESTION: And was there any contact with --

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any details to read out about those.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:41 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 15, 2015

Thu, 01/15/2015 - 16:42

Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 15, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

1:03 p.m. EST

MS. HARF: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the daily briefing.

QUESTION: Hello.

MS. HARF: I have a couple items at the top, and then you two can fight over who gets to start.

First, a trip update: The Secretary began his day in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he met with UK Foreign Secretary Hammond, who was also in town at the same time. Then he met with the Bulgarian president, prime minister, and foreign minister. His meetings in Sofia focused on security cooperation, energy diversification, and the bilateral trade and investment relationship, also highlighted the importance of rule of law and helping Bulgaria to realize its full potential as a vibrant European democracy.

He is now in Paris, where he will have meetings tomorrow with French President Hollande and Foreign Minister Fabius. The full details of his schedule are still being worked out, and we’ll have the traveling team get those to folks when they’re ready.

And one more item at the top. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield will be leading a delegation to Niger from January 20th through 21st, 2015. While there, Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield will participate in a ministerial conference hosted by Niger to discuss steps in the fight against the terrorist organization Boko Haram, threats to security in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, and activities of the Multinational Task Force, the MNTF. She will also hold high-level bilateral meetings on related topics of concern.

With that --

QUESTION: So I was going to go first --

MS. HARF: And my mother’s here. Sorry.

QUESTION: Yes. I was going to say, is there somebody you would like to introduce to the rest of us? (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: My mom, Jane Harf is here. It’s her second briefing, she’s been to, so everyone has to be really nice today, not that you aren’t always.

QUESTION: We’ll certainly give it a go.

MS. HARF: Lesley, go for it.

QUESTION: Well, I was going to start, but given that you mentioned Boko Haram --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- perhaps my colleague from AFP --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you, Lesley.

MS. HARF: So polite.

QUESTION: Thank you. Since you mentioned Boko Haram, yes.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: So the Secretary in Sofia talk about a British-U.S. initiative against Boko Haram. So if you could elaborate on that. And the Secretary mention also that what Boko Haram is doing is a crime against humanity. Does it mean that there will be legal consequences in the U.S. against this group?

MS. HARF: Well, first, not a whole lot more details beyond what the Secretary said. We’re talking to the British, but also to others, about ways we can do more to help the Nigerians and others in the region fight Boko Haram, so nothing new beyond what he said. But it’s certainly a topic we’re discussing very closely with the British. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to note Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield’s upcoming travel related to this threat.

In terms of the accountability question, no more details to share on that, beyond what the Secretary said. I think what he was conveying was the horrific nature, of course, of what we’ve seen, particularly the escalation in attacks and the number of casualties, but also underscoring the Nigerians’ need to move forward with their elections, even despite what has been a pretty significant amount of violence.

QUESTION: A follow up to that. Given that the cooperation between the Nigerians and the U.S. has not really been effective on the ground in curbing the activities of Boko Haram, obviously you’re looking further afield. And what could those plans look like? What sort of cooperation do you think you need to go to to really have an impact?

MS. HARF: Well, I think – a few points. It’s primarily the Government of Nigeria’s responsibility to take the steps it needs to to protect its citizens. We know this is a very significant threat and a very challenging one for the Nigerians. That’s why we’ve offered to work with them; we have done some joint training; we have a security cooperation relationship. But more broadly in the region, we’re working with other partners – whether it’s Cameroon, Chad, or others – to fight this threat, because it is a regional threat. That’s certainly been ongoing.

I would also say the Secretary has, on a diplomatic level, engaged with the Nigerian president and with others to try to increasingly work with them to fight this threat.

What else? Any on this?

QUESTION: Anything on --

QUESTION: Just on Boko Haram, has the Nigerian Government sought any kind of additional assistance from the U.S.? They stopped that training program in December.

MS. HARF: They did, unfortunately, stop that training program in December. We do have an ongoing security cooperation relationship. I’m not aware of additional requests from them. But we’re constantly talking to them about what more we are willing to provide and what might make the most sense.

QUESTION: Are you aware of reports that President Jonathan may, indeed, have traveled to northeastern Nigeria today as a show of support for the people in that region?

MS. HARF: I saw that right before I came out, and I can’t confirm it. But if true, obviously – look, would be a show, I think, of – an important show to his people about how seriously he certainly takes the threat. But I just saw it before I came out.

QUESTION: Would it be too much to suggest that this building might consider that a little too late, given the ongoing rise in violence in the past year?

MS. HARF: I think anytime you can demonstrate to your people that you take a terrorist threat seriously, no matter when, is probably important.

QUESTION: You also said that you think that the – you continue to think that the elections should go ahead.

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: But how can it go ahead when many people cannot vote, and especially an estimated 20,000 that have been forced to flee the country?

MS. HARF: Well, we have been working – the U.S. Government has been working with the Nigerian Government, particularly the Independent National Electoral Commission, which, I think, is a separate body handling the elections, and civil society to emphasize the need for a clear and well-coordinated election security plan and to offer assistance specifically on that front. Obviously, it’s the responsibility of the Government of Nigeria to protect and enfranchise its citizens. But a key pillar of our elections engagement strategy is the importance of enfranchising displaced voters, what you were asking about. I know the INEC has embraced that point. They understand the importance of it. We’ve urged the Nigerian Government to provide adequate security, improve security coordination, and to make arrangements for these internally displaced persons to be able to vote where they are.

In terms of the U.S. support, a U.S. Government election security expert had visited Nigeria in the fall, has been consulting with Nigerian counterparts in the intervening months, and will embed with INEC for a week in mid-January, and then return for election day in February to help on the engagement side. USAID is also exploring ways, through their Electoral Empowerment of Civil Society Project, to assist IDPs with voting.

Look, this is a challenge. We’ve talked about this in other countries who’ve had elections in pretty significant security-challenging environments. But we are assisting. We’re offering it, certainly, yes.

QUESTION: Still on Boko Haram, are you seeing any kind of cooperation between Boko Haram and ISIS, any kind of collaboration there?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. Not to my knowledge. Operationally, Boko Haram has really been focused regionally and not really externally, like we’ve seen other terrorist groups. Obviously, it’s a concern we watch for.

Yes.

QUESTION: I’m Tyrel Ventura with RT America. With the release of the Amnesty photos this morning that kind of showed that destruction and devastation up there, has that changed at all the State Department plans in dealing with that region? Has it sped things up? Has it – what is the --

MS. HARF: I wouldn’t say it’s --

QUESTION: Has it had an effect, that evidence?

MS. HARF: -- changed it. I think it underscores what we have seen for some time, really the brutality and the scale and scope of Boko Haram’s attacks. We can’t independently confirm some of the numbers, and just want to caution people that we don’t always have a good way of doing that. So it’s not a precise figure that I think – we don’t have one we can put out there. But I think it just underscores the threat. We are constantly engaged on it, though.

QUESTION: Would one of the areas that the U.S. be looking at and that we haven’t really seen, because it’s difficult to track the financial flows of an organization like this – but is one of these plans maybe looking at intensifying or trying to come up with efforts to sanction this group and its leaders?

MS. HARF: I can check on the financial piece of this. I don’t have the details about where they’re financed or how they’re financed in front of me. I just don’t know that. Let me see if I have anything else in here on the economic piece. I don’t think I do. So let me check with our team and see if there’s more on that.

QUESTION: Can we change the subject?

MS. HARF: Yeah. Go ahead, and then I’ll go back to you. Go ahead, Lesley.

QUESTION: Today’s announcement on Cuba --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- which is a major development.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: The one thing I was wondering about was were these various steps discussed with the Cubans and agreed with them beforehand.

MS. HARF: It’s my understanding – and I’m checking with our team – that, given these were changes to U.S. regulations, this was really steps the Commerce and Treasury Department took on their own. They’re certainly completely in line with the discussions we had with the Cubans, right, in general about the policy change. To my knowledge, they weren’t specifically discussed with the Cubans, but I’m checking on that just to make sure.

QUESTION: So I guess the question now would be whether the Cubans would allow a lot – some of this to take place on their side, or is that not really an issue?

MS. HARF: I don’t – I haven’t heard that it’s an issue, but I’m happy to check further on that.

QUESTION: And then when you come – my last question is: When you get to – given that the talks are next week, is there any other announcements that you expect could come from this side ahead of it? And how do you see the announcement today playing into as a gesture of confidence ahead of those talks?

MS. HARF: Not that I – I’m not aware of any other announcements coming before the talks. Obviously, things can change. I think I would put it in the context of we announced we spent many, many months negotiating both the spy swap and then decided on our new policy from our side. There are a series of milestones that will have to be a part of this moving forward, and one of those was the prisoners being released, one of them was announcing the new regulations, one of them will be this first set of normalization talks, and then we’ll keep hitting milestones as we go. So this is all part of a process not geared towards the migration talks – the upcoming talks – but geared towards the longer-term policy change.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you expect to reopen your embassy immediately after the talks, or it will be a longer process?

MS. HARF: There’s a process that has to occur. I don’t have any prediction for you. We’ll see how the talks go. But I don’t – I have no prediction on when that might happen.

Yes.

QUESTION: About this, the regulations, do you know if it’s like – if President Obama has reached the limits of his executive power? Or in order to do more, will he have to have the cooperation of Congress?

MS. HARF: Well, certainly, that’s a question I can ask my legal team about. We – there are a number of steps we can take and we have taken on Cuba, even before the policy change, through executive action. I can check and see if there’s more details on that. But obviously, in terms of the embargo, there would have to be a congressional piece to that. We’re consulting with Congress, talking with Congress about all of those issues.

On this still, Elliot?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: One of the things that was announced was a general license authorizing transactions with Cuban official missions and their employees in the United States to, I guess, facilitate the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. I guess I was a little bit confused about the actual practical impacts of that and how it helps you guys from your end. Can you go into a little bit more detail?

MS. HARF: I can certainly check with my colleagues and see if there’s more detail on that.

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. HARF: I just don’t have that information.

QUESTION: Do you know whether that has anything to do with the banking issues that the interests section had last year?

MS. HARF: I’m wondering if it does. Probably, but let me double check with our experts on that.

QUESTION: And then, on – regarding the fact that building materials can now be exported to Cuba for private homes, houses of worship, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, realistically, how much does the U.S. expect can be provided to people in Cuba?

MS. HARF: I don’t know if we have an estimate for that. I’m happy to check. I haven’t seen one.

QUESTION: There was also a line in the fact sheet regarding unlimited – I don’t know the exact words now – can’t think of them. It’s basically unlimited financial transactions for humanitarian projects. Can you say a little bit more about that? What kind of humanitarian projects?

MS. HARF: I’m not sure I have more details on that. Let me see if I do. I have a lot of Q&A on this, obviously. You’re asking specifically on the – what – humanitarian projects?

QUESTION: Correct.

MS. HARF: So this is where OFAC – it has now issued a general license, as we’ve all talked about. We don’t need a specific license anymore. These authorized humanitarian projects include medical and health-related projects, construction projects intended to benefit legitimately independent civil society groups, environmental projects, projects involving formal or non-formal educational training within Cuba or off-island on the following topics: entrepreneurship and business, civil education, journalism, adult literacy, vocation skills – sort of things that we’ve talked about a lot. Grassroots projects, small-scale private enterprise, agriculture – those are all things that fall into the humanitarian projects.

QUESTION: Journalism?

MS. HARF: It says journalism here.

QUESTION: Oh, that’s interesting. Okay.

MS. HARF: There you go.

QUESTION: There’s been talk before that these things have been discussed in general during the talks before the President’s announcement. How eager were the Cuban negotiators to have this kind of assistance provided to their citizens, whether it’s the building materials or the funding for humanitarian aid or the ability of Americans who are there for any reason to be able to use credit cards? How interested were they in having these sorts of things made available to U.S. citizens going there?

MS. HARF: I think I would probably let them characterize how they felt during parts of the negotiations and probably aren’t going to outline all of that publicly from our side.

QUESTION: Will President Obama meet with Raul Castro, perhaps in April in Panama, or --

MS. HARF: I’m happy for you to ask the White House questions about the President’s schedule.

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. HARF: Anything else on – you’ve been waiting very patiently. Go ahead. Yes.

QUESTION: So diplomatic records of bilateral negotiations between U.S. and Japan were disclosed today in Japan, and the documents show that a speech by then-Japanese Prime Minister Sato in 1965 was revised under U.S. pressure to emphasize the important role of Okinawa in its security. Given that there is a strong opposition against the U.S. military base in Okinawa, can you tell us how the U.S. Government views the importance of a U.S. military base in Okinawa?

MS. HARF: Well, U.S. and Japanese officials have both worked together, I would say, pretty extensively to sustain the presence of U.S. forces in Japan. We’ve talked a lot about the relocation of the Marine Corps air station, which will reduce our footprint in the most populated part of Okinawa and enable the return of a significant amount of land back to the people of Okinawa while continuing at the same time to sustain the U.S. military capabilities vital to the alliance and also to peace and security in the region. So look, these are meaningful results of many years of sustained work between the U.S. and Japan, really a critical step toward realizing our shared vision of a realignment of U.S. forces on Okinawa. And I think, beyond that, probably my Defense Department colleague can speak a little more to the specifics.

QUESTION: I have one more.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: The same – this Department records also says in 1970, then-U.S. Defense Secretary Laird told the Japanese defense chief Nakasone that there was constitutional problems in terms of national defense, and he showed an interest in Japan’s constitutional – I’m wondering if U.S. Government still see that there is a constitutional problems in terms of national defense in Japan, and if U.S. Government expect to see an actual constitutional revision in Japan.

MS. HARF: Well, I – we’ve certainly see the historical reports, and, I think, are looking into those for a little more detail. But in terms of today where we are on that specific issue – look, we’ve encouraged and we support Japan’s efforts to play a more proactive role in contributing to regional peace and security, including by re-examining its interpretation – the interpretation of its constitution relating to the right of collective self-defense. So obviously, that principle is recognized in the UN Charter. We’ve supported expanding the role of Japan’s self-defense forces within the framework of the alliance, specifically, and also appreciate Japan’s outreach to explain its security policies, including by sending its officials to foreign capitals in a very transparent manner. So that’s, I think, where we are on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Cuba for one second?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: Specifically Guantanamo.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Is Assistant Secretary Jacobson prepared to discuss the future status not just of the military prison, but of the naval station at Guantanamo Bay during next week’s talks?

MS. HARF: I do not know the answer to that question. I can ask.

On Guantanamo specifically, if folks saw the Department of Defense release last night, that five detainees had been transferred to third countries – four to Oman and one to Estonia. So I just, on Guantanamo, wanted to update people on that. I can ask about that.

QUESTION: Yeah, that would --

MS. HARF: That’s obviously a Defense Department issue, but let me check.

QUESTION: Right. But because there have been a lot of tensions about the presence not just of the prison but of the base itself --

MS. HARF: I absolutely understand the question and why you’re asking. I just don’t know the answer. Let me check.

QUESTION: Can we go to --

QUESTION: While we’re back on Cuba, can I just ask one more as well?

MS. HARF: Let’s – yes.

QUESTION: Sorry. The – one of the other measures announced was a general license to authorizing foreign vessels to enter the United States after engaging in certain trade in Cuba. A while back, there was a case of a ship that was detained in Panama after docking in Cuba that was carrying --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- military equipment from North Korea.

MS. HARF: North Korea, yes.

QUESTION: Was that case --

MS. HARF: That was one of my first briefings at this podium, by the way, to remind people.

QUESTION: Okay. It was like a year and a half ago, I guess.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Was that case sort of – factoring that into consideration, is there any concern that this measure would sort of lead to smuggling of that kind of contraband into the U.S. or the – more flow of that kind of thing? Is there any particular additional restrictions being placed to prevent that from happening?

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. Not that I’ve heard of, but I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Israeli-Palestinian issue?

MS. HARF: Yes we can, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. Today – just now, as a matter of fact – the Security Council called on Israel to unfreeze the tax funds that they have frozen in the past that amounts to about $106 million. Is that a position that you also take? Do you urge them to sort of release the funds because of the hardships the Palestinians are facing?

MS. HARF: Let me – Said, I hadn’t actually seen those reports out of the UN. Let me check and see the specifics.

QUESTION: Okay. And now while we’re still on the topic of the aid to the Palestinians, could you update us on the situation of American aid to the Palestinians? Is that still ongoing? What’s in the pipeline keeps ongoing, or is there any kind of hold? I know there was a threat to withhold aid if they went ahead with – but they did.

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve said we’re looking at what our obligations are under U.S. law given the recent events. To my knowledge, there’s been no change. Let me check, though.

QUESTION: Okay. So you’re aware that Senator Rand Paul introduced legislation, I think it was, last week that – to cut off all aid to the Palestinians. You don’t support the senator?

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly know that assistance to the Palestinians has been beneficial, certainly, on a number of fronts, as we’ve talked about. But look, I – let me check and see where we are on that. I want to get the latest.

QUESTION: Okay. And just a couple more on the Palestinian issue.

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: There is also – the Palestinians are saying that they are going to reintroduce another UN resolution, perhaps, on a different draft with different elements and so on. Have they discussed that with you? Are you discussing that with them, or would your position remain the same, so to speak?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re certainly aware of those reports. I’m not going to get into hypotheticals at the UN. I would say that we do not think that another Security Council resolution at this time would be constructive. We’re obviously in constant contact with our partners there to talk about the path forward, but don’t think that would be constructive at this point.

QUESTION: And finally, I wonder if you have a comment – the Israelis have just taken the decision that the Swedish foreign minister is a persona non grata, that she cannot come to Israel – she was planning to go there this week – because they recognized the Palestinian state back on October 30th. And we have seen a number of countries that did that afterwards, including France and so on. One, do you have any comment on that or – and second, do you expect the Israelis – that they will do this with France and other countries?

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen those reports. Let me check.

QUESTION: But what is your position on declaring her a persona non grata?

MS. HARF: Well, I hadn’t seen those reports, so let me check with our team and see what our position is.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. It’s – just actually moving over to Iran --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: We’re watching the Jeffrey Sterling trial on the – in that trial that’s going to come out about CIA Operation Merlin, where they were trying to give, essentially, incomplete nuclear weapon plans to Iran to kind of slow down their development of a nuclear weapon. Could the information coming out in this trial at all affect the ongoing talks between Kerry and Iran?

MS. HARF: Well, given I’m not familiar with the specifics of that trial, and I’m not sure our team that’s talking right now in Geneva is either, look --

QUESTION: It’s just kind of out in the public.

MS. HARF: We’re --

QUESTION: Anyone can pick it up, and I just (inaudible).

MS. HARF: Yeah. Well, so look, I’ll check with our folks. But broadly speaking, we are moving forward with these nuclear negotiations, with the P5+1, and with us, with our partners. Their teams are meeting right now with Wendy Sherman and the other negotiators for a couple days of bilateral talks, and then with the rest of the P5+1. That process is moving forward, and hopefully we can continue making progress. Obviously, there’s a lot of history here. We all are well aware of that. What we’re focused on now is what happens going forward.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have a readout on the current bilats?

MS. HARF: I don’t have one yet. I don’t have one yet.

Yes.

QUESTION: You said yesterday U.S. remains open dialogue with North Korea.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: And what is the United States preconditions for the direct talks with North Korea? Do you have any guidance?

MS. HARF: Well, look, the U.S. has offered the DPRK and continues to offer the opportunity for meaningful engagement and improved bilateral relationship provided it demonstrates its willingness to uphold its international obligations and commitments. Unfortunately, North Korea continues to rebuff or ignore these offers while instead preventing us with the kind of – presenting us with the kind of false choices and a series of provocations we’ve just seen even recently. So we’re open to talking, certainly, but haven’t seen that reciprocated.

QUESTION: But are you not upset that the North Korean offered that if U.S. have a temporary suspending of joint military exercise with South Korea, then are they – if you accept that, then North Korea would – willing to direct talk with the United States about that? What is the U.S. position?

MS. HARF: Well, the offer, as I understand it, which we see as an implicit threat, is for the U.S. to stop doing something that is routine, that is transparent, that is defensive in nature, and that is annual that we do every year, in exchange for the North Koreans not doing something that is prohibited under multiple UN Security Council resolutions and that they are not supposed to be doing. That’s really a false choice here. They’re not equivalent in any way.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Iran?

MS. HARF: Yeah, and then I’m going to go to you. Yes, we can.

QUESTION: The case of Jason Rezaian.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any more information about what he’s been charged with? Have the Swiss been able to meet with him? Does he have a lawyer? What’s – what is his situation right now?

MS. HARF: Well, during the meetings yesterday, Secretary Kerry raised U.S. citizen Jason Rezaian’s case. They discussed the report stating that his case had been referred to a court. The Secretary reiterated our call for his immediate release, as well as for the immediate release of detained U.S. citizens, Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati, and of course, for the Iranian Government to work cooperatively with us in locating Robert Levinson, as we always do.

This is a discussion we have with them very frequently. I don’t have many more details than that. Of course, we continue to monitor the situation closely and are seeking further information about what might come out of this move to refer the case to the court. I know The Washington Post – one of their editors also said they hope this is a way the judicial process can be moved forward and Jason can be returned to his family. We certainly share that sentiment.

QUESTION: But you’re not aware of whether there have been any contacts between Jason and Swiss officials?

MS. HARF: I can check. I’m not aware of any, but I’m happy to check for you.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Turkey?

MS. HARF: Yes, Turkey.

QUESTION: Thank you, Marie. Yesterday, you were asked about a situation regarding press freedom in Turkey, but just within day a few developments happen. Some of the columnists who published this cartoons, French cartoons, are under threat. Newspaper (inaudible) is now – there’s an investigation launched just this morning. And also Prime Minister Davutoglu gave some remarks and said that basically this newspaper, (inaudible), had it coming.

My question is: Are you following this situation in Turkey or are you concerned with the situation?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re certainly following it. There’s been a lot of debate about these cartoons – not just in Turkey, I would say. And what I’ve said over the past few days certainly stands. There are very strong feelings about these cartoons. It should be up to media organizations to make the decisions about what to publish and whether to publish them. These are very complicated decisions. I know you all have probably had these conversations with your news organizations. But the way to respond to speech you don’t like isn’t with violence, it isn’t with threats; it’s with more speech. That’s what we believe very strongly here, I know the French believe, and others believe. So clearly, we think that media organizations should have the right publish what they want. Doesn’t mean they have to to prove that they can. It’s obviously a decision for them to make.

QUESTION: Just today, European parliament passed a resolution condemning the ongoing raids on press freedom in Turkey. There is still a journalists and there is new legislation just passed that gave more authority to police and more authority to detain, all these developments. Just yesterday former Ambassador Ricciardone gave a remark and said that Turkey and U.S. do not share values anymore; we share interests. Would you agree with this statement?

MS. HARF: Well, these aren’t about U.S. values. We have repeatedly urged Turkey, as our NATO ally and friend, to ensure their actions uphold Turkey’s own core values and democratic foundations. And we’ve made clear in the past that we have concerns about government interference in freedom of expression. It’s an ongoing conversation with them, certainly.

QUESTION: So when you say “sharing values,” it is the universal values. Do you still think that U.S. and Turkey share these --

MS. HARF: Turkey is a close friend and NATO ally. These are conversations we have with them all the time.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you know – on the issue of sharing values, it’s a point that I raised the other day. I mean, you don’t really share these values with any other country. I mean --

MS. HARF: We don’t agree with anything any other country’s --

QUESTION: -- but we know that --

MS. HARF: -- right, everything.

QUESTION: -- there are other countries in Europe, Western democracies and so on, that do have laws in place because of their past history and so on, which we don’t have in this country. So you don’t expect, let’s say – I mean, we don’t have any laws against speech, period, in America. So you don’t expect --

MS. HARF: Well, that incites violence, we do. But --

QUESTION: That incite violence.

MS. HARF: -- I’m not an attorney, so I don’t want to go too far down that road.

QUESTION: Right. So you don’t expect Turkey to adopt the same thing.

MS. HARF: We expect countries around the world to uphold the basic fundamental human freedoms that include freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom to be able to choose your own future and say what you want and speak your mind, even if that speech is offensive to some people. Again, it doesn’t mean you have to say things that are offensive to prove you can. These are individual decisions for people and organizations to make.

QUESTION: Pakistan?

MS. HARF: Let’s go here. And then Roz, I’ll go to Pakistan.

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. HARF: Syria, yes.

QUESTION: Did you get in touch in the last 24 hours with the Syrian opposition? And if so, did you urge them to attend Moscow talks?

MS. HARF: Well, U.S. Special Envoy for Syria Daniel Rubinstein just returned from a trip overseas to a number of countries in Europe, I think including Turkey and others, where he was continuing his routine engagement with international partners and Syrian opposition members about efforts to advance a negotiated political solution – against ISIL, of course – and to expand our support to the armed opposition through the launch of DOD’s train and equip program. So he was – had some meetings there. Special Envoy Rubinstein and Major General Michael Nagata met earlier this week with a broad spectrum of Syrian opposition and civil society leaders in Turkey to talk about a number of things, including the train and equip program.

QUESTION: So did you urge them, or not?

MS. HARF: Oh, on Moscow. Look, this is a decision for the Syrian opposition to make. They can make it on their own.

QUESTION: Because the Secretary yesterday spoke in a way that he implicitly urged them to attend.

MS. HARF: He did not. He said --

QUESTION: He said they won’t lose anything if they attend.

MS. HARF: He said, “We hope that the Russian efforts could be helpful,” quote. And as I said yesterday, in an extended exchange, I don’t know what he would have said instead – that we hope they’re not helpful? That seems to just defy logic. So we hope any effort to advance a political solution in Syria could be helpful. It doesn’t mean we’re saying the Syrian opposition should or shouldn’t go. It’s a decision for them to make.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: But going along with to what you said yesterday, that all along you have said that there’s only a political solution basically to the Syrian crisis, I mean, holding the conference at the end of the month is a good thing, isn’t it? It would be a good thing and you will do all you can to make it happen, wouldn’t you?

MS. HARF: Well, this isn’t our conference.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: This is a Russian-led effort.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: So the Syrian opposition can decide if it wants to go. There’s also talks in Cairo. We hope any effort aimed at achieving a political solution could make progress and be helpful, certainly. But we’ll see what happens.

QUESTION: Okay. Envoy Staffan de Mistura also said today, I think, or yesterday, that people agree that we must resolve the Syria issue politically this year. I mean, I know everybody wants to resolve it yesterday, I mean. But he’s saying, like --

MS. HARF: I couldn’t agree with that more.

QUESTION: He’s saying as if there were some sort of a common agreement that everybody’s going to do their best to do this, including the opposition, including the United States, including the Russians. Are there any things that you are doing or conducting with the Russians to facilitate their meeting, to make it inclusive, to make it really happen, and go to the next step?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re not working with them, to my knowledge, on this specific meeting. But generally speaking, Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov have had numerous conversations at their level, certainly at other levels as well, about how we can work together to get to a political solution, separate from this upcoming round of talks in Moscow.

QUESTION: Now, let me just follow up very quickly. The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave an interview, and he said basically that you – the fight against ISIS by the West, by the American-led coalition, is basically – it’s like just window dressing, not real substantive. Can you comment on that?

MS. HARF: Well, I think that the ISIL terrorists who have been at the receiving end of U.S. bombs probably don’t feel that way.

QUESTION: Okay. But so he’s saying that there’s – more effort needs to be done and more coordination, and that Syria has been at the receiving end --

MS. HARF: We’re certainly not coordinating with the Assad regime. We’re coordinating with 60 coalition partners, including Arab states, to fight ISIL.

QUESTION: Okay. But considering that they are probably the larger target of these attacks by ISIS and other terrorist groups – al-Qaida, al-Nusrah, and so on – wouldn’t it make sense to coordinate at one point how you can perhaps direct a more devastating blow to ISIS and other terrorist groups?

MS. HARF: Not with the Assad regime, Said. Look, they talked on the one hand about fighting ISIL and on the other hand they allowed them to grow. So we are coordinating with over 60 coalition partners. We’ve conducted with our coalition partners over 1,600 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria since August. They continue on a nearly daily basis. We’ve taken out their fighters, their commanders, hundreds of vehicles and tanks, nearly 200 oil and gas facilities – the infrastructure that funds their terror – as well as more than 1,000 fighting positions, checkpoints, buildings. This is a long fight, but it’s a sustained one that we’re very focused on.

QUESTION: General Allen will return from his travel to the Middle East?

MS. HARF: General Allen. Special Presidential Envoy General Allen and Deputy Envoy Ambassador Brett McGurk met today with the Dutch foreign minister and other Dutch national security officials in The Hague. Following their departure from Iraq, they actually delayed their return to the U.S. to have some consultations with Dutch leadership on countering ISIL, got added to the schedule. They thanked the foreign minister for the Netherlands’ ongoing coalition contributions, including their F-16s flying tactical missions in Iraq, their planned train-and-advise support for Iraqi Security Forces, and their leadership on countering the flow of foreign fighters. It is my understanding they are then returning to the United States.

QUESTION: Back on Syria, I have a question.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: The leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon gave an interview today to a television, revealed that he met with some leaders from the Syrian opposition trying to help reaching a political solution in Syria. Were you aware of that?

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen that. Let me check.

QUESTION: Marie, what --

MS. HARF: I just – I hadn’t seen those reports.

QUESTION: What is the (inaudible)? What is your reading on the motivation of the Russians to have this meeting unless you can have both sides there?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not sure I’m probably well positioned to judge Russian motivations. I’ll let them speak to that. It’s my understanding, though, this is an intra-Syrian meeting helping the Syrian coalition – or the Syrian opposition better coalesce. That needs to be an important part of how we eventually get to a political solution. So that’s my understanding that that’s the point. But I’m not – I mean, motivations, who knows? We talk to the Russians a lot about advancing a political solution and working together on that. So I’m guessing it would help play into that effort.

QUESTION: And if the moderates who the U.S. supports do not go, I mean, is there any – I don’t – I mean, what is the value of the meeting?

MS. HARF: Well, as the Secretary said, we hope this meeting could be helpful in advancing a political solution. We’ll see what comes from it.

(Phone rings.)

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MS. HARF: Hello.

QUESTION: A follow-up on the same question, please?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry’s remarks widely read as U.S. is supporting Moscow talks, so you are saying --

MS. HARF: Well, I would say they’re widely misread then.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I just read you exactly what he said. We certainly hope they can be helpful. I’m not sure what the alternative language would have been. We don’t hope they’re helpful? We hope they’re unhelpful? That’s sort of crazy and defies logic.

QUESTION: Do you think if the Assad regime may – will go to Moscow, it looks like, they should be at least doing some – take some steps? Do you have any precondition for Assad regime to participate this kind of conference?

MS. HARF: These are not our talks. Ask the Russians.

QUESTION: The Russians invited Iran to attend the talks. How come they didn’t invite the U.S.?

MS. HARF: Ask the Russians.

QUESTION: And one more. You talk about train and equip --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- program that U.S. team met with the Syrian opposition. Is there any update on this?

MS. HARF: Not really. The Department of Defense has announced that we begin – we expect training to begin in early spring. As we’ve talked about, Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have agreed to host training sites. We’re working right now with the interagency and foreign partners to identify recruits for the program. Once we identify personnel by name, the vetting process begins, and that can take around a month, depending. But obviously, we need to vet people before we start training and equipping them.

QUESTION: And the final question is semi-Syria. The Hayat – this one of the partners of suspect or killers in Paris, Hayat – I don’t remember her --

QUESTION: Boumeddiene.

QUESTION: Okay. She – do you have any update on her whereabouts?

MS. HARF: I don’t. I don’t.

QUESTION: Did you talk to Turkish Government? You got any information during her stay in Turkey?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any – anything to share on her today.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Afghanistan?

MS. HARF: Yeah, let’s do Pakistan, then Afghanistan. Sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on reports that the Pakistani Government may, in fact, be outlawing the Haqqani Network? And if so, when was the U.S. Government notified, and is the U.S. being asked to help sustain the new status quo?

MS. HARF: Yeah. So we welcome reports that the Government of Pakistan plans to outlaw the Haqqani Network, I think 10 or 11 additional organizations linked to violent extremism. This is an important step toward eliminating terrorist activity in Pakistan. Obviously, the Secretary was just there and had a wide-ranging conversation with the Pakistanis about counterterrorism, certainly. He emphasized that we’re committed to deepening our security partnership with Pakistan, and obviously had many conversations with Prime Minister Sharif and others. I don’t have many more details than that. I know this was just an announcement that this is planning to happen. I don’t have more details on when it might.

QUESTION: And when the Secretary talked about deepening commitment, does that mean more military advisers? Does that mean weapons? Does that mean money? All three?

MS. HARF: Don’t have many more details. He did announce the over 250 million that’s allocated for the relocation, shelter, and food and livelihoods of those affected by the counterterrorism operation – so to help the Pakistanis with this IDP issue they have because of ongoing counterterrorism operations. That was an additional 250 million. I don’t have more details than that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yes, Ashish. Yes.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on the Haqqani Network question, Admiral Mullen had said – described it as a veritable arm of the ISI.

MS. HARF: I remember those comments.

QUESTION: Is that a description that you agree with, and are you seeing those linkages – an end to those linkages?

MS. HARF: Well look, we have a long history of close cooperation with Pakistan on counterterrorism efforts. We’ve been very clear with the Pakistani Government that they need to crack down and go after all terrorist groups that threaten them, threaten their people – their people are, unfortunately, the victims of more terrorist attacks than, I think, people probably anywhere else. So it’s an ongoing conversation, certainly, but this would be a very important step.

Yes.

QUESTION: The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said that the State Department spent four billion on counternarcotic initiatives in Afghanistan. Despite this, the United Nations reported that Afghanistan set a record for producing opium in 2014 and that 80 percent of the total opium production in the world comes from Afghanistan. Was it the goal of the United States Government to eradicate poppy production in Afghanistan while we’ve had forces there for 13 years?

MS. HARF: Let me check with our folks. Obviously, while we’ve had military operations underway in Afghanistan, we have focused on other issues, including the narcotics trade. Certainly, we’ve talked about this a lot, and I know we have put a great deal of effort into helping the Afghans grow their capabilities to crack down on this. Let me check with our team and see. I hadn’t that SIGAR report.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: A follow-up to that: The Congressional Research Service says, “After 2014, the State Department does not plan to have a permanent counternarcotics presence outside Kabul.” Has the U.S. Government given up on trying to stop post-war Afghanistan from being the opium production capital of the world?

