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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - December 18, 2014

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 17:16

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 18, 2014

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TRANSCRIPT:

1:42 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hello, everyone. Hey, Brad. There’s a little change-out going on here.

QUESTION: Good afternoon.

MS. PSAKI: Good afternoon. I have one new item for all of you at the top. The United States congratulates Georgia on the European parliament’s ratification today of the EU-Georgia association agreement. Today’s vote of support by hundreds of European parliamentarians in Strasbourg marks yet another important milestone in Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. The vote demonstrates Europe’s growing confidence in Georgia and the country’s continued pursuit of wide-ranging reforms. The United States stands with the EU in our support of the Georgian people as they pursue these reforms and realize their integration into Europe and the wider Euro-Atlantic community.

With that – we’ve already done quite a bit on Cuba – go ahead, Brad. But we can certainly continue on Cuba if you’d like.

QUESTION: Leaving Cuba aside --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- let’s focus on what was supposed to be the focus of the Secretary’s diplomacy this week. The Palestinians released their draft resolution – or their full resolution last night. And I was wondering, now that it is public and released, if you have an official response to it – whether you would support it or not.

MS. PSAKI: We have seen the draft. It is not something we would support, and we think others feel the same and are calling for further consultations. The Palestinians understand that. You may have also seen President Abbas speak to this earlier today, and have said they support continued consultations and are not pushing for a vote on this now.

QUESTION: Do you think this is something that can form the basis of negotiations, as President Abbas indicated, or is this something so far from what might be acceptable that entire alternatives must be come up with?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there are a range of issues that we’re all aware – people from all sides and parties – will be discussed as a part of any draft resolution. But in terms of the specifics of this in its current form, we couldn’t support it. We’re not currently engaging on the submitted text. Our focus right now is more on consultations with key stakeholders, and we look forward to continuing our conversations to find a way forward.

So as we have been – as the Secretary, I should say, has been over the course of the last several weeks – even this morning – he continued to have discussions with parties in the region and stakeholders about how to come to a place that would be the most productive path forward.

QUESTION: Can you outline what in the resolution you find particularly objectionable?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to get into too many specifics, or any, really, about the particular resolution. I will say, broadly speaking, in general our principles have been, which I’ve spoken about in this room over the course of this week, that we can’t support – we wouldn’t support, I should say, any action that would prejudge the outcome of the negotiations or would set a specific deadline for withdrawal of security forces. And so those are some of the issues that we’ve talked about publicly, and certainly the parties are well aware of our concerns about.

QUESTION: So it’s the content of this particular resolution, not the aim itself of Security Council terms of reference that you find objectionable? It’s what the specific --

MS. PSAKI: Correct. And I think that’s an important point, Brad. I think – the Secretary spoke to this a little bit yesterday, but historically we have supported UN Security Council resolutions related to Israel; it’s not that we haven’t. But obviously, the content is important. That’s why we’re working with all of the stakeholders to determine an appropriate path forward.

QUESTION: And then I just have one last one --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and then I’ll yield. There was some comments by Russian officials indicating they were reviewing an American text. (Phone rings.) Can you tell us if there is an American text --

MS. PSAKI: That’s pretty loud.

QUESTION: -- and if there is not can you categorically state that there is no American text?

MS. PSAKI: Well Brad, there have been a range of ideas out there and a range of ideas from many parties, and certainly we have our own ideas. But there is one proposal that’s so far been put forward at the UN. What we’re doing right now is having discussions with a range of parties.

QUESTION: So you’ve put forward some of your own ideas about what could be in a resolution?

MS. PSAKI: Well, no. What I’m referring to is I think we’ve been clear about what our principles are and the fact that we support – or we could support certain forms of a resolution. But again, those discussions are private. We’re having them not with just the Russians but with many countries in the region as well.

QUESTION: Jen --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- the suggestion here is that you oppose the time limit. But isn’t, in fact, when the Secretary suggested his nine-month period, that was a time limit? Why do you oppose to a two-year period?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, they’re entirely different things --

QUESTION: Okay, well enlighten us.

MS. PSAKI: -- so let me spell it out a little for you, although I suspect you know why they’re different things, but I’ll still do it. The nine-month timeline, Said, was about coming to an agreement for a path forward with the negotiations. That wasn’t a timeline or a deadline for security changes. Those agreements need to be made between the parties. That’s the difference between the two.

QUESTION: Now if you are – if you say that you are in agreement with the UN resolution pertaining to Israel and pertaining to the occupation and all these things, why would you oppose a call to end the occupation? Why is that --

MS. PSAKI: I don't think that’s – that’s not actually --

QUESTION: Why is that objectionable?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s not exactly what I said or what I’ve ever said. But I think what we’ve been clear about, to Brad’s earlier question, is that there are – without speculating what it may be, there are many different options here and many different ideas and potential proposals out there. So we have historically supported proposals in the past, and we’re not ruling out that option. I’m just talking about this specific resolution.

QUESTION: What practical steps the United States can propose alternatively to this UN resolutions and so on that you can move on board? Because obviously things were frozen in place during the negotiations. So what practical steps that you can suggest to get things really moving forward towards something on the horizon that you can see?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, it’s not just about the United States proposing practical steps. We’ve been engaging and we’re continuing to engage with the parties about a productive path forward. We’re obviously not going to talk about those private conversations publicly, because that would defeat the purpose. But that’s been ongoing. It’s not just about what steps will we take. We’re already having these discussions with the parties.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: If this thing – can I just follow up very quickly?

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do one more and then we’ll move on. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Only one more, I promise.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: If this thing comes up in January when the Security Council changes – on January 1 many members will come, and I think that the – whatever Palestinian proposal is submitted at the time is likely to gain a great deal of support, including probably your allies, France and Britain and others. Are you willing to sort of oppose all European allies on this issue?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s highly speculative and hypothetical, Said. I think, one, as I mentioned before, the Palestinians are not pushing for a vote right now. I don't know where they’ll be in January. As you may know, there are some UN Security Council resolutions that are put forward and voted on within 24 hours and some draft resolutions that are discussed for months. We don’t know what the path forward will be in this case.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just want to be clear. With – is the Secretary – he’s spoken about looking at different options and he’s open to talking about the – but would he prefer that none of this happens before the Israeli election? Does he believe that this should be done after the election?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the Secretary doesn’t think that it’s – and he spoke to this yesterday, that there should be a – any steps that interfere with. Now there are many ways, forms that could take, and I’m not going to spell that out more specifically for you. He does believe and we do believe that if you do some kind of terms of reference in a Security Council resolution, that would be not what we would consider a unilateral step in the conventional sense of the term. So that’s not, obviously, where we are at this point. But he is discussing a range of options with the parties.

More on this, or should we move on to a new topic?

QUESTION: Same topic.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, you mentioned that the Secretary had additional conversations with parties in the region today. Do you know specifically who he spoke to today? And then secondly, are there – is there a consideration underway as a result of these talks of any new provisions to push the peace process forward?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t – on the second question, our position remains. Obviously the peace process – or I shouldn’t say the peace process; it’s more about coming to a two-state solution – is a part of every conversation.

QUESTION: Were there any new ideas floated?

MS. PSAKI: It’s not active process right now, though.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: And that hasn’t changed. He spoke with Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry this morning. I expect he will continue to have additional conversations over the next couple of days as well.

Should we do a new topic?

QUESTION: Different topic.

QUESTION: Can we finish on Cuba?

QUESTION: On Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Cuba. Yeah, sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that it was Ben Rhodes who was the first high-ranking U.S. official to make the trip after this process was initiated? And if that’s true, why was it that a National Security Council --

MS. PSAKI: What trip did you mean?

QUESTION: It was reported in Politico today that Rhodes made a trip to Havana in June of 2013, I believe. And so I’m just wondering about why this was a White House official, a National Security Council figure, as opposed to one of the many diplomats working for Secretary Jacobson or for Secretary Kerry?

MS. PSAKI: Assistant secretary.

QUESTION: Assistant secretary.

MS. PSAKI: I do appreciate your giving her a well-deserved promotion though. (Laughter.) The last 24 hours, she deserves that. I would say – and I spoke about this a little bit yesterday, and certainly I can confirm and the White House has spoken to this, that he was one of the officials who was a part of these negotiations. It’s important to note, though, that this is a policy process and a change in our policy that the Secretary has supported from not just the beginning of his tenure as Secretary, but long before that when he was in the Senate. And one of the first conversations he had with President Obama, they talked about Cuba – about taking this job. They talked about Cuba and changing this policy.

And so he has been involved in this by, obviously, consulting with the White House, including the officials who’ve been involved in this and Susan Rice and the President. But also, he’s spoken multiple times with the Cuban foreign minister. As we all know, the tough – that there’s been a lot of tough work behind us, but there’s a lot of tough work ahead. And he and Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson will – are tasked with doing quite a bit of that moving forward. And he’s also been engaged with the Vatican – as has, of course, the President and a number of these officials – and the important role they’ve played.

So it’s something that we’ve supported, he’s been consulting with, and this is just simply the people who partook in – who took place in the negotiations, and obviously, did an excellent job doing that.

QUESTION: Last one: The Secretary and you have spoken about his interest in traveling to Cuba.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And others have spoken about the President’s interest in traveling to Cuba.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Can you reassure Americans, though, that no such travel by either of those two individuals would take place until the normalization process is completed?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that’s not the way – I wouldn’t say that’s the question he is asking. I spoke with him about this yesterday, and his view is we have to do it at the right time, at the right moment. It’s – there’s not a rush to do it. We’re not looking to fulfill a set deadline. We want to see how this goes. And obviously, Assistant Secretary Jacobson’s trip in January is the first step. After that, we’ll evaluate where we are, what the next steps are. But certainly, the steps like reopening our embassy, returning an ambassador are our primary focus here.

QUESTION: So you don’t rule out that Secretary Kerry or even President Obama could visit Cuba before the deal is finalized on normalization?

MS. PSAKI: Well, when you’re talking about the deal, there are – James, there are several steps in that. So I’m not sure exactly --

QUESTION: Let’s say the opening of the embassy. Would – do you rule out that either of these two officials would visit Cuba prior to the opening of the embassy?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can assure you that, while it’s not a hard and fast rule, that is our first, primary focus is reestablishing diplomatic relations. And I don’t think anyone should plan for a need for a visa before those steps are moving forward. And we’re going to monitor that and see when it’s an appropriate time for the Secretary of State to visit.

QUESTION: Jen, can I ask a quick question on the embassy itself?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: A technical question.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Would it be the same old property that you guys had in Havana?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: And in exchange, it’ll be the same old Cuban Embassy here?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I will leave that to the Cubans to determine.

QUESTION: I mean – okay.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’d work with them on that. But it would be the same building for us, yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: And you may know this already, Said, but we already have a large presence in Cuba – one of the largest of any country – and we have an active Interests Section there already, so --

QUESTION: Okay. And, like, a quick follow-up on the reason Cuba was placed on the terror list to begin with – sponsors of terrorism in 1982. Was it because – is it – other than Shakur, who was accused of killing a New Jersey state trooper, was there any other reason why Cuba was placed on the terror sponsors or --

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I’m sure there is a detailed press release from the time that we sent out via fax or however we sent them out at the time that outlines that, and we’ll get that to you.

QUESTION: Telex.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Telex.

QUESTION: Is that your understanding that in this case he mentioned – that the person was accused? Was it not convicted and --

MS. PSAKI: I was not validating --

QUESTION: -- imprisoned. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- Said’s specific description, but suggesting that we obviously described at the time, more than 30 years ago, why we did it.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a nuts and bolts question.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Once it becomes an embassy, what do you anticipate happens to staffing, and what kind of functions will they do beyond, say, allowing diplomats to talk to people from every strata of society, as the assistant secretary mentioned? And also, I don’t know if there’s still the billboard out in front – the senores imperialistas billboard. If it is, do you know if that will go down?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t know what billboard is out front. That’s a good question; we can look into that. The fact is – obviously, every embassy, you make evaluations about staffing needs. But we expect that to stay about the same where it is now. We already have a very large presence there.

QUESTION: How many?

MS. PSAKI: In terms of – I can check and see if I can get into the specific numbers for you. Typically we don’t, but I can check in this case. But otherwise – and Roberta talked about this a little bit, but we obviously wouldn’t have a protecting power. There are more direct diplomatic discussions, obviously, we would have. She talked about having a human rights dialogue. Clearly, there are a lot of implementation measures that would be in place. And clearly, when you have an active dialogue and diplomatic relations with a country, you have a lot of work that’s done by the team on the ground. And I think that’s one of the primary areas where this would be – there would be some changes.

QUESTION: New topic?

QUESTION: North Korea – (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead. Cuba?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Given the long history between the United States and Cuba, are you taking an special security precautions when you’re opening the embassy, as far as being concerned about espionage, spying?

MS. PSAKI: As you know, we don’t talk about that and specific security measures that we take because if we outline it to you, it defeats the purpose of doing it. But there hasn’t been a change in terms of official travel warnings or advisories or anything along those lines in this case, and I haven’t heard an indication that there will be one.

QUESTION: Change of topic?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. North Korea, did you say?

QUESTION: North Korea. Correct.

QUESTION: Can we go to – one more question on Cuba (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: It’s been mentioned by different U.S. officials that these new ties – or that the old policy hindered relations with other countries in the hemisphere, in the Western Hemisphere. Do you think that the new policy is going to help relations in countries like Venezuela, Ecuador?

MS. PSAKI: It’s a great question, and I actually wish somebody’d ask Roberta about this, because she’s been talking to a range of countries and leaders over the course of the last 24 to 48 hours, as has Secretary Kerry. And we do absolutely feel that our policy has been outdated and broken and it has hurt our relationships in the region because we’ve kind of been an outlier in how we have dealt with our relationship with Cuba. And we think, based on some of our conversations but also what we thought might happen, this will warm some of our relationships.

Now, as you know, there are issues beyond our approach to Cuba that we have with some of the countries you mentioned, so I’m not suggesting that things will change dramatically, but certainly the announcement was greeted warmly in the region, and I think – and not just in the region but really around the world. The Secretary met with 28 European ambassadors today, and this was one of the topics that they were really excited to talk about. So we’ll see what happens, but certainly it was well-received and we’re hopeful it will mean an opening and an opportunity in the region.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Has the United States officially recognized that the cyber attack was caused by North Korea?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the U.S. Government continues to actively investigate this attack. The FBI has the lead for this investigation, and we will provide an update at the appropriate time on attribution. Let me also note, since you gave me the opportunity, we have offered Sony Pictures Entertainment support and assistance in response to this attack, and we would for any – as we would for any private sector entity who suffered a similar attack. And I also would stress that given the destructive efforts – or effects of this attack, we are treating this as a national security matter. And as such, members of the President’s national security team have been having – have been in regular meetings regarding this attack.

QUESTION: When one looks at this, is there any indication yet that any other country was involved in this other than – I mean, could it have been that any other country was enlisted to help with this?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speculate on that because there’s an ongoing investigation happening.

QUESTION: Could I follow up on that, please?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You mentioned that you’re treating it as a national security matter. If you make the determination that elements of the North Korean Government were involved, would – could this be seen as – almost as an act of war against you? And what kind of measures could you be contemplating, even if you’re not saying that it’s that, to retaliate or to take a response?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to put new labels on it. As is true with any national security matter, we will always consider a range of options to shape our response, and certainly that’s part of what the national security team would discuss. But given we haven’t even announced specifics about the findings of an investigation, I’m not going to announce and I’m not sure we will announce what range of options we’re considering until we make a decision if we’re going to proceed with an option.

QUESTION: Could they include something like more sanctions? Or are there so many sanctions on North Korea anyway there isn’t much room to maneuver?

MS. PSAKI: There are a range, as you know. I’m not going to put things on the table or off the table at this point in time, given we haven’t even made a determination yet.

QUESTION: Jen, given that you guys have said that you respect the right of Sony to stop – to withdraw – to stop the release of this movie. I understand that. But do you think this sets a bad precedent? I mean, it’s already put one – one other movie has already been sort of withdrawn from production that had to do with North Korea. Do you think this might lead to further kind of attacks of this nature being carried out if people see that it’s been successful?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn’t put it in those terms. I will say that, Elliot, we, of course, are aware of their announcement regarding The Interview. The United States will always stand for and support artists’ and entertainers’ rights to produce and distribute content of their own choosing. And certainly, we also support the right of companies, including companies in the movie industry, to make their own decision. We have no involvement in such decisions, as you know, and we’re extremely concerned about any attempt to threaten or limit artists’ freedoms of speech or of expression. And our belief is certainly that that value, whether it’s freedom of reporting, freedom of speech by individuals, freedom of expression in artists and artistic content, is something that is not only a value for the United States but one that should be universally. And so that’s what we support.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Sure. But you don’t have any concern, though, that this – that this might – this kind of thing might be happening with more frequency in the future as a result of this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important for everybody to understand – or remember, I should say, because I think you do all understand this – that there have been a range of cyber security concerns we’ve had about access to certain companies, even government information or trying to get into government information, over the course of time. This isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s something – it’s one of the reasons why federal government departments and agencies work with the private sector and entities to bolster their cyber defenses and mitigate destructions they may suffer and investigate intrusions that have occurred. And that’s something that’s ongoing, but I wouldn’t draw a connection between the two.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: You just stated that it was because of the effects of this action that the United States Government is classifying it as a national security matter. Besides Angelina Jolie’s bruised feelings or the cancelation of the release of a film, what effects do you have in mind?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we take any cyber security intrusion seriously because our own cyber security is something that we have seen an uptick in concern about over the course of the last couple of years. And what I mean is, is that cyber security is a national security issue and anytime there’s a big hack of a major company or an industry, that’s something we have to take a look at and see what the implications are of it.

QUESTION: And you mentioned an offer of support and assistance to Sony, as you say has been offered to other private firms in similar circumstances. What does that support and assistance consist of exactly?

MS. PSAKI: Well, in addition to determining – continuing to work with Sony on who’s responsible, they’re making sure – the FBI is making sure that they are sharing all the information they can about this attack with Sony and other potential targets. We’re also working with DHS and other agencies to disseminate that information as widely as possible. The FBI is providing victim assistance information to Sony Pictures personnel and made available through the U.S. Government and private vendors, and is also providing briefings to Sony Pictures employees, including informational resources and tips to help safeguard employees’ own records.

QUESTION: So you said this was offered. Has Sony accepted this offer?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s an ongoing – those pieces that I mentioned are ongoing efforts we’re working on together.

QUESTION: Can I ask you, in addition to the hack, there’s been threats against theaters. Where is the investigation on that, and have you tied that to a malicious state actor as well?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Brad, we have – I mentioned this yesterday, but I’m not aware of it changing – that, of course, we take every threat seriously. We’ve certainly been looking into those. We’ve not seen any credible intelligence to back those up.

QUESTION: Okay. And were – if similar threats or these threats are tied to a state, would you consider that behavior indicative of a state sponsor of terrorism, if a state was making threats of attacks in theaters in the United States?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we don’t think there’s credible intelligence here, so I’m just not going to speculate on that.

QUESTION: Is what happened to Sony an act of terrorism?

MS. PSAKI: That’s – we haven’t even determined the cause here, James. I’m not going to put a new label on it.

QUESTION: Can I just say --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- I mean, without determining the cause --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- if you were to connect this to a state – the hack – is that something that would make you reassess someone’s status not on a state sponsor of terrorism list?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on that, Brad. Let’s see how this investigation completes itself.

QUESTION: Jen?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Without getting into the specifics of who perpetrated this attack --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- how does the lack of diplomatic relations with a country like North Korea – but we could be talking about Iran or – who else?

QUESTION: Cuba.

QUESTION: Cuba for that matter right now. How does the lack of diplomatic relations --

MS. PSAKI: We’re on a different path there, though. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- affect your options for dealing with a country who is accused of doing something like this? I mean, without the ability to withdraw an ambassador or declare people PNG, I mean, how does that affect what the State Department, what the United States is able to do to punish a country?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to get into the range of options, but obviously, they’re not limited to PNGing or removing an ambassador, so I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: And have you been in touch with the Swedish embassy in their capacity as a protecting power on this issue?

MS. PSAKI: I can check. I don’t have any information on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: On train and equip program, there are reports coming out from Turkey that the – on the train and equip programs, there is now a disagreement between the Turkey and U.S. over who to train and equip. The candidates coming from U.S. are not accepted by Turkey, and coming from Turkey not accepted by Washington. Would you comment on this?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen those reports, nor do I have a validation or confirmation of them. I will tell you that Ambassador McGurk is in Turkey now, having a discussion about our work together on the coalition, and I haven’t heard that as a part of the readout of his trip.

QUESTION: And also do these rebels – I think the calendar is still March 15th to start (inaudible). Is this the same start date?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe it’s changed. It’s, of course, a DOD program, so I’d encourage you to ask them that question.

QUESTION: Do you have an agreement with Turkey over these rebels that – whether they are going to – able to fight with the Assad regime and the Daesh together?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure who you’re referring to specifically.

QUESTION: According to same reports, there’s another disagreement that the Turkey wants them to fight with the Assad regime together with the Daesh, but the U.S. are still opposing --

MS. PSAKI: Fight against the Assad regime, you mean?

QUESTION: Yeah, for the rebels. Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Well, you know our view on the purpose of the coalition and the focus of the coalition, which is on taking on ISIL. That hasn’t changed. But if you want to send us the report, I’m sure we can take a look at it.

QUESTION: Very quickly, yesterday the Security Council adopted Resolution 2191, which allows for humanitarian aid to go in without consulting the Syrian Government. How is that different than, let’s say, the previous ones, 2165 or 2139, which deal with the same thing?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Or is it just an extension?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. I think, one, the UN has a powerful voice and it’s important to, again, raise the focus on the dire humanitarian situation in Syria. That certainly, unfortunately, hasn’t changed. It’s rapidly deteriorating there. As the UN also announced, it is seeking $8.4 billion to meet the needs of 18 million – 18 – yes, 18 million – Syrian people and their host communities across the region.

I think the place we’re at now is that we’re continuing to urge, as is the UN, all donors to step up and contribute to the UN appeals. As we saw recently, when a funding shortfall forced the World Food Program to temporarily suspend food assistance to Syrian refugees, funding is absolutely pivotal to being able to put together and deliver the kind of aid that’s needed. But the importance of the resolution is just raising the issue and highlighting the fact that there’s more money needed. This continues to be a dire situation.

QUESTION: The Jordanian ambassador to the United Nations was saying that larger areas are being taken over by ISIS or ISIL, and in fact, just making whatever humanitarian aid is more difficult to get though. Do you agree with that assessment?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to take a look at that. I don’t have an assessment here.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: There’s been a lot of ups and downs in both Syria and Iraq, and there have been some areas, especially in Iraq, where we’ve – the coalition has had success in pushing back ISIL. So I’m not going to confirm that.

QUESTION: And just to follow --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- to follow up, there are reports that, in fact, there’s a depletion or you’re running out of targets to bomb in Syria, and that consequently there’s been a lull in this bombardment. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d refer you to the Pentagon for details on airstrikes and targeting. I saw that report. I’m not sure about the analysis. I would point you to the Pentagon, who I think has disputed the analysis. We have conducted more than 1,300 strikes – airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, and that’s obviously an ongoing process, as you know.

Do we have any more Syria or --

QUESTION: New topic.

QUESTION: Yeah. What is the State Department’s position on American civilians going to fight ISIS in Syria and supporting our allies, the Kurds?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, as you know, we have a Travel Warning that suggests – or doesn’t just suggest – warns that going to Syria is extremely dangerous and could put people at risk. We’ve certainly spoken out, as have many of our allies and partners, about foreign fighters and those engaging from the outside, and that would certainly include people fighting on the side of the rebels as well.

QUESTION: Do you understand it to be a crime for an American citizen to go to Syria to fight ISIS and support our allies, the Kurds?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d have to look at the legal question you’re asking. It’s certainly something we have spoken out against, we’re opposed to, and I’m sure I can talk to the lawyers if there’s a specific legal implication of it.

QUESTION: Are you aware of – there are reports that al-Baghdadi’s second in command was killed today. Do you have any --

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen those reports.

QUESTION: His name is Haji Mutazz.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Russia-Turkey?

MS. PSAKI: Do you have a Syria question?

QUESTION: Russia. Yes, Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Russia. Russia. Okay.

QUESTION: Russia-Turkey?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Russia-Turkey?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Today, there was President Putin’s presser, and also President Putin was in Ankara just two weeks ago. It looks like these two countries are trying to improve the relationship and they have some certain goal of trade – a number of trade in near future. My question is: What’s your view on these two at a time that U.S. tried to put some sanctions on Russia? Do you have any problem with Russia is doing more business with Turkey?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I haven’t seen any confirmation of any new trade deals or trade. Obviously, we’d have to take a look at that if that was – if that came to fruition, but it seems a little premature for that. In general, we don’t believe that any country should be proceeding with business as usual as it relates to Russia, and that certainly is something we’ve conveyed broadly.

QUESTION: Can you comment on the --

QUESTION: Yes, also on Russia.

QUESTION: -- EU’s Crimea sanctions?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, and then we can go to your Russia question if you’d like.

QUESTION: Yeah. I’m guessing it’s related.

MS. PSAKI: The United States welcomes the EU’s announcement of further sanctions on investment services and trade with Crimea and Sevastopol. The purpose of targeted sanctions is to make clear that there are costs attached to Russia’s ongoing violations of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Crimea is part of Ukraine. And the United States, along with our G7 and EU partners through rounds of sanctions, has made it clear that we condemn Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea, which we do not and will not recognize.

QUESTION: Are you planning to issue similar sanctions today, tomorrow, very soon?

MS. PSAKI: We continue to explore a range of options to increase the pressure on Russia to change course in Ukraine, including measures aimed specifically at Crimea, but I don’t have any specifics or a timeline or prediction for you on that front.

QUESTION: But you consider these unilateral sanctions or uncoordinated sanctions?

MS. PSAKI: No. We are well aware that they – but we’re going to put out these sanctions. As I mentioned, we continue to consider measures that are specifically targeted at Crimea. I’m just not going to make a prediction of timing.

QUESTION: But when the United States withheld back on sanctions for several weeks in some instances, the argument that was often made was it would be self-defeating to issue unilateral sanctions without them being in concert with European partners.

MS. PSAKI: But Brad, at no point have we issued exactly the same sanctions on the same day as the Europeans. We’ve coordinated closely, we’ve worked in lockstep. That’s continuing.

QUESTION: So you’re saying these are coordinated closely and you’re working in lockstep on these?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Jen, may I ask --

QUESTION: Yes, also on Russia --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, can we finish --

QUESTION: On Russia too, yes.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I wondered if you could give a reaction to the comments by President Putin today which seem to suggest, basically, that Moscow feels that the sanctions and the Western pressure is an attempt at regime change.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, as the Secretary’s even conveyed himself, I believe, that certainly is not our objective. The sanctions have been put in place in order to put in place costs for the actions – the aggressive actions of Russia into Ukraine, that we’ve been clear that that is the sole purpose, is to push Russia to restore Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity. We’re also prepared to roll back the sanctions if Russia implements its Minsk commitments.

They – President Putin also talked about the economy and the economic situation and acknowledged that it’s not solely related to sanctions. It’s more complicated and involves other issues. Oil prices and general economic mismanagement in Russia have played a significant role in getting them to this economic point they’re at today.

QUESTION: So is he being paranoid in suggesting this? It was something that Foreign Minister Lavrov also suggested a couple of days ago, that you guys were working towards regime change in --

MS. PSAKI: Well, to be clear, that’s not our objective. The objective is as I’ve just outlined, which is to push Russia to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and we can continue stating that as long as it continues to be brought up.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: President Putin was very clear in his press conference that he would be prepared to go in accordance with the Minsk agreements. And he also indicated that he thought that President Poroshenko was also inclined to try and go further with this, but that there are other voices in the administration in Ukraine who really want to make some more gains militarily before they come to any kind of talks. And I was wondering, what is --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe they said – and I watched this – they did not say “voices within the administration,” just to be clear.

QUESTION: Other voices that were being exerted here.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, well there’s a difference, a big difference.

QUESTION: Maybe from the United States. Maybe he meant that and maybe not from Ukraine. I don’t know.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that’s highly speculative and unlikely that’s what he meant. But I will say that we have long supported the implementation of the Minsk protocols. There are additional steps that Russia needs to take in order to do that. We have seen reports that they are planning to speak sometime over the next couple of days – President Putin and President Poroshenko. We certainly encourage that and hope that moves forward. But there are specific actions Russia can take that they have not taken, and so the ball really remains in their court in that regard.

QUESTION: Is it the actions of the Russians or are there actions that have to be taken by the people in eastern Ukraine --

MS. PSAKI: Russian-backed separatists?

QUESTION: -- which Russia may or may not have full control over?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we think Russia has the power to impact the actions of Russian-backed separatists.

QUESTION: Well, Secretary Lavrov in his comments to a French news agency is not as outspoken as President Putin generally, but he also was inclined to think that maybe there is another agenda behind this, which is regime change in Russia.

MS. PSAKI: I think Jo just asked that question.

QUESTION: Coming from somebody like that, doesn’t that raise concerns about the impressions that one has widely in Russia and among all sectors of the population with regard to U.S. policy towards the present regime?

MS. PSAKI: I think I just answered that exact question.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: He also said that – on this same thing.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Go ahead.

QUESTION: He also said that the humanitarian aid will continue to be going to eastern Ukraine. What is your position on that? I know that trucks have gone through and so on, and you raised your concern in the past. Is that still the case? Are you still opposed to humanitarian aid going from Russia to eastern Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: We have remaining concerns about labeled humanitarian convoys going across the border where we don’t know the content and it’s not always with the approval of the Ukrainian Government. If it’s with the approval of the Ukrainian Government, given it’s their country, that’s something different.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Different subject?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Af-Pak? First, I assume the United States Government has been working cooperatively to some extent with the Pakistani Government in response to this horrific school attack. Can you rule out that Latif Mehsud was somehow culpable in this attack?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there have been are range of – I mean, the TTP, as you know, has claimed credit. We don’t have any confirmation of that, so I’m not here to rule out or confirm any specifics because we don’t that information at this point in time. We have been working closely with all levels of the Pakistani Government, stand ready to provide assistance as necessary. And we, of course, would welcome increased cooperation as well with the government.

QUESTION: Latif Mehsud, as you probably know, was last known to reside in U.S. custody in Bagram. And three detainees from that facility were released to the custody of Pakistan, and there has been substantial reporting to the effect that Mr. Mehsud was one of those individuals. It has also been further suggested that he may have somehow been released from Pakistani custody and taken part in this attack. That’s why I was asking.

MS. PSAKI: I understand. And there’s a lot of reporting and speculation out there – understandable given the – how horrific this attack was. I just don’t have confirmation of the cause, and so I’m not going to speculate on it from the podium.

QUESTION: Is Mr. Mehsud still in U.S. custody?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more information. We haven’t even confirmed the specifics of the names of individuals released, as you know.

QUESTION: Have there been any specific requests for assistance from Pakistan?

MS. PSAKI: Well again, we’ve certainly made that offer, but I would refer you to the Government of Pakistan on that particular question.

QUESTION: I have one.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, let’s do two more, and then we’ll wrap this up.

QUESTION: I wondered if you could give us a readout of the talks in Geneva.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: The Iranians are saying – they described it as very useful. Could you tell us from the U.S. side of things how – what went on and what the next step is now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can give you a logistical readout, but I’m not going to give you a substantive readout. As you all know, Acting Deputy Secretary Sherman and her team met in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday bilaterally with the Iranian delegation. They – the bilateral meetings were followed by a meeting of the full P5+1 yesterday. They’re on their way back now, but we’re not going to be offering substantive readouts of those meetings.

QUESTION: And when will they meet again next?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a specific timeline for that at this point in time.

QUESTION: Safe to say after Christmas?

MS. PSAKI: I think that is probably safe to say, yes, for the good of many people who need rest.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. A couple or few questions on North Korea. The UN General Assembly adopted human rights resolution on North Korea a few hours ago. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we can get you one after the briefing – happy to do that – or there may be one coming from our USUN team up in New York as well.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any update on when the Security Council will be taking up this issue?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specifics. I’d point you to our team at USUN and we can absolutely get you that information after the briefing as well.

Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:23 p.m.)

DPB # 213


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - December 17, 2014

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 19:34

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 17, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:50 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Well, there’s been quite a lot going on here already today. I have a couple of items at the top, and I will just tell you at the front that the Angolans are here and we have a Strategic Dialogue starting with them at 2:30. So let’s try to get through as many questions as we possibly can.

First, we note today’s ruling by the European General Court on the challenge by the terrorist organization Hamas to its EU sanctions listing. We are studying the court’s opinion carefully. According to a statement by the European Union, this decision was based on procedural grounds. We understand that the EU sanctions on Hamas remain in effect pending the EU’s decision on whether to appeal. The U.S. position on Hamas has not changed. Hamas is a designated foreign terrorist organization. Hamas continues to engage in terrorist activity, and has demonstrated its intentions during this summer’s conflict with Israel. It fired thousands of rockets into Israeli civilian areas and attempted to infiltrate Israel through tunnels that extended into Israel. We will continue to work closely with the European Union on Hamas-related issues. We believe that the EU should maintain its terrorism sanctions on Hamas.

We put this out but I just wanted to also point out to those of you who didn’t see it that the Secretary – this was not planned – but he had an opportunity to greet Alan Gross and welcome him home. His lawyer and his lawyer’s wife was also there because they arrived at the airport at the same time and they were able to watch some of the President’s remarks together.

With that, Matt, why don’t I go to you?

QUESTION: Right. So on Cuba, the statements the White House has put out, everyone seems to put out, is talking about immediately restart – immediately starting talks on normalizing relations and opening an embassy within the coming months. Can you be a little bit more specific about when you would hope to be able to do either one, or both?

MS. PSAKI: Well, one of the steps that’s outlined in the fact sheet, that I would encourage all of you to look at if you haven’t had an opportunity this morning, is that the assistant secretary – our Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere will lead the U.S. delegation to the next round of U.S.-Cuba migration talks in January of 2015 in Havana. Obviously, as was discussed on the call this morning, there are a range of discussions that need to happen with Cuba, so I can’t give you a prediction of the exact timeline. As you just noted, we’ve said in the coming months we’re going to take steps to pursue that and we’ll see how it goes over the course of the coming weeks.

QUESTION: Well, but the coming months is rather vague. Are you hoping to do this sooner rather than later? Like, I mean, are we talking about 2015, definitely? Are we talking – presumably we’re talking definitely before the end of the President’s second term, but I mean, what kind of time frame are we talking about?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we typically don’t say “months” if we – if it’s not something we want to do sooner rather than later. But I’m not going to give a new deadline on it today. It depends on how the discussions go.

QUESTION: All right. The Secretary in his statement said that he looked forward to being the first Secretary of State since 1945 to go to Cuba, at some point. And I’m just wondering: Is it a requirement or is it a – for there to be normalized relations in this case or an embassy – a fully-fledged embassy there before he might make such a trip?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this trip is not scheduled yet, as you know. It is something that he hopes to do in the next two years while he’s Secretary of State. I think we’ll determine, as time goes on, when an appropriate time will be and what will be required in advance for him to make a trip.

QUESTION: It’s not – it’s not – there’s no intrinsic requirement that that be the case. I mean --

QUESTION: No, I know.

QUESTION: -- Albright went to Pyongyang, so --

MS. PSAKI: Technically, legally? No.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: But we’re going to determine when it’s appropriate for him to go.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. But --

QUESTION: But the appropriateness is not necessarily based on whether relations have been normalized or whether you have an embassy up and running.

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we haven’t planned the exact timeline for this. So the first step is going to be our assistant secretary going there and we’ll have a discussion about what’s appropriate from there.