MS. HARF: Well, I can certainly answer your second question and say no, obviously. In terms of staffing and where people are located, I can check and see if there’s a specific reason for that. But clearly, we have people in Afghanistan and back at the State Department very focused on this issue – very focused.

And then you, yep.

QUESTION: Do you have anything more about the authentication of the AQAP video?

MS. HARF: I don’t.

QUESTION: About the content?

MS. HARF: The content – I don’t. We continue to look into the investigation about the claims in the video. That is ongoing, so I can’t confirm any of those. The intelligence community is still looking at that. No update there.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I just ask about Sri Lanka?

MS. HARF: You can.

QUESTION: After the elections, there were reports that President Rajapaksa had asked the army to help him stay in power, but when the army refused to do so, he stepped down. Did the U.S. convey any messages to the president at the time to – or the army to respect the outcome of that vote?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve certainly seen those reports, and I don’t think we’re going to have any comment on those; would refer you to the Government of Sri Lanka. As Secretary Kerry said in his phone call to the new president, obviously we’re looking forward to working with the new administration to achieve its goals.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Today, a woman convicted of killing her stepdaughter was beheaded in public. Are you aware of that?

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen those reports.

Anything else? Yes.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the video?

MS. HARF: You can.

QUESTION: So it means that you are still not sure that AQAP is behind – is responsible for the attack against Charlie Hebdo?

MS. HARF: Correct. We’ve assessed that the video was made by them, distributed by them, but we cannot confirm all of the claims they made in it about their possible involvement.

QUESTION: And what about the other attack? Do you believe that Coulibaly was part of the Islamic State?

MS. HARF: We’re still looking into all of those pieces. I know there’ve been a lot of different reports out there. Nothing to convey on that.

QUESTION: And nothing – no update about the fact that he was apparently on a U.S. terror list?

MS. HARF: No update on any of that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:46 p.m.)1:03 p.m. EST

 

MS. HARF: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the daily briefing.

QUESTION: Hello.

MS. HARF: I have a couple items at the top, and then you two can fight over who gets to start.

First, a trip update: The Secretary began his day in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he met with UK Foreign Secretary Hammond, who was also in town at the same time. Then he met with the Bulgarian president, prime minister, and foreign minister. His meetings in Sofia focused on security cooperation, energy diversification, and the bilateral trade and investment relationship, also highlighted the importance of rule of law and helping Bulgaria to realize its full potential as a vibrant European democracy.

He is now in Paris, where he will have meetings tomorrow with French President Hollande and Foreign Minister Fabius. The full details of his schedule are still being worked out, and we’ll have the traveling team get those to folks when they’re ready.

And one more item at the top. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield will be leading a delegation to Niger from January 20th through 21st, 2015. While there, Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield will participate in a ministerial conference hosted by Niger to discuss steps in the fight against the terrorist organization Boko Haram, threats to security in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, and activities of the Multinational Task Force, the MNTF. She will also hold high-level bilateral meetings on related topics of concern.

With that --

QUESTION: So I was going to go first --

MS. HARF: And my mother’s here. Sorry.

QUESTION: Yes. I was going to say, is there somebody you would like to introduce to the rest of us? (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: My mom, Jane Harf is here. It’s her second briefing, she’s been to, so everyone has to be really nice today, not that you aren’t always.

QUESTION: We’ll certainly give it a go.

MS. HARF: Lesley, go for it.

QUESTION: Well, I was going to start, but given that you mentioned Boko Haram --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- perhaps my colleague from AFP --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you, Lesley.

MS. HARF: So polite.

QUESTION: Thank you. Since you mentioned Boko Haram, yes.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: So the Secretary in Sofia talk about a British-U.S. initiative against Boko Haram. So if you could elaborate on that. And the Secretary mention also that what Boko Haram is doing is a crime against humanity. Does it mean that there will be legal consequences in the U.S. against this group?

MS. HARF: Well, first, not a whole lot more details beyond what the Secretary said. We’re talking to the British, but also to others, about ways we can do more to help the Nigerians and others in the region fight Boko Haram, so nothing new beyond what he said. But it’s certainly a topic we’re discussing very closely with the British. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to note Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield’s upcoming travel related to this threat.

In terms of the accountability question, no more details to share on that, beyond what the Secretary said. I think what he was conveying was the horrific nature, of course, of what we’ve seen, particularly the escalation in attacks and the number of casualties, but also underscoring the Nigerians’ need to move forward with their elections, even despite what has been a pretty significant amount of violence.

QUESTION: A follow up to that. Given that the cooperation between the Nigerians and the U.S. has not really been effective on the ground in curbing the activities of Boko Haram, obviously you’re looking further afield. And what could those plans look like? What sort of cooperation do you think you need to go to to really have an impact?

MS. HARF: Well, I think – a few points. It’s primarily the Government of Nigeria’s responsibility to take the steps it needs to to protect its citizens. We know this is a very significant threat and a very challenging one for the Nigerians. That’s why we’ve offered to work with them; we have done some joint training; we have a security cooperation relationship. But more broadly in the region, we’re working with other partners – whether it’s Cameroon, Chad, or others – to fight this threat, because it is a regional threat. That’s certainly been ongoing.

I would also say the Secretary has, on a diplomatic level, engaged with the Nigerian president and with others to try to increasingly work with them to fight this threat.

What else? Any on this?

QUESTION: Anything on --

QUESTION: Just on Boko Haram, has the Nigerian Government sought any kind of additional assistance from the U.S.? They stopped that training program in December.

MS. HARF: They did, unfortunately, stop that training program in December. We do have an ongoing security cooperation relationship. I’m not aware of additional requests from them. But we’re constantly talking to them about what more we are willing to provide and what might make the most sense.

QUESTION: Are you aware of reports that President Jonathan may, indeed, have traveled to northeastern Nigeria today as a show of support for the people in that region?

MS. HARF: I saw that right before I came out, and I can’t confirm it. But if true, obviously – look, would be a show, I think, of – an important show to his people about how seriously he certainly takes the threat. But I just saw it before I came out.

QUESTION: Would it be too much to suggest that this building might consider that a little too late, given the ongoing rise in violence in the past year?

MS. HARF: I think anytime you can demonstrate to your people that you take a terrorist threat seriously, no matter when, is probably important.

QUESTION: You also said that you think that the – you continue to think that the elections should go ahead.

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: But how can it go ahead when many people cannot vote, and especially an estimated 20,000 that have been forced to flee the country?

MS. HARF: Well, we have been working – the U.S. Government has been working with the Nigerian Government, particularly the Independent National Electoral Commission, which, I think, is a separate body handling the elections, and civil society to emphasize the need for a clear and well-coordinated election security plan and to offer assistance specifically on that front. Obviously, it’s the responsibility of the Government of Nigeria to protect and enfranchise its citizens. But a key pillar of our elections engagement strategy is the importance of enfranchising displaced voters, what you were asking about. I know the INEC has embraced that point. They understand the importance of it. We’ve urged the Nigerian Government to provide adequate security, improve security coordination, and to make arrangements for these internally displaced persons to be able to vote where they are.

In terms of the U.S. support, a U.S. Government election security expert had visited Nigeria in the fall, has been consulting with Nigerian counterparts in the intervening months, and will embed with INEC for a week in mid-January, and then return for election day in February to help on the engagement side. USAID is also exploring ways, through their Electoral Empowerment of Civil Society Project, to assist IDPs with voting.

Look, this is a challenge. We’ve talked about this in other countries who’ve had elections in pretty significant security-challenging environments. But we are assisting. We’re offering it, certainly, yes.

QUESTION: Still on Boko Haram, are you seeing any kind of cooperation between Boko Haram and ISIS, any kind of collaboration there?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. Not to my knowledge. Operationally, Boko Haram has really been focused regionally and not really externally, like we’ve seen other terrorist groups. Obviously, it’s a concern we watch for.

Yes.

QUESTION: I’m Tyrel Ventura with RT America. With the release of the Amnesty photos this morning that kind of showed that destruction and devastation up there, has that changed at all the State Department plans in dealing with that region? Has it sped things up? Has it – what is the --

MS. HARF: I wouldn’t say it’s --

QUESTION: Has it had an effect, that evidence?

MS. HARF: -- changed it. I think it underscores what we have seen for some time, really the brutality and the scale and scope of Boko Haram’s attacks. We can’t independently confirm some of the numbers, and just want to caution people that we don’t always have a good way of doing that. So it’s not a precise figure that I think – we don’t have one we can put out there. But I think it just underscores the threat. We are constantly engaged on it, though.

QUESTION: Would one of the areas that the U.S. be looking at and that we haven’t really seen, because it’s difficult to track the financial flows of an organization like this – but is one of these plans maybe looking at intensifying or trying to come up with efforts to sanction this group and its leaders?

MS. HARF: I can check on the financial piece of this. I don’t have the details about where they’re financed or how they’re financed in front of me. I just don’t know that. Let me see if I have anything else in here on the economic piece. I don’t think I do. So let me check with our team and see if there’s more on that.

QUESTION: Can we change the subject?

MS. HARF: Yeah. Go ahead, and then I’ll go back to you. Go ahead, Lesley.

QUESTION: Today’s announcement on Cuba --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- which is a major development.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: The one thing I was wondering about was were these various steps discussed with the Cubans and agreed with them beforehand.

MS. HARF: It’s my understanding – and I’m checking with our team – that, given these were changes to U.S. regulations, this was really steps the Commerce and Treasury Department took on their own. They’re certainly completely in line with the discussions we had with the Cubans, right, in general about the policy change. To my knowledge, they weren’t specifically discussed with the Cubans, but I’m checking on that just to make sure.

QUESTION: So I guess the question now would be whether the Cubans would allow a lot – some of this to take place on their side, or is that not really an issue?

MS. HARF: I don’t – I haven’t heard that it’s an issue, but I’m happy to check further on that.

QUESTION: And then when you come – my last question is: When you get to – given that the talks are next week, is there any other announcements that you expect could come from this side ahead of it? And how do you see the announcement today playing into as a gesture of confidence ahead of those talks?

MS. HARF: Not that I – I’m not aware of any other announcements coming before the talks. Obviously, things can change. I think I would put it in the context of we announced we spent many, many months negotiating both the spy swap and then decided on our new policy from our side. There are a series of milestones that will have to be a part of this moving forward, and one of those was the prisoners being released, one of them was announcing the new regulations, one of them will be this first set of normalization talks, and then we’ll keep hitting milestones as we go. So this is all part of a process not geared towards the migration talks – the upcoming talks – but geared towards the longer-term policy change.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you expect to reopen your embassy immediately after the talks, or it will be a longer process?

MS. HARF: There’s a process that has to occur. I don’t have any prediction for you. We’ll see how the talks go. But I don’t – I have no prediction on when that might happen.

Yes.

QUESTION: About this, the regulations, do you know if it’s like – if President Obama has reached the limits of his executive power? Or in order to do more, will he have to have the cooperation of Congress?

MS. HARF: Well, certainly, that’s a question I can ask my legal team about. We – there are a number of steps we can take and we have taken on Cuba, even before the policy change, through executive action. I can check and see if there’s more details on that. But obviously, in terms of the embargo, there would have to be a congressional piece to that. We’re consulting with Congress, talking with Congress about all of those issues.

On this still, Elliot?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: One of the things that was announced was a general license authorizing transactions with Cuban official missions and their employees in the United States to, I guess, facilitate the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. I guess I was a little bit confused about the actual practical impacts of that and how it helps you guys from your end. Can you go into a little bit more detail?

MS. HARF: I can certainly check with my colleagues and see if there’s more detail on that.

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. HARF: I just don’t have that information.

QUESTION: Do you know whether that has anything to do with the banking issues that the interests section had last year?

MS. HARF: I’m wondering if it does. Probably, but let me double check with our experts on that.

QUESTION: And then, on – regarding the fact that building materials can now be exported to Cuba for private homes, houses of worship, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, realistically, how much does the U.S. expect can be provided to people in Cuba?

MS. HARF: I don’t know if we have an estimate for that. I’m happy to check. I haven’t seen one.

QUESTION: There was also a line in the fact sheet regarding unlimited – I don’t know the exact words now – can’t think of them. It’s basically unlimited financial transactions for humanitarian projects. Can you say a little bit more about that? What kind of humanitarian projects?

MS. HARF: I’m not sure I have more details on that. Let me see if I do. I have a lot of Q&A on this, obviously. You’re asking specifically on the – what – humanitarian projects?

QUESTION: Correct.

MS. HARF: So this is where OFAC – it has now issued a general license, as we’ve all talked about. We don’t need a specific license anymore. These authorized humanitarian projects include medical and health-related projects, construction projects intended to benefit legitimately independent civil society groups, environmental projects, projects involving formal or non-formal educational training within Cuba or off-island on the following topics: entrepreneurship and business, civil education, journalism, adult literacy, vocation skills – sort of things that we’ve talked about a lot. Grassroots projects, small-scale private enterprise, agriculture – those are all things that fall into the humanitarian projects.

QUESTION: Journalism?

MS. HARF: It says journalism here.

QUESTION: Oh, that’s interesting. Okay.

MS. HARF: There you go.

QUESTION: There’s been talk before that these things have been discussed in general during the talks before the President’s announcement. How eager were the Cuban negotiators to have this kind of assistance provided to their citizens, whether it’s the building materials or the funding for humanitarian aid or the ability of Americans who are there for any reason to be able to use credit cards? How interested were they in having these sorts of things made available to U.S. citizens going there?

MS. HARF: I think I would probably let them characterize how they felt during parts of the negotiations and probably aren’t going to outline all of that publicly from our side.

QUESTION: Will President Obama meet with Raul Castro, perhaps in April in Panama, or --

MS. HARF: I’m happy for you to ask the White House questions about the President’s schedule.

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. HARF: Anything else on – you’ve been waiting very patiently. Go ahead. Yes.

QUESTION: So diplomatic records of bilateral negotiations between U.S. and Japan were disclosed today in Japan, and the documents show that a speech by then-Japanese Prime Minister Sato in 1965 was revised under U.S. pressure to emphasize the important role of Okinawa in its security. Given that there is a strong opposition against the U.S. military base in Okinawa, can you tell us how the U.S. Government views the importance of a U.S. military base in Okinawa?

MS. HARF: Well, U.S. and Japanese officials have both worked together, I would say, pretty extensively to sustain the presence of U.S. forces in Japan. We’ve talked a lot about the relocation of the Marine Corps air station, which will reduce our footprint in the most populated part of Okinawa and enable the return of a significant amount of land back to the people of Okinawa while continuing at the same time to sustain the U.S. military capabilities vital to the alliance and also to peace and security in the region. So look, these are meaningful results of many years of sustained work between the U.S. and Japan, really a critical step toward realizing our shared vision of a realignment of U.S. forces on Okinawa. And I think, beyond that, probably my Defense Department colleague can speak a little more to the specifics.

QUESTION: I have one more.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: The same – this Department records also says in 1970, then-U.S. Defense Secretary Laird told the Japanese defense chief Nakasone that there was constitutional problems in terms of national defense, and he showed an interest in Japan’s constitutional – I’m wondering if U.S. Government still see that there is a constitutional problems in terms of national defense in Japan, and if U.S. Government expect to see an actual constitutional revision in Japan.

MS. HARF: Well, I – we’ve certainly see the historical reports, and, I think, are looking into those for a little more detail. But in terms of today where we are on that specific issue – look, we’ve encouraged and we support Japan’s efforts to play a more proactive role in contributing to regional peace and security, including by re-examining its interpretation – the interpretation of its constitution relating to the right of collective self-defense. So obviously, that principle is recognized in the UN Charter. We’ve supported expanding the role of Japan’s self-defense forces within the framework of the alliance, specifically, and also appreciate Japan’s outreach to explain its security policies, including by sending its officials to foreign capitals in a very transparent manner. So that’s, I think, where we are on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Cuba for one second?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: Specifically Guantanamo.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Is Assistant Secretary Jacobson prepared to discuss the future status not just of the military prison, but of the naval station at Guantanamo Bay during next week’s talks?

MS. HARF: I do not know the answer to that question. I can ask.

On Guantanamo specifically, if folks saw the Department of Defense release last night, that five detainees had been transferred to third countries – four to Oman and one to Estonia. So I just, on Guantanamo, wanted to update people on that. I can ask about that.

QUESTION: Yeah, that would --

MS. HARF: That’s obviously a Defense Department issue, but let me check.

QUESTION: Right. But because there have been a lot of tensions about the presence not just of the prison but of the base itself --

MS. HARF: I absolutely understand the question and why you’re asking. I just don’t know the answer. Let me check.

QUESTION: Can we go to --

QUESTION: While we’re back on Cuba, can I just ask one more as well?

MS. HARF: Let’s – yes.

QUESTION: Sorry. The – one of the other measures announced was a general license to authorizing foreign vessels to enter the United States after engaging in certain trade in Cuba. A while back, there was a case of a ship that was detained in Panama after docking in Cuba that was carrying --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- military equipment from North Korea.

MS. HARF: North Korea, yes.

QUESTION: Was that case --

MS. HARF: That was one of my first briefings at this podium, by the way, to remind people.

QUESTION: Okay. It was like a year and a half ago, I guess.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Was that case sort of – factoring that into consideration, is there any concern that this measure would sort of lead to smuggling of that kind of contraband into the U.S. or the – more flow of that kind of thing? Is there any particular additional restrictions being placed to prevent that from happening?

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. Not that I’ve heard of, but I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Israeli-Palestinian issue?

MS. HARF: Yes we can, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. Today – just now, as a matter of fact – the Security Council called on Israel to unfreeze the tax funds that they have frozen in the past that amounts to about $106 million. Is that a position that you also take? Do you urge them to sort of release the funds because of the hardships the Palestinians are facing?

MS. HARF: Let me – Said, I hadn’t actually seen those reports out of the UN. Let me check and see the specifics.

QUESTION: Okay. And now while we’re still on the topic of the aid to the Palestinians, could you update us on the situation of American aid to the Palestinians? Is that still ongoing? What’s in the pipeline keeps ongoing, or is there any kind of hold? I know there was a threat to withhold aid if they went ahead with – but they did.

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve said we’re looking at what our obligations are under U.S. law given the recent events. To my knowledge, there’s been no change. Let me check, though.

QUESTION: Okay. So you’re aware that Senator Rand Paul introduced legislation, I think it was, last week that – to cut off all aid to the Palestinians. You don’t support the senator?

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly know that assistance to the Palestinians has been beneficial, certainly, on a number of fronts, as we’ve talked about. But look, I – let me check and see where we are on that. I want to get the latest.

QUESTION: Okay. And just a couple more on the Palestinian issue.

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: There is also – the Palestinians are saying that they are going to reintroduce another UN resolution, perhaps, on a different draft with different elements and so on. Have they discussed that with you? Are you discussing that with them, or would your position remain the same, so to speak?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re certainly aware of those reports. I’m not going to get into hypotheticals at the UN. I would say that we do not think that another Security Council resolution at this time would be constructive. We’re obviously in constant contact with our partners there to talk about the path forward, but don’t think that would be constructive at this point.

QUESTION: And finally, I wonder if you have a comment – the Israelis have just taken the decision that the Swedish foreign minister is a persona non grata, that she cannot come to Israel – she was planning to go there this week – because they recognized the Palestinian state back on October 30th. And we have seen a number of countries that did that afterwards, including France and so on. One, do you have any comment on that or – and second, do you expect the Israelis – that they will do this with France and other countries?

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen those reports. Let me check.

QUESTION: But what is your position on declaring her a persona non grata?

MS. HARF: Well, I hadn’t seen those reports, so let me check with our team and see what our position is.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. It’s – just actually moving over to Iran --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: We’re watching the Jeffrey Sterling trial on the – in that trial that’s going to come out about CIA Operation Merlin, where they were trying to give, essentially, incomplete nuclear weapon plans to Iran to kind of slow down their development of a nuclear weapon. Could the information coming out in this trial at all affect the ongoing talks between Kerry and Iran?

MS. HARF: Well, given I’m not familiar with the specifics of that trial, and I’m not sure our team that’s talking right now in Geneva is either, look --

QUESTION: It’s just kind of out in the public.

MS. HARF: We’re --

QUESTION: Anyone can pick it up, and I just (inaudible).

MS. HARF: Yeah. Well, so look, I’ll check with our folks. But broadly speaking, we are moving forward with these nuclear negotiations, with the P5+1, and with us, with our partners. Their teams are meeting right now with Wendy Sherman and the other negotiators for a couple days of bilateral talks, and then with the rest of the P5+1. That process is moving forward, and hopefully we can continue making progress. Obviously, there’s a lot of history here. We all are well aware of that. What we’re focused on now is what happens going forward.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have a readout on the current bilats?

MS. HARF: I don’t have one yet. I don’t have one yet.

Yes.

QUESTION: You said yesterday U.S. remains open dialogue with North Korea.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: And what is the United States preconditions for the direct talks with North Korea? Do you have any guidance?

MS. HARF: Well, look, the U.S. has offered the DPRK and continues to offer the opportunity for meaningful engagement and improved bilateral relationship provided it demonstrates its willingness to uphold its international obligations and commitments. Unfortunately, North Korea continues to rebuff or ignore these offers while instead preventing us with the kind of – presenting us with the kind of false choices and a series of provocations we’ve just seen even recently. So we’re open to talking, certainly, but haven’t seen that reciprocated.

QUESTION: But are you not upset that the North Korean offered that if U.S. have a temporary suspending of joint military exercise with South Korea, then are they – if you accept that, then North Korea would – willing to direct talk with the United States about that? What is the U.S. position?

MS. HARF: Well, the offer, as I understand it, which we see as an implicit threat, is for the U.S. to stop doing something that is routine, that is transparent, that is defensive in nature, and that is annual that we do every year, in exchange for the North Koreans not doing something that is prohibited under multiple UN Security Council resolutions and that they are not supposed to be doing. That’s really a false choice here. They’re not equivalent in any way.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Iran?

MS. HARF: Yeah, and then I’m going to go to you. Yes, we can.

QUESTION: The case of Jason Rezaian.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any more information about what he’s been charged with? Have the Swiss been able to meet with him? Does he have a lawyer? What’s – what is his situation right now?

MS. HARF: Well, during the meetings yesterday, Secretary Kerry raised U.S. citizen Jason Rezaian’s case. They discussed the report stating that his case had been referred to a court. The Secretary reiterated our call for his immediate release, as well as for the immediate release of detained U.S. citizens, Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati, and of course, for the Iranian Government to work cooperatively with us in locating Robert Levinson, as we always do.

This is a discussion we have with them very frequently. I don’t have many more details than that. Of course, we continue to monitor the situation closely and are seeking further information about what might come out of this move to refer the case to the court. I know The Washington Post – one of their editors also said they hope this is a way the judicial process can be moved forward and Jason can be returned to his family. We certainly share that sentiment.

QUESTION: But you’re not aware of whether there have been any contacts between Jason and Swiss officials?

MS. HARF: I can check. I’m not aware of any, but I’m happy to check for you.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Turkey?

MS. HARF: Yes, Turkey.

QUESTION: Thank you, Marie. Yesterday, you were asked about a situation regarding press freedom in Turkey, but just within day a few developments happen. Some of the columnists who published this cartoons, French cartoons, are under threat. Newspaper (inaudible) is now – there’s an investigation launched just this morning. And also Prime Minister Davutoglu gave some remarks and said that basically this newspaper, (inaudible), had it coming.

My question is: Are you following this situation in Turkey or are you concerned with the situation?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re certainly following it. There’s been a lot of debate about these cartoons – not just in Turkey, I would say. And what I’ve said over the past few days certainly stands. There are very strong feelings about these cartoons. It should be up to media organizations to make the decisions about what to publish and whether to publish them. These are very complicated decisions. I know you all have probably had these conversations with your news organizations. But the way to respond to speech you don’t like isn’t with violence, it isn’t with threats; it’s with more speech. That’s what we believe very strongly here, I know the French believe, and others believe. So clearly, we think that media organizations should have the right publish what they want. Doesn’t mean they have to to prove that they can. It’s obviously a decision for them to make.

QUESTION: Just today, European parliament passed a resolution condemning the ongoing raids on press freedom in Turkey. There is still a journalists and there is new legislation just passed that gave more authority to police and more authority to detain, all these developments. Just yesterday former Ambassador Ricciardone gave a remark and said that Turkey and U.S. do not share values anymore; we share interests. Would you agree with this statement?

MS. HARF: Well, these aren’t about U.S. values. We have repeatedly urged Turkey, as our NATO ally and friend, to ensure their actions uphold Turkey’s own core values and democratic foundations. And we’ve made clear in the past that we have concerns about government interference in freedom of expression. It’s an ongoing conversation with them, certainly.

QUESTION: So when you say “sharing values,” it is the universal values. Do you still think that U.S. and Turkey share these --

MS. HARF: Turkey is a close friend and NATO ally. These are conversations we have with them all the time.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you know – on the issue of sharing values, it’s a point that I raised the other day. I mean, you don’t really share these values with any other country. I mean --

MS. HARF: We don’t agree with anything any other country’s --

QUESTION: -- but we know that --

MS. HARF: -- right, everything.

QUESTION: -- there are other countries in Europe, Western democracies and so on, that do have laws in place because of their past history and so on, which we don’t have in this country. So you don’t expect, let’s say – I mean, we don’t have any laws against speech, period, in America. So you don’t expect --

MS. HARF: Well, that incites violence, we do. But --

QUESTION: That incite violence.

MS. HARF: -- I’m not an attorney, so I don’t want to go too far down that road.

QUESTION: Right. So you don’t expect Turkey to adopt the same thing.

MS. HARF: We expect countries around the world to uphold the basic fundamental human freedoms that include freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom to be able to choose your own future and say what you want and speak your mind, even if that speech is offensive to some people. Again, it doesn’t mean you have to say things that are offensive to prove you can. These are individual decisions for people and organizations to make.

QUESTION: Pakistan?

MS. HARF: Let’s go here. And then Roz, I’ll go to Pakistan.

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. HARF: Syria, yes.

QUESTION: Did you get in touch in the last 24 hours with the Syrian opposition? And if so, did you urge them to attend Moscow talks?

MS. HARF: Well, U.S. Special Envoy for Syria Daniel Rubinstein just returned from a trip overseas to a number of countries in Europe, I think including Turkey and others, where he was continuing his routine engagement with international partners and Syrian opposition members about efforts to advance a negotiated political solution – against ISIL, of course – and to expand our support to the armed opposition through the launch of DOD’s train and equip program. So he was – had some meetings there. Special Envoy Rubinstein and Major General Michael Nagata met earlier this week with a broad spectrum of Syrian opposition and civil society leaders in Turkey to talk about a number of things, including the train and equip program.

QUESTION: So did you urge them, or not?

MS. HARF: Oh, on Moscow. Look, this is a decision for the Syrian opposition to make. They can make it on their own.

QUESTION: Because the Secretary yesterday spoke in a way that he implicitly urged them to attend.

MS. HARF: He did not. He said --

QUESTION: He said they won’t lose anything if they attend.

MS. HARF: He said, “We hope that the Russian efforts could be helpful,” quote. And as I said yesterday, in an extended exchange, I don’t know what he would have said instead – that we hope they’re not helpful? That seems to just defy logic. So we hope any effort to advance a political solution in Syria could be helpful. It doesn’t mean we’re saying the Syrian opposition should or shouldn’t go. It’s a decision for them to make.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: But going along with to what you said yesterday, that all along you have said that there’s only a political solution basically to the Syrian crisis, I mean, holding the conference at the end of the month is a good thing, isn’t it? It would be a good thing and you will do all you can to make it happen, wouldn’t you?

MS. HARF: Well, this isn’t our conference.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: This is a Russian-led effort.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: So the Syrian opposition can decide if it wants to go. There’s also talks in Cairo. We hope any effort aimed at achieving a political solution could make progress and be helpful, certainly. But we’ll see what happens.

QUESTION: Okay. Envoy Staffan de Mistura also said today, I think, or yesterday, that people agree that we must resolve the Syria issue politically this year. I mean, I know everybody wants to resolve it yesterday, I mean. But he’s saying, like --

MS. HARF: I couldn’t agree with that more.

QUESTION: He’s saying as if there were some sort of a common agreement that everybody’s going to do their best to do this, including the opposition, including the United States, including the Russians. Are there any things that you are doing or conducting with the Russians to facilitate their meeting, to make it inclusive, to make it really happen, and go to the next step?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re not working with them, to my knowledge, on this specific meeting. But generally speaking, Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov have had numerous conversations at their level, certainly at other levels as well, about how we can work together to get to a political solution, separate from this upcoming round of talks in Moscow.

QUESTION: Now, let me just follow up very quickly. The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave an interview, and he said basically that you – the fight against ISIS by the West, by the American-led coalition, is basically – it’s like just window dressing, not real substantive. Can you comment on that?

MS. HARF: Well, I think that the ISIL terrorists who have been at the receiving end of U.S. bombs probably don’t feel that way.

QUESTION: Okay. But so he’s saying that there’s – more effort needs to be done and more coordination, and that Syria has been at the receiving end --

MS. HARF: We’re certainly not coordinating with the Assad regime. We’re coordinating with 60 coalition partners, including Arab states, to fight ISIL.

QUESTION: Okay. But considering that they are probably the larger target of these attacks by ISIS and other terrorist groups – al-Qaida, al-Nusrah, and so on – wouldn’t it make sense to coordinate at one point how you can perhaps direct a more devastating blow to ISIS and other terrorist groups?

MS. HARF: Not with the Assad regime, Said. Look, they talked on the one hand about fighting ISIL and on the other hand they allowed them to grow. So we are coordinating with over 60 coalition partners. We’ve conducted with our coalition partners over 1,600 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria since August. They continue on a nearly daily basis. We’ve taken out their fighters, their commanders, hundreds of vehicles and tanks, nearly 200 oil and gas facilities – the infrastructure that funds their terror – as well as more than 1,000 fighting positions, checkpoints, buildings. This is a long fight, but it’s a sustained one that we’re very focused on.

QUESTION: General Allen will return from his travel to the Middle East?

MS. HARF: General Allen. Special Presidential Envoy General Allen and Deputy Envoy Ambassador Brett McGurk met today with the Dutch foreign minister and other Dutch national security officials in The Hague. Following their departure from Iraq, they actually delayed their return to the U.S. to have some consultations with Dutch leadership on countering ISIL, got added to the schedule. They thanked the foreign minister for the Netherlands’ ongoing coalition contributions, including their F-16s flying tactical missions in Iraq, their planned train-and-advise support for Iraqi Security Forces, and their leadership on countering the flow of foreign fighters. It is my understanding they are then returning to the United States.

QUESTION: Back on Syria, I have a question.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: The leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon gave an interview today to a television, revealed that he met with some leaders from the Syrian opposition trying to help reaching a political solution in Syria. Were you aware of that?

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen that. Let me check.

QUESTION: Marie, what --

MS. HARF: I just – I hadn’t seen those reports.

QUESTION: What is the (inaudible)? What is your reading on the motivation of the Russians to have this meeting unless you can have both sides there?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not sure I’m probably well positioned to judge Russian motivations. I’ll let them speak to that. It’s my understanding, though, this is an intra-Syrian meeting helping the Syrian coalition – or the Syrian opposition better coalesce. That needs to be an important part of how we eventually get to a political solution. So that’s my understanding that that’s the point. But I’m not – I mean, motivations, who knows? We talk to the Russians a lot about advancing a political solution and working together on that. So I’m guessing it would help play into that effort.

QUESTION: And if the moderates who the U.S. supports do not go, I mean, is there any – I don’t – I mean, what is the value of the meeting?

MS. HARF: Well, as the Secretary said, we hope this meeting could be helpful in advancing a political solution. We’ll see what comes from it.

(Phone rings.)

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MS. HARF: Hello.

QUESTION: A follow-up on the same question, please?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry’s remarks widely read as U.S. is supporting Moscow talks, so you are saying --

MS. HARF: Well, I would say they’re widely misread then.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I just read you exactly what he said. We certainly hope they can be helpful. I’m not sure what the alternative language would have been. We don’t hope they’re helpful? We hope they’re unhelpful? That’s sort of crazy and defies logic.

QUESTION: Do you think if the Assad regime may – will go to Moscow, it looks like, they should be at least doing some – take some steps? Do you have any precondition for Assad regime to participate this kind of conference?

MS. HARF: These are not our talks. Ask the Russians.

QUESTION: The Russians invited Iran to attend the talks. How come they didn’t invite the U.S.?

MS. HARF: Ask the Russians.

QUESTION: And one more. You talk about train and equip --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- program that U.S. team met with the Syrian opposition. Is there any update on this?

MS. HARF: Not really. The Department of Defense has announced that we begin – we expect training to begin in early spring. As we’ve talked about, Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have agreed to host training sites. We’re working right now with the interagency and foreign partners to identify recruits for the program. Once we identify personnel by name, the vetting process begins, and that can take around a month, depending. But obviously, we need to vet people before we start training and equipping them.

QUESTION: And the final question is semi-Syria. The Hayat – this one of the partners of suspect or killers in Paris, Hayat – I don’t remember her --

QUESTION: Boumeddiene.

QUESTION: Okay. She – do you have any update on her whereabouts?

MS. HARF: I don’t. I don’t.

QUESTION: Did you talk to Turkish Government? You got any information during her stay in Turkey?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any – anything to share on her today.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Afghanistan?

MS. HARF: Yeah, let’s do Pakistan, then Afghanistan. Sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on reports that the Pakistani Government may, in fact, be outlawing the Haqqani Network? And if so, when was the U.S. Government notified, and is the U.S. being asked to help sustain the new status quo?

MS. HARF: Yeah. So we welcome reports that the Government of Pakistan plans to outlaw the Haqqani Network, I think 10 or 11 additional organizations linked to violent extremism. This is an important step toward eliminating terrorist activity in Pakistan. Obviously, the Secretary was just there and had a wide-ranging conversation with the Pakistanis about counterterrorism, certainly. He emphasized that we’re committed to deepening our security partnership with Pakistan, and obviously had many conversations with Prime Minister Sharif and others. I don’t have many more details than that. I know this was just an announcement that this is planning to happen. I don’t have more details on when it might.

QUESTION: And when the Secretary talked about deepening commitment, does that mean more military advisers? Does that mean weapons? Does that mean money? All three?