QUESTION: Can we do one more on the embassy?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You talk about establishing an embassy. Of course, there is an interest section that is there and has been there and has been staffed by American diplomats for decades, right? So isn’t it essentially just a matter of formally changing your designation of that diplomatic facility from an interest section to an embassy?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I suppose you can look at it that way, but there are also, as you know, a great deal more that happens when you have formalized diplomatic relations and you’re working together on a range of issues. And so obviously, with a full embassy up and running, that increases the range of activities you can work together on and the services you can provide to citizens.

QUESTION: Yeah. No, I mean, I get that. I just wanted to make sure that people understood that it’s not like, even though you have not had diplomatic relations since 1961, it’s not like you haven’t had a great many Foreign Service officers in Cuba representing U.S. interests as best they could.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, but obviously, there are a range of steps that have been taken today. We’re obviously beginning a process to pursue a much more formalized relationship, and that’s something that’s a big change, of course.

QUESTION: And do you know what you technically need to do to resume diplomatic relations with a country with whom you have previously severed them? Is it just an exchange of notes, or --

MS. PSAKI: I do think I have something on this, Arshad. One moment. Well, the – as you may know, but for everybody’s awareness, the Constitution grants the President the authority to receive ambassadors and other public ministers, and that – and this grant of authority has long been understood to provide the President with the authorities to establish diplomatic relations with foreign nations. So this is a decision, obviously, the President has made to pursue. There are numerous examples in history, and there are a range of steps that clearly we want to take through conversations and discussions over the course of time, and this is the beginning, as you know, of a process.

QUESTION: So – but you can’t say whether it’s actually just the President issues an executive order or you have an exchange of notes?

MS. PSAKI: I can check on the technicality or if there’s a requirement along those lines. I’m happy to.

QUESTION: Jen, do you know, there are at least two senators, and I presume there are going to be more – well, I don’t – I shouldn’t presume, but there are at least two who say that they’re going to block any funding for an embassy and block the nomination of any ambassador that the President might nominate to be ambassador to Cuba. I’m just wondering, on the embassy funding part of that, since, as Arshad notes, there is already a large office building there, is there any – what kind of additional funding would you be asking for from Congress to have an embassy? Do they – would they have – would the senator – would senators who are opposed actually have anything to oppose, any request from you to oppose?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, it’s a good question. I think we’re not quite there yet. Obviously, there hasn’t been funding requested or you would know that, or additional new funding.

QUESTION: Well, they’ve been funding an interest section --

MS. PSAKI: Correct, but what I mean is --

QUESTION: -- whether they realize it or not for many, many years.

MS. PSAKI: -- based on our new announcement today, it’s not as if new funding has been requested.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware that that is something that we’re at the point of discussing quite yet.

QUESTION: Okay. So you’re not sure if you would have to request new funding for this switch.

MS. PSAKI: At this point, not that I’m aware of. We – certainly, since you gave me the opportunity, we understand many in Congress and elsewhere in Washington and across the country feel very strongly about our Cuba policy, and when we hear from people across the political spectrum their main focus is on the Cuban people and how we can do more to support them. That is exactly the objective of this policy and obviously, there have been consultations leading up to today and there will continue to be in the weeks ahead.

QUESTION: Well, okay. Understanding that you think that this move and reopening an embassy with full diplomatic relations is going to be a good thing and helps support the Cuban people, I’m just going to be devil’s advocate here for a second: Over the course of the last couple years, opening embassies, U.S. embassies or restoring or resuming full diplomatic relations with countries have not – has not resulted in great benefits for people. I mean, look at South Sudan. Look at what’s happened in Burma now. There’s many human rights complaints. I’d point out that the U.S. had full diplomatic relations with Cuba when Batista was in power and human rights were pretty abysmal then. What makes you think that this move now at this point is going to be – is going to benefit the Cuban people?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say a couple of things. One, every country is different, as we like to say. Two, this policy has been outdated and hasn’t worked for quite some time. I think many people agree on that point. Three, as outlined in the fact sheet that we put out, there are a range of steps that the Treasury Department, that the Commerce Department are taking with the full support of the Secretary of State and, of course, the President, that ease certain restrictions, and those are direct potential economic benefits to the Cuban people. Four, I would say this doesn’t mean that we don’t have existing concerns that we will continue to address – on human rights, on democracy. Although we’ve seen a notable decline in long-term detentions, Cuba continues to carry out short-term arrests of thousands of its citizens. We’ve seen continued issues with freedom of speech and freedom of media, and those are all issues, with the support of many of the programs we’ll continue to run, that we will continue to work on.

QUESTION: All right. And just my last one then.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The continuation of programs: As you know, my employer has been running a series of stories about USAID and its – perhaps you would argue with the word “secret,” but let’s use “not so public” attempts to – I don’t know what you would call it, but anyway, to influence people to or to give the Cuban people a say, a voice. Are those kinds of things going to continue now since this announcement? And two, did the departure of the USAID chief this morning play into this at all?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me take the second one. There is absolutely no relationship between the departure of Raj Shah, who has served the President for, if I’m correct, six years now – five years. Thank you, Arshad. But quite a long time, I think everybody would agree, and had made the determination some time ago, separate from this announcement, that he would be leaving around this time. As you know, separate from this, there’s been a review of many of our programs, and there have been changes that USAID has announced. However, we continue to believe that access for civil society, that democracy programs are positive and something we will continue to fund and support in Cuba.

QUESTION: Okay. The same kinds of ones like this thing with the rappers, the hip-hop stuff that --

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know separate from this, from the review, there are a number of programs that may not continue to run. I’m not going to get into all the specifics of that, but that’s been a review that was done and completed some time ago.

QUESTION: So you’re going to stop some? There are some programs that may not continue, and that’s as a result of a review that had nothing to do with the 18 months of secret negotiations with the Cubans about this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, many of the programs that the Associated Press reported on ended more than two years ago, and obviously you evaluate whether you should continue funding for programs moving forward. We’ve done that on a case-by-case basis. We’ll continue to.

QUESTION: Jen --

MS. PSAKI: On Cuba? Let’s just keep going on Cuba.

QUESTION: On Cuba. Cuba, yes.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you on the mechanics of exchanging diplomats and embassies and so on, but first, I want – maybe you addressed this. Bob Menendez, the Senate Foreign Relations chairman, said today that President Obama was rewarding a brutal dictatorship. Do you think that’s – is that the proper description?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I would point you to the comments of not just the President of the United States, but of the statement we put out by the Secretary of State. And I will tell you that one of the first conversations that Secretary Kerry had with President Obama about foreign policy and the second term agenda was about Cuba and this issue and the fact that the policy was no longer working, it wasn’t serving our national security interests, it wasn’t serving the interests of the Cuban people.

QUESTION: So now on establishing embassies and so on, what are the steps? What are the first steps? I mean, I know that you are talking with them on how you would do that.

MS. PSAKI: I already addressed this, and just in the interest of getting --

QUESTION: Sorry.

MS. PSAKI: -- to everybody’s questions, I would point you to what --

QUESTION: Sorry, I just want --

MS. PSAKI: -- I said in the beginning.

Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the Cuban-U.S. intelligence asset who was released today as well as part of this rapprochement.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The ODNI and also senior Administration officials have said that he was – that he helped to resolve a – well, helped to identify and lead to the prosecution of a couple of cases. I have little bit of an issue on the timing, and I just wondered if you could clarify it.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Ana Montes, I think she was indicted or convicted in 2001 --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and Walter Kendall Myers, who was the other person – and his wife, who was the other – the other people who were identified, they were in 2009.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, that’s correct.

QUESTION: Given that this gentleman had been in prison already – apparently has been in prison for 20 years, how did he help to provide information in these specific cases?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think it will surprise you, Jo, that we’re not going to get into specifics of how any individual provides us with intelligence information. I think the point that this statement makes that Department of National Intelligence put out is that – or the – I should say the director, I believe, put it out – is that this was an incredibly valuable asset, somebody who – many details of this individual’s – and to point to my earlier – or to go back to my earlier comment, a lot of what – of this individual’s cooperation provided is classified and remains classified, which I can’t, of course, get into. But he provided a range of information, as this statement clearly says, that led to the identification and conviction of a range of individuals that meant to do the United States harm. I can’t get into more specifics than that.

QUESTION: But he was already – or well, he was already filtering you information on these cases before they were indicted and subsequently convicted?

MS. PSAKI: I just can’t get into more specifics on the timing of that.

QUESTION: Can I – a couple more things.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Regarding the involvement of the Vatican in the U.S.-Cuban rapprochement, when did that begin? Was it at the behest of the Administration, or was it an initiative by the Vatican? And did – when did – or did Secretary Kerry discuss the possibility of a U.S.-Cuba rapprochement when he met with the secretary of state of the Vatican in January?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I – obviously they’ve played an important role as was evidenced by the President’s mention in his own remarks today. In terms of when they specifically got involved or how, I just need to check on that and see how much we want to provide publicly and what they’re comfortable with, frankly.

Go ahead. On Cuba?

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, it’s related to Cuba, but I want to ask a more general question about the policy of sanctions and isolation. On Russia, President Obama said he doubts that the sanctions will change President Putin’s mindset but he hopes that they will influence politics inside of Russia. Has the policy of sanctions and isolation changed the politics inside of Cuba?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say every country is hugely different. And in Russia – with Russia, I would say that these sanctions have been put in place because of the actions, the aggressive actions Russia has taken in Ukraine. They have it within their power to bring an end to these sanctions, and there’s long been an off ramp. Cuba is an entirely different country with an entirely different set of circumstances, and we look at each country and decisions we make with policy differently.

Do we have any more on Cuba before we move on? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, one more quick one.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Is there any more you can elaborate on the technical process of determining the status as a state sponsor of terrorism?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let me give you a little bit more information on kind of how that works. Well, as noted in the factsheet, it’s a six-month review, which, obviously, the Secretary will be beginning quickly. He will oversee it, but it will certainly be probably led by our bureau – our Western Hemisphere Bureau as well as our CT Bureau.

The – here are some just technical answers for you, which I think other people have some questions about. The President may rescind Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism if he, for example, submits to Congress a report 45 days before rescission certifying that Cuba has not supported terrorism in six months, and that it has provided assurances that it will not support terrorism in the future. Obviously, there’s a six-month review and a recommendation that would be made in advance of that.

The – and to get to your second predictable question --

QUESTION: So the recommendation has to be six months in advance of that? Surely, the recommendation would be made following the six-month review.

MS. PSAKI: Right.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I said something different.

QUESTION: Okay, then maybe I misunderstood.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. The relevant statutes also provide that for the – that within 45 days after the receipt of the report from the President, the Congress would need to enact a joint resolution on the matter prohibiting this in order for it not to happen. Does that make sense? So as – it will happen if the President makes the recommendation unless there’s a joint resolution supported that prevents it from happening.

QUESTION: And given the coming political environment in Congress, are there any concerns right now that Congress could do something like that and issue a joint resolution?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’re not going to prejudge the outcome of a review that hasn’t yet started. Obviously, we’ll let the six-month review happen, we’ll see what the recommendation is, and then we’ll see what the President decides. And clearly, at that point in time, hopefully there’ll be more progress that will have been made with our relationship.

QUESTION: I just have a kind of technical, historical question that maybe you can take, as I’m sure you won’t have it.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: There hasn’t been a Secretary of State to visit since 1945, but when was the last highest – who is the highest-ranking last official to visit Havana? Was it – it would be before Roberta. I can’t remember her name. She’s got an interesting first name. I think it was her. She led the delegation for the migration and postal talks – or was before.

MS. PSAKI: We are happy to check on that, Matt, for you. Are you asking for – about a State Department official, a senior State Department official?

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, would --

MS. PSAKI: Or any official, I suppose?

QUESTION: I don’t know if there were from other agencies --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- but that would be one.

And then another thing on this is are you – every year for the past several decades, you guys have been embarrassed by votes at the UN General Assembly condemning the embargo – not just embarrassed, but completely isolated with the exception of Israel this last round. Are you hoping that that – this will bring an end to those votes?

MS. PSAKI: To those votes?

QUESTION: To those resolutions that the General Assembly passes every year.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t know that we --

QUESTION: Do you care?

MS. PSAKI: I honestly have not discussed with anyone that particular question. I will say that the President and the Secretary --

QUESTION: Bisa Williams. That was the name. Bisa Williams.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. We will check. She’s still employed here.

Let me finish this answer. The President believes and the Secretary believe that the embargo is outdated and has not accomplished its purpose. And they believe that the changes that we announced today, which build upon the changes that were announced in 2009 and 2011, will help channel more resources to the Cuban people and better position them to control their lives. So we would support, of course, Congress taking legislative steps to end the embargo, but fully recognize that it is unlikely in the immediate future.

QUESTION: Oh. So remind me again, what was the purpose of the embargo in the first place?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re aware of what the purpose of the embargo was, Matt. I mean, it was --

QUESTION: Well, was it regime change or was it to get the – was it to help the Cuban people?

MS. PSAKI: The initial goals, Matt, you know were to --

QUESTION: So does that mean that your new policy has got the same objective as the embargo?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, I would point you to the President and the Secretary being very clear that this policy hasn’t worked and we need to take a new approach. So that’s what we’re doing.

QUESTION: Can you – just one --

QUESTION: Can you just update the status of Guantanamo --

MS. PSAKI: One moment. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just a real quick one on this. It’s my understanding that it was a small NSC team that led the effort. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Yes.

QUESTION: Was there any – two things: Do you have a date on which that effort began with meetings with Cuban officials, not the date or not the timeframe when the President asked for a review, but when the two sides actually began meeting? So that’s question one.

And then question two is: Was there any State Department involvement in those negotiations, or was it run entirely by the NSC without State Department participation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as was outlined on the briefing call that I think all of you were on this morning, there were two individuals who were doing the direct negotiations. However, there were individuals, including, of course, the Secretary, who were not only read in, but closely consulting with the White House throughout the process. And as I mentioned a little bit earlier, one of the first conversations that the Secretary had with the President was about the fact that Cuba policy is outdated and we need to take a new approach.

So one of the ways that he has been involved in this is he’s engaged quite a few times with the –with foreign minister[1] Parolin of the Vatican. He’s also spoken several times with the Cuban foreign minister, and certainly been engaged with his colleagues in Congress as well. He’s long supported a change in this policy, as I mentioned, and advocated for at many opportunities, of course, the release of Alan Gross but hasn’t supported that as being a trade, which, of course, is not what this is.

But our role here is really focused on what we do moving forward. And as you know from the briefings this morning, we’re responsible for quite a bit, whether it’s the role of the review or the role in moving forward on diplomatic relations. And so that’s what we’ve been preparing ourselves for.

QUESTION: When did the face-to-face talks begin?

MS. PSAKI: Let me see if that’s a detail we want to get into publicly.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I want to ask you a quick question whether you expect that the status of the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo to change as a result of this diplomatic exchange.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Said, as you know, that the President of the United States and the Secretary are moving forward on a policy to close Guantanamo.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So that hasn’t changed.

Do we have any more on Cuba before we move on?

QUESTION: Maybe we can build a new major league baseball stadium there.

MS. PSAKI: Everybody loves baseball.

QUESTION: Someone else can go ahead. I want to change the subject.

MS. PSAKI: Pam? Oh, I think we’re done with Cuba. Go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION: I had another question related to the sanctions on Russia. The United States signaled earlier this week that it might increase the economic pressure with more sanctions targeting defense, energy, and banking. This – but the sanctions on Russia are having an impact on other countries too, smaller countries such as Armenia, which has good relations with the United States, and the depreciation of the Armenian dram has accelerated this week. So my question is: Is there a policy or approach to help those countries that are or may be suffering because of the U.S. actions against Russia?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think any country should look at the decisions and the policies of Russia as it relates to that. I would also say the economic situation in Russia that may be impacting neighbors is not solely related to sanctions. It’s more complicated and it involves other issues. Oil prices and general economic mismanagement in Russia play significant roles. The lack of economic diversification and development of innovation and entrepreneurship over the past decade all play roles. And so these are all factors that have led to some of the economic challenges that Russia is experiencing.

Do we have a new topic? Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead. We can just do a few more here, so I just – I know there’s other topics that people want to get to.

QUESTION: About the sanctions bill that President Obama is about to sign, as I understand --

MS. PSAKI: He signed it yesterday.[2]

QUESTION: It includes the possibility of supplying arms, weapons to Ukraine. In what way could pouring more weapons into Ukraine possibly contribute to a peaceful resolution?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it provides that opportunity or that flexibility. It doesn’t mean that that policy has changed, and it hasn’t changed.

Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: But --

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the moves at the United Nations today.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Palestinians have said they’re going to go ahead and submit some kind of draft text which they say is based on the French – a French text now. Last night the Palestinians came out after the meeting between Secretary Kerry and negotiator Saeb Erekat to say that they had been told by Secretary Kerry that the United States would veto a text in front of the United Nations. Could you please clarify what the United States position is?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as the Secretary said very publicly, we haven’t made a decision, and it’s based on the context and the text that would be proposed. One hasn’t been submitted formally yet. We realize this is an ongoing process. We’ve seen the same reports that you have, but we’re not going to comment on alleged draft text. We’ll see what happens over the course of the next 24 hours.

QUESTION: But specifically, did the Secretary tell the Palestinians or tell Saeb Erekat that the United States would not support a resolution at the United Nations?

MS. PSAKI: I think the Secretary made clear, as he has publicly, that there are – we would not support unilateral actions, as I mentioned yesterday and we talked about quite a bit, that would predetermine the outcome of negotiations. There are a range of options for proposals. We haven’t – or, I should say, proposals that could be formally submitted. We – that hasn’t happened yet, so it depends on what the details are on what we’ll do.

QUESTION: And has your ambassador at the United Nations received any details yet?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve, of course, been in close touch with them. I don’t have anything more to read out for you.

QUESTION: Are you saying that the text that is out there floating around right now has not been presented to you as a – it’s not been circulated to you?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are --

QUESTION: This French-Palestinian text.

MS. PSAKI: There are a range of texts that have – that text has been out there. I’m not going to speak to a text that haven’t been formally submitted.

QUESTION: Can you tell us whether you have been advised of, let’s say, whatever French points that may be integrated in the Palestinian text and whether that is acceptable to you? Are you aware of any elements that you could be agreeable to in the French resolution?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to discuss that from here, Said. We had – the Secretary had a range of discussions, as you know, earlier this week with his European partners, including the French.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: We’ve been clear that – and historically we have supported resolutions as it relates to issues surrounding Israel in the past. I’m not going to prejudge what we’re going to do in this case.

QUESTION: Let me ask you just a quick follow-up.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The Palestinians --

MS. PSAKI: And then we’ve got to move on, because I just want to get to everything. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Right, we’ll move on. Okay. The Palestinians say that they have six votes in the Security Council that are – that they said they will vote for them. So would that give you a preference to vote on it now, and this way the United States does not have to cast a veto, so to speak, because you need nine? Or if you wait till January, then there are four others that are very pro-Palestinian, like Malaysia and other countries and so on, will be members of the Security Council. In this case, you would have to cast a veto.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I certainly understand the desire to play this out, but there hasn’t been a proposal formally submitted, so let’s wait for that to happen.

QUESTION: So Jen, there was a report this morning that cites these emails that were hacked from – Sony executive emails saying that State Department officials signed off on or gave the okay to this movie that’s caused such a kerfuffle. When did the State Department get into the business of telling movie studios what they can and cannot make as movies?

MS. PSAKI: We are not. So Department officials, just so all of you know, routinely meet and consult informally with a wide range of private groups, certainly including executives from movie studios and a range of private sector companies and individuals secret – seeking information about U.S. foreign policy and U.S. views on developments around the world. Our message in public and private is the same: We respect artists and entertainers’ rights to – right to produce content of their choosing. We have no involvement in such decisions. We’re not in the business of signing off on content of movies or things along those lines.

I know there were a range of different reports out there, so let me just see if I can address some of them and then we’ll get to your next question. While I’m not, obviously, going to speak to the specifics of the allegedly leaked emails, I can confirm for you that Assistant Secretary Russel did have a conversation with Sony executives, as he does routinely with a wide range of private groups and individuals to discuss foreign policy in Asia. Bob King, contrary to reports, did not view the movie and did not have any contact directly with Sony. As we have – as we’ve noted before, entertainers are free to make movies of their choosing, and we are not involved in that.

QUESTION: So Assistant Secretary Russel in his conversations with the Sony executives – if they got – if those executives got the impression that he was saying it’s okay to do this, they were mis – getting the wrong impression?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – I don’t think any executive would want the State Department or the United States Government to be in the business of signing off on the content of their movies or television shows or whatever it may be. But of course, there’s a lot of information that we all know about North Korea and the fact that they have one of the worst human rights records out there, that they have consistently put out threats against the United States. And certainly, we share information that is publicly available with executives as well.

QUESTION: Does the --

QUESTION: Did he not voice any opinion --

QUESTION: Hold on.

QUESTION: -- whatsoever on the idea of a movie having the head of North Korea’s head explode? I mean, regardless of signing off, did the – did Assistant Secretary Russel convey to the Sony executive, any executives, any thoughts on the utility of that kind of an image?

MS. PSAKI: I’m going to leave it at what I just described it as.

QUESTION: Well, but it raises – that question is kind of what I was going to ask. I mean, does the State Department think that something like that, whether it is an artistic endeavor or not, is something that is helpful or is something that is appropriate for any company to do? And the reason that I ask this is not to suggest that you’re involved in free speech, but remember the video of this poorly produced film involving the Prophet Muhammad, I believe, which was blamed for the protests in Cairo, the State Department came out and wanted YouTube to take it down. The State Department said that it did not represent the values of the United States. So there is a history of movie criticism or film criticism from this building, and I’m just wondering if this is at all playing into this current situation.

MS. PSAKI: I would not put them in the same category, which I’m sure does not surprise you. We don’t have – it’s a fiction movie. It’s not a documentary about our relationship with the United – with North Korea. It’s not something we backed, supported, or necessarily have an opinion on from here.

QUESTION: Okay. You haven’t seen it?

MS. PSAKI: I have not seen the movie, no. I don’t think it’s out yet.

QUESTION: Well, apparently, it is. But – (laughter) --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Some may have seen it. I have not.

QUESTION: And just one more quick one on this?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: You said that Bob King did not have direct consultations with anybody, but there – he reportedly spoke with somebody at a think tank who relayed Bob King’s views to the Sony executive. Is that an accurate characterization as far as --

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s a bit of a long journey which I’m just not going to speak to.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speak to it, Arshad. Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah, on North Korea?

QUESTION: A mediary.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you. I appreciate your view. Go ahead.

QUESTION: North Korea. Sung Kim, special representative for North Korea Policy, and Daniel Russel, assistant secretary for East Asia affairs, they both said that the United States willing to have bilateral talks with North Korea. Will these bilateral talks be discussing on the nuclear issue in Korean Peninsula?

MS. PSAKI: Well, nothing has changed and there are no plans for that. I think we can do maybe two more here. Go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION: A quick question on Libya. The heads of state and security ministers have been meeting in Senegal to discuss regional security, and one of their top priorities has been the unrest in Libya. They’ve indicated that the chaos in Libya has made it easier for extremist groups, such as Boko Haram, such as AQIM in Mali, to get weapons. In the meeting, the leaders said that the West helped oust Qadhafi but has left the country worse off. First, what is the State Department’s reaction? And then secondly, is there support in this building for any kind of international intervention to help restore stability in Libya?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you may know, a lot of our effort has been focused on the work of Special Representative Bernardino Leon’s talks and discussions, and we’ve been engaged very closely in this. The Secretary has had a range of meetings with officials from Europe and other countries about what more we can do.

Obviously, Libya has gone through a great deal of change over the last couple of years. We certainly have been living through that and we’re aware of it, and we support a transition that we still believe they are very much capable of. But we knew it would take some time, and what we’re doing is trying to work on a path forward that will bring the country together and help them have a more stable future. But I certainly think it’s inaccurate – completely inaccurate to suggest that we are not engaged and involved. This is a top priority of ours.

Okay. Let’s do – I think we have time for kind of two more here. Go ahead.

QUESTION: You’re well aware about the tragic incident in Pakistan, the (inaudible) Peshawar still (inaudible). The Pakistani army and the Pakistani politicians are asking Taliban – Afghan Government to hand over the TTP chief to Pakistan – Fazlullah, who is in Afghanistan. Do you support their demand?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything for you on that. I’ll see if we have more. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we move on to North Korea for one second?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you feel that there’s any credibility to the 9/11-style threats that have been issued in regards to The Interview?

MS. PSAKI: Thank you for that question. I actually meant to address that. We, of course, take seriously all reported physical threats against the homeland, including recent threats made against movie theaters. At this time, we have no specific credible threat information that lends credence to these reports.

Ukraine? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. There were reports in the Russian press that the U.S. is supplying weapons to Ukraine through third parties, third countries. Can you confirm or deny this?

MS. PSAKI: You’re familiar with the kind of assistance that we have provided. It’s a range of nonlethal assistance. We’ve committed over $118 million in security assistance to help Ukraine. I’m not sure what those reports are referring to, but --

QUESTION: Is that a no? No?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. I was trying --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: -- to give you a comprehensive answer. I hope you appreciate that.

Unfortunately, we have to conclude this, but the Secretary will be doing a press conference in about an hour. Thanks, everyone. Hour and a half.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:27 p.m.)

DPB # 212


[1] Secretary of State

[2] President Obama has not signed the bill.


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - December 16, 2014

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 18:11

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 16, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:28 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Hi.

QUESTION: Hello.

MS. PSAKI: Thanks for everybody bearing with us yesterday during our technical difficulties. I have two items at the top.

The Secretary is in London today. He met with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, Arab League Secretary General Elaraby, and members of the Arab League committee, and is meeting right now with Quartet Representative Blair.

On Sunday in Rome, just since we didn't have an opportunity to chat yesterday, the Secretary met with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and yesterday he met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Last night in Paris, Secretary Kerry met with the E3 – EU3 ministers, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier, British Foreign Secretary Hammond, and French Foreign Minister Fabius to discuss a range of issues, including the situation in the Middle East and discussions about possible action at the UN.

As you all saw this morning, he did a press conference from London, where he addressed those meetings as well.

The second item is Secretary Kerry spoke this morning with Australian Foreign Minister Bishop to express condolences to the families of those who were killed in yesterday's hostage situation in Sydney. The Secretary also commended the New South Wales police and the other emergency personnel who responded to the crisis and offered Australian authorities any and all assistance necessary as they continue their investigation.

With that --

QUESTION: Right. Excuse me. Let's start with – I want to start with some legislation that has passed the Hill, not Russia. I know that your colleague at the White House spent quite a bit of time on that, on the sanctions issue. But I want to ask you about this Egypt issue.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Does the Administration, does the State Department support this legislation, which would give you the ability to send if not lawyers, certainly guns and money to Egypt without a human rights certification?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we are studying the implications of the 2015 appropriations bill. Generally speaking, we welcome the flexibility that the bill provides to further our strategic relationship with Egypt and our national security interests. That said, there has been no policy decision with regards to our assistance program, which remains under review. And our concerns about Egypt's human rights record, which we speak about frequently, that has not changed.

QUESTION: So you welcome the flexibility to be able to give them the aid, but you're not sure that you're going to use that flexibility. Is that --

MS. PSAKI: We haven't made a decision, a policy decision, with regards to using this – the flexibility that's provided in the bill.

QUESTION: Well, okay. When was the last time you had such flexibility that you didn't use it? Are you aware of any cases where --

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, again, this is – this gives us flexibility. We haven't made a decision about whether we're going to use it. So our policy at this point has not changed.

QUESTION: Okay. But so you do support it, you support the idea of having it?

MS. PSAKI: We support the idea of having the flexibility, but we haven't made a decision to use it yet.

QUESTION: Okay. When must such – at least for the money that is still being held up because of no certifications, when does that money have to be spent?

MS. PSAKI: If there's a timeline for it, or when does it need to be spent by?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Let me check that for you. That's a good question.

QUESTION: And how much is it that's still on hold?

MS. PSAKI: I believe it's about 1.3, but I can check that for specific --

QUESTION: It's on hold?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. I'll check that as well. Do we have any more on Egypt? Okay. New topic? No questions? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Huh?

QUESTION: You wanted to talk about Ukraine and Russia?

QUESTION: You can go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. So could you bring some clarification – maybe it's very clear, but I didn't understand. Your colleague at the White House just said that the President intends to sign the Congress bill on the – to tighten sanctions against Russia. And on the other hand, Secretary Kerry in London said that the sanction could be lifted very quickly; it's on the President Putin choice. And he had some very pleasing comments, saying that in the last days Russia has taken some very constructive moves. So is there a contradiction between what your colleague at the White House said and what the Secretary said?

MS. PSAKI: I don't believe so, but let me see if I can try to answer all of your questions here. And I'm sure if I don't get to one, you'll let me know.

So as my colleague at the White House announced, the President intends to sign the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, despite having significant concerns. We have – the Administration has worked together closely with allies and partners in Europe and internationally to build a broad coalition of countries to impose sanctions, as you all know because we talk about it frequently in here, that impose real costs on Russia for its aggressive actions in Ukraine. And we have sent an unmistakable signal condemning Russia's actions while mitigating the spillover impact on American businesses, international energy markets, and the global economy. While this legislation appropriately preserves the flexibility of time and calibrates sanctions with our international partners, it does not – it does send a confusing message to our allies by appearing to move for new sanctions outside of our close consultations with them.

And so we certainly acknowledge that, and I think that's why my colleague referenced the fact that the President has concerns about it. But obviously, the decision was made. The legislation provides the President to waive the sanctions provisions as appropriate and when determined to be in the national security interest of the United States. So it provides that flexibility as well. So I don't believe it's changed our policy in that regard.

It also still remains the case that Russia has a choice to make, and the Secretary talked about this today. While certainly we've talked a bit in the last couple of weeks about actions they've taken, including humanitarian convoys moving across the border, Russian assistance moving across the border, and that is concerning to us, they have an off-ramp and they've long had an off-ramp. If they choose to implement the Minsk protocols, then certainly there's an opportunity to change the course of the sanctions that we've put in place.

I think the third question you asked was about the Secretary's comments, so let me work to address those as well. As you have seen over the course of the last couple of days, while we still have remaining concerns, we would also welcome reports that violence has decreased markedly over the last few days in eastern Ukraine. This is a positive step and an opportunity to advance the prospects for a lasting political solution. But I don't want to overstate that, nor do we, and that's one of the reasons why he also reiterated ongoing concerns we have.

We understand there are – discussions are ongoing for – to set the next date for formal talks of the trilateral Contact Group. We certainly support that. We're also concerned about reports from the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission about violence and threats being perpetrated against OSCE monitors by the Russian-backed separatists. And again, Russia has a choice. There are specific steps they can take to implement the Minsk protocols. They can do that. That's in their power. And if they do that, obviously that will have an impact on the actions we take.

Did I address all of your questions, or tried to?

QUESTION: Yes, and more than that. But --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Sorry. That was a long answer. Keep going.

QUESTION: No. But still, I mean, don't you see any contradiction between the White House, I mean, saying that the President is ready to impose new sanctions, and on the other hand the Secretary of State having some very optimistic comments about Russia's behavior?

MS. PSAKI: No, because there have been some positive steps – but I don't want to overstate that – in the last couple of days as it relates to a decrease in violence. They both feel that there are steps that Russia has not taken, they need to take. There are ongoing aggressive actions as it relates to Russia's incursion into Ukraine that need to change in order for our approach to sanctions to change.

QUESTION: So does that mean then that even though he's going to sign the law, the bill, the Administration does not intend to enact sanctions outside of the consultative process that you're – you have been doing with the Europeans?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that's been an important component, as you know, from the beginning of the process. And I'm not going to predict what we'll do in the future. It gives the ability to do that. But I don't have anything more to lay out for you in the future.

QUESTION: Well, you said that – and your – you and your colleague at the White House both said that it sends a confusing message.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Well, so why would the President send a confusing message?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the legislation also provides – because he weighed the pros and cons of the legislation and weighed – the pros outweighed the cons. And that's sometimes what happens with legislation.

QUESTION: What's the – what are the pros?

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we are strong supporters, as you know, of Ukraine and the future of Ukraine, the sovereignty of Ukraine, and sending a strong message that we want to see them succeed. But there are certain components of it that the reason we've spoken out specifically about them is to be clear about where we have concerns and send that message to the international community.

QUESTION: In other words, even though he's going to sign it, the Administration has no plan to go ahead and actually impose the sanctions that are – that this legislation --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I noted for a reason that the legislation provides the President the ability to waive the sanctions provisions as appropriate. But it also gives the ability to move forward if you want to.

QUESTION: Right, so – but you're going to waive them --

MS. PSAKI: I'm not going to make a prediction.

QUESTION: -- just like you're going to waive the human rights concerns for Egypt?

MS. PSAKI: I'm not going to make a prediction of that, Matt. Obviously, legislation provides a range of options. We'll leave the room for the President to make his own decisions.

Do we have any more on Ukraine before we move on? Ukraine?

QUESTION: Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Russia. Go ahead.

QUESTION: What do you make of the move by Russia's central bank to raise its key interest rate from 10.5 to 17 percent?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any specific analysis of their economic moves domestically. I think the Secretary spoke this morning to the collapse of the ruble and some of the economic challenges that, obviously, Russia is dealing with within their country. And as he stated then, one, there are costs, of course, attached to Russia's attempt to annex Crimea and its continued support of separatists. But the economic situation in Russia and many of the choices they're making are not due solely to sanctions. It's more complicated and involves oil prices and general economic mismanagement in Russia, and those all play a significant role. So the lack of economic diversification and development of innovation and entrepreneurship over the past decade has also left Russia overly dependent on hydrocarbons. And some of these issues all factor into the economic challenges that they're facing today.

QUESTION: Do U.S. policymakers regard that the diminishing value of the ruble tends to increase instability in the region because it makes Vladimir Putin, in order to distract ordinary Russians from their economic hardships, more likely to engage in foreign adventurism?

MS. PSAKI: I think I'd, again, point you to what the Secretary said in response to a very similar question earlier today. Obviously, the sanctions are not targeted at the Russian people. They are targeted – they're making clear that there are costs attached, and Russia has a choice they can make to change the course of these sanctions. Obviously, that's up to President Putin to make that choice. But has it incentivized him to take more action? No, I wouldn't put it in those terms.

Do we have any more on Russia or Ukraine before we move on? Pam, go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a question about the attack in Peshawar today, but first of all, backtracking a little bit --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- in your statements, you mentioned that Kerry in his series of meetings met with Lavrov, and there was a readout saying they spoke about Middle East issues.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Did they specifically get into the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, do you know?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think one of the – obviously, the primary topics of discussion is the interest of many countries to move forward with action at the UN. So certainly, as part of that, they talk about what the only way to have a lasting solution in the region is. But clearly, that's not an ongoing process right now, so I would not assume it was a major part of their discussion.

QUESTION: Regarding the school attack in Pakistan, the Pakistani Government says the leadership of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, the group that claimed responsibility for the attack, is based in Afghanistan. Is the U.S. talking to Afghanistan about taking action against terrorist groups such as this one? And if so, what has been the response from the Afghan Government?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don't have any – we've seen the comments. We obviously don't have any confirmation of those reports. Broadly speaking, the message we convey to both Afghanistan and Pakistan is that there's no place – they should not have safe havens for any of these terrorist organizations in their countries. Obviously, we work with both countries on counterterrorism measures. But our conversations with Pakistan have been at all levels, of course, of the Pakistani Government regarding the attack. And it's really been about our offer of assistance and our offer to continue working closely together to address these challenges.

QUESTION: Jen, any readout for the Secretary's meeting with the Israeli prime minister?

MS. PSAKI: Well, he did an entire press conference this morning, so I would point you to that.