MS. HARF: Don’t have many more details. He did announce the over 250 million that’s allocated for the relocation, shelter, and food and livelihoods of those affected by the counterterrorism operation – so to help the Pakistanis with this IDP issue they have because of ongoing counterterrorism operations. That was an additional 250 million. I don’t have more details than that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yes, Ashish. Yes.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on the Haqqani Network question, Admiral Mullen had said – described it as a veritable arm of the ISI.

MS. HARF: I remember those comments.

QUESTION: Is that a description that you agree with, and are you seeing those linkages – an end to those linkages?

MS. HARF: Well look, we have a long history of close cooperation with Pakistan on counterterrorism efforts. We’ve been very clear with the Pakistani Government that they need to crack down and go after all terrorist groups that threaten them, threaten their people – their people are, unfortunately, the victims of more terrorist attacks than, I think, people probably anywhere else. So it’s an ongoing conversation, certainly, but this would be a very important step.

Yes.

QUESTION: The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said that the State Department spent four billion on counternarcotic initiatives in Afghanistan. Despite this, the United Nations reported that Afghanistan set a record for producing opium in 2014 and that 80 percent of the total opium production in the world comes from Afghanistan. Was it the goal of the United States Government to eradicate poppy production in Afghanistan while we’ve had forces there for 13 years?

MS. HARF: Let me check with our folks. Obviously, while we’ve had military operations underway in Afghanistan, we have focused on other issues, including the narcotics trade. Certainly, we’ve talked about this a lot, and I know we have put a great deal of effort into helping the Afghans grow their capabilities to crack down on this. Let me check with our team and see. I hadn’t that SIGAR report.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: A follow-up to that: The Congressional Research Service says, “After 2014, the State Department does not plan to have a permanent counternarcotics presence outside Kabul.” Has the U.S. Government given up on trying to stop post-war Afghanistan from being the opium production capital of the world?

MS. HARF: Well, I can certainly answer your second question and say no, obviously. In terms of staffing and where people are located, I can check and see if there’s a specific reason for that. But clearly, we have people in Afghanistan and back at the State Department very focused on this issue – very focused.

And then you, yep.

QUESTION: Do you have anything more about the authentication of the AQAP video?

MS. HARF: I don’t.

QUESTION: About the content?

MS. HARF: The content – I don’t. We continue to look into the investigation about the claims in the video. That is ongoing, so I can’t confirm any of those. The intelligence community is still looking at that. No update there.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I just ask about Sri Lanka?

MS. HARF: You can.

QUESTION: After the elections, there were reports that President Rajapaksa had asked the army to help him stay in power, but when the army refused to do so, he stepped down. Did the U.S. convey any messages to the president at the time to – or the army to respect the outcome of that vote?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve certainly seen those reports, and I don’t think we’re going to have any comment on those; would refer you to the Government of Sri Lanka. As Secretary Kerry said in his phone call to the new president, obviously we’re looking forward to working with the new administration to achieve its goals.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Today, a woman convicted of killing her stepdaughter was beheaded in public. Are you aware of that?

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen those reports.

Anything else? Yes.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the video?

MS. HARF: You can.

QUESTION: So it means that you are still not sure that AQAP is behind – is responsible for the attack against Charlie Hebdo?

MS. HARF: Correct. We’ve assessed that the video was made by them, distributed by them, but we cannot confirm all of the claims they made in it about their possible involvement.

QUESTION: And what about the other attack? Do you believe that Coulibaly was part of the Islamic State?

MS. HARF: We’re still looking into all of those pieces. I know there’ve been a lot of different reports out there. Nothing to convey on that.

QUESTION: And nothing – no update about the fact that he was apparently on a U.S. terror list?

MS. HARF: No update on any of that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:46 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 14, 2015

Wed, 01/14/2015 - 16:03

Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 14, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:16 p.m. EST

MS. HARF: Good afternoon. Welcome to the daily briefing, everyone. I have two items at the top, and then I will open it up to your questions.

First, a trip update: The Secretary is on travel today. Earlier this morning, in Geneva, he met with UN Special Envoy for Syria de Mistura, where they discussed, obviously, Syria, specifically the situation in Aleppo. He also, of course, met with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. He will soon be in the air en route to Sofia, Bulgaria, where he will have a full program tomorrow to discuss security cooperation, energy diversification, and the bilateral trade and investment relationship.

On Friday in Paris, Secretary Kerry will meet with Foreign Minister Fabius and then with President Hollande to reiterate the support of the United States for the French people and our ongoing commitment to providing any assistance needed. The rest of the schedule is still being determined.

And finally, we have a group of visitors in the back from Miami University in Ohio. It’s a group of students. I know we’ve talked a lot about Ohio this week. I’m sure you all saw the President called Coach Urban Meyer today.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Big news, big news. But welcome. I hope you enjoy the briefing and we’re happy to have you here.

With that, Brad.

QUESTION: Can we start with the Secretary’s trip?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: Firstly, on Syria --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- he seemed to be a lot more forward-leaning on the Russia-proposed talks than you have been from this podium. He said they could be helpful. Can you explain what you might be hoping to --

MS. HARF: He said, quote, “We hope that the Russian efforts could be helpful.”

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I think – I’m not sure what the alternative would be. We’ve said from this podium we welcome any effort that could be helpful toward advancing a political solution. That is in no way different than what I have said from here, and he was in no way indicating something different.

QUESTION: So does that --

MS. HARF: I’m not sure what the opposite would be, that we would hope – we would be hopeful they would not be helpful, right? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, I --

MS. HARF: I think that’s exactly in line with what I said this week about those talks.

QUESTION: If you think so, great, but --

MS. HARF: I think the words actually bear that out as well.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you explain why you haven’t asked, then, the Syrian opposition to participate if you hope they’d be helpful?

MS. HARF: Well, we leave those decisions up to the Syrian opposition to discuss their participation, sort of whether they believe these meetings would be productive. That’s a decision for them to make.

QUESTION: Can they be helpful without the Syrian opposition actually attending?

MS. HARF: Well, there’s a variety of pieces of the Syrian opposition, as we know – different groups, different leaders, different members. I know they are talking right now about who can attend, and as the Secretary said, we are certainly hopeful that they could be helpful. We would say that about any possible set of discussions that could move the process forward.

QUESTION: So do you hope that a broad array of the Syrian opposition would then attend?

MS. HARF: We hope that a broad array of the Syrian opposition will participate in advancing a political solution to the crisis in Syria. What that looks like – whether it’s the Cairo talks, the Moscow talks – that’s up for the Syrian opposition to decide.

QUESTION: And do you believe the Russians actually have the right objectives at heart with this proposed conference? Do they want to advance a political solution that leads to Assad leaving power?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve talked a lot about the Geneva Communique. Obviously, we worked on that with the Russians, which lays out a plan for a transitional governing body. The details are what’s always been the issue, right. So I think we all agree that there broadly needs to be a political transition, but the disagreement or the issues remaining to be discussed are what that might look like.

QUESTION: How could it be helpful, then, if you don’t even know what the Russians actually are – or the Syrians for that matter, the Syrian Government – actually hopes to get out of this?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ll see. As the Secretary said, we hope that these efforts would be helpful. We would hope that any efforts would be helpful. I’m not passing judgment on something that hasn’t happened yet, and certainly, neither was he.

QUESTION: But compared to the U.S. involvement in the Geneva talks, I mean, you’re barely – are you sending anybody to these talks?

MS. HARF: At this point we are not. I don’t believe we’ve been invited.

QUESTION: That does not show much confidence in the talks and appear to be something that you could work with.

MS. HARF: Well, these are intra-Syrian talks designed to bring the opposition – to coalesce them more and to bring them more together. If there was a role we could play in any of these or that we think is – would be helpful, we could have that discussion, but at this point we’re just not a part of them.

QUESTION: Have there been any conversations between U.S. and Syrian officials?

MS. HARF: Syrian Government officials?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: Ever? Recently? About this?

QUESTION: Recently, about the ongoing civil war, about the need for some sort of political resolution. I mean, there is still a diplomatic relationship.

MS. HARF: There is.

QUESTION: Yeah. Have there been any recent conversations, or to put it more frankly, what has the U.S. been doing to try to help end the civil war in Syria?

MS. HARF: Let me check and see about the – if there have been conversations with regime officials. Throughout this diplomatic process, we’ve been focused on working with the Syrian opposition to help them coalesce and get them to the table. The Russians are the ones who have been working with the Syrian regime to help get them to the table. That’s generally how the tasks have been broken down, but I can check on this specific question.

QUESTION: And can you also find out what specifically has the acting ambassador, Mr. Silverman, been working on in terms of trying to help resolve the political crisis in Syria?

MS. HARF: Well, Daniel Rubinstein is our special – and I don’t know if his exact term is “Special Envoy.” I can get his exact term for you. But he’s the one who works primarily with the Syrian opposition, is Daniel Rubinstein.

QUESTION: You mentioned --

MS. HARF: So I can check on what his latest efforts have been.

QUESTION: You mentioned about the diplomatic tie, diplomatic relationship with Syrian Government.

MS. HARF: We don’t – right. No, go ahead, sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: I will let you finish.

QUESTION: Is there any diplomatic relation other than --

MS. HARF: We have not cut off diplomatic relations with Syria. Obviously, we don’t have diplomats at an embassy in Syria, and they don’t have any here either, but we still have a diplomatic relationship.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the last time you said that during this campaign, the military campaign, you informed the representative of Syrian Government --

MS. HARF: We did, at the UN.

QUESTION: -- through UN. Is there any other channel other than UN?

MS. HARF: I’m sure we have a variety of ways of talking to them. I’m happy to check if there are more details.

QUESTION: Marie, just to be clear – so is the U.S. advising the moderate Syrian opposition to go to these talks?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re in conversations with them on a constant basis about possible avenues for making progress. I’m probably not going to get into more specific details about these – any one set of talks, these talks, or the Cairo talks, or anything. But we’re having an ongoing conversation with them.

QUESTION: Wait, but I don’t understand. You’re saying and the Secretary says that these – you hope these talks could be helpful.

MS. HARF: Right.

QUESTION: But you won’t say whether the Syrian opposition should go?

MS. HARF: Well, that’s a decision for them to make.

QUESTION: But then how – I mean, but how could you hope they could be helpful if you don’t hope that they attend?

MS. HARF: I didn’t say that I hope they don’t attend.

QUESTION: Well, I’m asking.

MS. HARF: I said we are having private conversations with them, and it’s really a decision for them to make about their participation.

QUESTION: Do you hope that they attend?

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check and see if there’s more we can share publicly. We’re having private conversations with them, Brad. We don’t always outline all of those publicly.

Yes.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MS. HARF: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: While the Secretary was in Geneva, or still is in, discussing the nuclear program with his counterpart --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- here in Washington yesterday, Senator Tom Cotton made some very strong remarks about the U.S. policy regarding these talks. He said that the Administration’s policy has now led to a, and I quote, “a dangerous farce.” He had very, very strong words. And he wants the Administration to cease all – he said the Administration has been giving concessions to Iran and he wants it to stop. Do you have any comments on this?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think you’ll be surprised that I strongly disagree with those comments. This Administration’s policy has led to a place where Iran’s nuclear program is frozen for the first time in a decade. The diplomacy we’ve put in place has led to that happening and that outcome, and has led to us negotiating whether we can prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon through diplomacy, which I think many people, most people agree is the most durable, best way to do so. So that’s what we’re engaged in right now.

We have to be assured through this process that we cut off the pathways for Iran to get to a nuclear weapon. There are a variety of ways to do that technically, and that’s what we’re working on right now, so --

QUESTION: He suggested the military option, and he said that maybe Congress should offer the Israelis some surplus B-52 bombers and bunker-busting bombs so they could use it if they want to. Have you – has the Congress been in touch with you in this regard?

MS. HARF: I don’t believe we’ve received any specific correspondence from this Congress on that topic. Otherwise, I don’t think I have much more to say on members’ proposals that they float publicly beyond that.

QUESTION: Just a few on the senator. He seemed to imply that the goal of a sanctions effort isn’t to strengthen the Administration’s hand, as it were, which has been the argument of many sanctions proponents, but actually to scuttle the negotiations completely.

MS. HARF: The new sanctions, you mean?

QUESTION: Yeah. He basically voiced support for ending all negotiations and said we should get back to regime change as a policy. Is this something you feel has been the goal all along of some of the sanctions proponents?

MS. HARF: Well, I’ll let individual members of Congress who support additional sanctions at this time explain their rationale behind doing so. I know they’ve spoken about that publicly. I certainly don’t want to speak for them. But what we’ve said is that new nuclear-related sanctions at this point would not only be a violation of the Joint Plan of Action that could encourage Iran to also violate it, restart their nuclear program, but that could very well lead to a breakdown in these negotiations. So we’ve been clear about the outcome we think could happen if indeed new nuclear-related sanctions are passed.

QUESTION: And regime change is not a U.S. policy on Iran at the moment, is it?

MS. HARF: It is not. I can assure you of that.

QUESTION: Do you have a readout of the talks so far from Geneva?

MS. HARF: I do, I do. Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif met this afternoon in Geneva to take stock of where things stand, provide guidance to their team in advance of the next round of negotiations, which begin tomorrow. They had substantive meetings for approximately five hours today and discussed a broad range of issues with a small group of staff from each side. On our end that included Under Secretary Wendy Sherman, former Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, and the NSC Senior Director Rob Malley; technical experts from a range of areas also joined the conversation as necessary; and the Secretary met then with the negotiating team after that before departing Geneva to talk through what we hope to accomplish over the next few days.

QUESTION: Was it all strictly focused on the nuclear talks, or did any other issues – ISIL, the status of the situation in Syria and Iraq, anything else – or was it just on nukes?

MS. HARF: As you all are aware, these conversations that we have are only on the nuclear issue. On the sidelines of these, we, of course, always raise the American citizen cases. I don’t know if that was raised in the Secretary’s meeting. I’m happy to check and see if we can share on that. I know it will be raised at some point during this round, as it always is, but these are focused on the nuclear issue.

QUESTION: Still on Iran --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh, and then --

QUESTION: Are you familiar with – I think President Rouhani made some reference to building new nuclear plants to feed Bushehr.

MS. HARF: I didn’t see those comments.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you take a look at them and --

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: -- and then just see if you would think that’s consistent with JPOA freezing obligations?

MS. HARF: I will, I will. Yes, I’m going to go to Justin Fishel in the back. Welcome to our briefing room. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I’ve been here before. It’s been a while --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- so I appreciate you calling on me. Do you have any reason to doubt the claims in the new AQAP video that they are, in fact, responsible for the attacks in Paris and that the now deceased Anwar Awlaki made arrangements with the attackers, and that the plan was ultimately approved by al-Qaida leadership, Zawahiri specifically?

MS. HARF: Well, I just before coming out here got a note from my colleagues in the intelligence community, who have assessed that the AQAP video claiming responsibility for last week attack – last week’s attacks against Charlie Hebdo is authentic. That process had been ongoing since the video was released. But as I said, the intelligence community has now determined that the AQAP video is authentic. This, we believe, likely came from AQAP’s media wing. The latest example of the brutality that is really AQ’s calling card, certainly how AQAP is the most dangerous affiliate associated with AQ core, particularly in terms of external plotting outside of their region where they’re located, and that they’ve perpetrated these kinds of attacks. I would note that the day – the same day as the Charlie Hebdo attack, we believe AQAP attacked and killed over 30 Yemenis, many of whom if not all of whom were probably Muslim, who were gathered to join the security services and to serve the Yemeni people. So clearly, AQAP remains a threat.

In terms of your second part of your questions, we’re still looking at every piece of information to determine exactly the links here between the attackers and AQAP, particularly specific members of AQAP like you noted, Anwar al-Awlaki. That investigation is clearly ongoing. And so if we have more to share about financing or training specifically, we will do so.

QUESTION: So the video is authentic, but not everything in the message may be accurate, as far as you know?

MS. HARF: We’re still going through all of that right now, but we do believe the video came from AQAP’s media wing. Clearly, again, all of the details are being gone through right now.

QUESTION: Is it notable that Amedy Coulibaly was not mentioned in this video?

MS. HARF: Our analysts are looking at all of that right now. I’m happy to see if there’s more specifics they have in terms of that analysis.

QUESTION: Are you looking at also the involvement of ISIS in this incident?

MS. HARF: Certainly, we’re looking at anything that might have inspired these attackers to undertake their activities in terms of this specific time, this specific place. Obviously, there’s questions about where they might have been trained and where they might have gotten funding, but who inspired them. And as I think we’ve said in the past few days, it’s possible they were inspired by a number of different terrorist groups, not just one.

QUESTION: So as of now, you don’t hold AQAP responsible for the attack?

MS. HARF: Well, we hold the attackers responsible for the attack, clearly. We’re still trying to get complete fidelity on the exact links. I know there have been a lot of media reports out there about the brothers, possibly one or both of them, traveling to Yemen. That’s all being looked over right now. But if true, I think just underscores again the threat AQAP has posed, certainly how focused they have been on external operations, and why we decided to really focus our counterterrorism operations on AQAP.

QUESTION: Do you see any kind of collaboration between AQAP and ISI, ISIS?

MS. HARF: Operational collaboration?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: Not that I have heard of. I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: On this particular attack.

MS. HARF: I know our folks are looking at all of that right now.

QUESTION: Does the United States see ISIS as a bigger national security threat than al-Qaida?

MS. HARF: Well, al-Qaida core, al-Qaida in Yemen, in general, a threat to who?

QUESTION: To --

MS. HARF: In general?

QUESTION: To U.S. national security, al-Qaida in general with all its branches all over the world --

MS. HARF: Well, I think --

QUESTION: -- and ISIS.

MS. HARF: I think that’s a little bit simplistic way of looking it. They are both very significant threats. As I said, AQAP is the most dangerous affiliate that’s affiliated with AQ core, particularly when it comes to external attacks and looking at Western Europe or the United States. We’ve seen them attempt terrorist attacks on the U.S. with the Christmas Day bombing, the cargo plot, and others. AQ core also clearly remains a threat, as we’ve talked about; ISIS is a different kind of threat, as we’ve also talked about, which is why we’re going after them in Iraq and Syria.

QUESTION: But you have dedicated more resources to fighting ISIS. Doesn’t that --

MS. HARF: Than al-Qaida?

QUESTION: Is that fair? No?

MS. HARF: I would strongly disagree. I would strongly disagree with that.

QUESTION: No, I mean recently. Recently, recently, recently.

MS. HARF: I would strongly disagree with that. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Over the past few months?

MS. HARF: I can guarantee you the people that work on our counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida-core and al-Qaida in Yemen are very focused and are contributing a lot of resources to that --

QUESTION: But every day, more than $70 million goes for fighting ISIS, according to Pentagon.

MS. HARF: Okay, well I can guarantee you a lot of money is going to fighting al-Qaida. Just because it’s not on the front page of the paper doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

Yes, Justin.

QUESTION: What other terror groups do you think they could have been influenced by? You mentioned that you’re not ruling anything out. I mean, is there any realistic link between them and anyone else besides AQAP?

MS. HARF: Some of them have talked, I think, publicly or there have been some social media reports about them maybe being inspired by ISIS. But we’re just not sure at this point – in terms of inspiration, not operational links.

QUESTION: What more can you say about – assuming that AQAP, in fact, was responsible for the Charlie Hebdo attack, what more can you say about its funding sources, about its ability to train people, whether it has people in different parts of Western Europe, as an example? What more can you say about their capabilities?

MS. HARF: Well, a couple points. We’re obviously always concerned about “sleeper cells,” that people who may have gone overseas, received training, are inspired to commit terrorist activities and return to their countries of origin to plot and plan. That’s something we’re very focused on. We’ve been very focused on that for a long time, quite frankly. That’s not a new threat that we’ve been focused on.

In terms of AQAP, we have committed a huge amount of resources towards going after them, taken a number of their operational commanders off of the battlefield, including Anwar al-Awlaki, who had tried to kill Americans by plotting and planning a number of attacks against us. So there’s been some success there, but I think this also underscores that it’s a tough challenge and that it’s something we’re constantly focused on, and that’s why we’ve been relentless and haven’t let up on this fight.

QUESTION: Well, let’s talk a little more about the money. I mean, AQAP has been around for at least a decade now. Zawahiri was known to the U.S., certainly, in the wake of September 11th, so we’re coming into the 14th year. There have been any number of sanctions, any number of rewards for justice. Where are they getting the money to carry out these operations?

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check with our financial folks and see. I mean, some of you are familiar with the AQAP history when they relocated to Yemen, after the Saudis actually had a great bit of success against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, who had focused targets in Saudi Arabia. So there’s been an ongoing fight that we’ve working on with our partners, and we’re working very closely with the Yemenis, I would say, on this. They’ve really built their capacity up quite a bit. It is a tough fight for them as well, but I’ll check and see if there’s more on the funding.

QUESTION: Marie, are --

MS. HARF: Yeah, and then I’ll go to Justin again.

QUESTION: You say that the video and the recordings are authentic, but do you believe that the claim is true that they did it?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re clearly going through every piece of that. It’s not as simple as just saying “they”. What does that mean that they did it, right?

QUESTION: Well, yeah.

MS. HARF: Did they –was there ideological guidance? Was there money? Was there training? Those are the specific claims that we’re still going through, so I’m not authenticating every substantive piece of that video.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: We do believe though that the video came from AQAP. Clearly, that is significant. So as we can confirm pieces of that – and again, that’s an ongoing investigation, so we want to be a little careful there – we will.

Justin, yes.

QUESTION: My question was very similar. You say you hold their attackers responsible --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- but now that you’ve seen this video, do you also hold AQAP responsible?

MS. HARF: We’re going through all the claims in the video right now, and if we have more to say on that, I’m happy to do so at a later time.

QUESTION: Do you believe that there was a lack of cooperation, international cooperation to (inaudible) these suspects, which was already determined by U.S. intelligence, according to the sources? Because you blacklisted these brothers, but they traveled several time to Yemen between 2009 and 2011, according to the reports. You believe that there was a lack of cooperation – international cooperation?

MS. HARF: I just don’t have more analysis to do on reports of where they may have traveled or how they traveled for you today.

Anything else on this?

QUESTION: On related issue?

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Fourteen years ago you send your troops to Afghanistan. At that time, it was only focused on Taliban and al-Qaida only in Afghanistan parts of Pakistan. But now, having spent billions of dollars, hundreds of U.S. soldiers have lost their lives, so much investment, 14 years later all expanded to entire Middle East, North America, North Africa (inaudible). What went wrong with the U.S. policy?

MS. HARF: Well, I would note that nobody is arguing that these terrorists went to Afghanistan, so let’s just separate out threats here. If you look at the success we’ve had against al-Qaida core and Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan, we have actually had a large amount of success against the people that we went there to find – the people that attacked us on 9/11. It doesn’t mean there’s not still a threat, it doesn’t mean we’re not worried about other groups operating, whether it’s the Haqqani Network, the TTP, or others.

But what we went there to do when it came to al-Qaida core, in large part, we have done. And if you look at Afghanistan’s government, I mean, we talked yesterday a little bit about this new cabinet being nominated. Afghanistan has a chance for a different future now, and it absolutely – our men and women in uniform have endured incredible sacrifices over this fight, the longest war in America’s history, certainly, to give – to help give Afghanistan a different future. And they have that today.

QUESTION: But why you --

MS. HARF: It won’t be without challenges.

QUESTION: But why you have not been able to prevent the spread of these terrorist organization, affiliate organizations, right?

MS. HARF: Well, that’s, I think, an unrealistic standard, to try and prevent every single attack of terrorism from happening anywhere in the world. That’s certainly, I don’t think, something that’s possible. We have always said that as al-Qaida core was weakened, that we were increasingly concerned about the affiliates, about al-Qaida leaders going to Yemen, the Maghreb, other places. We talked about al-Shabaab a lot in this room. It’s become a much more diffuse threat, and it’s not just from these groups, but also the Lone Wolf threat, which is also very serious, which is very hard to detect. So it’s a complicated picture.

QUESTION: Marie, just to make something clear --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- can you say that – the point that you made earlier about the resources you’ve spent to fight al-Qaida – can we say since ISIS emerged in June, let’s say, in Iraq – since these attacks in Iraq, you have spent more resources on other terrorist organizations than ISIS.

MS. HARF: I would – I don’t have a dollar figure in front of me. I would feel absolutely comfortable saying that our focus on AQAP and AQ core has in no way changed or lessened because we are also now focused on ISIL.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yes. Let’s move on. Brad.

QUESTION: A related question to the Charlie Hebdo incident and --

MS. HARF: Okay, last one. Then we’re moving on.

QUESTION: Yeah. A court in Turkey today blocked any access to a website publishing the Charlie Hebdo latest cover featuring the Prophet Muhammad. So do you have any --

MS. HARF: Well, as I said yesterday, media organizations should use their independent professional judgment when determining what they publish. These are complicated issues, I think, as we all know, but ultimately, ones that journalists should be able to make themselves. Certainly, freedom of expression is something that is enshrined in the Turkish constitution, and we believe it’s important not just in Turkey, but everywhere.

QUESTION: Because the deputy Turkish prime minister today said that – described, actually, the – publishing this cover as provocation or agitation.

MS. HARF: Well, we clearly know there are very strong feelings held by many people about the publishing of these kinds of depictions. But again, this is decisions that each independent press organization should be able to make on their own.

QUESTION: Do you --

MS. HARF: I don’t think I have much more to say on it than that.

QUESTION: Can we wrap up on --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- France-related?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: The president of Syria, who you have diplomatic relations with, as we established again – he said in an interview with Czech media that he had sympathy for the Paris victims, but he put the blame on Western support of terrorism. Do you reject those comments? What do you take on them?

MS. HARF: Wholeheartedly reject them.

QUESTION: And then just returning to something we talked about yesterday, you said you would look into the comments that the Turkish president had made regarding the visit of the Israeli prime minister to France.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have comments now on those?

MS. HARF: Well, I commented yesterday on – are there specific comments that he made that you’re asking for a response to? Because he’s made a lot of comments and I just --

QUESTION: Well, you pick the ones you want to address.

MS. HARF: I think maybe I’ll let you pick the ones you want me to address, and I’m happy to answer specific questions if you have them.

QUESTION: There was particularly the criticism of the Israeli prime minister for having visited France.

MS. HARF: Well --

QUESTION: That would be first.

MS. HARF: We certainly believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s presence in Paris, along with other world leaders, sends a meaningful message of solidarity with the people of France and against acts of terror. As I said yesterday, we disagree with President Erdogan’s characterization of the state of Israel – I think those are also some of the comments you’re probably referring to – and don’t have much more on it than that.

QUESTION: The Israeli prime minister tweeted that no world leaders had actually condemned Erdogan for his comments. Is this something that the Secretary or others in the government – other, let’s say, leaders of the government – are going to address soon?

MS. HARF: I don’t know of any else planned to say publicly, although I know folks certainly share my strong disagreement with those comments as well.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Marie --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- the Iran official news agencies has been quoting – or is quoting a prosecutor saying that the detained Washington Post journalist has been indicted and will stand trial. Do you know if this is – have you been informed of this?

MS. HARF: We’re looking into those reports. I don’t have any independent confirmation of that. We obviously believe that all of the American citizens detained in Iran should be released. As I said, it’s something we do raise when we meet for the nuclear negotiations, and I will check and see if we can confirm that.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: One more on Iran.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Just one more. When the team – the U.S. negotiators get back, how soon do they plan to brief the Congress on the results of the talks in Geneva this time around?

MS. HARF: As soon as they can. We do after every round. We also often have individual phone calls with members from the talks. Secretary Kerry certainly has done so, as have other members of our team, and we’ll get it on the schedule as soon as we can.

QUESTION: Do you think this discussion’s going to be much more difficult this time with the new Congress?

MS. HARF: I think that we’ve heard a lot of different points of view from Congress – not just in the new Congress, but since we started these negotiations – and certainly welcome that input. This is an important enough issue that we want to hear from as many voices as possible, certainly, and we’ll look forward to updating them on the negotiations and where we get at the end of this week.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MS. HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: India. Well, the – we’re talking about the prime minister here. Do you have any comment on – a federal judge in the U.S. today ruled that Prime Minister Modi will not have to face a U.S. lawsuit claiming he failed to stop anti-Muslim rioting in 2002?

MS. HARF: I don’t. I’m happy to check with my colleagues at Justice and see if we’re saying anything.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Yesterday --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Wait. Let’s just do one at a time. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yesterday, U.S. Congress made decisions that the United States will impose sanctions against – all kind of sanctions against North Korea.

MS. HARF: The U.S. Congress did?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: What specific sanctions take to North Korea immediately?

MS. HARF: I can check.

QUESTION: You can check. Okay. I have another --

MS. HARF: Okay. We obviously announced our executive order and our sanctions – the Treasury Department and the State Department’s – recently, but --

QUESTION: Okay. Also yesterday, North Korean Deputy Ambassador Ah Myong Hun said that North Korea want direct talk with the United States. Do you – have you received any of these proposal from North Korean authority, or --

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve certainly seen the most recent remarks that you’re referencing, and our position on the offer from the DPRK has not changed: that it’s an implicit threat. Linking something that is by definition defensive, annual in nature with something that they would possibly do that is a violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions is just an implicit threat. We’ve always said we’re open to dialogue with the DPRK. That hasn’t changed, and I’m – they can do as much explaining as they want about this offer, but our position is what it is.

QUESTION: Okay. North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism will be (inaudible) – redirected?

MS. HARF: Well, that review is ongoing. No updates on that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on North Korea --

QUESTION: Taiwan?

MS. HARF: Oh yeah. Let’s do one more on North Korea and then --

QUESTION: Just quickly, were you able to get a response to the question I asked yesterday about reports that Kim Jong-un will be traveling to Moscow?

MS. HARF: Yes. Let me see what I have on that – not a whole lot. Let me see. There may be back here – we are aware of reports of a possible visit to Moscow by DPRK leader Kim Jong-un. We of course maintain regular contact and consultation with Russia on DPRK-related issues, including the nuclear issue, of course, and closely coordinate with our allies and partners, including Russia, to counter the threat to global security that is posed by the DPRK. I don’t have further information on the announced visit yet. The Russians may, but we don’t have it yet.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

Yes.

QUESTION: Sorry. China has announced that they will implement four new flight route in Taiwan Strait on March, and Taiwan has expressed a strong opposition. And I’m just wondering, because they say – the Taiwan Government say that it’s the – especially the M503 is too close to the middle line of the Taiwan Strait and – which is – belong to the Taipei flight information region. Did you see that report, and do you have any comment on it?

MS. HARF: We note the reports that China is preparing to declare new air routes over the Taiwan Strait. Our primary focus is on maintaining and enhancing international aviation safety. That’s obviously our primary focus when we talk about air routes, which is in the interests of all countries and regions around the world. We do encourage China to engage and consult with the parties affected by the newly declared air routes in the Taiwan Strait to ensure that air safety concerns are addressed. Obviously, that’s of utmost importance to us.

QUESTION: Do you see there is any violate to the American interest in that region?

MS. HARF: I don’t have much more analysis than what I just said. Obviously, we believe that the safety issue is the primary one.

QUESTION: Could I ask a follow-up on a question yesterday regarding the lawyer for the Saudi man who was being flogged?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Apparently, he has gotten five additional years to his sentence. What can you say?

MS. HARF: We are troubled by reports that Saudi Arabia’s court of appeals, on recommendation from the specialized criminal court, sentenced the human rights lawyer you’re referencing to a full 15 years in prison for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association. We’re talking to our folks on the ground and I think we’ll have more to say on the case later today.

QUESTION: And do you – I mean, now the question came up about what are you going to do regarding the man who was being flogged for the next 19 weeks; one week of floggings has already happened. This sort of compounds that. Are you worried that this is becoming an escalating problem and nothing’s really being done?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re certainly troubled by these reports and we’ll continue raising it publicly and privately. I don’t have anything additional to share on it at this point.

QUESTION: As far as you know, this man is not going to be flogged though, right?

MS. HARF: That is my understanding.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can I raise – a change of subject? What we raised yesterday on Pakistan and the hangings – while John Kerry was there, seven men were executed by hanging. This follows a trend, an ongoing trend in which Pakistan has been hanging some of these – some prisoners that had nothing to do with Peshawar attacks. Do you have any comment on --

MS. HARF: Not a whole lot. Of course, we believe that Pakistan, as we say about every country, should uphold the rule of law when it comes to proceeding with these kinds of cases. We fully support Pakistan in its efforts to find those responsible for those horrific attacks and bring them to justice. I don’t have much more specific comment than that general comment about these hangings at this point.

QUESTION: And as a matter of principle, you don’t have problems with countries exercising the death penalty, even by hanging? It’s just as long as the --

MS. HARF: Rule of law is followed, there’s a process in place, a judicial process that’s fair and transparent.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you also have got the feedback on the establishing of military courts in Pakistan? You --

MS. HARF: I didn’t get – let me check on it. I didn’t get anything on that yet.

Yes.

QUESTION: Nigeria?

QUESTION: Staying on Pakistan.

MS. HARF: Yeah, staying on Pakistan.

QUESTION: Six U.S. citizens were killed in the Mumbai attacks.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: And they gave a bail to one of the men accused, and the two of the men accused are roaming free. Secretary Kerry was in that country. Was this issue raised? Specifically this issue, not just the counterterrorism talks – this particular issue.

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve publicly said we were concerned about the bail, certainly, given to one of the alleged masterminds. We’ve talked about this publicly. Let me see if it was raised specifically in the meetings; I’m not sure.

Yes, Roz.

QUESTION: Nigeria?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: On the ongoing search for the Chibok schoolgirls, Pentagon says that it has fewer than 20 military personnel providing advice and doing intelligence work, and that occasionally there are surveillance flights to try to see if they can locate the girls. Given the recent uptick in violence carried out by Boko Haram, is the U.S. actively considering augmenting the assistance that it’s providing to the Nigerian military?

MS. HARF: I can check with our team and see if that’s something we’re considering. We’re always in a conversation with them about how they can fight this threat. The Nigerian Government knows this is a challenge, and obviously I think knows it needs to do more to fight this threat given what we’ve seen. But I don’t have anything else to preview today on this.

QUESTION: Have they, have the Nigerians asked for more military advisors, more intelligence advisors?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Have they --

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check, but not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I think we stand ready to provide assistance in any way we can, and I can check if there are more conversations.