QUESTION: Yeah, but he didn't talk especially – specifically --

MS. PSAKI: And there was also a readout that was sent last night, so I'd point you to both of those.

QUESTION: Okay. What are your expectations regarding tomorrow's session at the UN for the Security Council? Do you expect any vote? What are the expectations in general?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point you to the UN for that – any specifics on their agenda. I think, as the Secretary said this morning, obviously, he – we're trying to figure out a course forward that helps diffuse tensions, reduces the potential for greater conflict, and helps set the stage for the underlying issues between Israel and the Palestinians to be wrestled with in a serious way. And we're exploring various possibilities to that end, which is why he met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday, and – as well as European partners, and certainly, it was part of the discussion with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov as well.

QUESTION: Is it not the case, Jen, that the Administration would prefer to see the UN not take any action this week or next?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a lot of different options and measures that could be taken.

QUESTION: Is doing nothing one of them?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn't put it in those terms. I know there's been some – I'm not – know this isn't your exact question, but I think it answers it, or I hope it will. A UN Security Council resolution is not, in our view, a unilateral measure by either one of the parties. There are the – obviously, the details are what matter. And so our objection here, and our objection historically has been to measures that would prejudge the outcome of the negotiations. If you had a Security Council resolution from the Palestinians, which we've had in the past, that sought to have them recognized as a member of the – of – as a member state, that's a unilateral action, as you all know. But if you were to do some kind of terms of reference in the Security Council resolution, that would not be what we would consider to be a unilateral step.

So obviously, there are a range of proposals out there. There isn't a proposal tabled. We don't know what will be presented and we have to see – we're having a discussion about all of the options with all of the parties.

QUESTION: All right. So you're leaving the door open to actually voting for a resolution?

MS. PSAKI: We have to see what the details are.

QUESTION: So in other words, yes?

MS. PSAKI: We have historically supported resolutions in the UN before. Not --

QUESTION: You've also historically vetoed pretty much every resolution that's come down the --

MS. PSAKI: We have, but it depends on what the details are. We supported a resolution on Gaza just this summer.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: It depends on what the specifics are, Matt. We don't know that yet.

QUESTION: Okay. So if there was a resolution that essentially you – that you did not regard as a unilateral, as presenting or putting forward a unilateral action on behalf of the Palestinians – or the Israelis, I would imagine – if there is one that does not do that, you would vote for it?

MS. PSAKI: We have to see what the specifics are.

QUESTION: Well, with those specifics, I mean, you actually raised this hypothetical, which is very rare from anyone from any podium around town to do.

MS. PSAKI: Well, the reason – the reason I --

QUESTION: You're saying if --

MS. PSAKI: The reason I raised it – let me explain: The reason I raised it is that there is a perception – I'm not saying by you or anyone here – that we have never supported any UN action related to Israel, and that is not true. We have supported a range of actions in the past. What we haven't supported is steps that are unilateral actions that predetermine the outcome of negotiations.

QUESTION: Well, Prime Minister Netanyahu made no – made it pretty clear that his government expects or wants the U.S. to veto any resolution. The Secretary was not in a position to give him that kind of an assurance, was he?

MS. PSAKI: We haven't made a determination yet what we'll do because we have to see the details of what would be presented.

QUESTION: All right. But isn't it not the case, getting back to my original question, that it would be a whole lot easier for the Administration if the UN didn't do anything, if there was no vote on any resolution, at least in the next two weeks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, as you know, we're a member – prominent member of the United Nations. We're working closely with them. I wouldn't say that either. It depends on what the specifics and the details of any resolution would be.

QUESTION: After the meeting with European foreign ministers yesterday, are you on the same page with them regarding the Security Council move?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of views from a range of countries. So I'll let them speak for themselves, Michel.

QUESTION: But regarding the draft resolution that the French especially are working on --

MS. PSAKI: I'm going to let individual countries speak for themselves.

QUESTION: In the region, I just wanted – in terms of the Lavrov meeting --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, sure.

QUESTION: -- the Russians have been pushing for a Syria meeting in Moscow. Is – did the Secretary get any details of what the Russians have – what they have in mind? And would the Administration be willing to send someone to such a meeting?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the – broadly, the topic came up, but it wasn't a primary part of their conversation, and I expect it will continue to be an ongoing discussion as their plans and ideas for this develop. But they didn't go in depth on this issue, no.

QUESTION: So what did they go in depth on? If they didn't go in depth on the Mideast, on --

MS. PSAKI: Well, the --

QUESTION: Did they only go in depth --

MS. PSAKI: What Pam's question was, was about a Mideast peace process. That wasn't what, obviously, they were focused on discussing.

QUESTION: So what did they go – if they didn't go into depth on Syria or on the Mideast peace process, what did --

MS. PSAKI: Well, as stated in the readout --

QUESTION: Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: -- Matt, that we put out yesterday, they talked about, obviously, this discussion about action at the UN. They talked about Ukraine. There are a range of topics that came up. Obviously, they both share opinions in these discussions. They talk frequently, so I expect it will be an ongoing discussion.

QUESTION: So we don't know the agenda of this Russian conference, its agenda?

MS. PSAKI: That hasn't been put out nor has a date been put out, so there are a lot of details that still haven't been determined, it seems.

QUESTION: And did you – did the UN envoy to Syria brief you about his – the details of his plan to --

MS. PSAKI: About the local ceasefires?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Well, that's – obviously, those – that proposal and those ideas have been out there for some time. That's something that certainly a range of senior officials have talked to him about. We've talked about that a bit in the past.

QUESTION: Yeah. He gave an interview to Al-Hayat in London last Sunday saying that he leaves the interpretation of the principles of the Geneva agreement to the parties, which is a position close to the Russian position rather than the U.S. position on the interpretation of the Geneva. Were you aware of this?

MS. PSAKI: I haven't looked at his interview. I mean, we also talk about how it's mutually agreed between the parties, so we'd have to look more closely and see if it actually – we would agree with the notion that it conflicts. As it relates to the ceasefires, we support his efforts to look at the feasibility of local ceasefires in fighting, particularly around Aleppo. We remain committed to a political solution in Syria, as you know, and we've had concerns in the past about how local truces have been predicated upon the Assad regime imposing surrender tactics. And so we look at the history and we keep our eyes wide open about how this would be implemented if it moves forward.

Syria? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Turkey.

MS. PSAKI: Can we finish Syria? Syria?

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: You mentioned that we left our eyes open and watch what you are saying. It's – this is almost like two weeks now we are talking about this local peace agreement. Do you have --

MS. PSAKI: Local ceasefires? Yeah.

QUESTION: Local ceasefire, I mean.

MS. PSAKI: Because you guys ask about them. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah, I know that.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: And we are trying to get an answer.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: So the answer is that – what is your position? Are you with it? Do you consider it's a good step? Do you consider it's a part of a political solution? Or you just wait and see what will happen?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn't put it in any of those categories. We support his efforts. We think any effort to reduce violence and save more lives of Syrian – innocent Syrian people is a positive thing. But we also know these have been very difficult to implement in the past, and they have – the regime has implemented them in a way that has resulted in harm to people. So we're aware of that and we're just pointing that out, given these have been tried in the past.

QUESTION: So I will try to put it in a different way. Are you trying or do you want to be part of this equation or political solution, or you completely reject the idea?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don't think that's an accurate question. I mean, we support the effort to implement local ceasefires. That is not an overarching political solution. A political solution needs to be negotiated between the parties.

QUESTION: Just as – I would take you back to this UN resolution because you said that already it was said many times that we don't want to prejudge the outcome of the further negotiations first. And part of, of course, any unilateral action is always not accepted. Do you think that raising the issue in the UN now, without going to details of what was – any proposal means, it is a unilateral action or not?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the details of the proposals matter, and they determine whether or not it's a unilateral action. A UN Security Council resolution itself is not a unilateral action. One that determines the outcome of a negotiation by putting in place a timeline for security transitions or something along those lines would be a unilateral action. So it depends on what the specifics are.

QUESTION: So you are – you have to look at the proposal and the content of the proposal, and accordingly, you will decide that it's a unilateral action or not, right?

MS. PSAKI: That's right. Seems common – seems like it makes sense when you say it that way. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Is that supposed to mean that it doesn't make sense said some other way? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: It does make sense. That's my point. It's very common sense that we would have to look at the specifics of a proposal before we make a decision.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Right. But it's you that makes the decision whether it's unilateral.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I mean, I would hazard to guess that the Jordanians who have prepared a resolution on behalf of the Palestinians wouldn't regard their resolution as being a unilateral step, nor would I hazard to guess that the French would think that theirs is a unilateral step. So, I mean, are you willing to take anyone else's advice on whether whatever comes out is --

MS. PSAKI: We have our own views on issues – on specific proposals that would predetermine the outcome of what we think --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- should happen in a negotiation.

Michel?

QUESTION: On Syria. The opposition, especially the Nusrah – al-Nusrah Front, have made yesterday a huge progress on the ground after they took control of two military bases from the regime. How did you view this development?

MS. PSAKI: Well, al-Nusrah Front is an al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist organization that does not represent Syrians' aspirations for freedom and dignity. Obviously, we're not going to do a battlefield analysis of every up and down from each of the many sides in this conflict, but that would be our view.

QUESTION: There were news reports that said that these groups used U.S. military arms, especially TOW missiles, in their offenses yesterday. Do you have any information about this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we are concerned by these reports and are seeking more information. We can't confirm the details at this time. We support the moderate opposition groups with a range of nonlethal assistance. We've been clear that we're not in a position to detail everything that we provide.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Syria? Turkey? Turkey. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Syria?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Can we do one more? And then I'll go to Turkey. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Ambassador-at-Large Stephen Rapp is quoted in news reports as saying that the State Department has concluded that as many as 10 European citizens have been tortured and killed by the Assad regime. Can you elaborate on how these victims were identified as Europeans? And then, secondly, does this revelation heighten prospects that President Assad will be charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as everyone may know, Pam is referencing the – of course – Caesar photos and analysis that's been ongoing of the Caesar photos. And as you know, we don't have all of the photos. Having exhausted all existing automated capabilities, the FBI has completed its standard authentication analysis of 27,000 photos obtained by Caesar. We – due to the specific parameters of the data set we were given, we cannot definitively rule out the possibility of tampering with some of these.

It's important to note that none of these have been confirmed in terms of the specific identities of the individuals. It's an ongoing process. As we all know, there are tens of thousands of photos, and the point that Ambassador Rapp was trying to make in that interview was that of the 27,000 photos that have been looked at, there are only even a small number where there have been weak matches – potential matches – that are not confirmed. So they're not confirmed to be Europeans. These are a handful of photos where there were, again, weak matches. It's not confirmed on the identity of the individuals.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Turkey, two different subjects. One of them – first of them: Today, Besiktas soccer team's football fans are on trial. Accusation is they tried to overthrow the government, these 35 fans. Do you have any comment on this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, in Turkey and around the world, the United States supports freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to peaceful protest. We look to Turkey to uphold these fundamental freedoms. We remain concerned about due process, broadly speaking, and effective access to justice in Turkey. For this specific case or details of this, I'd refer you to Turkish authorities.

QUESTION: Second subject is couple days ago, several journalists in Turkey were arrested. You issued statement two days ago as well. The – couple of the journalist from Zaman and Samanyolu, they are still in detention. Do you have any further reaction to your already-issued statement?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have anything new to offer. As we said in the statement we issued over the weekend, we are concerned by the detention of journalists and media representatives following police raids on the offices of media which have been critical of the government. Media freedom, due process, and judicial independence are key elements in every healthy democracy and are enshrined in the Turkish constitution. Freedom of the media includes the freedom to criticize the government. Voicing opposition does not equal conspiracy or treason. As Turkey's friend and NATO ally, we urge the Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold Turkey's core values and democratic foundations.

QUESTION: I might have missed it – did you say you are concerned, or did I miss – you said that --

MS. PSAKI: Concerned by the detention of journalists.

QUESTION: Okay. Today Prime Minister Davutoglu said that the things are happening with the detention has nothing to do with the press freedom in Turkey. And he further stated that there's a separation of powers in Turkey, so the impartiality of the judicial process. So have you communicated with the Turkish officials about the situation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, we do through our Embassy on the ground, but the Secretary has not, no.

QUESTION: Jen, one of the prerequisites for being a member of NATO, or at least a member in good standing of NATO, is to be a democracy. Are you concerned at all this backsliding that you're seeing in Turkey that you've expressed concern about might hurt Turkey's standing in NATO as a good, solid member?

MS. PSAKI: No.

QUESTION: No? So in other words, they can go around and detain as many journalists and cops as they want and try soccer club supporters for trying to overthrow the government by attending a – what you say is a legal protest, and it has no implications for them or any other NATO member if the same thing was going in in their territory?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, Turkey is a democracy. As I mentioned, a number of these important values like media freedom, due process, judicial independence, are enshrined in the Turkish constitution, so --

QUESTION: Right, but that doesn't mean that they're actually respected. I mean, there's a lot of things enshrined in a lot of constitutions that aren't --

MS. PSAKI: But it means that we can speak out, as do others, when we have concerns about the implementation of these pieces. But it does not mean that they don't continue to be an important ally and NATO partner.

QUESTION: And in terms of support for groups that you deem to be terrorist organizations, such as members of Hamas and others, those don't have any impact either on NATO membership – good standing in being a NATO member?

MS. PSAKI: You know where our view is on Hamas, as it is of a number of countries around the world. I don't have any analysis of – beyond that.

QUESTION: Are you still in discussion with Turkey regarding its role in the coalition in fighting ISIL?

MS. PSAKI: It's an ongoing discussion. As you know, General Allen has been there several times. They remain an important partner. They've taken steps in every single one of the five lines of effort.

QUESTION: But there's no agreement yet?

MS. PSAKI: In terms of what?

QUESTION: In terms of what role can the – can Turkey --

MS. PSAKI: They've already taken step. It's not about an agreement. They've already taken a range of steps.

QUESTION: But they were asking for more steps to be taken.

MS. PSAKI: It's an ongoing discussion, and there'll be ongoing contributions that will take many forms of many of the coalition members. So that's only natural that that would be the case with Turkey.

QUESTION: Just one more follow-up. This latest detention round-up were made possible thanks to the legislation passed last week, which gave the – more authority to police and reason for law enforcement to detain without concrete evidence. Do you have any comment on this recent laws passed at the parliament?

MS. PSAKI: I can – I'm happy to talk to our team about it and see if we have a – more of a comment on it.

Should we change – new topic?

QUESTION: Yes, please.

QUESTION: I have one more. I'm sorry about that.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: As you may know, the government has been accusing Gulen movement – it is a religious movement whose leader based --

MS. PSAKI: I'm familiar with it, yes.

QUESTION: -- in Turkey – I'm sorry, in here. So the government accuses Gulen movement that they have been working with – this secretly trying to overthrow the government, and there were some soap operas couple years ago in Turkey, were giving some kind of signals. Do you have any comment on the Gulen movement's role or --

MS. PSAKI: I don't.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I was going to ask about the South Korean delegation to North Korea to – I'm not sure what the word is – three years since Kim Jong -il's death and to give their condolences. Do you have any reaction to that?

MS. PSAKI: I hadn't actually seen those reports in the busyness of the day. Generally speaking, we support dialogue, as you know, but we can look into it more specifically and see if we have a more detailed comment.

QUESTION: Did you have any thoughts on the differences between the North Korean leadership in the past three years?

MS. PSAKI: Don't have any analysis of that either.

QUESTION: Jen, staying on North Korea – they – their ambassador to the United Nations has written a letter to the Security Council saying that North Korea believes that the Senate majority report on the CIA enhanced interrogation techniques should be raised – what – should be raised there, or at least somewhere within the UN system. What's your response to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that – maybe that, in part, because for the first time the human rights situation in North Korea could be a standalone agenda item in the Security Council.

Broadly speaking to your initial question, Matt, I think we'd put our record on human rights against North Korea's, certainly, any country in the world, any day of the week. And we made changes in order to address this program, end it, as we talked about quite a bit last week, because it wasn't in line with our values. The same can't be said of North Korea and their abysmal human rights record.

QUESTION: Okay. But it's still the position of the Administration that no one will be held accountable for these alleged misdeeds, this alleged wrongdoing?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, that's a question for the Department of Justice, as it has long been. I have nothing more to report on that front.

QUESTION: Okay. So you can't say if anyone in this building, people who make a living out of this kind of thing – perhaps in the DRL Bureau, have suggested that maybe it might be a good thing for American accountability or American moral authority around the world for there to actually be some accountability, if in fact you believe that what is outlined in this report happened?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Matt, there's been a long analysis of this. The program ended five years ago, so I have nothing new to add.

Any more? Go ahead. Hi, Lalit.

QUESTION: I have one on Pakistan.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I know you have already addressed a lot of questions, in case this has not been answered.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: In the last few months, you have seen Pakistan army taking strong actions against militants, including Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan area. But today's attack by the Pakistani Taliban, what does it reflect? Has the Pakistan army been successful in weakening the Pakistani Taliban, or they have become more stronger?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let's call this horrific attack, which took the lives of many innocent children, what it is. And this was – it was a cowardly attack against children who were in enclosed spaces within a school unsuspecting and doing their schoolwork. We continue to work closely with the Government of Pakistan. Counterterrorism is an integral part of our relationship, including in the Strategic Dialogue. We understand certainly the threats of – that Pakistan faces, and unfortunately, the people of Pakistan are not new to dealing with some of these horrific acts. But we're going to keep working together, and I don't think it reflects anything other than a cowardly attack by this group.

QUESTION: What is U.S. assessment of the strength of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, which claims credit for this attack?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say we've of course seen reports that they claimed responsibility. I mean, we don't have confirmation of that, so I just want to convey that to you. I don't think I have any new assessment of their strength. I think I answered that in the last answer I offered.

QUESTION: Do they pose danger to Pakistan and U.S.?

MS. PSAKI: Well, broadly speaking, obviously we've seen that. And again, they claimed responsibility for this attack, but we haven't confirmed that from here.

QUESTION: After the attack, Indian prime minister telephoned the Pakistanis, Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif. Do you see any scope for India and Pakistan coming together in this war against terrorism, and what kind of it is according to this --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think in the discussions that the Secretary has had with both leaders, he certainly encourages dialogue and encourages that they work together where they can. But I'm not going to make any predictions about the future.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: All right.

QUESTION: I've got two very brief ones.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: One on Honduras, and I apologize for not getting this to you guys earlier.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, no problem.

QUESTION: So you might not have anything on it. But apparently, last week or the week before, a bunch of police officers who had been trained, vetted by the United States, were accused of stealing several million dollars.

MS. PSAKI: I don't have anything on it.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: But I'm happy to take it and we can get you something, Matt.

QUESTION: And then the last one, Randy Quaid, the actor, and his wife have filed a lawsuit against the Secretary because he is the Secretary of State, not a personal lawsuit, over what they say is the wrongful revocation of their passports. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I had not heard of that. I am happy to talk to our lawyers and see if there's more we can convey.

QUESTION: Okay. I realize that you generally won't talk about lawsuits when they are still being – while they're still in the lawsuit --

MS. PSAKI: Or typically passports.

QUESTION: -- the lawsuit phase. Or passports, except when it relates to people like Edward Snowden, who you had no problem talking about. So my question is not going to be about – is not about the merits of the lawsuit, but rather what the State Department's authority to revoke, to administratively revoke passports is like, and has that been challenged before. Those are my questions.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, happy to look into it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: All right. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:07 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - December 12, 2014

Fri, 12/12/2014 - 16:24

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 12, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

2:06 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay. I just have two quick items for all of you at the top. The Secretary is on travel in Bogota, Colombia today. This morning, he met with the peace process negotiators and Colombian President Santos. He held a press availability and met with Foreign Minister Holguin. He will return to Washington this evening.

The Secretary also spoke this morning with Foreign Minister Lavrov. They discussed the situation in the Middle East, including recent developments in Israel, the West Bank, Jerusalem and the region, as well as current initiatives at the UN.

With that, hello, Lara.

QUESTION: Hello, Jen. Let’s just stay there if we can.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I saw some of the Secretary’s comments to our colleagues while he was in Bogota before he took off, and his hope that some of the talks next week in Europe might help unite disparate countries behind some kind of unified plan, whatever plan that may be. Now, keeping in mind yesterday you had said that you’re not willing to discuss any proposals that haven’t even been tabled at this point, I’m just wondering, can you clarify: Would the United States approve or support any proposal at this point that would preclude a broader peace treaty between Israel and Palestine?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s – I understand why you’re asking the question. But I mean, obviously, the most important question for us is: What are the details of any proposal put forward? Clearly, you know where we stand on the fact – our belief that a two-state solution, an agreement between the two parties, is the best way to achieve peace in the region. And we have consistently acted in ways that support that effort, not oppose it.

But there are a range of proposals out there. There are – as the Secretary said in his comments, he’ll be discussing the effort and the interest of many countries to see action at the UN, and that will be the focus of his trip early next week.

QUESTION: I guess it’s just more of a matter of timing that I’m confused about. Yes, I’m familiar with the U.S. thinks that a two-state solution would help foster peace, but I was under the understanding that the United States wanted to see a peace agreement before Palestine was given statehood. So would the United States support statehood before a peace treaty?

MS. PSAKI: Our position on that hasn’t changed. But remember, we haven’t seen language for any UN proposal, and there are a range of proposals that are across the spectrum. Obviously, our principles that we’ve long had in this regard stand. But the fact is there are a number of countries out there that want to see action at the UN, that are pushing for that. There are a number of countries out there who have taken their own action, even non-binding action, and so this is an appropriate time to have the discussion.

QUESTION: I understand. I’m sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I don’t mean to beat this to death --

MS. PSAKI: Not at all. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- but I honestly don’t want to be mis-confused on --

MS. PSAKI: Understand.

QUESTION: -- what the U.S. position is.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. position that a peace agreement must be come to – must be, I don’t know, ratified first or agreed upon first before Palestinian statehood?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve long said – and this remains our position – that we support the aspirations of the Palestinians to achieve statehood. Obviously, that’s part of what would be negotiated through a peace process.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: However, there are a range of actions the UN could take. We’re not going to prejudge what those are or prejudge proposals out there that are on a – the broad range of the spectrum.

QUESTION: So can I just pick up on that? Are you stepping back from previous assertions that you do not believe the right way to achieve statehood is through the United Nations?

MS. PSAKI: That is – continues to be our position, but there are a range of proposals out there that have a number of different objectives and have different language in them.

QUESTION: So if one of the proposals is a timeline, for instance --

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speculate.

QUESTION: -- within which you could possibly --

MS. PSAKI: There isn’t – there isn’t a --

QUESTION: -- have a peace deal negotiated --

MS. PSAKI: There isn’t a proposal that’s tabled, Jo. So when there is we can talk about that, but we’re not at that point yet.

QUESTION: No, I understand that. But there’s a number of ideas that have already been discussed.

MS. PSAKI: There are.

QUESTION: Particularly by the Palestinians, who are the people most concerned by this resolution, if and when it is put forward in the United Nations. So if there is language, which it would seem to be the consensus – it doesn’t matter – if there is language which sets a timetable, is that something that the United Nations feels it – if it doesn’t wholeheartedly support, could at least abstain from?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, there isn’t language that’s put forward yet. I understand there are lots of ideas out there. That’s why the Secretary is making this trip and having conversations about it. But I’m not going to bind the arms of our – of those discussions or talk more publicly about conversations that are happening behind the scenes.

QUESTION: But it does seem that you’re stepping back slightly from a position that you had in the past.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not intending to step back. I’m just not going to speculate on a hypothetical, which is what you’re asking me.

QUESTION: Okay. And then I wanted to ask also – there was a very short readout of the conversation with Foreign Minister Fabius yesterday in Lima. Of course, one of the proposals that’s being put together, I believe, is being put together with French help.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So I wondered if you could tell us a little bit about their discussions that they may have had around that.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to discuss in more detail than what was laid out in the readout, because we believe that having these discussions privately is the right way to make progress. And obviously, at this sensitive time when there are lots of proposals out there, when there are lots of countries that have different views about how things should proceed, having these conversations privately is, in the Secretary’s view, is the way to do it the right way.

QUESTION: And whilst the Secretary’s in Europe, in Rome next week on Monday, will he take the opportunity to meet with any of the other partners who might be – have an interest at the UN Security Council on this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, he’s – we’re still finalizing the schedule. I can see if anything’s been locked in. But I expect that he’ll have additional conversations while he’s there. I just don’t have any details yet on who those will be with.

QUESTION: And although you say you haven’t seen any language, can I just ask – and I know you’re going to refer me to the United Nations, but you are the body that’s overseeing them too; you’re their boss, so to speak. Can you tell us what you’re doing at the United Nations around this issue, around this – these various different proposals that seem to be coming together?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re obviously – a big part of what we’re doing is having conversations with interested parties and countries. And that certainly is an appropriate role for the State Department to play and the Secretary to play, and I’d certainly refer you to the United Nations otherwise as it relates to their timeline and what proposals and options they’re considering.

QUESTION: But Ambassador Power is already involved in the mix in some of these discussions?

MS. PSAKI: I would certainly point you to them on the specifics. I mean, we’re engaged. I’m sure she’s engaged with discussions, but I don’t have any readout on the level of detail or how serious they are at this point in time.

QUESTION: Do you expect any deliverables, or actionables to use another bureaucratic --

MS. PSAKI: They’re similar terms, I think. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah, exactly. Do you expect anything to come of the meetings that is concrete or an agreement out of – from next week’s discussions in Europe?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ll see. But I think the objective here is not necessarily to come out with an announced deliverable but to have a discussion – continue the discussion, I should say – about all of the proposals out there, the interests of many countries in moving action forward. And I’m not sure there will be an appropriate public announcement to be made.

QUESTION: Do you think there’s a 1 percent chance of that or a 17 percent chance? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: I like the numbers you’ve used, but I am not going to put a percentage. (Laughter.) I’m sure we can talk about this again on Monday, and I’ll look forward to it.

Do we have any more on this issue? Hello, Said.

QUESTION: Sorry – can I just ask on the Palestinian side --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- are there any plans for a meeting or a phone call with President Abbas or any of his team?

MS. PSAKI: Let me just check and see. I know the Secretary was planning to engage with him. I don’t think he’s had the opportunity to do that today given his travel, but I expect he will in the coming days.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you think he might do that before he meets with Prime Minister Netanyahu or after?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to make a prediction of that, Said. Obviously, we’ll – it could happen either way.

QUESTION: Would it make sense to talk to him beforehand?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re thinking of it in those terms. I think obviously, the Secretary’s been continuously engaged with both parties. This isn’t the first conversation he’s having with them about this topic.

QUESTION: Okay. Seeing that how many European countries are one after the other recognizing the Palestinians – I understand it’s symbolic, largely symbolic, but these are parliaments of democratic countries, and presumably, they reflect the sentiment of the public. So will the United States follow suit at one point?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’ve ever indicated an interest or a plan to do that, Said. Do we have any more --

QUESTION: But you agree – you do agree that in Europe at least it does reflect a large portion of the public? I mean, these --

MS. PSAKI: Well, every country is different. I’d refer you to their countries and how their systems work. And some are – many of them are nonbinding resolutions, but every country’s different.

Do we have any more on this topic before we continue? Okay, go ahead, Lalit.

QUESTION: On the Kabul attack, do you have anything on the attack in Kabul by another suicide bomber from the Taliban?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t right now, but I promise we will get you something right after the briefing. It’s an important question.

QUESTION: Within the last few weeks we have seen a series of such attacks inside Kabul, which was so far secure. Do you doubt the credibility of ANSF or do you see why it is happening – the security – what is your assessment of the security situation in Kabul right now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we don’t see it that way. As you know, we’re in an important transition period and the ANSF is – has been transitioning into being in the lead in Afghanistan. And we think they have been taking on those challenges and working closely with our teams on the ground very effectively. There also are – in this time of transition, we’ve also seen a desire for some of the bad actors – the Taliban and others – to take action to show their power or assert their power or show that – and we’ve seen that happen as well. But we’re proceeding on our plan and on our path to work closely with our NATO partners. We’re working closely with the Afghan National – the Security Forces on the ground. And we certainly believe that we can continue to proceed and have a successful outcome as we complete the transition.

QUESTION: I have one more on Afghanistan.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Following the CIA report, the Afghanistan president have said these are a violation of human rights, and also violation of international laws. Has the Government of Afghanistan or the president raised this issue with the U.S.?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any – there’s been a range of discussions and calls with our partners around the world, and as you know, we are closely in touch with the Government of Afghanistan for obvious reasons, given the pivotal time we’re at. And the Secretary himself as well as senior officials have been engaged in these calls and discussions.

As I’ve said from the podium a couple of times this week, we have been reiterating in these calls that these practices are in the past, they don’t represent who we are or our values, and we put this report out to be transparent and move forward. And certainly, that’s the message we would be communicating to any country, including Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Jen, have you spoken about Shukrijumah, the senior al-Qaida operative, Saudi American, that was killed, apparently, in Pakistan? Have you spoken about that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe – let me see if I have anything on that, Said.

QUESTION: He’s a resident of Florida and a pilot and all this stuff.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t, Said. I can see if there’s anything we have after the briefing.

QUESTION: Also on Pakistan, day before yesterday, Deputy SRAP Blanc at the House Foreign Relations Committee hearing said that U.S.-Pakistan will be holding their Strategic Dialogue in January sometime. Do you know, is Secretary traveling to Pakistan, or what are the dates for that dialogue?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any trips to announce at this point in time. I know the Secretary’s eager to get there in 2015. So hopefully, we’ll have something to announce in the coming weeks.

Go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION: I had several questions on Haiti.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Counselor Shannon and Special Coordinator Adams are wrapping up a trip to Haiti today that has included talks with the president, the prime minister, and opposition leaders. And these talks are coming after a commission that was appointed by the president issued recommendations that included a call for the prime minister to resign and also the creation of a new electoral council and some other measures.

Several questions related to that: First of all, what is the U.S. position regarding Haiti’s crisis?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that we believe elections are essential for Haiti’s democratic development and to advance progress made in reconstruction and development. The United States and, certainly, Counselor Shannon on his trip and Haiti Special Coordinator Tom Adams are certainly advocating strongly for dialogue and compromise among the parties that will lead to a Haitian solution to permit elections without further delay. Toward that end, we welcome the December 9th recommendations offered by the consultative commission established by President Martelly as a basis for dialogue. We understand he’ll speak today regarding the recommendations.

So our position as the United States is that we broadly support dialogue and compromise leading to a solution in Haiti that will permit elections without further delay, and we think that’s incredibly important to advance progress made there.

QUESTION: You said the U.S. welcomes the recommendations. Do you think they will lead to a resolution of the crisis?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s ultimately up to Haitians to resolve the current difficulties. We support efforts such as the work of the commission to advance a compromised solution. We support the announcement of the recommendations. But ultimately, it’s up for people in the country to implement.

QUESTION: And one final question. If there is no political agreement between the government, the parliament, and the opposition by mid-January, the president may have to rule by decree. And if so, how is that going to affect U.S.-Haiti relations?

MS. PSAKI: Well, one of the reasons that, of course, Counselor Shannon and Special Coordinator Tom Adams are there is because this is an important time in this process. And our view is that there’s time to resolve this issue before Haiti gets to that point, so our efforts are focused on supporting a resolution through dialogue, and we’re not going to speculate on what will happen if we get to that point.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead, Elliot.

QUESTION: I have one on the climate summit in Lima --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- that the Secretary attended.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I don’t know if you’re the best-equipped one to address this, so --

MS. PSAKI: I will do my best, and if not, we’ll get you some answers after the briefing. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. So civil society organizations are kind of raising a ruckus over restrictions that they had on the sidelines over whether – what kinds of words, what kind of phrases they could put on signs that they were holding up.

MS. PSAKI: Civil society groups at the Peru conference?

QUESTION: At the Peru conference.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Pretty draconian rules. No specific countries, no specific names of people, no specific projects – basically limiting them to only the most broadest slogans. I was wondering if the U.S. had been aware of this and whether they raised it – whether the U.S. team raised it with the UN hosts to --

MS. PSAKI: I am not personally aware, which you suspected. I will check and see if our team was aware and see if we have any further view on it. I haven’t heard from them that that was an issue we were grappling with.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Stay in the region?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I’m sure you’re aware, and there’s some concern, that World Health Organization payments to doctors from Cuba who were in Africa – I think specifically Sierra Leon, Guinea, and Liberia – are not being paid because of U.S. embargoes. Do you know if that’s the case and whether or not there’s any kind of steps to take that – to remedy that? I mean, John Kerry himself said that Cuba should be praised for having its doctors respond to the Ebola crisis.

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. And we absolutely feel that way. I was venturing to get you some information before the briefing, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to get kind of a technical answer that I was hoping to, so let me follow up after the briefing and see if we can kind of clarify that it’s unrelated to anything on the embargo.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: One on ISIS. British channel, News Channel 4 is – has done an interview with an Indian national from Bangalore who the channel says was handling the Twitter account of ISIS. Do you know about it, and how do you see this?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen the interview. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, as we’ve all seen that ISIL has been particularly active on social media, and that’s one of their recruitment tools that they have used out there. So I’m happy to take – is there anything in the interview you have a question about or --

QUESTION: No. Are you trying to get in touch with the Indian authorities to know more about this person or ISIS who are trying to broadcast their view on Twitter?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to certainly check. I mean, I think our view – our continuing conversation with any country is about efforts to de-legitimize ISIL and work – we need to do to work together to do that. And so that’s been the focus of Under Secretary Stengel’s efforts and a number of officials in the Administration. But we can check with our India team on that.

QUESTION: Can we say on ISIL and the fight in Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: First of all, did you find out which groups that were apparently cut off in terms of getting paid, as I asked yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: As I said yesterday and the day before, Said, I’m just not going to be able to detail all forms of our assistance and --

QUESTION: Okay. And in the conversation that Secretary of State Kerry had with Lavrov, did they discuss any kind of effort that this – the Russian effort to start some sort of a peace process going?

MS. PSAKI: What I outlined was really the focus – are you talking about a peace process in Syria or --

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Yes. Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: What I outlined --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: -- was the topic and the focus of the discussion, given the Secretary’s upcoming trip. As you know, they talk all the time --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- and they met a week or so ago when they were at – in Brussels, I believe, it was. Where was it? London? In Europe. And they talked about those exact issues, and I’m sure they will talk about them again soon.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Well, because the Russians are saying that on the ground, in reality, it is only the Syrians who have been really fighting ISIS, nobody else has. I mean, of course, the Americans and the coalition have been dropping bombs – but in actual fighting day to day for the past couple of years. Is that an assessment that you agree with?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I have not seen those comments, so I’m not going to speak to them directly. But our view, broadly speaking, is that the Syrian regime allowed ISIL to grow their safe havens in Syria, which was – led to many of the problems we’re facing today. And the efforts of the coalition and the United States military action are the action that’s happening against ISIL at this point in time.

QUESTION: Does the United States have a short attention span, so to speak, when it comes to the fight against ISIL? Because we were talking about Kobani, Kobani, Kobani, and now it has completely disappeared off the radar screen. What’s going on in Kobani? Is it still deadlocked?

MS. PSAKI: It hasn’t disappeared off our radar screen, Said, just because you haven’t asked questions about it.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Yeah, okay. Sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Somebody else have ISIL? Have you spoken to the reports that ISIL is trying to sell parts of – or the remains of James Foley?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t spoken to them. I didn’t speak to them yesterday, so let me do that. Let’s see.

We are seeking more information – obviously, there have been a range of reports out there – and can’t confirm the specific details. If true, we are horrified by this latest example of ISIL’s depravity. We remain determined to do our utmost to hold accountable those who have done our citizens harm. And certainly, that applies to even this horrific action happening post his death.