QUESTION: Is there a particular sense of alarm given that Boko Haram went ahead and attacked a Cameroonian military installation earlier in the week, and that some sort of more robust intervention from the U.S. might be required?

MS. HARF: Well, I think what that shows is that Boko Haram is clearly a regional threat. It’s not just a threat to Nigeria. And we have seen other folks in the region step up and really take the fight to Boko Haram, which I think has been – had some success in some places. I’ll check and see if there is anything else about U.S. assistance to share.

QUESTION: Can you also find out what conversations have been had between this building and Cameroonian authorities?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, I can.

QUESTION: I have a HR question.

MS. HARF: Uh-oh.

QUESTION: There was a report that the State Department was considering ending domestic partner benefits. Are you aware of this?

MS. HARF: I am not aware of that.

QUESTION: Can you check if that is accurate and --

MS. HARF: I can.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: I can.

And just to follow up on something, because we were on Africa for a second, that we talked about yesterday, we can confirm that Dominic Ongwen was transferred from U.S. custody to the custody of the AU’s regional counter-LRA task force. It took place this morning, local time. I just wanted to give folks an update on that.

QUESTION: What time, sorry?

MS. HARF: This morning, local time.

Yes.

QUESTION: Cuba?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have anything more to preview about Assistant Secretary Jacobson’s trip to Cuba next week or the agenda for those talks? I know they were already kind of on the schedule, but given recent announcements, do we expect some of the more concrete details of how U.S.-Cuba relations will change to come out of these talks? Is there a specific area where you’re hoping that those details will get worked out?

MS. HARF: I think we’ll probably preview it as we get a little closer to the trip. But broadly speaking, you’re right, these were previously-scheduled migration talks, but will be much broader now, starting really the normalization of diplomatic relations process. As we’ve said, we will also, of course, talk about human rights. It’s always on the agenda. Nothing really more than that to preview today, but certainly we’ll probably do so in the coming days.

QUESTION: Do you have anything about the Korea – South Korea and Japan and United States Six-Party representative talks in Tokyo this month?

MS. HARF: Between North and South Korea, or involving the U.S.?

QUESTION: No, U.S. – three party – U.S., South Korea, Japan.

MS. HARF: Oh, U.S., South Korea, Japan.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: I don’t have any update on that. Let me check with our folks.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. HARF: Let’s go in the back, yes.

QUESTION: Also on Cuba, is it still days – I’m sorry, weeks, not months, that we can expect normalization to occur? Was that what the previous timeline was?

MS. HARF: I don’t think that’s what we said – I mean, normal – in terms of normalization, but I can double-check. Obviously, we want the process to proceed as quickly as it can, but there are a lot of pieces here that have to be worked out. Obviously, we expect to publish regulations soon from the Commerce Department, from the Treasury Department about some of the pieces that will move the relationship forward.

QUESTION: And I’m sorry, just since normalizations don’t happen that often, is there a congressional action that has to occur in order for normalization to be made official?

MS. HARF: I do not believe so.

QUESTION: And then when normalization is made official, is that the day that the interest section becomes an embassy?

MS. HARF: I can check. I would guess, but let me check.

QUESTION: Isn’t it just an exchange of letters?

MS. HARF: It’s an exchange of diplomatic notes, I believe, but let me just double-check on all of that for you.

Yes.

QUESTION: There was a report in the Indian media – actually, it originated from here, not PTI – that one of the Pentagon official was – did not get his visa, his passport was lost by the – so the visa-issuing mechanism of the Indian embassy is – looks like there is a lot of improvement needed. And this being a reciprocal issue, have you looked at it? Have you talked to them, the suffering that the U.S. citizens are facing?

MS. HARF: Let me check. I am not familiar with that report. Let me check for you.

Yes, Justin.

QUESTION: Marie, forgive me if I missed this towards the top – there are reports that The Washington Post journalist detained in Iran was indicted today. Did we talk about this?

MS. HARF: I just said we can’t confirm those independently. We obviously believe he and the other Americans detained should be released immediately. We’ll let you know if we can confirm it.

QUESTION: And what does it say that this happened on the same day that the foreign minister was meeting with the Secretary?

MS. HARF: We’ll see. I’m not sure yet. I don’t know if – I want to confirm the reports first, and then if there’s any analysis I have to do, we’ll do it then.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the American citizens who are on trial in Bali for allegedly killing the woman’s mother?

MS. HARF: Yes. Not a whole lot. Let me see what I have here. We understand the Indonesian authorities have completed their investigation into the murder of Ms. von Wiese; aware of reports also that the trial began on January 14th. And the Indonesian police, I think, will have more information regarding the investigation. We obviously, where any U.S. citizen is arrested overseas, make every effort to gain prompt personal access to the U.S. citizen as part of our consular obligations, and that’s something we take very seriously.

QUESTION: Do you know how many consular visits the two defendants have had so far?

MS. HARF: Well, absent written authorization, we’re unable to share details about individual cases.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:57 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 13, 2015

Wed, 01/14/2015 - 09:08

Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 13, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:15 p.m. EST

MS. HARF: Good afternoon and welcome to the daily press briefing. I have a much shorter set of items at the top today for everyone.

QUESTION: Is that because of Ohio State or because of --

MS. HARF: No. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: But what a great game. Did you see the President congratulated the Buckeyes?

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: I knew that would be mentioned.

MS. HARF: Yes, and also the quarterback from Oregon – from Hawaii.

So a trip update: The Secretary is on travel, began his day in Islamabad, Pakistan. He gave remarks at the U.S.-Pakistani Strategic Dialogue with Pakistani Advisor to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Aziz, and the two did a joint press availability. He then participated in a wreath-laying ceremony and met with the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Raheel. He is currently en route to Geneva, Switzerland, where he will meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif.

And finally, on Ukraine, we condemn continued attacks by separatists as they attempt to control additional territory in violation of the Minsk agreements. Today’s vicious and repeated attacks on the Donetsk Airport and the shelling of a bus that killed 10 people and wounded 13 are just the latest egregious violations of the commitments made by the Russia-backed separatists. We again call on Russia to fulfill its commitments under the Minsk agreements, which include ceasing its substantial military support to the separatists, restoring Ukrainian sovereignty over the international border between Ukraine and Russia, releasing all hostages, and working towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

And I think that’s it. Brad.

QUESTION: Well, why don’t we stay on Ukraine since --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: -- you raised it already. You mentioned that these are violations by the Russian-backed separatists.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: And then you called on Russia to adhere to the Minsk agreement.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you see these acts of violence as directed by Russia or have Russian acquiescence, or are you merely just reiterating that in light of the violence?

MS. HARF: Well, I mean, nothing’s changed. These are separatists that are clearly backed by Russia. We’ve talked about arms going to them, actually Russian soldiers fighting with them. So clearly, there are commitments that Russia made under the Minsk agreements that it’s not living up to, that the separatists and Russia, who has great control over them, also could be – could actually implement if they wanted to.

QUESTION: Do you see this latest spate of violence as somehow another attempt to destabilize Ukraine – a new attempt, if you will, at trying to cause problems on the eastern frontier?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s certainly been an ongoing attempt, I would say, by Russia and the separatists it backs to destabilize Ukraine. Certainly, we are, though, concerned, as I noted at the top, about this increased separatist violence. We’ve seen an increase in violence over the past week. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission has recorded over 150 ceasefire violations, so clearly, we’re concerned about the uptick there.

QUESTION: And given the violence that you mentioned, the bus attack and Donetsk Airport --

MS. HARF: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- does this make the Administration reassess in any way its opposition, up to now, to provide defensive military equipment to the Ukrainians?

MS. HARF: Well, our position on that hasn’t changed. We obviously have an ongoing conversation with the Ukrainians about how we can help, but nothing new on that front. On the monetary side, though, today the Treasury Department did announce just – I want to draw people’s attention to it – a loan guarantee of one billion dollars to the Government of Ukraine in the first half of 2015. If Ukraine continues making concrete progress on the economic reform side – I know that’s not what you asked about – but on the economic reform agenda, we would be willing, working with Congress, to provide an additional one billion. So we think there are ways to assist Ukraine that doesn’t include lethal assistance. Obviously, we continue talking to them, though.

QUESTION: So I’m just wondering – so you said there was the one billion, and then you’re talking to Congress about giving an additional one billion.

MS. HARF: In late 2015, so if they – if Ukraine continues making concrete progress – excuse me, I was up a little late last night – progress on its economic reform agenda, we will consider giving them another one billion in the later half of 2015. We obviously work with Congress on that. They have to do things like continue to overhaul the energy sector, repair their financial system, tackle corruption, things like that, that if they keep making progress on, we will provide an additional loan guarantee.

QUESTION: And I would assume that additional money also would be contingent on a deal with the IMF?

MS. HARF: I can check on that. I know that on – what I have here is that our additional loan guarantee would be contingent on them meeting these conditions, but I can check on the IMF piece of that.

QUESTION: And then has there been direct contact or, say, between the – Secretary Kerry and Lavrov to express your anger at the continuing violence?

MS. HARF: Not – the Secretary has not spoken to Foreign Minister Lavrov in the past few days. I know other officials have been in touch with the Russians. I don’t have specifics for you, though.

QUESTION: Since you mentioned the Russians, there were calls from Russia recently to restart counterterrorism working group or counterterrorism talks. Is that being – are you positive to that?

MS. HARF: I can – let me check with our team. We’ve talked to the Russians, including the Secretary with Foreign Minister Lavrov, about counterterrorism, just in their normal bilateral discussions. Certainly, the Russians are very focused on it, as are we. But in terms of that specific dialogue, let me check.

QUESTION: I think it was canceled because at some point, it was found not to be very useful in the broader context of --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- the kind of breakdown in relations. I mean, have relations repaired enough that this would be something fruitful for both sides?

MS. HARF: I’ll check on this specific dialogue. I do know that counterterrorism is one of those areas – we always say there are areas we can work with the Russians on, despite our disagreements on other things. So let me check on that.

QUESTION: Staying on terrorism, today the head of the European Union Police said that about 5,000 European Union citizens have gone or participated in terror activities in Syria and gone to the jihadi groups. Does that give you pause, perhaps – all this aid that was going almost unchecked to the Syrian rebels, quote/unquote, is backfiring now? I mean, is there – are you doing anything to sort of stop that unchecked flow of volunteers, arms, money into Syria?

MS. HARF: Well, let’s pull out a couple of pieces of what you asked there. The people we give assistance to in the Syrian opposition we vet.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: Obviously, we know there’s always a risk that something could fall into a bad actor’s hands, but we do vet who we give it to. In terms of foreign fighters, we absolutely know there is a very significant problem going in and out of Syria and Iraq. We’ve worked with countries in the region, including Turkey and others, to really help them crack down on those borders. I mean, we have updated – or the newest foreign figure fighters in terms of foreign fighters and U.S. people that may have gone to fight with ISIL or in Syria in general, and we know there’s a huge challenge here, certainly.

QUESTION: Not – and I know you dealt with this issue. Sorry for missing so many days. I wasn’t so --

MS. HARF: It’s okay. I haven’t briefed since right around Christmas, so you know --

QUESTION: Anyway, so – but today the police sources in Paris say that the weapons came from outside the country, so – and the money came from outside the country. And at the same time, there is a terrorist group, who was well known, posted all over, was able to travel, go through Turkey, and go on to Syria. I mean, what is your allies, like Turkey and other countries – what are they doing and really to stop this kind of criminal activity?

MS. HARF: Well, they know it’s a huge challenge. And I would remind people we now have a UN Security Council resolution in place, calling on all member-states to stem the flow of foreign fighters to Syria, really helping to break up some of these networks, whether they start elsewhere and try to move to Syria. It’s a huge problem, though, and these borders are very large; they’re often very porous. And so we’re working with Turkey and others to identify foreign fighters and try and cut off that flow, but is really – it is very difficult to do.

QUESTION: Marie --

QUESTION: So you feel – just one last one.

MS. HARF: Yeah. Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Do you feel that Turkey is actually doing what it should be doing in terms of controlling its borders?

MS. HARF: They certainly know what a huge challenge this is. And believe me, Turkey’s affected by this more than almost any other country, given their geographic proximity. So they know this is a threat and a problem, and they’re working very closely with us to try and really close down those borders.

QUESTION: Given – just going back to Said’s question, yes, there’s a Security Council resolution, and I think that was September 2014. Does that make you think that mistakes were made in not pushing harder on this from, say, the middle of 2011 through 2012, 2013, 2014?

MS. HARF: Well, this – our efforts didn’t start with the Security Council resolution. I just was pointing to that as a sort of milestone. We have interagency teams – folks like DHS and DOJ, Treasury, FBI – who have been working with countries, particularly in Western Europe but elsewhere too, for many, many months now to try and put better practices in place. It is a tough challenge, though. But we’ve been focused on it certainly for a long time.

QUESTION: Well, what’s holding it up? What’s the problem? Is it lack of will? It seems like you’re saying it’s not, but then what’s there – what’s the --

MS. HARF: Well, I mean, you know just geographically the huge – these are pretty big borders and a lot of them are fairly porous. And I think the countries that are surrounding Syria and Iraq know that they had to do better. I’m not saying everything has been perfect. Certainly, I don’t think they would either. But it’s just a sheer manpower challenge. It’s just a tough challenge. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to – and also, trying to identify people coming from Western Europe – I mean, you don’t just talk about the countries around it, right? We’re working with Western European countries to identify people who may travel to Syria or to Iraq or identify them coming back.

QUESTION: I just want to follow up. Seeing that these video tapes, for instance, these horrific video tapes that we have seen of the beheadings and so on – and a lot of these citizens, they come from England, they come from France, other places, and so on.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you think that perhaps these people, the inclination of their governments to aid the Syrian rebels gave them sort of a greenlight to go ahead and join, perhaps, and that --

MS. HARF: I don’t think there’s anything that could ever greenlight doing the things we’ve seen these people do – nothing that justifies it, nothing that greenlights it. I mean look, the longer-term challenge, which I think is what your question is getting at --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: What makes someone who grows up in one of these Western European countries so radicalized that they want to turn to this kind of violence? That’s a longer-term question, right? That’s a generational question. It’s one that’s very important, but it’s one there are no easy answers to.

QUESTION: Could it be the drumbeat of aiding the Syrian rebel or the Syrian revolution effort, let’s say?

MS. HARF: I’m not sure how --

QUESTION: By these countries --

MS. HARF: I’m not sure how helping people in Syria who just want to help determine their own future – have a better future would possibly give justification to anything like that.

QUESTION: Do you have any information on this man in Bulgaria who’s been arrested?

MS. HARF: I don’t. I know the French, obviously, are – have the lead on the investigation. If there’s any details to share on that, I’m happy to. I don’t have anything. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. And then --

QUESTION: Stay on Turkey, to stay on the investigation?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Yeah.

QUESTION: So I know that the French have the lead on the investigation.

MS. HARF: They do.

QUESTION: But is it correct that Mr. Coulibaly, one of the gunmen, was for a while on the U.S. watch list?

MS. HARF: Well, we don’t confirm publicly who’s on those kinds of lists. As I said yesterday, we have had information on these individuals, including on their travel activities, that we have been sharing with our French counterparts. I don’t want to get into the business of selectively confirming one thing or another that’s been out there, certainly. But we’re working very closely with them. There is often a lot of information out there about people, but in terms of precise timing and warnings, that’s a very different thing.

QUESTION: Well, why not make that public if he’s dead?

QUESTION: He’s dead. Why not – yeah, he’s dead.

MS. HARF: We don’t generally make public individuals who are on watch lists, just as a general matter.

QUESTION: After the fact, I mean. Could you acknowledge after the fact?

MS. HARF: As a general matter, we just don’t do that.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: And I’d refer you to my law enforcement colleagues.

QUESTION: Well, given that all three of the men in these attacks were French citizens, given that it doesn’t seem that there’s any evidence that they were ever on U.S. soil, why would U.S. intelligence be tracking their behavior?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t – I think it’s – without confirming that we were or were not tracking these individuals, we don’t just track people who might step foot on U.S. soil. We obviously are concerned about threats, people who may be plotting or planning attacks to our allies or to the U.S. who’ve never come here – again, without confirming anything.

QUESTION: Can --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just on that --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: More broadly, in the context of the recent attacks in Paris, so is it true – I asked the question yesterday – that the U.S. asked the French to better protect the Jews and that you raised your concern about the rise of anti-Semitism? It’s what appeared in Israeli and U.S. reports.

MS. HARF: Right. I think we’re a little perplexed about some of those reports. I mean, we – separate and apart from this specific attack, we’ve, broadly speaking, expressed our concern about anti-Semitic incidents in Europe. We have a special envoy who monitors and combats anti-Semitism here at the State Department, who meets regularly with foreign counterparts, including in Europe. But no one could sort of – knew what they were referring to something specific right before the attack. It’s an ongoing conversation.

QUESTION: Well, I wrote one of those reports on that and asked about it.

MS. HARF: Okay. Well, no one was familiar with what you wrote about, so – (laughter) --

QUESTION: Well --

MS. HARF: Enlighten the room, Mr. Wilner. I’m not casting doubt on it. I just – no one was exactly sure.

QUESTION: Well, I had a conversation --

MS. HARF: You know I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m not saying it’s wrong.

QUESTION: I’m happy to answer it.

MS. HARF: Yeah. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Ira Forman --

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- is the envoy --

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: -- that you’re speaking about, and I had a --

MS. HARF: Who I’ve worked with for a long time.

QUESTION: -- conversation with him in November.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: He was at the Berlin conference at which Ambassador Power said had record low attendance, which is a question I wanted to ask you about. But one thing in the conversation we were discussing was how in his words these sites, these Jewish sites, desperately need security. This was back in in November --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and – which everyone in the Jewish community you ask – says there was a sense of foreboding of an attack like this.

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve seen anti-Semitic attacks --

QUESTION: Certainly.

MS. HARF: -- in parts of Europe over the past few months.

QUESTION: Right. Not all have been fatal, but there have been dozens.

MS. HARF: Right.

QUESTION: So what I’m asking you is: Now that France has increased security significantly with the army, in addition to law enforcement, would you like to see Germany do the same? Would you like to see other countries in which anti-Semitism is – has spiked, would you like to see that sort of --

MS. HARF: Let me check with our team. Obviously, that’s an individual --

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. HARF: -- decision for each country to make, how best to protect those kinds of sites. I’m happy to check with our team. What I was saying we weren’t familiar with was a specific warning, like in the days before, the weekend before, that we gave to them about anti-Semitism on the rise, which I think was your question. But of course, we’ve had an ongoing dialogue – Ira’s been at the head of it – particularly in Western Europe as we’ve seen these anti-Semitic incidents rise, certainly. I can check on the security piece.

QUESTION: But it’s not just the rise in incidents against Jewish businesses, Jewish schools, Jewish communities. There’s along with it a growing political acceptance of anti-Semitism in the national politic. You see it in the UK; you see it in France. You see it notably in Germany. Does the U.S. believe that its allies are doing enough to try to deal with this kind of extremist thought on the right?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not sure what you’re talking about in terms of acceptance. If you talk to President Hollande or Prime Minister Cameron or any of the leaders of those countries, I think they would absolutely reject the premise of the question. And certainly have --

QUESTION: Well, let me counter it with --

MS. HARF: Well, certainly have --

QUESTION: Well, let me counter it with the fact that --

MS. HARF: Okay, I won’t answer your question. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, that for example the UK has parliamentary elections coming up in May, and a right-wing party, UKIP, is going to be taking part in those debates.

MS. HARF: That’s how democracy works, Roz. And the beauty of democracy is that we all believe in it, that the right ideas eventually will prevail, and that the voices that speak out against anti-Semitism or – obviously, I’m not commenting on internal elections – but the voices that stand up and speak up against anti-Semitism or politicians that might espouse those views will eventually win out.

QUESTION: But there is a legitimization of this kind of thought that basically gives support to a bias that one person or another might have.

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think --

QUESTION: And so it is – it’s not just a one-off problem what we saw happening outside Paris on Friday. There – this seems to be a growing, endemic problem in the country – so much so that the Israeli prime minister was saying to Jews in France: Come to Israel, you will be safe; we don’t know that you can be safe in the country of your birth. That’s a very, very sad comment on the body politic.

MS. HARF: Well, let’s just take a step back for a second. First, I think that in a democracy you don’t get in the business of banning political parties, even if you find some of their views despicable. That’s not how this works. So you can speak up against them, and look, there’s clearly a challenge of anti-Semitism, particularly in parts of Western Europe. We’ve spoken up about these incidents. I don’t want to say there’s not or to indicate that we don’t think there is. But you hear voices standing up against it, and you hear national political leaders standing up against it whenever one of these happens.

So look, that’s unfortunately in a democracy sometimes you get people who say awful things that you vehemently disagree with.

QUESTION: You also hear to a certain extent in some corners, explanation that this anti-Semitism is rooted in Israeli policies or anger towards Israeli activity in the West Bank and the like, and Gaza. You had Erdogan just yesterday say that it was hypocritical of Netanyahu, who heads a terror state, which you may want to comment on, to --

MS. HARF: Pretty vehemently disagree; I’ll just jump in right there.

QUESTION: -- to attend the Paris rally. You had Jimmy Carter, a former president, say today that one of the explanations for the kosher supermarket attack was Israeli policy. I’m not sure if you want to comment on that. And then you have the prime minister of France coming out and saying that in France he sees a trend of anti-Zionism being anti-Semitism. I don’t know if you want to comment --

MS. HARF: Well, I would say a few things. Generally speaking, there is never any excuse for anti-Semitism, period. Never in any form, not when people make anti-Semitic remarks. You can disagree with certain policies that a country promotes and not take that so far as to go in into anti-Semitism. Absolutely, we reject anti-Semitism in all forms, no matter who says it and no matter where it shows itself – so period, right. And there’s no justification for any violence, again, no matter how vehemently you disagree with someone’s politics or what someone’s printed in a cartoon – none at all. So that, I think, answers all of those statements you just --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: I’ll just --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Let’s all just do – let’s just do one at a time.

QUESTION: No, no, no. We’re not doing Turkey. Come on.

QUESTION: The one point --

MS. HARF: Maybe we just do one at a time.

QUESTION: The question becomes where you draw the line, where you end up defining anti-Semitism.

MS. HARF: Right, of course.

QUESTION: And France has done – has had an interesting debate in the past several days about that line, and the prime minister did draw this line saying that a radical opposition to the existence of the Jewish state is anti-Semitic.

MS. HARF: Well, I am probably not prepared today to give you what a definition of anti-Semitism is. I’m happy to condemn statements we think are anti-Semitic or incidents that we think have an anti-Semitic possible motivation to them. But I also – I just don’t think that’s helpful dialogue. There – but you’re right. There is an interesting discussion and debate about this, not just in France but in the United States and Germany and other places as well. But there’s never any justification for violence, certainly, no matter what the motivation is.

Yes, Brad.

QUESTION: Since Charlie Hebdo has come out with its latest cover --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- do you have a response to that, since you just said no cartoon should promote – inspire violence --

MS. HARF: Right – I mean, what we’ve said since the beginning, that we all – in France, in the United States, and in many places around the world – support the freedom of journalists, of artists, of creative people to freely speak their mind. Even if you may vehemently disagree with what they’re saying or if you don’t, that’s the beauty of the countries we live in and what is so important to be protected in the wake of these kinds of incidents.

QUESTION: So in previous statements by the Administration and the past administration, there have been condemnations with that, criticizing depictions of Muhammad --

MS. HARF: I don’t think – I think “condemnation” might be a little strong.

QUESTION: I think the term from the State Department in 2006 was “we condemn,” so --

MS. HARF: Not in this Administration, though. This Administration --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: No, I’m just – yeah. Okay.

QUESTION: Sorry.

MS. HARF: It’s okay.

QUESTION: So what is your position on the depiction of Muhammad as it stands last evening --

MS. HARF: Well --

QUESTION: -- in Charlie Hebdo?

MS. HARF: Right. I think – a couple things, Brad, that are important. Regardless of what anyone’s personal opinion is – and I know there are very heated personal opinions about this – we absolutely support the right of Charlie Hebdo to publish things like this. Again, that’s what happens in a democracy, period.

QUESTION: Do you – in previous statements, you’ve also made – not you personally, but this Administration and previous administrations – with that freedom comes a responsibility, that you should exercise this right responsibly and take into account the sensitivities of others. Do you still call on Charlie Hebdo and similar publishers to do that?

MS. HARF: I think we would call broadly on news organizations to take into account the factors they think are important. They – there are a variety of factors, I’m sure, that go into decisions to publish, whether it’s journalistic freedom, whether it’s sensitivity, religious sensitivity, which I understand, and I understand how important it is to many people. That never justifies violence or hatred, but there’s a variety of factors that go into any publication’s decision to do this, and we absolutely support the right of these organizations to publish freely, period.

QUESTION: You don’t see these – the depiction of Muhammad in itself, or these in particular, as anti-Muslim, do you?

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly understand that people, particularly Muslims, have very strong personal feelings about these kinds of depictions. Nothing justifies violence, nothing justifies hatred, and nothing should stand in the way of freedom of expression.

QUESTION: But there’s --

QUESTION: Just very quickly, a follow-up on --

MS. HARF: Okay, let’s just do one at a time. Said.

QUESTION: I mean, would that be termed as a part of hate speech? I mean, we may – in this country, we certainly have no laws against hate speech in America. But I think in France and other places --

MS. HARF: Well --

QUESTION: -- they do have certain legislation. So would that be a sort of crossing the line? I mean, some of these cartoons – I’m not saying good, bad, or indifferent. I’m saying, in your view as – we live in this country where there are no laws against hate speech.

MS. HARF: I think as a general premise, Said, that you’ve heard the Secretary and the President speak about the importance of not legislating or prohibiting freedom of expression --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: -- as a general premise.

QUESTION: Yeah, we agree. Now, let me just follow up on Michael’s line of questioning. Also there were some in Israel that actually were saying that the European Union taking Hamas off the terror list or even France recognizing the state of Palestine in the UN Security Council, also sort of created an atmosphere or aided in creating the atmosphere for such attacks. Do you agree with that premise?

MS. HARF: I don’t think there’s any justification for violence at all.

QUESTION: Right, right. But you don’t – you feel that maybe lifting or taking Hamas off the terror list sort of helped create or promote such an atmosphere?

MS. HARF: I just don’t have more analysis of it to do for you.

QUESTION: Marie, just on Erdogan’s statement, you said you vehemently disagree with what Erdogan said about Netanyahu, but he said a lot of things. Which one do you disagree with?

MS. HARF: Well, I was just referring to the one thing Michael asked about.

QUESTION: The terrorist state – he describing Israel as a terrorist state. You just disagree with that?

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: Do you disagree with --

MS. HARF: I didn’t actually see all the comments, and I don’t want to get into the business of commenting on how you all --

QUESTION: I have seen them.

MS. HARF: -- I’d like to see them myself, and not just how you all portray them to me. So I’m happy to take a look at them and see if we have more comments.

QUESTION: For example, the – basically, the basis of what he was trying to say – he basically said that it was wrong for Prime Minister Netanyahu to go to Paris to attend that demonstration because his state had killed, I don’t know, hundreds of Palestinians. So do you also disagree with him or disagree with him that Prime Minister Netanyahu should not have been there?

MS. HARF: I’m happy to look at his actual comments and get you more of a response if we have one.

QUESTION: Would you comment --

QUESTION: Well, what do you --

QUESTION: -- on a foreign leader visiting a foreign country?

MS. HARF: In general, Said?

QUESTION: I mean, this is --

QUESTION: What about the terror state? Do you describe that as anti-Semitic?

MS. HARF: I don’t think it’s probably helpful for me to get into sort of an intellectual debate about the definition of anti-Semitism. I disagreed with those words. I’m not going to put a label on them.

Let’s move on. Elliot, yes.

QUESTION: Yes, I have a question about a foreign leader visiting another foreign country.

MS. HARF: Great, bring it on. I’m ready. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Kim Jong-un apparently, according to South Korean media, has accepted an invitation from the Russians to attend a 70th anniversary of WWII celebration in May in Moscow.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: That invitation had been made public, I think, by the Russians earlier.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: I was wondering if you have any response to it.

MS. HARF: I actually haven’t seen that. I know there are a lot of these historical commemorations coming up around the 70th anniversary. I hadn’t heard about that one specifically, so let me check.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you have – I know it’s still quite a bit – quite a ways away, but do you have any indication as to what – whether the U.S. will send someone and at what level?

MS. HARF: I don’t. Let me check.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Follow-up with North Korea?

QUESTION: Related to this question, today the Russians said --

MS. HARF: And then I’ll go to you, Lesley, next.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the Russian president said that he will not attend the 70th commemoration of Auschwitz and – because they did not receive a diplomatic official invitation from Poland. And it’s kind of odd because it was the Soviets that really liberated Auschwitz and they lost --

MS. HARF: I am aware of that. I actually – it’s my understanding that it was the foundation, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation that issued the invitations, not the Polish Government. So I’d check with them on invitations.

QUESTION: The Russians are claiming that the Polish – they don’t want to get a backlash of some sort if they invited Putin. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. HARF: Well, again, I don’t think it was the Polish Government that issued the invitations.

Let’s go to Lesley.

QUESTION: Okay. On Pakistan.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Human rights groups are today raising the issue of Pakistan’s hanging of seven men during John Kerry’s visit there. According to them, it’s that a lot of these executions are going on are related to the Peshawar attacks, but that a lot of these prisoners are not even part of that attack. In total, they talk about 17 people, prisoners, to date that have been hanged, none of whom have any connection to the Peshawar attacks. Have you raised this? And apparently, a lot of these human rights groups have written to John Kerry about it.

MS. HARF: I wasn’t familiar with all of that detail, so let me check.

QUESTION: Can I (inaudible) --

MS. HARF: You can. I’m sorry, I’m just – I don’t have all the detail there. Yes.

QUESTION: Related question on Pakistan setting up military courts for trial of these terrorists. Last week, you had said that you have asked – sought some more information from the Pakistan Government. Have they responded to you and --

MS. HARF: Let me see if – we may have gotten more during the trip.

QUESTION: And have they addressed your concerns on those issues?

MS. HARF: Let me check with the traveling team. They just departed Pakistan, so let me see if I can get you all some more.

QUESTION: Without going into numbers and details --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- was the issue of these death sentences and the actual hangings raised?

MS. HARF: I don’t know. Let me check.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Yes? Uh-huh. And then your – Roz, next.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. Starting with India. Secretary was in India, of course, and if he --

MS. HARF: He was.

QUESTION: -- carried any baggage from the President about his visit to India to be the special guest on the Republic of India. And if he did, if he left some of those baggage in India, making the way for the President’s visit.

MS. HARF: Well, I’m happy to check with our team and see if there are more details to share.

QUESTION: And then he had an unannounced visit to Pakistan, according --

MS. HARF: He did. And he just left a few hours ago.

QUESTION: And – all right. One, if those funds, which Pakistani spokesman quoted the U.S. ambassador in Pakistan that $533 million were, or will be, released to the Pakistan. But so far, I understand other day he – I was told that those funds have not been released or Congress had not been asked. But since Secretary was in Pakistan, if those funds were – they talk about those funds?

MS. HARF: Let me check. I have a lot of questions to talk to the traveling team about, given they just left Pakistan. The Secretary did announce a $250 million today, separate from what you’re talking about, that would go towards assisting internally displaced persons in the FATA affected by counterterrorism operations. So that’s going to NGOs.

QUESTION: And talking about counterterrorism, one – another person was named, according to the press statement – Mullah and LET from Pakistan.

MS. HARF: That we designated.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: And what I’m asking is: Number of terrorists are still in Pakistan wanted by the U.S. and there’s a bounty of $10 million and also wanted by India. If those talks were – took place or not between when Secretary was there.

MS. HARF: Well, certainly one of the biggest topics of conversation the Secretary had when he was in Pakistan was about counterterrorism. That was a huge part of the dialogue. It wasn’t the only part – economics, other things were as well. The Secretary was clear and we all have been clear that Pakistan has to target all militant groups that target U.S. coalition and Afghan forces and target people in Pakistan and elsewhere. So that was part of the conversation, certainly, but not much more to share than that.

QUESTION: And Madam, finally, Sri Lanka. Quick one on Sri Lanka.

QUESTION: Can I ask --

MS. HARF: Wait, let’s all --

QUESTION: -- follow up on Pakistan?

MS. HARF: Okay, yes. So no --

QUESTION: This 250 million has been announced for internally displaced people.

MS. HARF: Correct. The Secretary announced that today.

QUESTION: Yes. And U.S. has provided them aid for this purpose earlier also. Do you know what’s the total amount so far for FTPs – IDPs in the FATA region?

MS. HARF: I do not. I will take it and ask.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Sri Lanka.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I just wanted to find out, since Mullah Fazlullah was made commander of TTP --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- back in – at the end of 2013, what took so long to sanction him?

MS. HARF: Well, there’s a process in terms of putting people on the terrorist designations list as specially designated terrorists under certain executive orders. There’s just a process that’s in place. It doesn’t mean we weren’t concerned about him before. Obviously, people were, but this is the outcome of the process.

QUESTION: And how realistic is it that he has any property, any bank accounts, any business dealings here in the United States? What light can you shed, or is that just a pro-forma ban on – or freeze on any potential assets?

MS. HARF: Yeah. Well, we do – this is something that goes along with being designated for every terrorist we designate. We don’t get into specific assets they may or may not have. Some have more than others, but we don’t get into specifics.

QUESTION: Is there any indication that TTP and other groups in Pakistan might be getting any financial support from U.S. persons?

MS. HARF: Well, clearly if there is any indication we would want to cut it off. That’s why we designate these people and these groups. But I don’t have more details.

QUESTION: Can we move to (inaudible)?

QUESTION: I have one --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I have one follow-up on Mullah Fazlullah.

MS. HARF: Okay. Let’s finish.

QUESTION: Pakistan has been saying that Mullah Fazlullah is hiding somewhere in Afghanistan. And Pakistan has been asking Afghanistan to cooperate and help in finding out, handing over to Pakistan. Was this an issue discussed when Secretary was there talking with the Pakistani leadership?

MS. HARF: I’ll check if this – if he specifically was raised.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: One more on Sri Lanka, right, and then I’m moving on.

QUESTION: Thank you, madam.

MS. HARF: I know. I promised. I keep my promises. Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Madam. As far as these recent elections in Sri Lanka, it was --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- a surprise for the millions of people in Sri Lanka, because since the --

MS. HARF: That’s the beauty of elections.

QUESTION: -- current president was criticized, including by the UN and global community as far as human rights and violations against the minorities, especially Sinhalese. My question is here, one, if U.S. is sending anybody higher for the inauguration; and second, what changes do you think it will bring as far as investment – U.S. investment – in Sri Lanka is concerned under the new president, who is more for the opening of the global market and also for the minority rights and a president for all Sri Lankans?

MS. HARF: Well, first, as you probably know, the Secretary spoke with the Sri Lankan president on Sunday after the election, and I don’t have much more than that. Let me check with our folks and see if we can get you an answer.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Brad, yes.

QUESTION: Do you have an update on the status of Dominic Ongwen --

MS. HARF: I do.

QUESTION: -- what you will do with him, when you will --

MS. HARF: Yes, I do.

QUESTION: -- do what you do with him, and how you are going to do it?

MS. HARF: Well, as we said, the taking of Dominic Ongwen into custody earlier this week was a major step forward toward securing the future of the LRA-affected areas of Central and Eastern Africa. Obviously, the removal of one of the LRA’s senior leaders from the battlefield is a fairly visible symbol of our successful partnership with the African Union’s Regional Counter-LRA Task Force – that’s the AURTF.

All parties have agreed that Ongwen should face justice for his alleged crimes, and we commend the governments of the Central African Republic and Uganda for their collaboration and cooperation in this process. We can confirm that, per an agreement between the AU and the governments of CAR and Uganda, Ongwen will be transferred to the custody of the AURTF. The decision to transfer to the AURTF was made after careful consultation with all relevant states and institutions. The United States understands that the governments of CAR and Uganda have consulted and are in agreement that Ongwen will then be transferred to the ICC to face justice for his alleged crimes.

QUESTION: Can --

QUESTION: So they’re not going to be – he’s not going to be transferred to the CAR?

MS. HARF: He’s going to be transferred to the AURTF. There’s an agreement between the AU and the governments of CAR and Uganda. He’ll be transferred to the custody of the Ugandan People’s Defense Force contingent of the AURTF, but it’s under the AU umbrella, and then to the ICC. And soon, so --

QUESTION: How promptly? Oh, soon. Thank you.

MS. HARF: I don’t have more specifics than that, but I’ve been told soon.

QUESTION: Can you --

QUESTION: Now what about the $5 million reward which the Seleka rebels say they should receive because they captured Ongwen and then turned him over to U.S. forces? Are they qualified to receive this reward, and if so, how long would it take to make this possible? What are the legal barriers to their not getting the money?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re aware of reports that several individuals who’ve identified themselves as part of a Seleka group may have been involved in this sequence of events. DOD will have further details. Obviously, they are the ones who took custody. We – the United States considers awards based on various factors. U.S. officials, including federal, state, or local, or foreign government officials who furnish information in the performance of their official duties are not eligible for awards, for example. That’s just part of the legal issue. For reasons of security and of confidentiality, we do not publicly disclose whether war crimes rewards program payments have or have not been made.

QUESTION: Can we stay on the ICC?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: Can I – yeah --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Oh wait – yeah.

QUESTION: Since we were admonished yesterday for paying paltry attention to the massacres and Boko Haram --

MS. HARF: I know. Twitter --

QUESTION: -- which I will say is --

MS. HARF: -- found my comments interesting.

QUESTION: -- we could say is reflective of this Administration’s balance in attention, but that’s another issue.

MS. HARF: Took you 24 hours to come up with that one.

QUESTION: Did you learn more from the ground yesterday on the atrocities, the level of the violence, the death toll, et cetera?

MS. HARF: So we’re still trying to get more confirmation of the death toll. I would say, though – I talked to some of our team yesterday – that there has been a sharp escalation in the number of reported casualties. I think the numbers tend to be from about 2009 to 2013 there were a little over 1,000 casualties. I mean, we’ve obviously all seen the reported numbers just this week – which we can’t confirm exactly, but it clearly shows there’s been a sharp escalation. I think Lesley asked yesterday – we do think that the election is probably a factor. As I said, we believe the election should still go forward, even in the face of this pretty horrific violence.

We haven’t seen Boko Haram focus beyond the region, but I think what we’ve seen even just over the past 24 hours in Cameroon is that Boko Haram is clearly a regional threat.

QUESTION: Without getting into numbers, and I mean --

MS. HARF: Yeah, they’re just hard to confirm.

QUESTION: That’s fine.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, but you are convinced a massacre of serious proportion has occurred here?

MS. HARF: I don’t have information to indicate otherwise.

QUESTION: And then you mentioned yesterday the breakdown in the training operation.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What else are you guys doing with the Nigerians right now?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Because, I mean, obviously this is horrific violence and the scale’s incredible.

MS. HARF: It is, and Boko Haram has taken operational control over an increasing amount of territory as well, so it’s not just these attacks that we’ve seen, but they’re more able to do them because they have more territory they’re able to control.

QUESTION: Doesn’t this raise questions --

QUESTION: So, what – wait, wait.

MS. HARF: Well, I want to ask – answer his question.

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. HARF: So we have a bilateral security cooperation relationship separate and apart from that piece I talked about being postponed or called off yesterday. But we also support regional efforts to combat Boko Haram with our regional partners, including the Lake Chad Basin’s multinational task force. We work with the Nigerians, we work with others in the region, we maintain high-level diplomatic contact with Nigeria. I was referencing some of this yesterday. Secretary Kerry most recently spoke with President Jonathan on the phone on December 30th. They also had a long conversation a couple weeks before that on the 6th. So we’re engaged sort of at a broad range of levels to help them fight this. But it is a very serious problem for Nigeria, and we’re helping them build their capacity, but there’s still a pretty serious challenge ahead.

QUESTION: Is it time to step it up given that – the incredible attention you are giving to foreign fighters, and perhaps rightly so, but here we’re talking about death untold times greater.

MS. HARF: Right.

QUESTION: Is it time to now engage in a more serious and sustained military effort?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s – we certainly view our efforts as serious. I think the question is how best to help the Nigerians build their capacity and how to work with them, and I know that’s an ongoing challenge, certainly, given the threat from Boko Haram. I’ll see if there’s any more our folks have on anything additional.

QUESTION: They – I mean, but the Nigerians have been dealing with this threat for several years unsuccessfully.

QUESTION: Really?

QUESTION: The capacity building is a long-term – I mean --

MS. HARF: I agree.

QUESTION: If these reports are as – are true, and these massacres were as grave as they seem, don’t they need immediate, heightened assistance and not long-term – along with the long-term capacity building?

MS. HARF: Let me check with our folks, Brad. I know some of what we are providing is immediate, but let me --

QUESTION: Can I have – yeah, just to follow up on that --

MS. HARF: Yeah, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- you said the election is a factor – isn’t a factor because they’re trying to get a stronger hold of the region? Or is it that the government has decided that it’s not going to focus on this region where, anyway, it has lost control?

MS. HARF: It’s because Boko Haram has tended to, particularly around something like an election, used political issues or sensitivities to try and enflame tensions, that they – we’ve seen that as one of their tactics, and that’s why it’s so important to move forward with the election, because we believe it’s important.

QUESTION: But then you wouldn’t have a free and fair election in an area like this.

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to prejudge. We’ve seen successful elections go forward in places that have pretty significant levels of violence still, some places – other places around the world. So we believe the election should go forward. We know there are security challenges, clearly.

QUESTION: So how do you ensure that people in this region can vote?

QUESTION: Can vote.

MS. HARF: I can check with our folks and see if there’s more to share on that. We do know it’s a challenge, though.

QUESTION: Do you think the Nigerians are doing all they can to really fight the Boko Haram?

MS. HARF: Well --

QUESTION: Because they are being accused of being lax in their --

MS. HARF: Well, I think that clearly, given what we’re seeing from the atrocities, more – everyone who can do more needs to do more to fight Boko Haram. Let’s put it that way.

QUESTION: So why do you think the Nigerian Government is saying that the numbers are a lot less, they’re like a fraction --

MS. HARF: Well --

QUESTION: -- of what, let’s say, Amnesty says?

MS. HARF: To be fair, we can’t confirm those – we can’t confirm the Amnesty numbers. We just can’t confirm those, period. But if the reports are even close to true or partially true, it’s still a pretty significant escalation from what we’ve seen over the past years.

QUESTION: So you think the Nigerian Government’s trying to sort of play down the enormity of this thing?

MS. HARF: I think the Nigerian Government understands the severity of this threat.

QUESTION: Can I go to Kurdistan? Two questions.

MS. HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: Thank you. John Allen was in Kurdistan yesterday.

MS. HARF: He was.

QUESTION: Can you – do you have any update, anything about that?

MS. HARF: No. I said a little bit about it yesterday. Let me see. So yesterday, I said he and Ambassador McGurk had met with the IKR President Masoud Barzani and the Kurdish Regional Government Prime Minister Barzani to discuss the progress by their forces and the ISF forces in the fight against ISIL. They praised the recent success of these operations which have been supported by coalition airstrikes. They are in Baghdad today. General Allen, I believe, will hold a press availability tomorrow in Baghdad, where he’ll talk more about his meetings as well.

QUESTION: General Allen’s visit comes a day after foreign – sorry, defense minister of Germany was there.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And she promised to step up the military assistance to the Peshmerga. Of course, that’s in the wake of the attacks in Paris. And she says she will send 100 more trainers to the region. I’m just asking whether the United States is also considering to step up assistance to the Peshmerga because --

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve continued to step up assistance to the Peshmerga. I would say that just one example of that, the Pentagon announced earlier this month that the training of Iraqi Security Forces has begun at al-Asad and Taji, and that work on two additional training sites continues. This mission overall is designed to train 12 total brigades, three of which will be drawn from Iraq’s Kurdish area. So we are giving assistance, weapons, help across the board.

QUESTION: But what, like when I talk to the Kurdish officials what they need, that’s what they say. For example, heavier weapons such as Apache helicopters, things like anti-tank missiles that the United States has been reluctant to provide or the United States has kept saying that we can only do that through Baghdad, and Baghdad is delaying the transfer of those weapons.

MS. HARF: Well, I would disagree with that notion. Since – as of December 11th, the coalition had provided more than 3 million pounds of equipment through more than 55 airlift missions to bolster Kurdish defense capabilities. We’ve been doing this since late summer. Obviously, we coordinate via the central Government of Iraq, but we have sent a great amount of assistance to the Kurdish fighters as well.

QUESTION: Marie, Senator John McCain told Bloomberg last – by the weekend that a lot of these weapons is finding its way into the hands of Shiite militias backed by Iran. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. HARF: I can certainly check with my Defense Department colleagues. I know that Prime Minister Abadi has spoken very publicly about regulating militias and understands the issues posed by the unregulated militias. And I – my understanding is the equipment is getting to the security forces we’re supporting, but let me check with DOD.

QUESTION: So – okay. On the issue of equip and train and so on --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- are you fine if some of these weapons are basically given by the Iraqi Security Forces to, let’s say, Shiite militias? Would that be something that is acceptable to you?

MS. HARF: I think we want the assistance and the weapons we give to go to the people we give them to.

QUESTION: I had another question about Turkey, but I didn’t get a chance to ask.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: While Erdogan has been making all these inflammatory remarks about America, Israel, like he has been making them, I don’t know, since the Davos in 2007.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And also practically, Turkey is now hosting Hamas’s office. I wonder whether beyond words what else has the United States done in response to what Turkey has been doing.

MS. HARF: Well, I would remind you that Turkey is a NATO ally who we work very closely with. They also have offered to host one of the training sites for the Syrian opposition. So I would encourage you to look at the whole picture when it comes to Turkey.

When it comes to Hamas, we have raised our concerns on that issue with Turkish officials, and we’ll continue to. Our --

QUESTION: But you haven’t done anything practically?

MS. HARF: Well, I would say raising – raising our concerns with Turkish officials --

QUESTION: Like Hamas is --

MS. HARF: -- is doing something.

QUESTION: But Hamas is designated --

MS. HARF: What would you recommend we do?

QUESTION: I can recommend, for example, a lot of things. (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: Okay, I’m happy for you to give me a list of your policy recommendations.

QUESTION: Hamas is designated as a terrorist group by the United States.

MS. HARF: I am aware of that designation.

QUESTION: And Turkey is hosting a terrorist group that you --

MS. HARF: And we have raised that with the Turks.

QUESTION: Why don’t you, for example, remove the PKK, which has never attacked a U.S. target?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any more for you on those issues.

QUESTION: A couple more Middle East.

MS. HARF: Let’s – yeah, let’s --

QUESTION: That’s a good recommendation, isn’t it?

MS. HARF: I will take your recommendation back. Thank you.

QUESTION: Just can you --

MS. HARF: Brad.

QUESTION: In Saudi Arabia, the lawyer for the man who is being flogged, apparently on a regular basis starting now, he has gotten five more years to his sentence.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have a comment on that?

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen that. Let me check on that.

QUESTION: Okay. And I think you took a question yesterday regarding the flogging, whether U.S. officials had witnessed it or had --

MS. HARF: Oh, I didn’t get an answer to that. We have raised it privately and also, clearly, publicly.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just on Libya – I apologize – there was a question yesterday about – I think it was my question about a reported kidnapping of Christians.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have a comment --

MS. HARF: We – I don’t – we still haven’t been able to confirm that, I don’t think. Let me check. Yes.

QUESTION: Just to Iran?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: A State Department official yesterday said that sanctions have not stopped the advance of Iran’s nuclear program; negotiations have done that.

MS. HARF: True.

QUESTION: True, but a little simplistic maybe, because certainly negotiations – perhaps you disagree --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- negotiations came to fruition after years of --

MS. HARF: Also true.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. So is that line not an argument for simply the continuation of talks in perpetuity or --

MS. HARF: It’s not.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: And I agree with you. Sanctions are one of, if not the biggest, reason we are at the negotiating table with Iran, because of the pressure we put on them, and that we have been able to move forward with diplomacy. I think what that official was referring to is the fact that sanctions alone do not stop Iran’s nuclear program. It was through negotiations that we got to the Joint Plan of Action that we put in place that have halted the advance of its program.

QUESTION: Did accepting Iran’s right to some sort of peaceful nuclear program, if verifiable, also help bring about negotiations and an agreement?

MS. HARF: Well, that was – the issue of whether Iran would have a domestic enrichment program was part of the negotiation, certainly.

QUESTION: But when you first started talking publicly about accepting that notion --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- in 2011, 2012, did that have anything to do with the diplomatic breakthrough that’s happened? Or was it all sanctions?

MS. HARF: Well, I think – I’m sorry, I guess I don’t understand exactly what you’re asking. Certainly all of --

QUESTION: Well, I’ll explain what --

MS. HARF: Sorry. Yeah. I’m --

QUESTION: The proponents of sanctions would have you believe that their pressure was the only thing that produced Iranian flexibility and talks that led to the JPOA --

MS. HARF: Understood.

QUESTION: -- while there are others who seem to suggest that the Administration also showed flexibility.

MS. HARF: Right. So what I would say to that is the sanctions clearly put pressure on Iran, but that was part of a dual-track policy – one part pressure, one part saying we are open to a diplomatic conversation, if you are willing to have one that’s serious and that could get us to an agreement where you will not be able to get a nuclear weapon. So certainly, sanctions helped get us to the table. But once you’re at the table, there was a lot of work that went into getting the Joint Plan of Action – it was, by no means, preordained – that this Administration went through to get to that Joint Plan of Action. Certainly, a huge part of that was saying Iran can have a limited domestic enrichment program, as long as we are confident it’s peaceful, absolutely.

QUESTION: I want to ask you, though, what’s happening on the Hill --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- because Ambassador Power said that it would – a bill right now, a new sanctions bill, would dramatically – maybe you read the quote – she said it would disrupt the negotiations.

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: What’s being discussed on the Hill is a trigger sanctions bill that would not – intentionally framed around the JPOA language.

MS. HARF: Well, we could – might disagree on that.

QUESTION: All right. Okay. Well, I’d love to hear that as well.

MS. HARF: Yeah. Mm-hmm. Go ahead.

QUESTION: But they argue that it intentionally recognizes the JPOA language and avoids implementation of new sanctions during the life of the JPOA and the life of these negotiations. And only after negotiations either fail or expire or there’s a violation – only after that point are new sanctions implemented, and therefore --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- it’s not a violation of the JPOA. Is your position and is Ambassador Power – is what she was expressing that a bill is a violation of the JPOA or a violation of the spirit of the JPOA?

MS. HARF: A sanctions bill, trigger or not, that is passed and signed into law by the President – which we have said we will not do – but in your hypothetical, right, even if there’s a trigger, to the Iranians, to the rest of the world, and in our minds would be a violation of the JPOA; that even with a trigger, if there’s a bill that’s signed into law and it is U.S. law, in our mind that is a violation of the Joint Plan of Action, which as we’ve said could encourage Iran to violate it, could encourage Iran to start moving its nuclear program back forward, and that we believe we have to give this diplomatic process, as Ambassador Power said, time to see if we can get to an agreement. And if we can’t, we can put sanction – additional sanctions on in 24 hours. I’m sure you know that from your talks with folks on the Hill. So that we are clear – just to be clear on where we are on that, though.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: And madam --

MS. HARF: Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: I’ve been wanting to ask about the ICC.

MS. HARF: Okay. Go on.

QUESTION: Yesterday, President Obama spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and he told him that they disagree that – with the Palestinian effort at the ICC, of course.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: But he also said that they are not eligible for that. But --

MS. HARF: They’re not what? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: They’re not eligible. The Palestinians are not --

MS. HARF: Eligible, yes. Sorry.

QUESTION: Eligible, excuse me. Not eligible, okay.

MS. HARF: Not eligible, yes.

QUESTION: Not – that’s what I said. Okay. I’m not being legible, I guess. All right, so – he say that they are not. So --

MS. HARF: And that’s our position.

QUESTION: And that’s your position. But the United Nations seems to disagree. They say that they do have a right to --

MS. HARF: Well, the view of the United States is the Palestinians have not yet established a state.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: So neither the steps they have taken, nor the actions the UN Secretariat has taken that we’ve talked about a lot in this room, warrant the conclusion the Palestinians have established a state or have the legal competencies necessary to fulfill the requirements of the Rome statute. That is our legal position here.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. But they can, actually, through the avenue of the (inaudible) Geneva Convention they can actually pursue that.

MS. HARF: Well, we do not believe that they have taken the steps necessary.

QUESTION: Because conquering a country cannot change the demographics and the geography of the conquered territory --

MS. HARF: Our position is what it is.

QUESTION: -- and that would be a war crime under the Geneva Convention.

MS. HARF: I don’t have anything more for you, Said.

Let’s go to the back if someone who --

QUESTION: Yeah, North Korea. North Korea deputy ambassador to UN, Mr. Jang, will hold a news conference today in regard to cyber hacking to Sony Pictures and that he’s – he announced – said that North Korea has not accepted U.S. sanctions against North Korea. Any comment on that?

MS. HARF: Well, I didn’t see those comments, but I don’t think – the way sanctions work isn’t that countries have to accept them. I don’t – I think that’s just sort of --

QUESTION: It’s like (inaudible) membership.

MS. HARF: That’s not how they work. We’ve been clear that we – the investigation the FBI worked with others on – we’ve been clear that we believe North Korea is responsible, and that’s why we put additional sanctions in place.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: You may.

QUESTION: I heard that – I’m sorry I don’t have the information in front of me, so if it’s a little off, sorry, but I heard that Kim, Sung is traveling to Asia. And do you know anything – details about that, when, where?

MS. HARF: So – yes. He was actually up testifying on the Hill today. We don’t have more details about travel yet. When we do, we will make them known.

Yes.

QUESTION: I have one on Afghanistan.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the Afghan president and CEO announced the formation of the new cabinet.

MS. HARF: Yes, they did.

QUESTION: It has been – it’s after more than 100 days after they came back – came to power. Is it an issue of concern to you they have been so slow in the cabinet formation itself?

MS. HARF: Well, let – I think you’re still focusing on the negative, even after some good news.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: We, of course, welcome the nomination of the cabinet of ministers by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The U.S. looks forward to continued close cooperation with the Government of Afghanistan.

As Jen said last week, government formation takes time to do it. And he was very clear that he wanted certain things out of his cabinet, and now he has nominated one.

QUESTION: But 100 days for government formation? (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: You’re too glass-half-empty on me today.

QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: We’re moving forward with an Afghan Government here.

Yes, Abigail.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: Earlier today Senator Graham spoke on the Hill and offered new concerns about the release of Guantanamo detainees following the attack in Paris, saying that this proved a recidivism in extremists and the difficulty in monitoring. Do you have any new concerns about the release of Guantanamo --

MS. HARF: Well, as we have repeatedly said, under this Administration when we came into office we put in place more stringent regulations for Guantanamo transfers to third countries. Under those regulations, the recidivism rate has actually dropped quite significantly. I used to have all the numbers in here, and I still may or I may not, and I can email it to folks. But I have all the numbers that – we’ve released them publicly, and the recidivism rate has dropped quite significantly under this Administration. We take this process very seriously and very carefully – it’s not just the State Department, but others as well, of course – and believe it’s important for America’s security and our standing in the world to close Guantanamo.

QUESTION: Would it be fair to assume that the Administration would oppose the legislation which he, Senator Ayotte, and Senator McCain are cosponsoring, which would ban this Department from working on transfers of detainees still at Guantanamo?

MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen the legislation myself, but from how you described it, certainly we – that’s not something we think is going to help us close Guantanamo. I think some of these folks have actually spoken out in the past previously about the importance of closing it, which I think may be a little change in tune today. So I know it’s something that we work closely with Congress on, but we believe we need to be able to work with other countries, as we have, to transfer detainees who are cleared for transfer by a panel that has to clear them based in part on security. So that’s what we’re focused on, and we’re focused on getting it closed.

Anything else? Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:13 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 12, 2015

Mon, 01/12/2015 - 17:06

Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 12, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

1:11 p.m. EST

MS. HARF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the briefing, my first of 2015. I have a bunch of things at the top, so bear with me and I’ll get through them, and then, Brad, we’ll go to you.

First, a trip update. The Secretary is on travel today in Pakistan after attending the Vibrant Gujarat Summit in India. You probably saw his press availability this morning. Since departing Washington on Friday night, he landed in Munich, Germany where he met with Omani Sultan Qaboos before continuing on to India for the summit.

During his India visit, Secretary Kerry met with Prime Minister Modi on the margins of the summit. He also participated in a round table with Indian and U.S. CEOs, toured a new Ford manufacturing plant, met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Bhutanese prime minister. He also visited Gandhi Ashram and met with a group hosted by Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues Cathy Russell. He’s now in Islamabad, where he today he met with Prime Minister Sharif and National Security and Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz. The Secretary will remain on travel through the end of the week going on to Switzerland, Bulgaria. And as we announced today, he will travel to Paris on Thursday.

A readout from General Allen and Ambassador McGurk’s trip. They met this morning with Kurdistan Regional Government officials in Erbil. They met Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani and the Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Barzani as well to discuss progress by IKR and ISF forces in the fight against ISIL. They praised recent successful IKR and ISF operations supported by coalition airstrikes and reiterated the U.S.’s support for Iraqi Security Forces. They will have further meetings with Iraqi officials tomorrow in Baghdad, and I understand General Allen will actually have a press availability in Baghdad on Wednesday to read out those meetings.

Moving on – just a couple more guys. Sorry. But some good news out of Croatia. We congratulate Croatian President-elect Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic – Kitarovic – I think I did that right –on her victory in Croatia’s January 11th presidential election, and the people of Croatia for the election of their first female president in Croatia’s history. Croatia is a close friend and ally of the United States, and we look forward to working with the president-elect and deepening our partnership in the years to come.

Two more quick ones.

QUESTION: Sheesh.

MS. HARF: Two more, I know. We have five today. You may have already seen, but the Cuban Government has notified us that they have completed the release of the 53 political prisoners that they had committed to free. We welcome this very positive development and are pleased that the Cuban Government followed through on this commitment. These political prisoners were individuals who had been cited by various human rights organizations as being imprisoned by the Cuban Government for exercising internationally protected freedoms or for their promotion of political and social reforms in Cuba.

During our discussions with the Cubans we shared the names of individuals jailed in Cuba on charges related to their political activities. The Cuban Government made this sovereign decision to release those individuals as Raul Castro indicated in his December 17th speech. I know there’s been a lot of questions about the list. It’s been delivered to the Hill, to a number of folks on the both the Senate and the House side, both Democrats and Republican leadership and chairs and rankings of our key committees.

And finally, today we remember those who tragically lost their lives in the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12th, 2010. It was five years ago today. On this occasion, the United States reaffirms its long- term commitment to support the Haitian people as they build a more prosperous and democratic future.

With the help of the international community, including the U.S., Haiti has made significant progress since 2010, including positive economic growth, improved basic health indicators, job creation, increased access to primary education, shelter for the earthquake displaced, and improved overall security. More remains to be done, and further progress depends on good governance by Haiti’s leaders, in particular of holding of overdue legislative and local elections, and a sustained focus by the international community to assist the Government of Haiti with its development. Secretary Kerry also released a video message today on this if you have not seen it.

QUESTION: So could we start with --

MS. HARF: Sorry. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- Cuba? No, that’s fine.

MS. HARF: Yes. A lot of business happened over the weekend.

QUESTION: I will address one of the five points you --

MS. HARF: Great.

QUESTION: -- started with. On the Cuba --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- do you feel that this release, now that you say it’s completed, vindicates the path forward that you’ve – you opted for last month? And does this also kind of remove any questions about the migration talks and kind of the normalization process that’s supposed to start?

MS. HARF: Well, a couple points. We are pleased that the Cuban Government followed through on this commitment they made to undertake this sovereign decision. So clearly, we think this is a good thing. I think we have always believed, since we made this change in policy, that it was the right thing to do for a variety of reasons. We know there are going to be challenges that remain in terms of, while there may be fewer longer-term detentions, we’re concerned about short-term detentions. So we know there are going to be human rights concerns we still have when it comes to Cuba, but we are very pleased that they followed through on this commitment and are looking forward to Assistant Secretary Jacobson’s trip later this month.

QUESTION: So why not make the list public at this point, given that they’re all free? And if they’re all political prisoners, as you say, shouldn’t their name being out there be not helpful?

MS. HARF: We fully support it being out there. We have shared it with Congress, as I said, including the full list. We fully expect it will be in the public domain. I think it’s a little, first, unusual to print a list like that on a U.S. Government website. So it’s not something we would stand – or do under standard procedure. We’re happy for it to be in the public domain, but we also don’t want to leave the impression by posting it, for example, on a government website, that these are the only ones we care about or that this was the only checklist by which we would judge Cuba’s human rights situation. So we’re happy with the names being out there, and I’m sure Congress will provide it if they haven’t already. They do have it now.

QUESTION: Can I ask another one?

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: You said you shared the list. Have – was that this morning that you shared that list?

MS. HARF: Yes, it went up. It should have been delivered to everybody by now. It’s being delivered on the Senate side to Majority Leader McConnell, Democratic Leader Reid, the chairman of Foreign Relations – or, excuse me – yes, Foreign Relations on the Senate side, Chairman Corker and Ranking Member Menendez, and then Chair Graham and Ranking Member Leahy on Appropriations. And then on the House side, of course, Speaker Boehner, Minority Leader Pelosi, Majority Leader McCarthy, Democratic Whip Hoyer, and then HFAC Chair and Rankings Royce and Engel. This actually started with a letter they had sent to us, so we responded but also expanded the distribution. And Chair Granger and Ranking Lowey on Appropriations as well.

QUESTION: And when you say you expected it to be made public, you expect them to make it public?

MS. HARF: We’re happy if they do. We have no problem with it being out there. It just – we’re not going to be posting it on a U.S. Government website because, as I said, that’s a little unusual. And also, we don’t want people to think that it’s just the only checklist or the measure by which we are judging Cuba’s human rights. But happy for the names to be out there, certainly.

QUESTION: Can you clear up how many of these 53 were still imprisoned at the time of the deal last month?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Because we --

MS. HARF: Yeah, I can.

QUESTION: -- we’ve been doing our own count and we have a small discrepancy on the numbers.

MS. HARF: Yep. So – and we can go back through more history if you want. But a small number of the 53 prisoners identified by the U.S. side have been slated for release during the period that the spy swap negotiations were taking place. They were released as scheduled in the summer and the fall. So we have gone to the Cubans with a list. We shared those names this past summer. So a small number of the people on the list we gave them during the summer were slated for release and then were released as scheduled in the summer and fall after we had shared the list.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: The Cuban Government released a few additional prisoners before December 17th; but in the period since then, which is when we announced that this had been finalized, the Cuban Government has released all 53 persons whose names were shared by the U.S. Government.

QUESTION: And is it your understanding that all 53 – not only are they released from – they’re not under house arrest, they don’t have limits on their freedom of movement, they don’t have other restrictions on them now?

MS. HARF: I don’t have more details on that. It’s a good question, Brad. Certainly, we would hope they don’t. I just don’t have details on that. I can check on that.

Anything else on Cuba? Great.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: Can we address one of the five points you mentioned?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: On France and Paris --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- I’d like to ask an explanation about the absence of the top-ranking U.S. official at the march. I know that Secretary Kerry addressed that at his press avail in India. I know also that the President and the Secretary went to the French Embassy on Thursday and Friday.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But still, Eric Holder was in Paris on Sunday.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And so do you have an explanation why there was no top-ranking official in Paris?

MS. HARF: Well, a couple of points. First, I think there should be no question at all among the French Government or the French people that the U.S. has done anything but stand squarely by our very close ally, our oldest ally, during and since this attack. And I the French – actually, including the French ambassador – have been out on the record speaking about that, that they felt nothing but support during this.

As you mentioned, Secretary Kerry spoke directly to the French people in French the day of the attacks. He and the President both went to the French Embassy to sign the condolence book, and Secretary Kerry will be going there on Thursday night. As we said, he was in India for the pre-scheduled trip. If he could have been in Paris, he would have been. The ambassador, Hartley, was honored to represent the United States.

But I would also underscore what the Secretary said this morning, that no one event or one day represents the breadth of a relationship like we have with France. This was a very important march. We were honored to be represented there. But we have stood side by side the French. They’ve said so publicly since this horrific attack.

QUESTION: So you don’t find the criticism coming from the U.S. press and also from some members of the Congress, you don’t feel that this criticism are fair?

MS. HARF: I don’t feel that it’s fair. And I would, again, let the French speak for themselves, and they have at this point, saying there is – they know we’ve stood by them, they know they’ve had our full support. I’ll let them speak for themselves. But again, we have a very strong relationship with the French that goes beyond, certainly, any one day or any one event. And that will absolutely continue.

QUESTION: But nobody’s --

QUESTION: Can you just pinpoint --

QUESTION: No one is disputing that. I mean, obviously, you stand by the French and it’s a very close ally, which makes it even kind of weirder that when 50 – the leaders of 50 nations were there why there wasn’t top-level representation. We’re not disputing – no one, I think, is disputing the close relationship or that the U.S. stands by France, but it just kind of just doesn’t make sense. So if you could explain why.

MS. HARF: Well, as I’ve said, Secretary Kerry would have liked to be there, of course. He was in India for this pre-scheduled trip. But there are more ways than just this march to show our solidarity with the French, and I think that’s what I would underscore. The President of the United States going to the French Embassy and signing the condolence book, the Secretary doing the same, the Secretary going to Paris later this week – this isn’t the only way to show solidarity. It’s certainly an important way, but it’s not the only way.

QUESTION: Don’t you think that an opportunity was missed here? I mean, you had, for example, the president of the Palestinian Authority and the prime minister of Israel standing within 10 feet of each other. It’s about the closest you could have gotten them in years. You had world leaders at the highest level. Where – why not send someone of similar stature?

MS. HARF: Well, we make decisions like this based on a variety of factors that --

QUESTION: Such as?

MS. HARF: Such as – we’ve talked about security, for example. Obviously – and the White House, I am sure, is speaking more to this right now. I think my colleague is briefing there. Obviously, for the President, there are very specific security concerns that go along when he travels. There are just a variety of factors we take into account here. And as I said, for us, this was an important march, and that’s why we wanted our ambassador there. We also had folks at the march in Washington, but it is not the only way to show solidarity. And the Secretary certainly would have been there if he could, and he’s looking forward to going there on Thursday.

QUESTION: I mean, were there any discussions about sending not the President – the Vice President, the Secretary of State, someone going and where – was this debated actively within the Administration?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to get into what our internal conversations look like.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Well, he’s – he said --

QUESTION: I’m not asking you to characterize it.

MS. HARF: -- was it debated inside.

QUESTION: Was it, or wasn’t it?

MS. HARF: As we’ve said on the record, the Secretary’s schedule didn’t allow it. As he said, if he could have been there, he would have been. Look, there were a variety of conversations, but I think what I’m trying to emphasize is that since this happened, we have shown solidarity with the French in so many ways that demonstrates our relationship, and that it is not defined by any one event; no matter how important the event is, it just isn’t. And I understand why there’s some attention being paid to it, particularly in Washington. I actually don’t think there’s much attention being paid to it in France, but people can correct me if I’m wrong. But what we’re focused on isn’t who’s at a march, although important. It’s how we work together to address this threat together, and that’s what we’re focused on.

QUESTION: Was --

QUESTION: Marie, can you speak to the timing on the announcement of Secretary Kerry’s trip to Paris? Because it seems like it was tacked on after the criticism started arising about him not participating in the march

MS. HARF: I understand the timing seems that way. We were considering a trip to Paris. The Secretary was trying to determine if he could add it on to this trip. As you know, he does that on pretty much almost every trip he goes on. He was trying to determine if he could put it onto the end of this trip. So we were considering a trip to Paris before some of the criticism you mentioned. We announced it when we could have it confirmed and finalized, so it was in no way in response. I understand how the timing could have looked that way, but it – you all who travel with the Secretary know he’s always looking for ways to get to Paris under – usually under happier circumstances, but we were trying to fit this onto the trip prior to yesterday’s march.

QUESTION: Marie --

QUESTION: Did Assistant Secretary Nuland participate in this --

MS. HARF: She was in the Washington march.