QUESTION: And so it’s fair to say or to assume that his remains have never been recovered by U.S. authorities, correct?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe we’ve confirmed those details, Lara. But obviously in this report, we just don’t have more specifics on it.

Do we have more on ISIL? ISIL?

QUESTION: Related.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The President had a meeting earlier today with the Saudi interior minister. We haven’t seen a readout of that meeting, but the topics, according to the schedule, were going to include coalition efforts to fight ISIL, countering extremist messaging, and also cooperation on Yemen. I know the Secretary is traveling, but was he able to participate in this meeting either by video link or telephone?

MS. PSAKI: He met with him, I believe, just a few days ago. So there wasn’t a plan for him to participate in the meeting.

QUESTION: Okay. And then perhaps going off more than that meeting, when it comes to the coalition efforts to fight ISIL, can you highlight if there have been any kind of advancements in the role that they’re playing? Particularly, has there been an advancement in the training of oppositions in Saudi --

MS. PSAKI: Saudi Arabia? Well, we’re – I would point you really to DOD for specifics on that program. There have been – I would encourage anyone to read Ambassador McGurk’s testimony from earlier this week where he outlined issue by issue and went into the details of many countries and progress that they’ve made. And Saudi Arabia has continued to contribute in all of the lines of effort. They are one of the countries that Under Secretary Stengel has been engaged with on the delegitimization effort and working with them to use powerful voices to get out the fact that ISIL is not Islam. They obviously have also been a player as it relates to the military action. They’ve been supporting humanitarian assistance. They’ve been taking steps to crack down on financing. So they have continued to be an important player in this, and I think, again, I’d encourage you to read his testimony for more specifics.

QUESTION: And then if I could just ask one more question on that.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Sorry if this was in a readout.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: But when it comes to then cooperation on Yemen, and then also these now announced next round of the P5+1 talks, were those topics that the Secretary discussed with the interior minister?

MS. PSAKI: We put out a readout the other day. I don’t have that in front of me. I’m sure we can get that to you after the briefing, but the upcoming talks – they’re often a topic of conversation. I’m not sure if they were during this particular meeting.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you know more about the Russian initiative to gather this peace conference to make a position on it?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details from what we talked about the other day, in the sense that they announced an interest in hosting a meeting. We obviously want to see what the objectives are, what the purpose would be, and we’ll continue to have that discussion with the Russians.

QUESTION: Staying on Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just wondered if you had anything you could tell us about the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which went through Senate yesterday. The Russians are acting pretty angrily about it. And – but it does give authorization, if required – or if wanted – to President Obama to provide lethal and nonlethal military aid to Ukraine, including anti-tank weapons, ammunition, and tactical troop-operated surveillance drones. I wondered, is there actually any plan for such weapons or weaponry to be supplied to the Ukrainian forces?

And secondly, the Russians are sort of saying that this is a confrontational act and they’re very worried about it.

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: The bill.

MS. PSAKI: The bill. Sure. Well, our position and our policy position has not changed. Our focus from the outset of this crisis has been on supporting Ukraine and on pursuing a diplomatic solution that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We’ve worked closely with our allies and partners in Europe and around the world to help accomplish this. As you know, our focus has been on providing a range of assistance, including $118 million in security assistance. That security assistance has included everything from body armor, helmets, vehicles, night and thermal vision devices, heavy engineering equipment, advanced radios, demining equipment, portable explosive ordnance disposal robots, patrol boats, counter mortar radars – meaning there are a lot of – there’s a lot of equipment that we’ve already provided. And this assistance also includes advising and training.

The situation, of course, remains fluid and we remain very concerned about the situation on the ground, and we continue to assess how best to support Ukraine. So we’re always evaluating our options, but nothing has changed as it relates to our focus, which is on the kind of assistance that we’ve already provided.

QUESTION: So no plans for any anti-tank weapons at the moment?

MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed in that regard.

QUESTION: And do you – when the Russians say they believe this is a confrontational piece of legislation, what would your response be to that?

MS. PSAKI: I would say confrontational – a better way to use that term would be to describe the fact that there are continued aggressive actions and movement of humanitarian convoys and armed separatists moving around Ukraine, which is a sovereign country. So they should focus more on that and less on a piece of legislation.

QUESTION: Stay on Russia?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any update about Putin’s visit to India and – because now you must have the details about 12 nuclear plants and all that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve certainly seen more of the reporting that has come out this morning, but let me tell you what I have at this point. Of course, we’ve seen the reports regarding Indian business signing contract – Indian businesses signing contracts with Russian businesses. We continue to urge all countries not to conduct business as usual with Russia. We continue to monitor it, but we haven’t looked at all the specifics of the contracts, for obvious reasons.

QUESTION: So will it have any effect on President Obama’s visit? Will it be postponed, delayed, or will it go ahead?

MS. PSAKI: No. India remains an important partner. Obviously, our economic relationship is a big part of what we continue to work on.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: You’re saying that business cannot go on as usual with Russia – other countries with Russia? Is that what you’re saying?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: So are you calling for sanctions? Are you – you want to impose sanctions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, there are already sanctions in place.

QUESTION: I understand, but more sanctions – I mean other countries --

MS. PSAKI: That wasn’t what I was calling for. In general, though, given the situation, it shouldn’t be business as usual.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) spoken to the Indians before the trip that it’s not the right time to do business with the Russian leadership?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve been engaged in that discussion. I’d remind you – as you know, because you report on this all the time – India doesn’t support the actions of Russia and the actions – their intervention into Ukraine. They’ve been pretty outspoken about that as well.

QUESTION: And on the Crimean leader who was part of the delegation, do you have anything else in addition to what you said yesterday? You had asked Indians about it. Have they responded to your queries?

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

QUESTION: Just a quick thing.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Have you confirmed he was there or not?

MS. PSAKI: Independently? I think there have been a range of reports, so I would point you to that. I don’t have any U.S. Government confirmation. We’re obviously not in on the trip with them.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: There’s no change in President’s trip to India?

MS. PSAKI: No. No, no.

Yes.

QUESTION: To go back to South Sudan --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- we talked about it a bit yesterday --

MS. PSAKI: Yes, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- wondering if the U.S. has a position on an arms embargo on either side of the conflict there.

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to talk to our team about it. I don’t think we’ve talked about this from here in quite some time.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think there’s a new – anything new we’re considering in that regard, but why don’t I take it and I’ll see if we can get you something after the briefing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

All right. Happy Friday, everyone.

QUESTION: Happy Friday.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Go Army, beat Navy. I had to say that. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: It’s good. We’ll make sure it’s in the transcript.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:34 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - December 11, 2014

Thu, 12/11/2014 - 15:54

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 11, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

12:58 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hello, everyone.

QUESTION: Hello.

QUESTION: Hello

MS. PSAKI: Okay. I just have one item for the top. The Secretary is on his way to Peru right now, arriving shortly. In Lima, he will meet with Peruvian President Humala to highlight the importance of our growing bilateral relationship and congratulate Peru on successfully hosting the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. He will also deliver remarks about the U.S. commitment to address the urgent threat of climate change.

Additionally, the Secretary will meet with French Foreign Minister Fabius to discuss the upcoming Paris-hosted COP and a range of global security issues. He will then depart for Bogota later this evening.

Hello, Lara.

QUESTION: Hi, Jen. I’d like to start with the backlash to the Senate report on torture.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I understand the CIA director is giving a press conference shortly, so I’ll try to keep some of my questions short today. But as I’m sure you’ve seen, there’s been quite a response and many calls from not just people in the United States but around the world, and today, the United Nations in Geneva saying that there needs to be more responsibility put on people who had initiated the program, if not carried it out. And I’m wondering, first – I know you addressed this yesterday, but I just want to clarify – there’s been no discussion within the Obama Administration to prosecute any of the officials or people who were responsible, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Department of Justice has spoken to that, so I would refer you to them on any specific questions.

QUESTION: Correct. The investigation that was closed on that some years ago is still the final word on that. There’s no --

MS. PSAKI: I would refer to them, but there hasn’t been new information from them since then.

QUESTION: Fair enough. How would the United States react to requests by the ICC or other nations to extradite or otherwise prosecute people who were in charge of the program?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think most of these questions I’m going to refer you, on the legal front, to the Department of Justice, for obvious reasons. I will say – and I think it’s important to reiterate for everybody – that just last month the Administration made clear during a presentation in Geneva that we embrace the universal values enshrined in the Convention against Torture, which the United States signed in 1988 and ratified in 1994, and affirms the – and we also affirmed there the U.S. Government’s deep commitment to meeting our obligations under the convention.

Obviously, as we talked about a little bit yesterday, but it’s worth reiterating, these programs, which have been disclosed in the past – it wasn’t new that they were disclosed just two days ago – were ended five years ago. And this is a – this report and this release of this report was an opportunity to reflect on and look back at mistakes made in the past and hopefully move forward. That’s our objective.

QUESTION: I understand. The UN official who’s in charge of torture issues in Geneva said today that the United States releasing and discussing details about the program and discussing some of these things was really only the first step towards complying with the Conventions against Torture, that the United States needed to take more responsibility, needed to go after some of the people who were responsible in order to fulfill the other obligations. What’s your response to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our view is that we are in compliance with the Convention against Torture. Obviously there have been changes made, long before this report was released, to end these programs, which the President of the United States, the Secretary of State have said were not in our national security interests, are not who we are. Obviously I’m not going to stand up here and reflect on a retrospective of past actions or administrations, nor is that the question you’re asking me.

QUESTION: So just one more time to clarify: Would the State Department block any attempts by foreign nations to extradite U.S. officials or former U.S. officials who were involved?

MS. PSAKI: In general, I certainly understand your question. But since it’s a Department of Justice question – and we don’t even speculate on extradition requests anyway, regardless of the source.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Jen, in the aftermath of September 11, I know the Department of State launched a public diplomacy initiative of some sort – I can’t remember the name of it – but basically to reach out to the population of the Middle East, the Arab population, because a lot of questions were why they hate us, all these things, and so on. I wanted to ask you if there is anything that are you – that you are likely to do in response to this latest revelations of the report.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think I mentioned this a bit yesterday, but it’s ongoing.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: The Secretary of State, a number of senior officials in the Department as well as across the Administration are undergoing a range of diplomacy – diplomatic outreach to partners around the world. And they’re reiterating important points, including the fact that these – we believe these techniques were contrary to our values as a nation and were overall to our detriment, which is why the President, in his first few days in office, prohibited harsh interrogation techniques as one of his first acts. And obviously our interest is on continuing to move forward, move our relationships forward, and that’s hopeful – we’re hopeful that’s what we can do with our partners around the world.

QUESTION: What needs to be done – sorry, Jo, just a quick follow-up. What needs to be done, do you think, just to reassure people out there that this admission is not sort of an ephemeral bout of conscience or sorrow and so on, that it is actually – it will be, like, a bedrock for the future and so on, so it will not be involved in something like this, to assure people in the Muslim world and the Arab world that because you are in conflict – almost perpetual conflict – the events reoccur again and people are taken into custody, this practice will not be conducted again?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, our actions speak much louder than any report or any words. And the fact is these programs were ended five years ago and the President of the United States took the action to do that. And that certainly sends a strong message to the world.

Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: Can I ask exactly what your obligations under the Convention on Torture are? Do you have an obligation under the convention to prosecute people who’re found to be or believed to have used, employed torture tactics?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not in a position to give all legal analysis of obligations, and I’m sure that information is publicly available. We all – at this meeting just a couple of weeks ago, we underscored that all personnel are legally prohibited under international and domestic law from engaging in torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment at all times and in all places. There are no gaps, either in the legal prohibitions against these acts by U.S. personnel or in the United States commitment to the values enshrined in the convention, and the United States pledges and re-pledged just a few weeks ago to continue working with our partners in the international community toward the achievement of the convention’s ultimate objective, which is a world without torture.

QUESTION: So if that’s the --

QUESTION: When did the United States sign that convention? Sorry.

MS. PSAKI: It was signed in 1988 and ratified and 1994.

QUESTION: So the U.S. by this – these actions violated those conventions during the period from 2001 to 2006.

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speculate on past administrations.

QUESTION: No, but I mean – yeah, just following up on that. If under – if you are legally prohibited from engaging in torture of other people and this was a convention that was signed in 1994, these acts were committed after that. That would suggest that, irrespective of whether an administration has changed, this Administration is in charge of looking after acts that happened previously, surely.

MS. PSAKI: And that’s why we ended the programs.

QUESTION: But what about the prosecution angle of it?

MS. PSAKI: I just am not going to have many more on the Justice questions.

QUESTION: Well, I just wanted to ask, then, on the – there’s also been calls in – from some human rights organizations as well that European countries who were involved or who allowed these black sites to exit on their soils should – on their soil, sorry – should also investigate and prosecute any individuals and officials who allowed this to happen. What would your reaction be to that?

MS. PSAKI: That’s not a call we’re making from the United States.

Go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION: The release of this report has triggered an increase on social media of jihadist threats against the United States. Does the State Department have any information on specific or credible threats?

MS. PSAKI: Well, thank you for your question, Pam. Obviously, ISIL is one of the worst terrorist organizations that has consistently made clear they have an interest in going after Western interests and even threatening the United States. And it’s – they’ve been very active on social media, and now is no different. I did talk to our team before I came out here. Nothing has changed since yesterday in terms of the number of consulates and embassies who have put out travel advisories. That was seven yesterday; it remains seven today. We also are not aware of any specific or actionable intelligence against our embassies or staff regarding this report.

QUESTION: Have any of the embassies or consulates raised their level of security within the past 48 hours?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t speak to specifics on security, for obvious reasons, but again, those seven consulates and embassies are – that’s still the correct number in terms of those who have put out information, which, as you know, we do whenever that’s warranted.

Do we have any more on the report, or should we move on to a new topic? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can we move on on the – to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So as you mentioned yesterday, Secretary Kerry will be in Rome – will be leaving for Rome on Sunday.

MS. PSAKI: On Sunday, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you tell us exactly when the meeting is taking place? Is it on Monday?

MS. PSAKI: Where the meeting or when the meeting?

QUESTION: When, sorry.

MS. PSAKI: It’s still being scheduled, but I believe, because of flight times and time changes, it will likely be Monday.

QUESTION: Okay. And as you know, there is a lot of activity at the UN. There is also a lot of speculation in the Israeli press about the content of this meeting. So could you tell us if Netanyahu and Secretary Kerry will talk about the resolutions at the UN? And if, as the Israeli press pointed out, if Secretary Kerry would tell Netanyahu that in the event of a balanced resolution, the U.S. won’t put its veto against it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, the topic of the range of proposals that are out there and the growing number of countries that are pushing for action on this issue at the UN will be a part of their discussion, and it’s a part of the reason that they’re meeting. We believe this warrants discussion with Israel, as it does with the Palestinians, as it does with a number of partners in the global community. And the Secretary has found that face-to-face diplomacy is often very effective when it comes to these difficult and complicated issues.

There hasn’t even been a proposal tabled, so I’m certainly not going to get ahead of where that stands or where – what we think on different proposals, because we believe that these sort of discussions and diplomacy should be private.

QUESTION: Why are these discussions necessary now? I mean, given that there are a few proposals on the table, but if you ask anybody within the UN, they don’t think anything’s going to come of it with – immediately, and that it’s still a process over the next six months. Why is this meeting necessary now?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Did something happen?

MS. PSAKI: It’s nothing more complicated, Lesley, than the fact that there are a growing number of proposals out there, a growing number of countries that are pushing for action. Obviously, the UN is the – are the experts on when action might happen, when a proposal may be tabled. As you know, the United – many in the United States, including the Secretary, and many in Europe will descend into holiday vacation for some time. So this is – the Secretary felt this was an important meeting to have while he can at this point.

QUESTION: Is this something that the Secretary’s concerned about, that he needs to have that discussion now?

MS. PSAKI: He thinks that, obviously, given all the activity out there, it warrants a discussion, and that’s why he’s traveling to Rome to have it.

QUESTION: Are you – have you been told by the Palestinians that they are for certain going to submit a proposal? Because you said no proposal – you have not seen any proposal, correct?

MS. PSAKI: There have been a range of proposals that you all have reported on that have been out there.

QUESTION: Well, I’m saying that – like in a final draft.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into specifics of our diplomatic conversations with the Palestinians. Obviously, they’ve said publicly they have an interest in doing that, so – but there are a range of options out there.

QUESTION: But you remain opposed in principle to any kind of proposal at the United Nations, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to prejudge. That’s not our policy, as you know. I’m not going to prejudge language we haven’t seen yet that hasn’t been tabled.

QUESTION: And does the United States still holds to vetoing such a proposal when it comes before --

MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to get ahead of a proposal that hasn’t even been tabled at the UN.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Any more on this, or should we move on?

QUESTION: Just --

QUESTION: I do. Go ahead.

QUESTION: No, go ahead.

QUESTION: You want to finish?

QUESTION: Sorry, no, no. It’s okay. I’ll (inaudible).

QUESTION: Ireland’s parliament today decided to support a nonbinding resolution for an independent Palestinian state. It was immediately criticized by Jerusalem. But the reason why the parliament did it, they say, is because they wanted to jumpstart the peace process. Do you think that this is a helpful step in jumpstarting the peace process?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a couple of other countries, as you know --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- who have taken a similar step. And our general view is that the best way to jumpstart a peace process is for the parties to make decisions needed to get back to the table. And obviously, as we’ve seen over the last several months, the current situation on the ground is not sustainable. It’s the only way to have a lasting peace in the region. And our view is that these pronouncements are premature because we need to have the parties negotiate what the final outcome will be, even though we support the – a Palestinian state and we support the aspirations of the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: And also, at the same time, the foreign ministry in Jerusalem had harsh – very harsh words to say about this Irish action, saying that it gave voice to statements of hatred and anti-Semitism directed at Israel in a way which we have not heard before. Do you agree with that, or do you think that is at all helpful in this process?