QUESTION: Marie --

QUESTION: Not --

MS. HARF: She was in D.C. Mm-hmm. Yep, she was in Washington.

QUESTION: Well, what about Mr. Holder? Apparently, he was in Paris.

MS. HARF: He was.

QUESTION: Why did he not march?

MS. HARF: I think his folks have spoken to this. His team has said it was a scheduling issue that he had to leave after his last meetings with the French Government. I’ll let them speak more to that, but I think that’s what they’ve said to reporters.

QUESTION: Can we move on to the investigation?

MS. HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: There’s some surveillance video that just emerged of Hayat Boumeddiene kind of slipping, not actually on the border, but showing that she was on her way into Syria. Can you talk about how – what you’re learning about how she did that, especially since in recent months with the campaign against ISIS, there has been a lot of attention being paid to foreign fighters going into Syria?

MS. HARF: Absolutely, and we are – remain very concerned about the flow of foreign fighters into and out of Syria. And we’re engaging with our coalition partners, including Turkey, on that issue. We’ve seen the reports. Obviously, the intelligence community right now is running down every lead to see if they can provide any information to the French on her and her whereabouts and how she might have gone places. The French have the lead on this. They’re also working with the Turks directly. Not much more to share than that at this point, though.

QUESTION: But I mean, it just seems as if this goes to the critical – like, it’s not kind of a separate issue --

MS. HARF: Absolutely. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- in terms of the fight against ISIS and foreign fighters going in and – like this one. I mean, do you think that as you’re looking at your campaign to stop foreign fighters that clearly critical ones are falling through the cracks here?

MS. HARF: I think it underscores the challenge, the really significant challenge here. Obviously, I, at the top, I think before you came in, mentioned General Allen and Ambassador McGurk are in – overseas meeting with different folks, and they’re in Iraq today talking about all the lines of effort; this is clearly one of them. And you’re absolutely right, it shows that there is a real threat here.

QUESTION: Marie, it seems that the Kouachi brothers was red flags in – on the list of U.S. flight list. And is this the case for the Hayat Boumeddiene, too?

MS. HARF: I don’t have more information on her to share. As I said, the intelligence community is working very closely with the French to run down any lead they may have that is related at all to the investigation of what happened here, including anything about her. But nothing more to share.

QUESTION: Have you contacted with the Turkish officials because – before her arrival in Turkey, or after?

MS. HARF: I don’t have more information to share about her.

Anything else on this? Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on communications between this building and Yemini authorities regarding the status of the Kouachi brothers as having stayed in Yemen?

MS. HARF: Not on communication. I can confirm that we have information – we, the U.S. Government – on these individuals and their travel activities that we have been sharing with our French counterparts. Obviously, this is their investigation. I don’t want to undermine it by sort of getting into specific details that have been out there in the press and confirming them one way or the other. But clearly, separate and apart from this case, we have an ongoing counterterrorism dialogue in this building, but also with our intelligence colleagues, with Yemen about this threat, about the threat that AQAP has posed. You know how focused we’ve been on them for many years.

Yes.

QUESTION: In the wake of the French attacks, some security analysts have pointed to France’s maintenance of so-called no-go zones, which amount to large enclaves of Muslims where central state control is notably diminished. What view does the United States --

MS. HARF: In what countries? Where is this?

QUESTION: In France and Sweden is what --

MS. HARF: Okay. I’m not familiar with those. I’m happy to check into that for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

QUESTION: And related to Michelle’s question, there was an analyst who cited specifically Birmingham in the UK, I believe, as being a place where there are no American citizens and is specifically Muslim.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: There’s been a lot of backlash among commentators in the UK about kind of what they say is how erroneous that view is --

MS. HARF: Right.

QUESTION: -- and I’m just wondering if the State Department has any --

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. I’m not familiar with it. I think you can probably find a lot of security analysts to say sort of anything these days in the wake of these kinds of attacks, but let me check. I’m not familiar with that specific issue.

What else on this? Anything else on this?

QUESTION: It’s – no, it’s --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: -- kind of on Saudi.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Could you speak about jailed blogger Raif Badawi and his sentence of 1,000 lashes by flogging?

MS. HARF: Well, Jen spoke about this at length last week; obviously said that it was something that we did not support and called on the Saudi Government to do a few things. I don’t have any update for you. I’m happy to check with our team and see if there is one.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, right now there has been so much talk and a world is kind of speaking out after this Charlie Hebdo attack in terms of the right to free expression.

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: And it kind of seems a little bit ironic that right now – that this blogger is getting 1,000 lashes when the world is speaking up in terms of free expression.

MS. HARF: Absolutely. That’s why we have publicly said that we take issue with this sentence.

QUESTION: And are you talking to the Saudis about it?

MS. HARF: I can check on what the communication is.

QUESTION: Sticking with Saudi Arabia --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- are you familiar with a report by a semi-respected news wire – a very respected news wire --

MS. HARF: Which one of these two is it? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- that said --

MS. HARF: They’re both looking at you accusatorily.

QUESTION: -- I’m teasing, I’m teasing – a Saudi cleric saying that snowmen are anti-Islamic? You know they had snow in the northern part of the country.

MS. HARF: I do know they have – I saw --

QUESTION: Is that the view of the State Department as well?

MS. HARF: I saw that this morning. I have no idea the facts behind that, but clearly, I fully support anybody’s right to make a snowman, so --

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MS. HARF: -- I can go on the record as saying that.

QUESTION: Did anyone from the embassy watch the incident at the Saudi Arabia regarding this lashing ceremony?

MS. HARF: I can check. I don’t know the --

QUESTION: I mean, this gentleman is supposed to receive now, what, 50 lashings a week until the 1,000 lashings are done. I mean, are you going to do anything to try and stop this punishment from being fully executed?

MS. HARF: I think publicly saying that this is something that we do not believe should go forward is a fairly strong statement. I agree with you.

QUESTION: I mean, not believing it should go forward and reaching out to the Saudis and making a big deal and demanding that it not be – this sentence not be implemented is something different.

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think we’re in the business of demanding things, but I’m happy to check and see what the diplomatic outreach has been.

QUESTION: Change --

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. I just don’t know, Elise.

QUESTION: This is not something you’d demand that they reassess? I mean, they’re --

MS. HARF: Well, Jen was very clear how strongly we felt about this and that we did not believe it should go forward.

QUESTION: But yet it’s still going forward.

MS. HARF: And I agree that it shouldn’t, Elise. I don’t have anything to add to this other than what we’ve already said.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) in Saudi Arabia the king, who is a close U.S. partner --

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- can step in and probably address this.

MS. HARF: I will check on what the diplomatic outreach has been around this so that I can share.

QUESTION: Can you – can we stay in the region?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: Do you have comment on this bathhouse trial in Egypt?

MS. HARF: I do, I do.

QUESTION: Which seems to have been readdressed, at least.

MS. HARF: Yes. We welcome the court’s decision that brought this case to a just conclusion; obviously continue to stress the importance of protecting the human rights of all Egyptians.

QUESTION: Are you worried that despite the acquittal, that these types of prosecutions – I could say persecutions, too – are going to continue without kind of clear legislation that says the rights of people will be respected regardless of sexual orientation?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t know if legislation is the answer, so I don’t want to comment on that piece. But clearly, we have ongoing concerns about the space for people in Egypt, whether it’s to express themselves freely in terms of freedom of speech – for journalists, we’ve talked about a lot in this room – but sort of across the board. Obviously, protecting human rights is something we care very much about and do have ongoing concerns.

QUESTION: Marie --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- on ISIS and Iraq, Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, criticized the slowness of the U.S.-led international coalition against ISIS in providing military support to his army. And he said the international coalition is very slow in its support and training of the army in Iraq. Do you have any reaction to that?

MS. HARF: Well, obviously we all wish that this fight with ISIS could go more quickly. We all know it’s a long fight, though, and I know Prime Minister Abadi has spoken to that as well. We have continued to provide support to the Iraqi forces and the Kurdish forces, I think just last week announcing another large tranche of support to them. We’re standing up the training missions, we’re on the ground helping them, so obviously, we know this is going to be a long fight. We wish that it would not be, of course, but we know that it will be, and I know Prime Minister Abadi has spoken to that as well.

QUESTION: Do you think that his criticism is baseless?

MS. HARF: Well, without commenting on everything he said, we work very closely with him and his team and his security forces, the forces both on the Iraqi and the Kurdish side, to fight this threat together. So that is ongoing, and certainly will continue.

QUESTION: Do you agree the view of many Iraqis that Iran has been the major supporter of Iraq’s fight against ISIL/ISIS, as opposed to the United States so far?

MS. HARF: Well, I think that it is clear to anyone who’s been watching this that the U.S. has unique and valuable capabilities they can bring to this fight that have helped the Iraqis, whether it’s specific arms or weapons or other capabilities that we’ve brought to bear that no other country can. Clearly, Iran and Iraq will have a relationship. They have a historical relationship, they have a geographical boundary, but I think it’s important not to overstate that relationship, and again, going back to all the things we provide Iraq that, quite frankly, nobody else can, that we will continue doing.

QUESTION: Given that you’re providing what you say you’re providing, are you worried that you’re losing at least the public relations battle and that Iran is being perceived as kind of the country rushing to Iraq’s support as opposed to the United States?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think I probably have a good way to judge the public relations battle inside Iraq, but I will say what we’ve heard from Iraqi leaders across the political spectrum is how closely they want to work with the United States, how valuable they know our contributions are. We hear it from average Iraqis too, so – a lot of this is anecdotal, but I do think that we’ve heard from people across the spectrum how much they value our working on this together.

QUESTION: Yes, please. Iraq?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Yes. Prime Minister Abadi is touring in the region, and recently, he was in Egypt too, and he’s going --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- to other places. And one of the things beside Iraqis discussing the possibility of or the – I don't know, as a suggestion of a political solution for Syria. Is there anything on the table, or it’s just like he has to play a role or – in a political solution?

MS. HARF: Are you talking about Prime Minister Abadi for Syria?

QUESTION: Yes, yeah, I mean, or – Iraq or the region countries.

MS. HARF: Well, we have had on the table the Geneva communique, obviously, which laid out the basis for a political solution. Now obviously, we’re a long way away from that. We need a variety of actors to step up and play a constructive role, and certainly, if the Iraqis can, that would be helpful. Obviously, it’s the Syrian opposition that’s most important, as well as the Assad regime getting everybody to the table to talk about a political solution. We’re very far from that, but certainly, if regional players can help and play positive roles, we would welcome that.

QUESTION: Why there was this UN proposal, or – let’s say in the same time, there are some reports in the region the last few days about a plan or a process to make a Moscow one or similar things.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Are you opposing it or are you --

MS. HARF: No.

QUESTION: -- encouraging it, or what?

MS. HARF: So there’s two different sets of upcoming talks with the – internally in the Syrian opposition, so I’ll just lay those out for you. The first is January 22nd in Cairo. They’re a welcome step in the Syrian Opposition Coalition’s efforts to engage with other opposition groups. We obviously continue to encourage them to reach out to as broad a swath of Syrian society as possible. We’re grateful to the Egyptians for their hosting. This is an independent effort from Moscow, which I believe is January 26th through 29th. It’s a Russian initiative that focuses on intra-Syrian negotiations. Obviously, we’re not involved in the planning here, but we believe that any kind of efforts that can get us closer to a real political solution here that makes genuine progress towards addressing these core grievances and providing a sustainable solution would be helpful. We’ll see what comes out of this.

QUESTION: Let me continue this, because it’s like there are some puzzling pieces there.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: First of all, are you interested – or, let’s say, are you attending or somehow monitoring or following these things, or not?

MS. HARF: We’re certainly following them. We are not at this time participating in them.

QUESTION: And the second question, as a principle – I mean, as an issue – some of these suggestions are suggesting part of the deal or the solution is Assad regime included. Do you oppose it?

MS. HARF: Well, we know the Assad regime has to be a part of the negotiations to get to a transitional governing body. You obviously have to have them at the table. That’s why they were part of the first two rounds in Geneva. What the eventual agreement would look like, we have no idea at this point. But we have been clear that Assad must go; he has lost all legitimacy. But as you’ve seen from the previous rounds in Geneva, obviously the regime has to be at the table. We’re not there yet, though.

QUESTION: Can we wrap up the Islamic State threat, unless you want to continue --

QUESTION: On this one, have you encouraged the Syrian opposition to attend Moscow’s conference?

MS. HARF: I can check and see. As I said, we believe anything that gets towards real progress is good. I can check and see.

QUESTION: Because when you said Assad regime – for few months, you were saying from this podium that future Syria is without Assad. Are you changing your position?

MS. HARF: No. The future – President Assad cannot be part of the future of Syria. We have not changed. But when it comes to who’s at the negotiating table to get there, we’ve always been clear the Assad regime has to be at the table, because there’s – you have to negotiate with them to get there.

Yes, Brad.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the apparent abduction of a lot of Christians in Libya?

MS. HARF: We’ve seen it. We’re looking into the reports. Obviously, if true, would condemn this in the absolute strongest terms. We’ll see if we can get some more information on it.

QUESTION: And then, do you have any comment on what seems to be a growing allegiance, or at least sympathy, to the Islamic State in parts of southern Afghanistan now?

MS. HARF: Yeah. We’re also following that, and at this point – I have a little bit on this. We’ve seen the rhetorical messages of support. We continue to watch for signs that these statements could amount to something more than just rhetorical support. That doesn’t mean it’s unimportant; but when it comes to counterterrorism efforts, trying to see if this actually amounts to more, and are obviously concerned with a number of extremist elements already operating there, whether it’s al-Qaida, the Haqqani Network, the TTP. So we’ll continue watching.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can we go back to France for a minute?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: Is it correct, Marie, that some U.S. officials expressed their concerns over the weekend or just before the attacks in Paris about the rise of anti-Semitism in France and about the fact that the Jews need to be better protected? It appeared in some Israeli and U.S. reports.

MS. HARF: Over the weekend? I’m happy to check. I mean, we’ve spoken very publicly about our concern about anti-Semitism. There’ve been some attacks, as you know. So we’ve spoken about this for a number of months. I can check and see if there was something specific over the weekend – not that I’m aware of. It’s an ongoing concern.

QUESTION: Marie, can I also just go back to Cuba, please?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Now that we have the list of names, apparently. It didn’t take long --

MS. HARF: See, I could’ve bet by the time I was done briefing it would be out. Yes.

QUESTION: The attention turns to those that Cuba refused to release during the negotiations or refused to have on the list during the negotiations.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: How many prisoners were there in that group, please?

MS. HARF: So we went to them initially with a list of names. They released a significant majority – significant majority – of the names we provided them with. I’m not going to give you a number for how many we provided them with. But for the small number of cases we were unsuccessful on, we will absolutely continue to pursue their release. We – and as I said to Brad, we recognize there are fewer people in the category of long-term prisoners now, but we are very concerned about the pattern of short-term detentions, intimidation, and harassment, and so we’ll continue to press on that as well.

QUESTION: Can you specify “small number of cases”?

MS. HARF: I’m sorry, I can’t. I – we’re just not going to --

QUESTION: Small in comparison to 53, or small in comparison to the island population?

MS. HARF: Small in comparison – I don’t know – to 53. Small, small.

QUESTION: So as you’re focusing on these more difficult --

MS. HARF: But wait – but that’s part of the reason we didn’t want to just say, “These are the only 53 we care about,” and give that impression.

QUESTION: How important is it for trust building going forward that Cuba now releases more of these difficult cases? And I gather all those that you had on the list and that they didn’t want to discuss are also political prisoners, right?

MS. HARF: I can check on that and see. I’m sure there are some, and we will keep pressing for their release. And that’s one of the reasons why we believe normalization is the right policy here. Having an ambassador and a embassy there will give us more ability to press on some of these issues.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can we digress to one other issue --

MS. HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: -- which is the – again, the march. While you’ve been up here, your colleague at the White House said that the White House should’ve sent someone more high-profile to attend the march. So in light --

MS. HARF: I certainly don’t disagree with my colleague at the White House.

QUESTION: So in light of that – I know we’ve discussed a bit about the internal conversations that went on, but I’m wondering if you can shed any light on whether there was a – the State Department offered to send Secretary Kerry to the march.

MS. HARF: There was no logistical way Secretary Kerry could go.

QUESTION: He could’ve canceled his Munich trip.

MS. HARF: He could’ve – well, he was already on his way, first of all, to India. He went through Munich. We have long committed for – Prime Minister Modi, obviously – India is an incredibly important economic partner. This was an economic conference. And then we’ll – of course, once he was in India, he was going to attend this because he thinks it’s a very important relationship. So there was just really no way for him to get there. He’s looking forward to going on Thursday.

QUESTION: How is he already on his way to Cuba? The attacks happened --

MS. HARF: Cuba? No one’s going to Cuba yet.

QUESTION: India.

QUESTION: To India. The attacks happened last week.

MS. HARF: Well, when we --

QUESTION: The march was well in advance.

MS. HARF: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: The march was already planned.

MS. HARF: Right, well --

QUESTION: So how – I mean, what --

MS. HARF: It was being planned and was being finalized. And when there were discussions about who would attend --

QUESTION: So it was too late based on the timing of your discussions, not based on the timing of --

MS. HARF: Well, it came together sort of – not at the last minute, but obviously planning was ongoing, and who was going to attend, other world leaders – I don’t think any of that was finalized until the end. So the conversations were ongoing, but he did not want to cancel an important trip to India about economics with the new prime minister of India.

QUESTION: Yeah, I don’t think the trip to – I mean, if you thought – if you think the attacks happened, what, Wednesday and then Friday – sorry, am I getting that right?

MS. HARF: Right, he left Friday.

QUESTION: Right. And then --

MS. HARF: Right, and --

QUESTION: -- he could have easily gone from Munich – I mean, the whole thing with going to India happened much later than everything’s already been established.

MS. HARF: Well, the planning, obviously, was ongoing for the march. And I don’t think all – everyone who was attending was clear until very late in the planning. That’s not a reason, I’m just saying that they’re – as a – as you know, when the Secretary is going someplace, particularly on a trip like India that we’ve had planned for a long time around an event with Prime Minister Modi, that’s very hard to turn off, and he didn’t want to. He has said – look, I think everyone who knows him knows if he could have been in Paris, he would have been.

QUESTION: That’s why we asked, because was he specifically told not to go to Paris --

MS. HARF: No.

QUESTION: -- considering he would have wanted to go to Paris, as you (inaudible).

MS. HARF: No, he was not told not to. There was the India trip. It was just not feasible in his schedule. But believe me, he’s looking forward to going on Thursday.

QUESTION: So was the offer of him attending this rally never on the table?

MS. HARF: To who?

QUESTION: To the White House, because clearly they have expressed some regret about not sending someone high-profile.

MS. HARF: It’s not about offering. It’s about a discussion about who should attend. And the – I think, because everyone knew about the Secretary’s trip to India and knew how important it was, that it was just not an option.

QUESTION: Okay, so it didn’t factor into the conversations about who was going, whether (inaudible)?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to characterize our internal conversations more than that.

QUESTION: Why did it matter who was going from the other countries? I mean --

MS. HARF: I’m just saying all the --

QUESTION: -- the U.S. is a leader in the world, isn’t it?

MS. HARF: Of course, but this isn’t about us, Brad.

QUESTION: I mean, shouldn’t we just go?

MS. HARF: Not everything is about us. I know that our media and the Washington talking heads like to think so. We have shown our solidarity with France in a number of ways, including the Secretary. So the conversations about the march and the planning was ongoing until the day of. There were discussions internally about who should go from the U.S. Government. The Secretary was never an option given he was going to India for this important economic conference with Prime Minister Modi.

QUESTION: Yes, but --

MS. HARF: That’s the best way I can characterize it, I think.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Just to follow up this issue, do you think – so from your perspective, you think that it’s a non-issue for the French people or France?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to speak for the French people. I think the French have been doing interviews and speaking about how vital they know our support is, how we’ve spoken up and stood with them, and I will let them speak for themselves.

QUESTION: Because part of diplomacy, as you know, is attitude and appearance and show.

MS. HARF: Absolutely. And I think that everything we have done in this Administration and since these attacks demonstrates the deep level of cooperation and friendship we have with the French Government and the French people, and Secretary Kerry is certainly at the forefront of that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) questioning about the attitude or – of presence or absence. It’s a matter – did the Secretary call the French partners to talk about this when the --

MS. HARF: About --

QUESTION: -- before the march and that I’m not coming?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. I’m happy to check. Again, I think everyone is very focused on this one moment in time. He has had ongoing conversations with the French starting the day of the attack, speaking to Foreign Minister Fabius, going out and speaking in French, going to the French Embassy. I know we’re all very focused on this, but our relationship is much broader than a short march.

QUESTION: Moving on --

MS. HARF: Thank you, Brad.

QUESTION: -- while the Marquis de Lafayette rolls in his grave, will – can we go to Africa? I’m just teasing.

MS. HARF: I’m not even sure how to, like, take that transition. But yes, we can. And are you asking about Boko Haram?

QUESTION: I was going to ask you about that. That was one of my two items.

MS. HARF: Okay. I just – I would like to see how many minutes we spend on Boko Haram compared to a march. I just want to point that out to people.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Well, I was going to ask you because last week --

MS. HARF: I know, I know. I’m just pointing it out, making a little commentary there.

QUESTION: -- there was a report of a lot of massacres, a lot of people massacred. And you said at the time you didn’t have much information on it, but you were pursuing. Have you been able to confirm Amnesty’s report, or do you have your own information that’s different?

MS. HARF: We’re still – it’s really hard to get information from the ground to confirm some of these reports. We are still working that. Of course, seeing the horrific reports today of young girls being used to conduct suicide attacks, we’re trying to confirm those independently as well. We obviously condemn these attacks in the strongest terms. Boko Haram is a huge threat, remains a huge threat. All you have to do is look at what’s happened over the last week to know that. And we are trying to get some more information about numbers and all of that.

QUESTION: What is your reading about why these attacks have increased? Is it something tied to the election?

MS. HARF: It’s a good question. I know our analysts are looking at that right now. I’m not sure if we’ve come to a conclusion about why, but I’m happy to check with them again.

QUESTION: North Korea?

QUESTION: Boko Haram.

QUESTION: No, no, can we stay on Boko Haram?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: If – on Boko Haram, how is the – the U.S. military is being meant to be working with the Nigerian. Is that cooperation ongoing, or – we haven’t seen or heard much on --

MS. HARF: Yeah. If folks remember last – or I think in November, maybe, the Nigerian Government terminated the third phase of a training that the Nigerian army battalion had been doing with the U.S. Government. And at that time, I said from this podium that we regretted the premature termination of this training, which is designed to strengthen the Nigerian army’s capacity to counter Boko Haram. So we have a relationship with them, we are trying to help them improve their capacity, but obviously, that was not an ideal development that we saw late last year.

We also think that, of course, even in the face of these horrifying attacks, that this must not, I would say, distract Nigeria from carrying out credible and peaceful elections, that – I know it’s difficult, we know it’s difficult, but they need to go forward with those.

QUESTION: So given the termination of that, and it doesn’t look like a very solid relationship right now between the two, what about efforts to work closely with the neighbors?

MS. HARF: Well, the Secretary – actually, Secretary Kerry and others have been directly engaged with the Nigerians to talk about this issue, to improve our ability to work together, and I do think actually have had some success over the past few months since this – since the third phase of this one training was terminated. So we’re trying to get back on track here and I think have had some success, but let me see if I can get you more specifics from my DOD colleagues about the cooperation military-to-military.

QUESTION: And also, given the increase in these attacks, what kinds of diplomatic efforts are going on between the U.S. and Nigeria to try to stop this?

MS. HARF: Yeah. Let me see what I can get you on that.

QUESTION: North Korea?

QUESTION: Just one more on Africa?

MS. HARF: Yeah, one more on Africa, then we’ll go to North Korea.

QUESTION: Can you give us an update on Dominic Ongwen, what’s happening to him right now? We know the Ugandans want to try him in their own court.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. He remains in the custody of the U.S. forces deployed to the Central African Republic in support of the AU’s regional counter LRA task force. He remains in that custody. We are working with the AU RTF to determine the next steps for this individual who has identified himself, as we have mentioned multiple times, and we don’t have anything to announce. Obviously, we believe it’s important he’s held accountable and that we should work with the relevant institutions and states to determine the proper method.

QUESTION: Do you believe that Uganda’s judicial system is up to the task of trying him?

MS. HARF: We’ll work with the relevant states to determine the method of accountability. I just don’t have much more for you than that.

QUESTION: I mean – and do you have a kind of understanding – I know you’re not a member of the ICC, but the ICC’s warrant notwithstanding, who – like, who’s judicial system should take precedence in this case?

MS. HARF: That’s what we’re working through right now.

QUESTION: And how fast do you want to make this decision?

MS. HARF: I can see if there’s a timeframe. I’m guessing probably as soon as possible, given we want him to be held accountable. But what does that mean? I don't know.

QUESTION: Marie, on Syria --

MS. HARF: Yeah, and then I’m going to go to North Korea. One more on Syria.

QUESTION: Yeah. The German weekly Der Spiegel reported last week that President Bashar Assad has rebuilt Syria’s nuclear weapons infrastructure with help from Iran and North Korea.

MS. HARF: We’ve --

QUESTION: Can you confirm these reports?

MS. HARF: We’ve seen those reports, are seeking more information, certainly cannot confirm them.

QUESTION: Do you have any update with regard to the training and equipment program that you are trying to reach an agreement with the Turks?

MS. HARF: On the Syria train and equip program?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: Well, my colleague at the Defense Department spoke at length about this last week, certainly, so I would refer you to him. But DOD has announced that we expect training to begin in early spring. In addition to Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have also agreed to host training sites. Again, we’ll – going through the process right now, but expect the training to begin in early spring.

QUESTION: Do you expect any ceremony, any signing ceremony?

MS. HARF: I don’t have anything more.

QUESTION: Because when we talked to DOD officials, they referred me to the State Department because of the (inaudible). You are referring --

MS. HARF: And I just told you what I know.

QUESTION: But if there will be a signing ceremony, there will be a State Department probably --

MS. HARF: Well, I have no idea how we will handle this when we actually – when the Defense Department, I should say, actually begins the training. We’ll keep you posted.

QUESTION: On the Spiegel story, you said you’re seeking – who are you seeking more – I mean, you know – you should know this area better than anybody --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- certainly better than a German, although highly respected, news magazine.

MS. HARF: I would agree with you that we probably have information they don’t.

QUESTION: So who are you seeking information from or are you --

MS. HARF: Seeking internally or from our partners to see what more we can – if we can cooperate this, but again, not sure we can.

QUESTION: Is that – well, you couldn’t corroborate it because of intelligence reasons or because the story’s false and you want to leave it out there?

MS. HARF: We don’t know yet. We just saw the reports and we’re looking into it.

QUESTION: Will you discuss this issue with the Iranians in the upcoming talks?

MS. HARF: No. The upcoming talks are about the Iranian nuclear program.

QUESTION: Yeah, but if they are helping the --

MS. HARF: Yes, but we don’t discuss other issues with them at those talks, as you all know.

QUESTION: But if they are --

MS. HARF: Let’s move on to North Korea and let’s --

QUESTION: But if they are helping the Assad regime to build a nuclear facility --

MS. HARF: I just said we’re not going to. I’m not sure what you don’t understand about that. We’re moving on to North Korea.

QUESTION: Just two questions about North Korea.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: A few days ago, we know North Korea said if Washington canceled a joint annual military exercise with South Korea, it would halt nuclear tests. Any comments on that?

MS. HARF: Yes. The DPRK statement that inappropriately links routine U.S.-ROK exercises to the possibility of a nuclear test by North Korea is an implicit threat. A new nuclear test would be a clear violation of North Korea’s obligations under multiple UN Security Council resolutions, would also contravene North Korea’s commitments under the 2005 Six-Party joint statement. Our annual joint military exercises with the Republic of Korea are transparent, defense-oriented, and have been carried out regularly and openly for roughly 40 years. We call on the DPRK to immediately cease all threats, reduce tensions, and take the steps toward denuclearization needed to resume credible negotiations. And we do remain open to dialogue with the DPRK, as we’ve said, with the aim of returning to these credible and authentic negotiations.

QUESTION: But it seems every time when the joint military exercise starts, it creates some tensions in Korean Peninsula.

MS. HARF: Well, it shouldn’t, given that it’s defense-focused, defense-oriented, transparent, and regularly every 40 years[1]. I’m not sure what is a surprise about it.

QUESTION: Follow-up on that?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you interpret the North Korea statement as an implicit threat? Are there any plans for the U.S. to respond to that?

MS. HARF: I think I just did.

QUESTION: I mean with more than words.

MS. HARF: Well, we’re going forward with the planned exercises, so I’m not sure – which usually take place in late February or early March. No specific date yet. But nothing else that I know of.

QUESTION: So which means the joint military exercise will continue?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: So you don’t think it will – because the United States won’t like to talk to North Korea. I mean --

MS. HARF: I just said we remain open to dialogue with the DPRK.

QUESTION: Okay, but it seems that although you open dialogue, but you don’t think this military exercise creates some tensions in this --

MS. HARF: No. A military exercise that is transparent and defense-oriented has no reason to.

QUESTION: Marie.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the report that former Special Representative for North Korea Policy Steven Bosworth, he and other – some other American security experts have all been meeting with North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator and some other senior diplomats in Singapore?

MS. HARF: I wasn’t aware of that. I wasn’t. Let me check. Obviously, they’re not current U.S. officials, but I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: Okay. One more question on Korea.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: South Korean President Park Geun-hye, she has said she’s open to a summit with North Korea and she has no preconditions for holding such a meeting. Any comment?

MS. HARF: Well, we welcome ROK efforts to improve inter-Korean relations and urge the DPRK to reciprocate in kind.

Yes, Elliot.

QUESTION: Different topic?

MS. HARF: Elliot, yeah.

QUESTION: This just happened before the briefing, I know, but --

MS. HARF: I love those the most.

QUESTION: Do you have anything you can say on the apparent hacking of CENTCOM’s Twitter?

MS. HARF: I saw it. I’m sure someone’s looking into it there and other places. I’m happy to check after the briefing.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS. HARF: I had seen that right before I came out.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Could you expand on what you mean by you hope North Korea reciprocates President Park’s proposal?

MS. HARF: I don’t think I have much more to add to that.

Yes, Ali.

QUESTION: CENTCOM acknowledged like an hour ago that they had been hacked, their social media account’s been --

MS. HARF: I think that’s what Elliot just asked.

QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Elliot. (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: I said – it happened right before the briefing. I have no idea. I’m sure someone is looking into it. But I will let you know if we have anything else.

QUESTION: I had a couple loose ends.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: I think a week ago the Israeli foreign ministry said that their understanding was Qatar had expelled Khaled Mashal, and now Qatar says they haven’t and he’s a dear guest of the emirate. Do you have a comment on that and do you think the political chief of a foreign terrorist organization should be dear guest of a close U.S. ally?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have any comment except to say our position on Hamas has not changed, and I don’t have any comment on reported locations of people like him. But if anything changes I’m happy to let you know.

QUESTION: Well, has your position on Qatar changed? If --

MS. HARF: No.

QUESTION: No.

QUESTION: Do you have any confirmation --

MS. HARF: Consistent positions.

QUESTION: Do you have any confirmation if he is in Qatar or we can say Turkey? Or you don’t have --

MS. HARF: I am happy for the Qataris to speak to that. I’m not going to get in the business of confirming where people are that aren’t in the U.S.

What else? Anything else? Everyone, on a lighter note, root for the Ohio State Buckeyes tonight. I’m wearing scarlet and gray. I’m going to be in a very bad mood tomorrow if they lose. So buckle up, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.)

 

[1] The annual joint military exercises between the United State and Republic of Korea have been carried out regularly and openly for roughly 40 years.


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 9, 2015

Fri, 01/09/2015 - 17:25

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 9, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

12:46 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: All right. Two items for all of you at the top. We’re deeply concerned by reports that Russia has moved Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko to solitary confinement. We understand that Ms. Savchenko has been on a hunger strike for nearly a month to protest the terms of her detention and is suffering additional health problems. We call for her immediate release as well as other Ukrainian hostages held by Russia.

A few more details on upcoming travel: Secretary Kerry will stop in Munich, Germany on January 10th to meet with the sultan of Oman to express his gratitude for their longstanding and strong relationship. He will then travel to Ahmedabad, India to attend the Vibrant – as you know, the Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summit, inaugurated by Indian Prime Minister Modi. We talked a little bit about that the other day. Secretary Kerry will then travel to Geneva, Switzerland to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif on January 14th to have a bilateral meeting to provide guidance to their negotiating teams before their next round of discussions, which begin on January 15th. And then on January 15th, Secretary Kerry will travel to Sophia, Bulgaria to discuss security cooperation, energy diversification, and the bilateral trade and investment relationship. He will also highlight the importance of rule of law in helping Bulgaria to realize its full potential as a vibrant, European democracy.

With that, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just on the – logistically on the trip, there isn’t – it’s just a bilateral visit in Bulgaria?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: It’s not – there’s not some big conference to --

MS. PSAKI: No.

QUESTION: And then you – isn’t he meeting someone rather unusual in Ahmedabad?

MS. PSAKI: Rather unusual? He is having a meeting with the prime minister of Bhutan, which we announced earlier this morning. That is the first meeting at a cabinet level with the prime minister of Bhutan.[1]

QUESTION: All right. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s start with the situation in Paris and outside Paris. Do you have any new information that you can convey about what’s happening, what the embassy, various consulates are doing security-wise?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the U.S. Embassy in Paris did issue a new security message today advising that the Government of France has extended the heightened terror alert to parts of northern France. International schools and other institutions are reviewing their security posture and make changes as appropriate. So this was simply passing on what the government there had provided. Nothing has changed in terms of our posture or otherwise, and our embassies and consulates – our embassy and consulates remain up and running.

QUESTION: Okay. It seems that the French police have told shops and sites in the historic Jewish neighborhood that they should close their doors. I realize that this is a domestic police/terrorism issue, but does that have – does that spark any broader concern or thoughts that – about the situation as it relates to anti-Semitism in Europe, particularly the idea of a government ordering the closure of stores in ethnic or religiously specific neighborhoods?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any more analysis other than to convey that certainly, as you know, the situation remains fluid, and we of course provide and reiterate our full support for France and our solidarity for their efforts. They’re taking every measure they can right now to keep people safe. Beyond that, I don’t have any other analysis on what that means.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Following on that, do you agree with the foreign minister of Israel who said that he’s very concerned about a terror offensive which is going on in France right now?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen the full measure of the comments. I think anyone around the world – and you’ve seen everyone from President Obama to Secretary Kerry express concerns about what we saw happen in France and what that means about freedom of speech and the need to continue to press for that. And clearly, around the world, even prior to this attack, we’ve all been on alert about the risk of terrorism. So I’d have to look more closely at the comments. I think there’s a broad view that there are risks out there, and certainly every time there’s a tragic attack it’s a reminder of what more we need to continue to do to work together to address these challenges.

QUESTION: And on the Secretary’s schedule, is there a possibility that the Secretary’s stop by Paris on Sunday, because there is a big march which is organized by political parties and a lot of world leaders, would participate to this march?

MS. PSAKI: Well, you heard how passionately the Secretary spoke just a few days ago in English and in French about his views on these tragic events. And certainly, he feels a special connection with the people of France. As we’ve noted in the schedule, we’ve announced he’ll be in India on Sunday, and that those travel plans have not changed.

QUESTION: So let me go to the question of the older brother, Said Kouachi. Multiple reports, including from our channel now, are suggesting that not only were they on the U.S. no-fly list, but apparently Said may have been affiliated with fighting for AQAP in Yemen in 2011, 2012. What more are you able to say about the Kouachi brothers’ connections to organized terrorist organizations?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve certainly seen the reports that have been broadly out there. As I just noted, of course, France is in the lead. This is an ongoing investigation. Out of respect for that, we’re just not going to talk about the backgrounds of these individuals at this point in time.

QUESTION: But given that the Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that both men were barred from coming to the United States, what does this say about what the U.S. awareness is of persons who may be considered potential threats to U.S. security? Are there other people in addition to the Kouachi brothers who, while they may never have ever tried to come to the United States, might still have been involved in some larger security concern for this country?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, I’m not going to speak from here confirming or not confirming who is or isn’t on a no-fly list. I’ve seen the same reports you have, as we all have. Broadly speaking, we certainly take every precaution, including tracking any individuals who we feel may pose a threat to the United States or any Western interests. I’m just not going to speak more specifically to these individuals at this point in time.

Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: You said the Secretary will meet with the sultan of Oman?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any update about his health?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update. As you know, they have a strong personal relationship, and I expect this will be more of a personal meeting than a policy meeting. They certainly could discuss a range of issues that they’ve talked about in the past, especially with everything that’s ongoing, with issues ranging from the nuclear talks to Syria to all of the issues we talk about in here every day.

QUESTION: That means his meeting with the sultan is related to the negotiations with Iran, especially that Oman is --

MS. PSAKI: No, that’s not at all what I said. There are a range of issues. I conveyed, again, just to reiterate, this is more of a personal meeting than a policy meeting. In the past, as you know, they’ve talked about a range of issues of mutual interest. I expect they could do that again, but that’s not the purpose of the visit. The Omanis, while they have certainly played a helpful role in the past, they’re not involved in the negotiations. Those are happening between the P5+1 and Iran.

QUESTION: Well, except the Omani foreign minister has played the role of a shuttle envoy.

MS. PSAKI: Well, they have a long history of a relationship with Iran, certainly.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I expect this will be a very short answer, so I’ll do it now –

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- rather than later. Have you seen the Nebraska court decision?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So I’m assuming you’re ready to release the results of the review into the Keystone pipeline now that that –

MS. PSAKI: No, but since you –

QUESTION: -- that obstacle has been removed?

MS. PSAKI: Since you gave the opportunity, and I know we haven’t talked about this in a while, let me just give a quick summary of kind of where things stand. So last April, as we talked about then, in light of over 2.5 million comments from the public and uncertainty created by litigation in Nebraska, we gave the eight federal agencies specified in the executive order more time to submit their views on whether the proposed Keystone pipeline serves the national interest.

At the same time, we’ve continued to work on the matter. Our process isn’t starting over. We now, as Matt mentioned, have, of course, a decision by the Nebraska Supreme Court that has the result of upholding the pipeline route approved by the governor. So the next step is to request that the agencies complete their consideration of whether the proposed project serves the national interest and provide their views to the Department. That will, of course, be factored into the national interest determination, which is what ultimately at some appropriate time the Secretary will issue.

QUESTION: Well, with the court –

MS. PSAKI: That’s the process.

QUESTION: But you had already – the review was essentially complete, or the –

MS. PSAKI: No, it was not. No, it was not complete. It was paused.

QUESTION: It was paused, but it had been operating on the assumption that it was the existing route, the existing planned route.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we didn’t know what the outcome of the court case would be, so if – at the –

QUESTION: But surely, surely the review is – proceeded far enough on the basis of what the old – of what the old and now current route is so that it’s not going to be another six, eight months --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have a timeline for you.

QUESTION: -- 2016 kind of time?

MS. PSAKI: -- but as I mentioned, obviously, a factor here is the input of the eight agencies, which will be taken into account in the issuing of the national interest determination.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that – how long is the review going to take then? I don’t understand.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a – the agencies will obviously be given a sufficient and reasonable amount of time to provide their input, but I don’t have an assessment on the amount of time at this point.

QUESTION: Well, how far – how close to complete was the review before there was a pause?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are several components of the review. The agency input is not something that we have at this point to review.

QUESTION: Well, but shouldn’t they be able to do that relatively quickly, since it’s now the old – the route has been affirmed to be the route that they were doing the work on in the first place?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, we’re seeing the process through. At some appropriate time soon, we’ll indicate to the agencies how much time they’ll have to provide their input.

QUESTION: Well, the reason --

QUESTION: Well, let’s put it this way --

QUESTION: -- that I’m harping on this is that --

QUESTION: What was the deadline before it went to court? How much more time did the agencies have before --

MS. PSAKI: It doesn’t --

QUESTION: -- this matter went to court?

MS. PSAKI: -- work exactly that way, Roz. It was up to 90 days, but that didn’t – to give their input. But that wasn’t a deadline on when a national interest determination would be released.

QUESTION: The Administration, and in particular the – well, the Administration as a whole, but in particular the State Department, which is in charge of the review --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- has been accused by some people of deliberately stalling this whole exercise. And if you’re saying now that the removal of the obstacle to completing the review doesn’t mean that it can be done – it can be completed quickly, I think you’re probably just going to add – that’s going to add fuel –

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, we’ll obviously move to the next stage of this --

QUESTION: -- fire of the criticism.

MS. PASKI: -- which is certainly what we expected, which is receiving the input of the eight agencies. That’s the stage we’ll be at, and we’ll see the process through.

QUESTION: And is there – as Roz asked, is there a deadline for them to submit their input?

MS. PSAKI: We’ll be in touch soon with the agencies to give them a timeline on when we’ll need their input back.

QUESTION: And what will that timeline be?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that to outline for you at this point.

QUESTION: Could it be as long as the end of November 2016? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to predetermine that for you, Matt, but I don’t anticipate that’s the length, no.

QUESTION: So you fully expect that it will be Secretary Kerry, barring some unforeseen – that Secretary Kerry will be the one who actually makes the recommendation on the national interest?

MS. PSAKI: That is how the executive order is written.

QUESTION: It won’t be some future –

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- secretary of state?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, but we’re seeing the process through, and that’s the stage we’re in at this point in time.

QUESTION: Jen.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The fact that the President has said he’s going to veto whatever Congress does, does that affect the review at all?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the White House has spoken to this. But regardless of the ruling, the House bill and their review still conflicts – and our view, the Administration’s view – with longstanding Executive Branch procedures regarding the authority of the President. That’s why they’ve indicated – or my colleague over at the White House indicated earlier this week what the President’s intentions would be.

We’re continuing this process. We’ll see it through. And that’s where we are at this point in time.

QUESTION: So none of that has changed? Like I mean, what Congress is pushing through and what the President has said and what the court ruling has come through doesn’t make you feel that you need to hasten this review and get this thing over with?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we certainly understand the interest – I guess I’ll put it that way – from both opponents and supporters of the Keystone pipeline. But we have a responsibility to see the process through. It was written in a certain way, and so that’s what we’re doing at the State Department.

QUESTION: Or can we put it in the opposite way regardless of what’s happening on Capitol Hill, the process of getting the agency review continues unabated; the people who are supposed to provide this input are expected to just ignore this separate piece of legislation and just do their work based on whatever timeline is established?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, we’re proceeding with the process. Yes. And also I’d note the bill hasn’t yet passed. The White House has just indicated what they would do if it were to.

QUESTION: Is it understood – is it explicitly understood among those people in these agencies who are supposed to provide this information that they’re not supposed to now just sit on their work, that they need to pick up --

MS. PSAKI: It will be properly communicated, and I think we’ve been clear and the White House has been clear on that as well, Roz. But that has not – we have not given a timeline at this point in time yet. This court case just was ruled on this morning.

QUESTION: Right. But talking specifically about the congressional legislation, they should not look at that process as an excuse to not --

MS. PSAKI: We have been clear that we are going to see the process through.

QUESTION: -- do their work.

MS. PSAKI: The process requires – or requests, I should say, the input of eight agencies that will be taken into account in the national interest determination.

Do we have any more on Keystone, or shall we move on?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Any – okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Korea, there’s a American woman in Seoul who’s facing deportation and a ban from re-entering the country for five years over some comments she made about North Korea. I was wondering if you have anything to say about that.

MS. PSAKI: I do. Let me just find it for you, Elliot. My apologies.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: I know. Or I could sing, which would be terrible for all of you.

We can confirm that U.S. citizen Amy Chung, also known as Shin Eun-mi, was barred from exiting South Korea for the past three weeks. We have seen the reports indicating the prosecution has asked that Ms. Chung be deported and banned from South Korea for five years. We take our obligation to assist U.S. citizens overseas seriously. We’re in contact with Ms. Chung and providing all possible consular assistance.

As it relates to the laws, I think it’s the application of the national security law was what was used here. I think broadly speaking, our view is that the Republic of Korea has shown a consistent and longstanding commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. In – as it relates to law, we’re concerned that the national security law, as interpreted and applied in some cases, limits freedom of expression and restricts access to the internet.

QUESTION: You can confirm that she couldn’t leave for three weeks --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- but you can’t confirm that she’s going to be deported? Or --

MS. PSAKI: We are aware of reports that she’s been deported for allegedly violating the South Korean national security law. Beyond that, I don’t have any more details.

QUESTION: Okay, and then just one more on this. This comes at the same time as a Japanese reporter who made some comments about President Park is – remains on trial and unable to leave the country. Do you have any broader concerns that this raises about freedom of the press and freedom of expression in North Korea – in South Korea?

MS. PSAKI: I mean, I think I expressed that in the comments I offered as it relates to the law. I mean, broadly speaking, we believe South Korea has a strong record on human rights and freedom of expression, and we expressed just a concern about the application of the particular law in some cases.

QUESTION: Can we move back closer to home?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So we’ve had some vigorous exchanges over the past couple days about the Cuban prisoners, and now it looks as though you’re being at least partially vindicated in your --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, mark this down as a historic moment in the briefing. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: There were reports of up to 36, I think maybe even more now, prisoners being – having been released over the course of the last two days. I know that your – one of your colleagues at the White House tweeted about this. I’m presuming now you can at least say something. The veil of secrecy and mystery has been lifted somewhat?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we welcome the significant and ongoing release of political prisoners by the Cuban Government. I’m not going to confirm numbers or names at this point in time, but these releases are certainly consistent with the cases that we raised with the Cuban Government and their decision to release the 53 prisoners.

QUESTION: Can you say that not all 53 have been released yet, even if you can’t say how many have been, that you’re aware of?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. There are more that will be released.

QUESTION: And are you expecting that to be – to happen forthwith?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a prediction of that, but obviously we’re hoping that will happen as soon as possible.

QUESTION: And do you know if you have been in touch, if the Administration has been touch directly with Cuban officials about this in the last day or two?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any updates on that. Obviously, on the ground we have a pretty active interests section there, and we are in regular contact.

QUESTION: But not anyone from here, for example?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls from here or contact from here to read out.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just on – and I realize that this is not the State Department, necessarily; this is Treasury and Commerce – any idea when the new regulations will be released so that (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a prediction on the timing, unfortunately. Obviously, that’s one of the important next steps in order to send clear guidance to American businesses and the people of Cuba on how these pieces will be implemented – Cuban cigars and many other components. So I don’t have a prediction, but they’re working on that. We didn’t expect it would be ready immediately, so we hope to have more information soon.

QUESTION: It is not – the publication of those new regulations is not timed to coincide with the talks that will be held on the 21st and 22nd?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, Assistant Secretary Jacobson, as you know, is leading those talks.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: It’s not – clearly we want to make --

QUESTION: No, I understand. But I mean would you like to have them – would it be – would the Administration like to have them done and in place by the time that those talks begin?

MS. PSAKI: I think our focus is more putting – making them available and putting the information out as soon as it’s ready. It’s not timed to the timing of the talks.

QUESTION: Is it possible that they could be put together that quickly – two weeks, three weeks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it takes some time, Roz, as you know, and I think is sort of implied in your question. I’m not an expert on that, so I would refer you to my colleagues at Commerce and Treasury about how long it takes to put regulations together.

QUESTION: But would there be any motivation to do this perhaps as an incentive to Havana to continue doing what could be described as a positive step, letting political prisoners go?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t tie them together. The Cuban Government has committed to the release of these prisoners. Obviously, we’ve seen a significant released over the past 24 to 48 hours. We made a policy decision to change our policy toward Cuba. These regulations are a part of it, but I wouldn’t tie them together in that way.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you it’s relevant that – you just said that a lot of these releases have been in the last 24, 48 hours. Do you think that’s relevant to anything?

MS. PSAKI: I was just speaking to the timing of it given you all have been asking about it every day, so I didn’t mean to overstate that. I think it’s just new information.

QUESTION: Egypt.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are you following the case of the 20 Coptic Egyptians kidnapped in --

MS. PSAKI: Can we – is there any more on Cuba before we move on? Okay, on Egyptians? Sure.

QUESTION: -- kidnapped in Libya last week?

MS. PSAKI: I do – we are, certainly, Samir. We continue to follow the situation closely. We strongly condemn these kidnappings and express our sympathy to the Egyptians who are and have been involved in this ordeal. This incident underscores the need for the international community to continue to support the Libyan people and their government during this challenging time. The United States remains committed to helping the Libyan people and government build an inclusive system of government to address the core needs of the Libyan people, to provide stability and security, and to address the ongoing threats.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: May I change the subject?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Oh, on Egypt or --

QUESTION: Something else.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Is that okay? Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask – MI5 Director General Parker has said that al-Qaida in Syria is planning a mass casualty attack against the West. Does the U.S. agree with his assessment?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, one, there’s almost no country we have closer cooperation and a closer relationship with than the United Kingdom, and obviously we have discussions about everything from counterterrorism to perceived threats with them. Certainly, we don’t talk about those publicly typically. I don’t have any new assessment at this point in time to offer to you. I think certainly we’re all watching the fact that there have been recent attacks in the world – not just Paris, but Ottawa, Australia, and certainly talking to our counterparts about what that means. And part of our effort and one of our biggest focuses nowadays is certainly on terrorism and the threat that that poses to Western interests.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. believe that the threat is worsening or getting --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to do a ranking of it. I think there’s no question that this is a primary focus of not just the United States but our important partners and allies like the United Kingdom. And it’s a topic of discussion in many, many of the bilateral meetings and phone calls that the Secretary has, and something that I think will continue to be a top priority of this Administration and many of our counterparts around the world.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Going to Africa --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- the Seleka rebels in the DRC are claiming that the United States should pay them the bounty of $5 million for bringing in one of the LRA guys. Is that your belief as well? Let’s start with that one.

MS. PSAKI: I had not talked to our team about this since we talked about it a couple of days ago, Lesley, and at that point I didn’t have any confirmation about the involvement of the Seleka rebels in this, so I’d have to go back to them and see if there’s more we can convey or even confirm about the specifics here.

QUESTION: And then, just on his future – I mean, given that the U.S. is not a signatory to the ICC statute, does – is it up to – it’s not up to the U.S., then, to hand him over to the ICC. Doesn’t it have to be a country that is a signatory to it, such as --

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check with our team and see if there’s really more we can offer on this. And I know that’s more of a technical question than an update --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: -- so we’ll see if there’s more we can communicate on that.

QUESTION: Well, do – and do you believe that he should go – he should be handed to the ICC?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I just don’t have an update, so we’ll talk to our team – our Africa team – and I – certainly, I’m not sure your colleagues are in touch with DOD, but I would talk to them as well about it.

QUESTION: Can we stay in Africa?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You probably have seen this report from Amnesty International that Boko Haram may have killed up to 2,000 people in this village massacre. I’m wondering, one, if you have any way of knowing whether that number, which is rather astonishing, is correct, but also what the status is of the cooperation and assistance that you’re (inaudible) the Nigerians about this.

MS. PSAKI: Well, on the first question, we’ve certainly seen the reports, and I will say that, of course, even one death attributable to violence is too many. But we don’t have any means of confirming it at this point in terms of the numbers. We certainly are aware of and in close touch about the troubling reality of the violence on the ground there.

In terms of our close cooperation with Nigeria, Secretary Kerry – I think we may have put this out, but it was over the holiday, so – he spoke with President Jonathan on the phone on December 30th. They also had a long conversation just a couple weeks before that on December 6th. Obviously, our cooperation on a broad range of issues, including security issues, is part of that dialogue. We also remain committed to supporting Nigeria as it addresses the violence caused by Boko Haram. We certainly still have a presence on the ground, an interdisciplinary team that we’ve had on the ground for some time as well. So there’s a range of assistance I could certainly talk through, or we can send something more comprehensive out after the briefing.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just wondering – there had been complaints from the Nigerians a month or so ago, or maybe a little longer now, that they hadn’t been getting everything that they’d been – that they wanted or that you – and that they hadn’t been getting everything that you thought – that the U.S. thought was actually appropriate. Has that changed at all?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can’t speak to what their specific requests are. I can convey that we continue to provide a range of assistance to Nigeria. We remain committed to our counterterrorism relationship and our strategic relationship in that regard, and that we are – remain in close contact, as is evidenced by the Secretary’s calls with the president.

QUESTION: But is there enough trust? One of the Nigerian complaints has been that the U.S. thinks that the military is too corrupt and that giving certain pieces of intelligence to the Nigerian military could actually end up helping Boko Haram. Can you address that concern that the Nigerians have, that they don’t think the U.S. thinks that they’re professional enough?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Roz, there’s a long history here, as you know. And as it relates to certain funding, there are certain requirements on that that are applicable around the world. But I think the fact is we’ve provided a range of funding to Nigeria to address their counterterrorism needs, to fight against Boko Haram. They remain an important partner. The Secretary’s engaged – obviously, that’s a very high level – with them and the needs they have, so this is an ongoing dialogue. Now, obviously, as is true with any relationship, there may be individuals who are dissatisfied or feel there’s more that they need, but this is a discussion we’re having at the highest levels of government and we remain absolutely committed to helping meet their security needs.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: On the Saudis. Yesterday, you called for the Saudis to cancel the sentence of the thousand lashes for the activist. Has there been any feedback from the Saudis to that call?

QUESTION: Especially considering they went ahead and did it.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any updates on that, Lesley. So, obviously, our view yesterday stands today. I understand events have happened, but we felt it important to express our concern.

QUESTION: But is this going to become an issue between the two countries?

MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I think that with any strong relationship, which certainly our relationship with Saudi Arabia is a good example of that, we work closely with the country on a range of issues – fighting ISIL, of course, they’re one of our most important partners; the Middle East peace process, they’re one of the countries that the Secretary briefed regularly when that was ongoing; and I could keep going on and on about what we work with them on. He also has had a long and growing relationship with King Abdullah and certainly with his counterpart there. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t express our concerns when we have them about issues. So our relationship will continue; it’s a strong strategic relationship, but we felt it was important to express our concern about this particular case.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: And there are more and more calls from human rights groups calling for – I mean, yeah, calling for Saudi Arabia to be expelled from the human rights – United Nations Human Rights Council. Is this something the United States would support?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t – we don’t have a comment on their – the status of their membership at the UN Human Rights Council.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I ask you – in your response to one of Lesley’s question saying your position is the same as it was yesterday, and then you said, “I understand that events have happened.” Could you be a little bit more specific about --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly understand that the --

QUESTION: -- what event it is that you’re talking about? I mean, we’re talking about the public flogging of a blogger.

MS. PSAKI: Matt, which obviously we spoke about strongly yesterday.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So I was reiterating that our concerns about that sentencing and obviously what has happened since then have not changed.

QUESTION: But what has happened since that? I mean, do you know, other than just from reports that this --

MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen the reports. I don’t have any independent confirmation of them. I wasn’t meaning to imply that.

QUESTION: Okay. All right.

QUESTION: South Asia?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Madam, I have a couple of questions on South Asia, please, starting with India. As far as Secretary’s visit, can you confirm – I’ve seen the report, of course, or the press release. What will be the major discussion since Secretary’s not staying for the presidential visit on 26th? And if the Secretary is visiting also Pakistan or not?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to announce at this point in terms of additional stops. As it relates to the trip, we expect that a big focus of the discussion will be about our economic relationship. Part of the Secretary’s agenda while he’s there is going to be meeting with American CEOs. He’ll also have a separate meeting with Indian CEOs. And so they’ll be talking about the ongoing opportunities to continue – for the United States to continue to invest in India and to increase that partnership. He’ll also be visiting a Ford plant that will soon be opening, which obviously is a specific example of the investment of the United States in India.

QUESTION: On Pakistan, as far as – can you confirm because there have been some reports in Pakistan that – a government spokesman said that Kerry-Lugar $532 million certificate has been issued by the Secretary or --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve talked about this a bit, so I’d look at some of the transcripts of this week. But we have not notified Congress of any specific funding, so those reports are bit ahead of the process.

QUESTION: So it has not been released? Because there had been reports in Pakistan.

MS. PSAKI: It has not – Congress has not been notified of a request.

QUESTION: And on Sri Lanka, please, quickly.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, one more.

QUESTION: As far as this election in Sri Lanka is concerned, I’ve been talking with the people or Sri Lankans here in the U.S. They applaud Secretary’s and U.S. support for as far as free and fair elections, because they were saying that there was a human rights problem – of course, you know that. How do you see the future of U.S.-Sri Lanka relations under the new president? Because there were problem in the past as far as human rights and --

MS. PSAKI: And we’ve expressed concerns in the past. The Secretary put out a comprehensive statement last night. Obviously, we’ll start looking forward to our relationship soon, and certainly, that will be a primary focus of Assistant Secretary Nisha Biswal. But I don’t have anything to lay out for you at this point.

QUESTION: And finally, do we see more opening of U.S. investment and relations between the two countries under the new president?

MS. PSAKI: Again, the election was just certified last night. Obviously, we issued a comprehensive statement, so I’d point you to that.

QUESTION: Thank you, ma’am.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you.

QUESTION: So --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- just coming back to the pipeline --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- Ed Royce has just put out a statement --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- saying that it’s – they’ve passed the bill on Keystone. Any comment given that, or – and then just coming back to that review, is there no way that the review could in any way sway what the President’s thinking is on this way, given that it’s a broad opinion of many stakeholders?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the purpose of the review is to take into account a range of factors, information that’s been gathered – obviously, the input of eight agencies. And certainly, the reason we want to get that input is because the Secretary will review that and he’ll make a recommendation, or his designee will make a recommendation. Obviously, the President of the United States obviously has the authority to take a range of steps. But certainly, as the White House has indicated today, we fully expect the Secretary will make the recommendation, or his designee. So I don’t have anything particular on the House legislation. Obviously, the White House has spoken to the President’s view on that. We’re seeing the process through. That’s our responsibility over here. And I indicated the next step is providing the information to agencies about how much time they’ll have to provide their input.

All right. Oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: Someone else can go. I have two brief ones.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Should I go?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Back to Egypt.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: They’ve set their date for the parliamentary elections. Do you have anything to say about that?

MS. PSAKI: I could sing again now, but – we have seen the reports and welcome the news that Egypt is moving towards parliamentary elections. Obviously, we’ll be watching closely.

QUESTION: Does that mean sending official observers?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on that at this point in time, Roz.

QUESTION: Would that be expected in light of the recent years of political upheaval?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make a prediction of that. Obviously, this announcement was just made today.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Recently, the FBI director and CIA director James (inaudible) were strongly --

MS. PSAKI: Comey?

QUESTION: Yeah, strongly mentioned that North Korea cyber hacking to Sony Pictures Entertainment was – used a North Korean IP. Can you confirm that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don't know that it requires my confirmation when the FBI director goes out and makes the comments, so I would just point you to those remarks, and certainly, we stand by those.

QUESTION: (Inaudible), the more, the merrier confirmation.

MS. PSAKI: The more, the merrier, all right.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say – there were reports out – a report out this morning, one that I’m aware of, that the United States did not have anything to do with the North Korean internet outage?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more to say than what we’ve offered on that in the past.

QUESTION: Okay. And then I just wanted to go back to – a second to Russia and Ukraine --

MS. PSAKI: Okay, sure.

QUESTION: -- and your opening statement on the pilot.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: It is my understanding, and I think your – everyone’s understanding that under the Minsk agreement, both sides were to release --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- or – everyone was to release everyone else’s prisoners; is that – that’s correct?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, but I think there’s --

QUESTION: Are you aware of any – you specifically mentioned that you call on Russia to release its prisoners. How many other Ukrainians do you believe that Russia is holding?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t --

QUESTION: Not the separatists, Russia itself.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I don’t have a specific number, Matt. I can see if that’s anything we have publicly available.

QUESTION: And do you – and in terms of those held by the separatists, do you have any idea of those?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a breakdown in numbers, no.

QUESTION: And in terms of those held by Ukraine from – by the Government of Ukraine of separatists or whoever else they might be holding that would be affected or should be freed under the Minsk agreements, how many are still left there?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think it will surprise you that our concern is mainly focused on the --

QUESTION: On one person, apparently?

MS. PSAKI: Well, no, on any political prisoners which are predominantly held by the Russian-backed separatists and the Russians, so --

QUESTION: But you – that is a fact, that you know that there are – the Russians and the separatists are holding the predominant majority of people --

MS. PSAKI: Political prisoners?

QUESTION: -- of prisoners who you think should be released?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: I’m talking – not talking about political prisoners in general.

MS. PSAKI: No, I understand what you’re saying.

QUESTION: I’m just talking about Ukraine --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- related to this conflict.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a breakdown in numbers, but yes, that’s our --

QUESTION: But are there – are you also calling on the Government of Ukraine to finish its releases of people?

MS. PSAKI: I think, Matt, I will check on the status of whether that is actually a concern we have. I mean, certainly, it’s --

QUESTION: Well, if they’re still holding people that they should have released, wouldn’t that be a concern?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, but that’s – I don’t think that’s the reality of what’s happening on the ground with the agreement.

QUESTION: I don't know. I’m asking if you know. I’m not suggesting that it is or it isn’t. I just – I mean, it just seems to me that you would want both sides to fulfill their obligations and not just one side with one person.

MS. PSAKI: But it remains the case that there’s one country --

QUESTION: I understand that.

MS. PSAKI: -- that’s illegally in another country, so --

QUESTION: I understand your position on it. I’m just trying to find out if it needs – if the call needs to be made to both sides rather than just one.

MS. PSAKI: We will let you know if that’s a call we’re making.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: All right. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yesterday, there was a question at the end about the last U.S. official of similar rank to have traveled to Cuba.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. So Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs, now referred to as Western Hemisphere Affairs – otherwise known as the 1977 version of Roberta Jacobson – Terence Todman, traveled to Cuba in April 1977. And that was, I think, raised by someone yesterday. Peter Tarnoff, who was the executive secretary in December – in – around the same time, traveled to Cuba as executive secretary in December 1978; that’s the same rank as assistant secretary. He also traveled to Cuba three more times in January, April, and September of 1980.

QUESTION: Sorry, Mr. Tarnoff was executive secretary where?

MS. PSAKI: At the State Department.

QUESTION: He was the executive secretary at the State Department. Does that position still exist?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: And who – oh, the exec sec.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: But that’s not a Senate-confirmed position.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe so, no, but it’s the same rank as assistant secretary. I don’t know what the status of it was in the late ’70s.

QUESTION: Well, is it not the case that an assistant secretary who was Senate-confirmed is more senior to someone who has not been confirmed by the Senate?

MS. PSAKI: There’s many ways to rank. There are people who are different levels; some are Senate-confirmed, some are not Senate confirmed, or the same level. It’s not – it doesn’t work exactly that way. It’s not – you don’t outrank just because you’re Senate-confirmed.

QUESTION: You don’t?

MS. PSAKI: No. There are assistant secretaries who are not Senate-confirmed.

QUESTION: I know there are, but the assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere Affairs is. I’m not sure --

MS. PSAKI: Correct

QUESTION: And I don’t believe the executive secretary of the State Department --

MS. PSAKI: Yes, and they’re the same rank. They’re the same level. That’s what I’m conveying in providing information to you about the last visit.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: All right. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:27 p.m.)

DPB # 9

 

[1] Secretary Kerry’s meeting with Bhutanese Prime Minister Tobgay will mark the first bilateral meeting between a U.S. Secretary of State and a Bhutanese official. Previously, the highest ranking State Department official to engage with Bhutan was at the Undersecretary of State level. In the past, United States officials have met with both the Fourth and Fifth King of Bhutan.


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 8, 2015

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 15:18

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 8, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:27 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: A rose between two thorns (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: A rose between two thorns, wow. Well, hello. Happy New Year to those of you --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: No one knows who you were referring to. (Laughter.) Welcome back to those of you that I haven’t seen yet. Happy New Year.

I just have one item at the top: We are greatly concerned by reports that human rights activist Raif Badawi will start facing the inhumane punishment of a thousand lashes in addition to serving a 10-year sentence in prison for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and religion. The United States Government calls on Saudi authorities to cancel this brutal punishment and to review Badawi’s case and sentence. The United States strongly opposes laws, including apostasy laws, that restrict the exercise of these freedoms and urges all countries to uphold these rights in practice.

I also just want to flag I have a time issue on the back end here, so let’s get to any – as many issues as we possibly can. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I was going to ask about that – what you just talked about --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- anyway, so let’s start there. Just what happens if the Saudis go ahead and do this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, obviously we’ve expressed our views. This announcement just came out this morning. We’ve certainly expressed our views privately. I’m not going to get into a discussion about what happens next. Obviously, we’re just making clear our opposition to this.

QUESTION: Does the Administration oppose public flogging as a punishment for any crime, or just for religious-type issues?

MS. PSAKI: Well, you know our view on religious freedom and people’s ability to express religious freedom, so I would focus on that.

QUESTION: Well – no, I mean do you think that – does the Administration believe that there are certain crimes that it’s acceptable to be punished by being publicly flogged?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve expressed in the past in a range of reports we do annually, Matt, what our views are. I don’t think I need to expose on those any further.

QUESTION: And just – one thing you said, too – you wanted them to cancel this sentence, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Does that mean you believe the individual deserves any kind of a sentence?

MS. PSAKI: We said to review his case and sentence, so obviously there’s a judicial process. But clearly, we want to cancel this particular sentence, yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Should we move on to --

QUESTION: By “cancel” you mean “nullify,” right? I mean, it just --

MS. PSAKI: Yes, that’s another way of saying it, sure. Should we move on to a new topic?

Go ahead, James.

QUESTION: Staying with --

MS. PSAKI: Oh.

QUESTION: Staying with human rights --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- there’s the late report out of The Washington Post about the family of the Radio Free Asia reporter who are being harassed by Chinese authorities in Xinjiang province. Do you have a comment on what’s been happening to this reporter’s brothers?

MS. PSAKI: We consistently raise the treatment of journalists and ethnic and religious minorities with the Chinese Government at all levels. We’re deeply concerned by reports that family members of the Radio Free Asia journalist Shohret Hoshur continue to be harassed, including reports that his brothers have been imprisoned, apparently in retribution for his reporting. We urge Chinese authorities to cease harassment of his family and to treat them fairly and with dignity. We continually urge China to respect internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression.

QUESTION: Have you discussed – “you” meaning the State Department – has this building discussed his brothers’ cases with the embassy here, with officials in Beijing, what’s – beyond the public call for treating people fairly?

MS. PSAKI: We regularly raise concerns that we talk about publicly privately, so you can assume we’ve done that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you provide an update on what assistance the United States is providing France right now on counterterrorism and – well, this case particularly and in general?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have a significant update from yesterday. As I mentioned yesterday, as you know, we have a – we’ve had a longstanding counterterrorism cooperation with France. That’s been continuing. Obviously, we’ve been – that includes intel sharing. We’ve made clear – and the President’s indicated this, as has the Secretary – that we will provide them any information or assistance that they would like. But obviously, that’s happening through diplomatic channels. I don’t have any particular update beyond that.

QUESTION: Do you know if – there are two brothers who are now part of a – quite a large manhunt in northern France, suspected of being behind the shooting yesterday at Charlie Hebdo. Do you know if these two brothers at all were known to American intelligence authorities?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, given this is an ongoing French investigation, we’re going to let them speak to any specifics about suspects and any additional efforts underway. Obviously, we share information privately, but there’s nothing I’m going to get into at this point in time.

QUESTION: The – Eric Holder has announced – or his office has announced that he’s going to go to Paris at the weekend to join some major talks on terrorism which are being put together now by the French authorities. I wondered if there were – given that we know the Secretary’s off on the road soon, if there are any plans perhaps for the Secretary at some point to go to Paris – he’s obviously been there a lot recently, and it’s a country and a city that he knows well – and whether there might be any plans – they haven’t set the funerals yet, but whether he might anticipate attending any of the funerals that are held for the staff who were killed.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any plans at this point in time. As you noted, obviously, these events are relatively fresh, and clearly, we’ll discuss that once we know more details.

QUESTION: And yesterday, he was going to try and talk to Foreign Minister Fabius.

MS. PSAKI: He did speak with Foreign Minister Fabius yesterday afternoon, and he expressed, of course, our condolences – which he had already done publicly, but we certainly understood the foreign minister was quite busy yesterday – and certainly reiterated that the United States is here to offer any assistance that we can.

Margaret.

QUESTION: Jen, a follow on a question Jo just asked there. When it came – comes to one of the suspects, Sharif Kouachi – I’m not sure if I’m saying that properly – there are reports that he had ties to a known terrorist who would have been known to the U.S. since he was – confessed to conspiring to attack the U.S. Embassy in Paris. That man’s name is Djamel Beghal, and was a known associate. Is it safe to say that the U.S. would have knowledge of his associates, given that they had focused on U.S. diplomatic facilities?

MS. PSAKI: As I reiterated, and I certainly understand the frustration with this, but this is, of course, a French investigation. We’re sharing information privately. I’m just not going to be in a position to discuss or outline any of that information sharing that’s happening privately.

QUESTION: Can you say whether there is any connection, or perhaps there is none, between the attack in Yemen – the large-scale suicide attack yesterday – and this attack in Paris? There are some making connections. Is there one?

MS. PSAKI: I know there are some making connections out there. Obviously, I’m not in a position to do that, and we’re certainly going to let the investigation see itself through.

Go ahead, James.

QUESTION: Sometimes when a terrorist attack occurs on a Western target, the nature of the attack, its method of execution, et cetera, will tell us something that – or show us something that tells us that there is something new afoot in the world of terrorism. In other words, some new capability, some new trend is evidenced by the way the attack unfolds or what-have-you.

In this case, we happen to have the benefit of video footage of the attack, apparent purported video footage of the attack. Does this attack tell us anything new about terrorism in the Western world right now, or was it a fairly conventional attack that really didn’t show us anything new afoot in the world of terrorism?

MS. PSAKI: Well, James, I think those are all understandable and smart questions. We’re just too preliminary in the process that, of course, the French have the lead on to do any public analysis of that. Certainly, you’re right, that it’s the responsibility of any country, and certainly countries that we work closely with, to learn from experiences – tragic incidents, as this was. But we’re just not at that point of being able to do analysis in a public manner.

Do we have more on this before we move on? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Sort of piggybacking off of that, there are two kind of recurring topics that we’re seeing here. First is the indications that one or more of – or both of the brothers might have traveled to Syria in the last year, and secondly, the fact that they seem to have been – taken some influence from social media and possibly from this al-Qaida publication, Inspire. Is this kind of causing this building or any others in the Administration to look at what more could be done to either stem the propaganda online or to coordinate more on the flow of foreign fighters?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just say on this – in this specific case, as I’ve said a few times but it’s worth repeating again, the French have the lead on this investigation. We certainly understand that there is a great deal of speculation or interest or educated analysis out there. But this is very fresh, it’s very new. We’re going to allow them to have the lead on this, we’re going to share information privately, and we’re not going to speculate publicly on what things mean.

As it relates to foreign fighters – which we don’t know enough in this case, so let me preface that – that’s something that has been a focus that has picked up significantly, as you know, over the last six to nine months, certainly given events in the world. It’s something that we work very closely with the French and others around the world on. There’s also an ongoing effort on – that we’ve worked not just domestically, but also internationally on countering violent extremism.

And obviously, this is something that we’ve done a lot on the federal level, but we’ve also – DHS and the State Department have also worked together with our international partners. We’ve had robust exchanges recently in the past few months with European government officials and community leaders from the UK, Germany, and Scandinavia, have had meetings to provide opportunities for us to share with our law enforcement and civil society counterparts overseas a better understanding of the threat that communities face from extremist recruitment and activities.

So there’s a range of ongoing discussions that have been happening, and certainly, we look at and we learn from tragic events that happen, and that’s a part of the discussion as well.

Should we move on to a new topic?

QUESTION: Cuba?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Have you any update on the so-called mysterious 53?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think it’s a mysterious 53, James. But --

QUESTION: Well, they’re mysterious because no one will tell us who they are.

QUESTION: How many have been freed?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, as I’ve talked about a little bit in here, on days where you weren’t actually in attendance, we --

QUESTION: Have you listed the names of the 53?

MS. PSAKI: We have not.

QUESTION: I didn’t think so.

MS. PSAKI: And I talked about the reason we didn’t list them, which was because we didn’t want to put a target on their backs. The reason that we’re focused on this is getting them released. So I will say --

QUESTION: Hold on, hold on. They already had a target on their backs. That’s why they’re in prison, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, yes, Matt. But let me give a little bit more information. Some have asked about how to categorize. The people on this list have been arrested for – had been arrested for non-violent activities that are protected most other countries in the world, things that we know internationally are respected and valued – freedom of press, freedom of protest. That is – kind of was the focus of this list.

As I mentioned a couple times, the Cuban Government made the commitment, and we expect them to follow through, on the release of all 53. There have been recent reports that – of a new release. I’m not going to confirm specific individuals on any list. I can confirm that this wasn’t the first released – release of people on the list, as some reports suggested.

QUESTION: When you say “this,” what are you referring to? “This wasn’t the first release.” What is “this”?

MS. PSAKI: There were some reports over the last 24 hours of a – of the first release of individuals. And I’m just noting that that is not the first release of individuals on the list.

QUESTION: So are you telling us that there have been more than – there has been more than one round of releases, as far as you know?

MS. PSAKI: That would be an accurate assumption, yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Is this building concerned that by naming these people under detention that they could be harmed by Cuban authorities?

QUESTION: Or Cuban (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Roz, that this is a case where we – one, this was not part of the negotiation. I think there’s some confusion about that. This was a commitment that the Cuban Government made to release these individuals, a list we provided, and we fully expect them to do so. There were policy changes that the United States Government also announced, regulations that we’ll be putting in place through Commerce and the Treasury Department.

QUESTION: So it was just a coincidence that these were all announced in one big batch by the President? They were completely separate?

MS. PSAKI: I’m conveying, James, that I think, not perhaps you, but some have been grouping together all of this. Yes, but – yes, the --

QUESTION: The President grouped them together in his own statement.

MS. PSAKI: In an announcement about a lot of things that are happening. But in the negotiation, that was about the swap of individuals.

To go back to your question, we made a judgment that the best way to secure the release of these individuals is to not name them publicly. We know who’s on the list. The Cuban Government has assured us that they’re going to release these individuals. We’re encouraging them to do that rapidly, and we’re confident they’ll do that.

QUESTION: What I don’t get – what – though what I don’t understand about this is that if you know who’s on the list, and the Cubans know who’s on the list, how is it – how would it hurt to have the names out their publicly so that the rest of the world can see whether or not the Cubans have lived up to their commitment or not?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, that’s not something we’re doing at this point in time.

QUESTION: Well, that just smacks of --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not ruling that out in the future. But at this point in time, we made a policy judgment this was the right way to go about this.

QUESTION: Well, then can you say that once all 53 have – if and when all 53 are out, they’ll – that you’ll be in a position to name them and say, look, here’s proof that the Cubans lived up to their commitment?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not making any new commitments at this point, Matt. But I’m just conveying that this is a list – we know who’s on the list; the Cubans know who’s on the list. We are certainly conveying to complete that rapidly.

QUESTION: Right. So if – so everybody knows who’s on the list except for --

MS. PSAKI: The Associated Press. I understand your frustration – (laughter) – but --

QUESTION: No, I don’t think it’s just the AP. It’s not – I mean, do the people who are on the list know that they’re on the list?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve addressed that question too.

QUESTION: Have you?

MS. PSAKI: I have.

QUESTION: I mean, do the families of the people who – do the families of people who were imprisoned who are on the list know that their loved one is on the list?

MS. PSAKI: Let me reiterate one thing that I said --

QUESTION: I mean --

MS. PSAKI: Let me reiterate something I think that I said yesterday that I think is important here. There’s a focus by all of you on this list of 53. I understand that because it feels like a concrete thing that you’re evaluating. This is one component. There are other – there could be other --

QUESTION: You just said it wasn’t a component.

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. There could be other arrests. If there are other arrests, we will make the case for those individuals to be released. This is not a – the end. This is the beginning of a process.

QUESTION: Right. But the problem is that we only have one – after the release of Mr. Gross and the intelligence asset and the U.S. release of the three remaining Cuban Five, the only thing that we have – or that the general public or anybody else has – to know whether the Cubans are living up to their commitments to you and to the Pope is whether these 53 are out. And the only way for us to know that is to know who they are.

MS. PSAKI: That’s not correct. What I was conveying before is that our agreement with the Cubans was that we sought the release from a Cuban prison to the United States of a key U.S. intelligence asset who was exchanged for three Cuban intelligence --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- agents jailed in the United States.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: Separately, there was a component of discussing policy changes that we were proposing.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: The Cubans committed to releasing 53 individuals.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: There are a range of steps that we’re going to take because we think it’s in the interest of the United States.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: There are regulations that will be put in place. It’s in our interest to change our diplomatic relationship with Cuba.

QUESTION: Right. I don’t think anyone’s taking issue with the way you’ve laid that out. But the point is, is that this is a – that you set the bar at 53, or a bar at 53, for the Cubans to show that they’re meeting their commitment. And then you say you won’t tell us whether or not they’ve actually met it or not.

MS. PSAKI: Well, one component.

QUESTION: Which is --

MS. PSAKI: And I have told you that they have released some of them, that we are continuing to convey the need to release the rest as rapidly as possible.

QUESTION: So just --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- continuing on a purely factual basis here --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You have told us just now that there have been at least two rounds of releases involving these 53 individuals. Can you tell us even ballpark numbers how many those two releases amount to of the 53? Is it half or --

MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand your question. I’m just not going to get into specifics on numbers.

QUESTION: And when you say that there have been reports over the last 24 hours about new releases and that you’re not going to get into confirming them or not, can we just, for the sake of clarity, specify that you are referring to the list of individuals – I think six – that has been published by the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba? Is that what we’re talking about?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to confirm who is on the list. What I was trying to do, and maybe not as clearly as I intended, was convey that some headlines suggested that this was the first release of individuals, and that is incorrect.

QUESTION: Can you explain this statement you made about you don’t want to put a target on their backs? Who would use that as a target? I don’t quite understand whose actions you might be fearing.

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me phrase it in a different way, Brad. Our objective and goal here is that these individuals get released. We have made a policy judgment that it is in the interest of that not to release the list publicly in advance of that.

QUESTION: So you’re worried that public pressure would actually harden the Cubans at this point?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to spell it out more clearly. I understand the frustration of why you all would like to see the list, but we need to make a decision about how achieve our goal and not just how to satisfy the desire to see the list.

QUESTION: But I thought this wasn’t your goal, actually. Wasn’t this the Cubans who did this unilaterally?

MS. PSAKI: The Cubans did commit to this, yes. But of course, we’d like to see these individuals released.

QUESTION: But --

QUESTION: Did you share the list with any of the human rights organizations in Cuba who’ve been working for the releases of these people?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into more specifics about --

QUESTION: Because there is some frustration --

MS. PSAKI: -- who is aware of individuals on the list.

QUESTION: There is some frustration from them that they feel that they’ve been shut out of the process, to a certain extent.

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are some opponents of the entire process of changing our approach to Cuba in Cuba and the United States. I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: But Jen, maybe those opponents would be a little less opposed if they knew what – whether or not the Cubans were meeting this commitment.

MS. PSAKI: There are individual names that have been out there publicly, Matt, and I can assure you that the individual activists in Cuba know who those people are.

QUESTION: But when Treasury changes its regulations on Cuba, is it considering doing that in a secret manner?

MS. PSAKI: No, that information will be released publicly, Brad, of course, because businesses --

QUESTION: You would make a policy decision in that case?

MS. PSAKI: Businesses need to be able to have the information and need to be able to know how to implement it.

QUESTION: But don’t individuals need to have information, too?

MS. PSAKI: It’s an entirely different comparison.

QUESTION: Can I just ask --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Sure.

QUESTION: -- if you’ve set a date yet for the migration talks --

MS. PSAKI: I have a little more information on that. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson will travel to Havana on January – from January 21st through the 22nd – sorry – to take advantage of previously planned migration talks to launch a discussion with the Cuban Government on normalization of diplomatic relations. As all of you know, the migration talks are a – are semiannual meetings which alternate between the United States and Cuba. The United States hosted the last round in July 2014 in Washington, D.C. While the agenda for this round is not yet finalized, the migration talks are bilateral efforts to ensure safe, legal, and orderly migration between the United States and Cuba.

As I mentioned, Assistant Secretary Jacobson will lead the delegation. Of course, the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations is certainly going to be a topic of that, and of course issues surrounding that – including the reopening of embassies, requiring certain logistical arrangements, embassy operations, staffing, visa issues – would also be topics as well.

QUESTION: And do you know how many people will be accompanying her in the American delegation?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have details on the delegation quite yet. I expect we will when we get a little bit closer to the date.

QUESTION: And do you know who her immediate sort of counterpart will be on the Cuban side?

MS. PSAKI: I will – we’ll let the Cubans convey that information.

QUESTION: Is there a timeline for the reestablishment of full relations between the two countries?

MS. PSAKI: This is just the beginning of having a discussion about these specific issues, and obviously an opportunity to talk about some of the logistical details. So at this point I’m not going to lay out a timeline.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: And so therefore it would be unrealistic to imagine that an embassy might – could conceivably even be reopened prior to the conclusion of these talks?

MS. PSAKI: I think that’s correct, yes.

QUESTION: Can I just ask about the process that climaxed in the President’s announcement, if you will, with the talks in Canada and at the Vatican having been conducted chiefly by Ben Rhodes and Mr. Zuniga of the National Security Council, and not by professional diplomats associated with this building that has given rise, as you may know, to some speculation to the effect that the Secretary of State or the Department of State was essentially cut out of the loop on this big shift in Cuba policy? What would you say to that?

MS. PSAKI: I would disagree with that with the fact that Secretary Kerry and others here were certainly consulting with everyone from the President on down on these ongoing negotiations and discussions. And --

QUESTION: Can you tell me that again, just so that we don’t have a --

MS. PSAKI: Certainly.

QUESTION: -- that the Christmas chimes in the back – thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Certainly. Secretary Kerry and others were certainly consulting with individuals involved in these negotiations and with the President on down on these – this decision to reopen our diplomatic relations. And also, this has been a topic and a policy that the Secretary has long supported a change in. Right now where our focus is is on implementing this moving forward. And Secretary Kerry, Assistant Secretary Jacobson will certainly be in the lead on that moving forward.

QUESTION: So President Obama, Ben Rhodes, the White House National Security Council staff were keeping John Kerry and his staff in the loop at all points along the way in this secret process?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, there have been many discussions behind the scenes about these – the ongoing negotiations.

QUESTION: Was there a tactical decision in having people who might be best described as political operatives carrying out the work because there might – it might have been easier to do so?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, to be clear, Ricardo is a Foreign Service officer who has decades of experience and just happens to be detailed over at the White House at this point in time. Ben Rhodes is one of the President’s closest national security advisors, so I’d hardly characterize them in the way you did. There was a decision made to have these two individuals lead the talks. Obviously, there was a successful outcome. The Secretary was supportive of that, certainly wanted to see a change in our relationship with Cuba and a change in our policy approach. And our focus at this point in time is how we implement that moving forward.

QUESTION: A successful outcome?

QUESTION: Well, let’s contrast it with – well, let me finish.

QUESTION: It’s not over yet.

QUESTION: Let me finish.

MS. PSAKI: Well, in terms of an agreement on the swap of individuals, yes, that’s a successful outcome.

QUESTION: But to contrast it with the Secretary’s ongoing work with Mideast peace, with going in every so often on the Iran nuclear talks, was there a tactical decision made to carry out something which the Administration has long said it wanted to achieve without having so much public scrutiny ahead of it and possibly scuttling the outcome that we have right now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Roz, to that question – and obviously it’s better posed to the White House – but clearly there was a decision made to do these talks privately in order to achieve the – “outcome” maybe is an overstated word, but to achieve a different path or a different way forward. And so that decision was made, certainly, so that it wouldn’t have the ups and downs that public scrutiny often does.

QUESTION: Well, what – can you just walk us through --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- the thinking that concludes that this is best conducted by two officials on the National Security Council and not by the diplomatic corps?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, James, it’s important to remember that the national security team works as a team, and there are negotiations the Secretary leads, there are negotiations that sometimes the NSC has more of a role on. There are discussions that the Department of Defense leads on. We all work together and play different roles, and there are individuals who also span across different agencies. So this is – this was a process the Secretary was comfortable with. We certainly are now focused on the path forward, and I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: Can I just make sure --

MS. PSAKI: I have to go in a few minutes here. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Can I just make sure that I understand, though, that you’re not expecting that the meeting that Assistant Secretary Jacobson has on the 21st and 22nd is going to be the end? This is just the beginning of --

MS. PSAKI: Correct. That is the right way to think about it.

QUESTION: And so you would anticipate there would be additional meetings after that on the same – on the normalization, not just on migration (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: That’s right. I would anticipate it’s going to be an ongoing process.

QUESTION: And they would set it – I mean, like, what, once a month or something they would meet? Or --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t know yet. I’m sure they’ll discuss that as part of the meetings when they’re in Cuba.

QUESTION: One more thing. I apologize --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- if you said this at some point when I haven’t been here --

MS. PSAKI: That’s okay; go ahead.

QUESTION: -- but can you now or can you take the question of when was the last visit to Havana by an official?

MS. PSAKI: I actually – I have that for you.

QUESTION: Do you? Great.

MS. PSAKI: I do.

QUESTION: Of equal rank to Secretary or higher rank that Secretary Jacobson.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, the last visit – I don’t know if this – I’m doing my best here to answer it.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: So the highest ranking official from the Department of State to have visited Cuba on official travel in recent years was Roberta Jacobson when she was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in 2011. Since that time, Department of State practice has been to limit high-level visits to the deputy assistant secretary of state level. Before that, Craig Kelly, who was the PDAS before Roberta Jacobson, traveled on February 2010 when he was also principal deputy assistant secretary.

QUESTION: So this level then --

QUESTION: Yeah. No, but – but the real question, I think, is: This is the highest level U.S. visit since when?

MS. PSAKI: We can certainly look into that.

QUESTION: Can you? I’m sure the --

MS. PSAKI: Seek some information from the --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: A good friend in the Historian’s Office --

QUESTION: There – well, there is a school of thought that believes that an assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere visited in 1977 --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: --in the Carter Administration.

MS. PSAKI: We will check on that – well, we’ll seek some help from our friends in the Historian’s Office.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Jen, one quick question on Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: The U.S. ambassador met with President Hadi today. I was wondering if you had anything, any kind of readout or attribution perhaps on the huge attack yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a readout. We condemn the attack, as you may have seen yesterday, for obvious reasons. We can see if there’s more we can convey about the ambassador’s meeting.

QUESTION: And the U.S. isn’t ready to say it’s AQAP yet, like the Yemenis have?

MS. PSAKI: We don’t have any additional details or independently from this end.

QUESTION: Jen.

MS. PSAKI: Let me just do a few more here.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a quick one on Sri Lanka.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Elections were held today. There was a high turnout. Do you have anything to say on that?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let’s see. I know I have something a little new on this. Let me just – oops, sorry about that. All right. Here we go, Lalit. We are encouraged by initial reports indicating high turnout. We’re further heartened by reports that election observers have thus far been able to carry out their critical oversight role. We commend the role of the election commission and police and security forces in ensuring a peaceful process. We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that vote counting is carried out credibly and transparently, and that any allegation of fraud or violence is credibly investigated. We will wait to hear the announcement of the electoral commission and the reports from domestic and international observer groups before making an assessment of the voting process.

And I know you asked yesterday about observers from here.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: The United States did not send international election monitors for the presidential elections in Sri Lanka. We understand the Government of Sri Lanka invited international monitors from the Commonwealth, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, and the Asian Network for Free and Fair Elections, totaling around 84 international monitors.

Pam? Oh, go head. Sri Lanka or --

QUESTION: No, but in the region.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Okay.

QUESTION: There’s a report in the Pakistani newspaper, The Tribune, which asserts that the United States has double counted funds spent prior to the enactment of Kerry-Lugar-Berman as falling under the 7.5 billion to be disbursed to Pakistan under Kerry-Lugar-Berman. Is that true? Are you counting any funds that were expended prior to the passage of that bill or that law now as part of the 7.5 billion?

MS. PSAKI: I’ll have to take that, Arshad --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- which I’m sure doesn’t surprise you. But we can look into it with our --

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS. PSAKI: -- economic team.

Go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION: Jen, can you elaborate on a U.S. travel advisory that was issued over the weekend for Surabaya, Indonesia.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: It stated that the Embassy was aware of potential threats against U.S.-associated hotels and banks. Does this have anything to do with the Air Asia crash? That flight, of course, took off from that city.

And secondly, today the Indonesian foreign minister said that security officials had assured her there were no threats of any kind and the situation is safe.

MS. PSAKI: Well, the embassy, as you noted, in Jakarta released a security message on January 3rd which alerted U.S. citizens to a potential threat against U.S.-associated banks and hotels in Surabaya, Indonesia. It strongly encouraged U.S. citizens who are traveling or living abroad to, of course, enroll in the Smart Traveler Program and keep wary of – or keep aware of our security messages.

We have no knowledge of any connection between this threat and the Air Asia flight, so this was a separate – separate information that we wanted to put out to the public there. As you know, we have information we gather through a range of sources, and we provide that publicly when warranted. This is the case here as well.

QUESTION: Can I just ask on Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You put out a statement earlier this morning that Under Secretary Sherman is going to Geneva on the 15th of January through the 17th.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: And the European Union has announced the start of the P5+1 talks on the 18th.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I just wondered, two days ahead for bilateral talks – usually you only give yourself like – you only do a day. Was there a particular reason?

MS. PSAKI: It depends. It’s different time to time. I think there was a decision made that that was warranted now, and it gives an opportunity to have more discussion. And that’s, of course, why Acting Deputy Secretary Sherman will be leading and heading to these meetings.

QUESTION: Okay. So there’s no particular reason for two days of talks as opposed to --

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t over-read into it other than our commitment to having discussions about the technical details and continuing to make progress.

QUESTION: And do you anticipate these political director level talks will go on through January? How is it going to work?

MS. PSAKI: I expect that once they have this round of discussions they’ll have – they’ll make determinations about the schedule moving forward. As always, we’ll let the EU make announcements about the next sets of meetings.

QUESTION: But you want an outline agreement by March.

MS. PSAKI: Yes. But in terms of the specific sets of meetings, I expect the meetings will be continuous as they have been, or regular, and there are technical meetings often that happen in between. But in terms of a schedule, well, we’re just not at that point yet.

QUESTION: I’ve got three. I’ll make them really, really brief.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. And then – well, I’ll do the last one. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Bahrain is: Do you have any updates on the case of – on your concerns about the case of Mr. Salman?

MS. PSAKI: Let me see if I have anything new on that. If not, Matt, we can look into it.

QUESTION: And there’s also a question about arms sales to Bahrain, if they’ve fully resumed or not. So if you could take that.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Secondly --

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to take both of those.

QUESTION: -- Turkey, the Turkish foreign minister has said that the leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, is welcome in Turkey anytime he wants to – any time he wants to go. Do you have any thoughts about that, given the fact that he is --

MS. PSAKI: I spoke to this a little bit yesterday, but it wasn’t asked in the exact same way. Our position on Hamas has not changed. Hamas is a designated foreign terrorist organization that continues to engage in terrorist activity and demonstrate its intentions during the summer’s conflict in – with Israel. We continue to raise our concerns about the relationship between Hamas and Turkey with senior Turkish officials, including after learning of Meshaal’s recent visit there. And we have urged the Government of Turkey to press Hamas to reduce tensions and prevent violence.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, is there any – I mean, I don’t get it. This guy is the leader of a terrorist organization. If Ayman Zawahiri showed up in Turkey, would you have a similar muted response? I mean --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s a muted response. Obviously, we look at each situation case by case.

QUESTION: Well, this is a NATO ally and they seem to be --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- they’re hosting and seem to be willing and happy to host the leader of a group that you deem a foreign terrorist organization. So is Hamas somehow less bad than other – other groups that are on the FTO list?

MS. PSAKI: I just conveyed we expressed our concern. We’ll continue to have that discussion with Turkey.

QUESTION: Can I ask in a different way, slightly – the other side of the coin? Could the hosting of somebody like Khaled Meshaal place Turkey in some jeopardy of finding itself on the list of nations that sponsor state terrorism or states that sponsor terrorism?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t jump to that conclusion. Obviously, there are a range of criteria that are looked at in that regard. So I --

QUESTION: Well, you remember the famous Bush doctrine: If you clothe, feed, or harbor a terrorist, you are a terrorist. Does that doctrine still hold?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think we’ve repeated that exactly. There’s obviously criteria that we look at as it relates to designating countries or individuals. We’re not looking at that as it relates to Turkey.

QUESTION: Well, welcoming --

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’re concerned about this.

QUESTION: Well, welcoming the leader of a group that you’ve designated a foreign terrorist organization would certainly seem to be supporting it.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt --

QUESTION: No?

MS. PSAKI: -- obviously we’ve expressed our concerns. There hasn’t been action that we have knowledge of to confirm about where his whereabouts are, so --

QUESTION: But you just said that you knew – that you raised your concerns with him when you found out that he was there a couple --

MS. PSAKI: That he recently visited. Yes, we did.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I mean, that’s it? It’s okay?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I said it was okay.

QUESTION: Well, no --

MS. PSAKI: Pam, do --

QUESTION: -- I know. But there isn’t any consequence, then, except for you saying that we’re concerned about --

MS. PSAKI: I --

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: We’re going to have private discussions. We have to wrap this up.

QUESTION: All right. I’ve got one more.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: It’ll be brief. And that is that I read the taken question that you put out on --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: It’s a fuller explanation of your position --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- on the Palestinians and the ICC. And I’m just wondering: In any of this, which you – this is your opinion, that the U.S. – you don’t believe the Palestinians are eligible to join. But is there anything that the United States can do to stop the Palestinians from doing this? I mean, opinions are like noses, right? Everyone’s got one, but does this one – does your opinion on this make any difference since you’re not a member?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to do the analysis of what influence our opinion has, Matt. You can ask other people that question.

QUESTION: And there are some unfortunate people without noses.

QUESTION: I suppose, but everyone usually --

MS. PSAKI: That is true. It’s a different question, but --

QUESTION: Most people are born with them. Anyway, the – in addition to submitting – well, the deal is that the ICC has welcomed them as the 123rd member state of the court, of the Statute of Rome, whether you think that they’re eligible or not.

MS. PSAKI: Well, wait a second, Matt. They – there is documents --

QUESTION: I’m looking at --

MS. PSAKI: -- that are submitted to Ban Ki-moon. There is a decision that will be made by member organizations. I don’t think that’s an accurate interpretation of where things stand.

QUESTION: Well, I think the decision has already been made. I mean, the letter from the president of the court to President Abbas says that, “I confirm receipt,” and here – and basically you’re in, and then he also says that they confirm receipt of a letter that the Palestinians have sent to them giving the ICC jurisdiction back to June – just before the Gaza war – back to June of 2014. Do you have any opinion about that, and if – even if you do, does it make any difference?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let us take a closer look at that, because that’s not my understanding of where – the status of where things are at this point in the decision making.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, last one. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, so this just popped up, so you may not have a response at this point. But there is reports that a 25-year-old American student was stabbed in Jerusalem and wounded from that attack. Are – is this something that you have any comment on? Are you in touch with the Israelis about this particular case?

MS. PSAKI: We didn’t have more information. We didn’t have an indication – obviously, this just happened – that there was an American citizen involved. So we will take a closer look at it and see if we can get more information.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:05 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 7, 2015

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 07:35

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 7, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

1:20 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything for you at the top today. Obviously, you all have seen the Secretary’s statement, the President’s statement, addressing the horrific attack in France. I don’t have much new information but happy to, of course, discuss that and any other issues.

Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, do you know – has the Secretary been in touch with people about this?

MS. PSAKI: With his counterpart in France, you mean? Or other --

QUESTION: Yeah, well --

MS. PSAKI: He plans to speak with Foreign Minister Fabius later this afternoon, whenever that can be scheduled. As you saw, he was over at the White House and, of course, his meeting with the Polish foreign minister this morning.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Okay. And there was apparently a brief report or a report that appeared briefly about the embassy in Paris. You and the embassy have both said that there hasn’t been any – there are no plans to take any precautions. Has that changed? Or sorry, not to take precautions but to close or to limit access to the public. Has that changed at all or --

MS. PSAKI: It has not changed. Our embassy is operating as normal. As is true around the world, we are constantly evaluating any – the security needs of the men and women serving overseas. You saw, and our embassy I think put out that – they put out some information, a security message advising that the Government of France has elevated its threat level, that of course, the government had announced and as you know we regularly provide information in that manner. But nothing has changed in terms of our status.

QUESTION: And then I understand that the investigation – in fact, I guess the perpetrators are still at large, and so the investigation – the French investigation continues. But both this Administration and the previous Administration, since this whole – what is purported to be the motive for this attack – both this Administration and the previous Administration came out when cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad have appeared in – first in Denmark and now in this same publication that was attacked today, saying that they have found these images to be offensive but that they support the right of people to publish them as part of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Is that – that remains the position of at least this Administration? 3 1/7/2015

MS. PSAKI: That has not changed. I will say, just to reiterate, we don’t have any information at this point on the motivation. Obviously, France is in the lead on the investigation. As the President indicated, we have offered our support. We have a long history of close counterterrorism cooperation with France. We’re open to providing any additional assistance that they need. We’re in the initial stages of information sharing at this point in time, but at this point we don’t have more information.

QUESTION: And as far as you know, the French have not yet or have not asked for any help. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: We’re in a discussion with them about what we can provide.

QUESTION: Al right. Thanks.

QUESTION: What’s the initial stages of information sharing or intelligence sharing look like? I mean – or who would be involved in that, particularly, when you say that you’re in the initial stages?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as I think my colleagues at the White House have indicated, obviously there are a range of officials at many levels who are in touch. So it could take place through many different counterparts. I don’t have more to spell out on that front.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on the – a very good point raised by Matt: Your former colleague at the White House, Jay Carney, in September 2012, I guess, was criticizing the decision by a French court to publish this Prophet Muhammad cartoon. So does the U.S. think that given certain contexts, there are redlines to the freedom of speech and to the freedom of the press and that there are certain cartoons which should not be published?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to speak to in this particular case the motivation. I know there’s lots of speculation out there in the press; that’s understandable. But it just happened this morning and we’ll let the investigation see itself through. Bottom line is there’s no excuse for violence. Nothing justifies violence. You know our view on freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and we believe that that’s something that should be universal around the world. There have been occasions in the past over history where we have expressed concerns not about the legality but about information that’s been shared. I’m not going to express that at this point because I don’t want to speculate on the motivation in this case.

Go ahead, Ali.

QUESTION: Is there anything you scan share on what perhaps U.S. authorities have informed the French embassy here and its satellite consulates about any security measures they should take within the United States?

MS. PSAKI: So, Ali, you may have seen that the Department of Homeland Security put out a statement. Let me just reiterate that to you. I know there was a lot of information coming out this morning from different agencies. Their statement made clear that the Department of Homeland Security is closely monitoring the unfolding events in Paris, and it remains in contact 4 1/7/2015

with its counterparts in the region. DHS will not hesitate to adjust our security posture as appropriate to protect the American people. Obviously, that hasn’t happened; you would know if they’d made that announcement.

So certainly, we remain in touch with a range of counterparts, but I would refer to DHS on any changes for the homeland.

Any more on France before we continue? On France? Go ahead.

QUESTION: In view of the attack in Paris, have you reviewed the security of other U.S. embassies in other parts of the world?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re constantly reviewing that, as you know, Lalit. But in this case we haven’t changed our posture in France and there hasn’t been changes other places as a result of this either.

QUESTION: Also, did you have any prior intel information about this attack? You always get lots of information.

MS. PSAKI: Prior information about the attack?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure even what you’d be referring to.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is there any additional guidance that’s going to be sent out to Americans living in Paris, Europe, or elsewhere, in response to this attack about safety and that sort of thing?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the truth is we’re constantly updating that. And so, as you know, whenever information becomes available, whether it’s because the local government puts out new information or there’s just information that would be relevant to American citizens, we put that out. And if that’s warranted, we certainly will. There are different categories, as you all know. There are security messages, which are just new information and making sure people have access to that; and then there are Travel Warnings and things along those lines. So we typically don’t make predictions of that, but I can assure the American people living in France and any other place that if there’s information that we think they should receive, we will make that broadly available.

Any more on France or should we move on?

QUESTION: I have just one more. 5 1/7/2015

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: What is the likelihood – I realize you said that you don’t – still early days on who’s responsible. But what do you think the likelihood is of an involvement by the AQAP?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a lot of rumors out there – online, on Twitter – and we just don’t speculate on those from the podium or from the United States Government for obvious reasons. There will be an investigation. As I mentioned, we’ve offered our assistance in any way that we can be helpful, but I don’t want to speculate on that at this point in time.

QUESTION: So you don’t have reason to believe that especially the editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo was a target of al-Qaida? Because he was on the list published in 2013.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we know the history here, right, and we under – and we know the events that took place about three years ago, if I’m remembering the dates correctly, as well. But again, I think all of the factors are looked at by the appropriate law enforcement authorities. We’ll work with them, and as we have more information available we’ll certainly let France have the lead but we’ll provide that to all of you.

Any more on France or should we move on? Okay. Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: Uganda? Can I go to Uganda? Oh.

QUESTION: Well, just before we get there --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and this will be very brief because you put a statement out about it just before.

MS. PSAKI: On Yemen?

QUESTION: But there was a – yeah – there was a – what happened in Paris today was not the only terrorist attack there was, and in fact, three times as many people, as far as I understand, were killed in the suicide bombing in Yemen at the police academy. I’m wondering, one, if you have anything more to say about it than in the statement that you just put out; and two, if there’s been any contact with Yemeni officials about this.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we put out a statement for exactly that reason, obviously. And in the statement we made clear we strongly condemn this attack. I don’t have any updates on our contacts. We’re certainly in regular contact on the ground, but we can – I certainly am happy to take that, Matt, and see if there’s contact with them on the ground.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Does that raise any questions about the Hadi government’s ability to maintain security in Yemen? 6 1/7/2015

MS. PSAKI: Well, as we all know, Roz, there have been a range of challenging security incidents in Yemen. It’s a country that we work closely with to boost their counterterrorism capacity. There are several incidents they’ve fought back against, so no, I w