MS. PSAKI: We wouldn’t characterize it in that way. Obviously, we would characterize it as I just stated it.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: May I follow up on the death of Ziad Abu Ein yesterday? Because --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I don’t have new information, but go ahead.

QUESTION: You don’t have any new information? Because an autopsy report was issued by the Palestinians, saying that he was actually killed as a result of the confrontation. Are you aware of that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are conflicting statements from different reports of autopsies. So the investigation isn’t complete yet, and we’ll wait for a full report to come out.

QUESTION: Okay. And you have not spoken, or the Secretary or anyone has not spoken to any Palestinian officials, including Abbas, about maybe not freezing security cooperation with the Israelis?

MS. PSAKI: Our team is in close touch on the ground. Our understanding is that the PA has not made a decision on security cooperation. So that actually has not happened.

QUESTION: Well, today, the Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that tomorrow they will issue a statement on this, stopping all security cooperation with Israel. Would the --

MS. PSAKI: Well, if that happens --

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) discourage (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: -- we’ll talk about it then. But we’ve been in touch with our counterparts, and this hasn’t happened.

Any more on this topic or should we move on?

QUESTION: Yes, can I go to --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Lesley.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the Crimean leader that is – that went on – that was part of the official delegation of Putin to India?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. We are troubled by reports that the delegation accompanying Putin had – may have included Sergey Aksyonov. We understand that the Indian Ministry of External Affairs has said they were not officially aware of his visit or his participation in the delegation, I guess I should convey. We’re seeking further clarification on that.

QUESTION: So you say he may have been? You don’t know for sure?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe it’s been reported that he’s there.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any information to refute that. What I’m conveying is that our understanding is that the Indian Ministry of External Affairs was not aware that he would be part of the delegation.

QUESTION: Not aware, or not officially aware?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details than that.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering how one would interpret “not officially aware.” I mean, were they unofficially aware?

MS. PSAKI: I really don’t have more details than that. But I don’t think we have any reason to believe they were aware. But that’s all the information I have at this point.

QUESTION: Would this be in any way a violation of any of the sort of ceasefire agreements that are not being properly met but are in place?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I would put it in those terms. I mean, obviously, India has – does not support and has been clear they don’t support the annexation of Crimea. But beyond that, I don’t think I’d put it in the terms of a violation.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Have you seen the statement that the Indian Government put out, a joint statement in which, if you see that they are going to cooperate on nuclear and then they’re going to do the business in national currencies, like bypassing the international currency dollar? So what is your take on the whole --

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t looked at the specific statement. We’ve seen press reporting on India concluding business, nuclear, and defense deals with Russia, but not confirmation of those agreements or specifics of what those agreements would entail. Our view remains that it’s not time as – for business as usual with Russia. But beyond that, we’d have to take a closer look at what these agreements entail.

QUESTION: So are you putting out an official protest or statement of --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s what I conveyed. If there’s more to say, I’m sure we’ll add it.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: On India or – any more on India? Okay.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: No.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: Were you able to get a readout about the Secretary’s meeting yesterday with the Saudi interior minister?

MS. PSAKI: I meant to do that for you, and I am sorry about that. Let me see if we can do that after the briefing.

QUESTION: Any reaction to the king of Saudi Arabia donated $88 million to the UN World Food Program?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly support contributions to the World Food Program and the generosity of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on this and other humanitarian endeavors.

QUESTION: On this topic, yesterday being International Human Rights Day and so on, did the Secretary raise the issues of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia with the interior minister of Saudi Arabia?

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t – I don’t have a readout. I wasn’t in the meeting, Said. So we’ll see if there’s a readout we can provide to all of you.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, let me ask you this: I mean, Saudi Arabia is not a champion of human rights. Do you hold them to a different standard? Do you hold --

MS. PSAKI: Said, with any country --

QUESTION: -- like different countries --

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. With any country in the world when we have concerns about their human rights record, we raise them.

Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: I just wondered if you had a reaction to the news today that the Hong Kong authorities moved in to clear the tent city and to end – effectively end the protests, arresting a number of the leaders of the demonstrations as well.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we continue to – we’ve certainly seen the reports. We continue to encourage Hong Kong authorities and protestors to address their differences peacefully through dialogue. It’s important to note that right now, electoral reform in Hong Kong is still underway. The debate is ongoing and a second round of public consultations is likely to begin in the coming weeks. We encourage Hong Kong authorities and the people of Hong Kong to work together to ensure there is a competitive process for the selection of the chief executive through universal suffrage, and certainly, we’re continuing to convey this directly to authorities on the ground as well.

QUESTION: Are you hopeful that this new round of dialogue or the ongoing dialogue will actually result in a competitive process, though?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re always hopeful. And we think it’s important to reiterate that that’s an important part of the discussion and an important part of the process.

Any more on this?

QUESTION: Hong Kong.

MS. PSAKI: On Hong Kong? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. So your support of universal suffrage is that, I mean, that you would support universal suffrage contingent upon approval by Beijing of candidates?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s what we said, no.

Do we have any more on China?

QUESTION: On North Korea?

MS. PSAKI: North Korea? Go ahead.

QUESTION: About the – recently North Korean-UN Ambassador Ja Song Nam sent a letter to a UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon. So regarding on their denies UN resolution on North Korean human rights. And I am wondering whether the U.S. thinks that the North Korean human right issues should be referred to ICC.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new on this in particular. Obviously, we speak out frequently about North Korea’s abysmal record on human rights. We did an event just yesterday on this issue to bring more light to the issues that those who have been held in – not held in North Korea, those who kind of have escaped North Korea, I should say, have undergone. So this is an issue that we shed light on a frequent basis, but beyond that I don’t have anything new on that particular question.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Have you seen the report out of The Washington Times about the – that Kim Jong-il knew indirectly – or ordering the abduction of foreigners?

MS. PSAKI: I have seen that. We all know that there was an abduction program targeting foreign individuals. We’re not aware of any secret document on a North Korean abduction program, which I believe was the only new information referenced in the story.

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. There were reports that the moderate opposition in northern Syria, which the United States apparently was paying salaries for its members and so on – they stopped doing that. They were receiving $150 a month for each member, and apparently the U.S. stopped that altogether.

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

QUESTION: Okay. There is nothing new?

MS. PSAKI: Nothing new to add.

QUESTION: Who are they? Who are this group? I mean, because apparently they are joining al-Qaida and other nasty groups.

MS. PSAKI: I would encourage you to look into that as a reporter. Any more on Syria?

QUESTION: Not on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Syria?

QUESTION: Other topic.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Cuba --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- I’m not sure if you’re aware but some of my colleagues in various places across the world put out quite a comprehensive report in the last 12 hours, I believe, basically detailing a program that was sponsored and paid by USAID for kind of to create a youthful movement against the Cuban Government through hip-hop music. The leader of this effort was a Serbian music promoter. Documents show that USAID put Cubans and its operatives in jeopardy, despite warning signs. I have a couple of questions --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- that I’d like to put on the record.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: But do you have any response to the story at the top?

MS. PSAKI: I can just generally say that the United States promotes democratic values worldwide, including in closed societies. We supported a civil society engagement program, focused on music, as a means of legitimate civic communication. Supporting artists in civic engagement is consistent with our efforts globally and consistent with our efforts in Cuba to allow Cubans to express themselves.

QUESTION: Okay. The report found six instances where USAID contractors or Cubans working for them were either detained or interrogated. Who was informed about this? Who was out there protecting their safety?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the grantee, Creative Associates, which was, I think, outlined or referenced in the story, provided USAID assurances that it had security protocols in place – places appropriate to operating in a closed society and would strictly employ those protocols for all professionals traveling to Cuba. We recognize that ordinary Cubans run the risk of upsetting Cuban authorities by participating in community reasons – initiatives, I should say. And for that reason, these programs are managed with appropriate discretion. So it was the responsibility of the grantee.

QUESTION: Okay. One of the Serbian contractors was detained just a few weeks before Alan Gross was detained or arrested. The contractor had sensitive documents on his computer. This might have helped Gross’s lawyers or family in some ways and whether or not they should be worried about what was happening during the USAID program as – and caused his own arrest. Was his lawyers or his family ever made aware of this?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on that. I can see if that’s something we can get more information on.

QUESTION: Okay. And last one. The program used a front company in Panama to hide the money trail. Documents frequently talk about cover stories and even about hiding the nature of the program from Cuban contractors who were working for them, and that put them at risk. How can you say these programs were not secret?

MS. PSAKI: Well, a range of programs that have been discussed, that have been under the same contractors, our Congress has briefed on them and individuals within the government who need to be aware of them are briefed on them. Obviously, there is sensitivity given this is a closed society and a society that has not always welcomed and encouraged open expression, and therefore there’s discretion – appropriate discretion is used, which was done in this case as well.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to go back to Syria, do you have something on this CNN report of this – the so-called French al-Qaida bomb-maker who was apparently killed in November but he has survived?

MS. PSAKI: I talked to our team about it and we really don’t have anything on it. I can follow up with them again and see if there’s anything to report on it.

QUESTION: Okay. Can we go to South Sudan?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So unfortunately, Monday it will be the first anniversary of the civil war. And despite the trip the Secretary did in May, despite the pressures your top diplomat put on the two leaders, despite the threats of sanctions, apparently there is no solution in sight. So is the U.S. considering putting sanctions against the president and the former vice president? And what would you respond to scholars and NGOs who say that the U.S. is – has no leadership in South Sudan, no leadership in the region?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, on the sanctions question we have a range of tools at our disposal that have been passed through an executive order several months ago. We typically don’t outline any individuals that we may consider. I’m not going to change that policy here. There’s no question this is an incredibly difficult situation on the ground. The Secretary was there in May, as all of you know, and he’s been engaged with the leaders since then very closely.

President Obama and Secretary Kerry have both sent a clear message to South Sudan’s leaders that their – there’s – they have an obligation to put the interests of their citizens above their own. They have called on these leaders to honor the January 23rd cessation of hostilities agreement, engage seriously and in good faith in the peace process. We’re supporting and engaging and observing – observing, I should say, observing the IGAD-led talks, providing direct support to the mediation process, and pressing all sides to make necessary concessions. While the United States certainly has a stake in this and we’re engaged in it because we care deeply about the future of the people of South Sudan, we’re also supporting an ongoing IGAD-led process, which, as you know, is composed of many African countries who also have a significant stake in the outcome here.

And I would just say simply – last thing, and then we – I know I may not have addressed all of your questions, but – just because the situation is incredibly difficult, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t continue, of course, using every tool possible to see if you can come to a more peaceful end. And that certainly is applicable to the situation on the ground in South Sudan.

QUESTION: What leverage do you believe America still has in South Sudan? I mean, you helped create this young nation. Do you feel you still have the means to be able to try and effect some kind of peace?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we do. Obviously, it’s not just us, and that’s important; it’s many countries that are in the region, many countries that are surrounding countries to South Sudan who also not only have a stake but have been very engaged and have been leading these negotiation efforts. It’s not just about leverage, it’s about what’s in the best interests of the people of this country. And I think that’s part of the – prevalent part of the message the Secretary is sending as well.

QUESTION: The U.S. had threatened sanctions against South Sudan even before the Secretary’s trip in May. Just going back to Nicolas’ question, I’m not sure I understand: Is the United States any closer to actually imposing sanctions on the country or its rebels or any individuals today than it was in May?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe we have put some in place --

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- just not on the leaders that he – the specific individuals that he referenced. And so the fact is we have that ability, and it’s a broadly written executive order. But I’m just not going to get ahead, for a range of reasons, including we don’t predict that to give people a head’s up.

QUESTION: Iraq?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Very quick. Germany today announced that it was sending 100 soldiers to northern Iraq to train in the fight against ISIS. Is that something that we are likely to see more of from contributions from the coalition countries? Is that something that you expect to happen?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly I think contributions on the military front are something that we expect to continue. Obviously, contributions in terms of training – and we certainly thank Germany for their contribution in that regard – are part of that effort. I would encourage you to look at Ambassador Brett McGurk’s testimony yesterday where he gave an update on each of the five lines of effort. Military is one of them, but it’s not just a military coalition. He also outlined what we’re doing as it relates to humanitarian assistance, to cracking down on foreign fighters, to cracking down on financing. Those are all important components.

QUESTION: Do you expect that the Arab countries, your partners in the coalition – Arab partners in the coalition – to send in troops in northern Iraq to do the same thing as Germany, as you are?

MS. PSAKI: To send in troops for training?

QUESTION: To send in, I mean, soldiers so they can train and equip and help in the fight against ISIS?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, the United States is assisting in this effort on the ground. I’m not going to outline or predict for other countries what they may do.

QUESTION: Do you think these countries, like Saudi Arabia, like Jordan and so on, are holding back in terms of participating by – having troops there and training, because of any kind of sectarian affiliation, because of – they are Sunnis and they don’t want to --

MS. PSAKI: There are a range of countries, including the ones you mentioned, that are making significant contributions.

QUESTION: And my last question is on --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- Muqtada al-Sadr, who heads the Mahdi Army. He said today, he vowed, that he will protect all Shia places in Iraq. Now, he was, of course – was an enemy of the United States back in 2004 and -5, but would the U.S. help these militias in any way --

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen his --

QUESTION: -- or look the other way --

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen his comments, Said.

QUESTION: -- if Iran helps them?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen his comments. You know where we stand on Iran.

Go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION: Different topic.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: In Russia, the Duma has ratified a treaty on Armenia’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Union, and Armenia would become a member of the union after the ratification procedures and member countries are completed, probably no earlier than January 2015. And this is after Armenia changed its decision to sign an agreement with the European Union in 2013, which followed a meeting between the president of Armenia and Putin. My question is: How do you see the future of U.S.-Armenia political and economic relations after Armenia eventually becomes a part of this EEU?

MS. PSAKI: Well, all countries have the right to choose their own path of economic integration and development according to their national interests. No country has the right to determine the political and economic orientation of another country, nor decide which alliances and trade agreements it can join. The United States will continue to work with Armenia to support democratic and economic reforms and preserve the progress made through the U.S.-Armenia relationship.

QUESTION: Jen, do you have anything, readout, today’s meeting with South Korean unification secretary and Acting Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman meeting?

MS. PSAKI: Let me see if I have anything on that. I’m not sure I do. I believe it was happening sometime this afternoon. We can see if there’s anything we can get you after the briefing.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News feed, Pakistan. I have a couple of questions, if you’ll allow me.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. First of all, in India there’s a hardliner group who forced hundreds of Muslims to convert into Hindus, and there are reports that they are preparing to convert 1,000 Christians into Hindus before this Christmas. Do you have anything to say to --

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen that report. I’m happy to take a look at it and see if there’s any comment we have.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Secondly, about the Pakistan and United States. It looks like the relations between two – both the countries are getting better and better, and the mistrusts, I think, have been sorted out. I need your comment on the ongoing military operation against the terrorists because, well, recently Pakistan killed some top al-Qaida commander there and some Taliban commanders there.

And secondly, are you seeking Pakistanis’ support to get the Afghan Taliban on the dialogue table?

MS. PSAKI: Well, on the second question, we’ve always said that any reconciliation process in Afghanistan would be Afghan-led, Afghans talking to Afghans. Obviously, Pakistan has a stake in an outcome there. We certainly have discussions with them about Afghanistan and the future security and stability of the country.

On the first question, I’m not sure what you were asking me exactly. But on counter --

QUESTION: Pakistan recently killed some top al-Qaida commander, like al-Juma – al-Shukri and some more. So how do you – are you – how do you see that? I mean, it’s like helping to --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation from the United States. I’d certainly refer you to the Government of Pakistan. We obviously work closely on counterterrorism operations, but beyond that I don’t have any other specifics.

QUESTION: Okay, my last question is --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- United States is supporting the Pakistani democratic government. We have seen a lot of statements on that. But there’s still a big protest outside the parliament house still going on. Do you have any concerns about that? It can create something – some problem for the democracy in Pakistan?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve spoken to this in the past. Obviously, we work closely with the elected government there. That will continue. We also support peaceful protests around the world, so I’ll leave it at that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, a very quick one. This is my last question, on Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Go ahead, sure.

QUESTION: Not sure if you saw the al-Qaida leader in Yemen criticizing the Obama Administration for the rescue operation – attempted rescue operation last week. I won’t ask you about everything that he said, but he did indicate that there had been some communications between the United States and either himself personally or his group, and that he had been – first off, I’m curious if that’s true, if that’s something you can speak of. Specifically, he said that there had been some communications or he had made it clear that he wanted to do a prisoner exchange for some detainees at Guantanamo. Is that something you can speak to?

MS. PSAKI: Well, broadly speaking, I’m not going to dignify his claims with a specific comment. I will say in relation to your second question, without getting into any specifics, we don’t make concessions to terrorists and hostage-takers as a matter of longstanding policy. Granting such concessions would put all American citizens overseas at greater risk for kidnapping. Furthermore, paying ransoms would only sustain the very same terrorist organizations that we are working to destroy.

And as you know, because we’ve talked about it a bit in here, the reason we undertook this operation is because AQAP threatened to kill Luke Somers within 72 hours. And along with this information and an operational plan, we decided to move forward. So our policy certainly hasn’t changed. I don’t have anything for you on his claims.

QUESTION: And that stands for prisoner swaps, too?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: I mean, it’s interesting because the President obviously wants to shut Guantanamo down. This could be one way to clear Guantanamo out of its detainees.

MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s – as you know, there was about five, I believe, detainees who were sent to Uruguay earlier this week. This is something the President remains committed to, we’re working hard on through this building, and talking to a range of countries around the world. Our position, as you noted, remains material support for terrorist organizations – which includes ransom, but also includes prisoner swaps – is not something that we partake in.

QUESTION: But the biggest block of prisoners still – who’ve been cleared for release in Guantanamo are Yemenis. So I mean, if there was – if this Administration was favorable to the idea of a prisoner swap, then these prisoners have already been cleared for release. They just haven’t been released as yet.

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s our policy, though. And as you know, many prisoners have also gone to other countries as well. So I can’t predict for you what will happen with those specific prisoners. That’s something, obviously, our Gitmo team works on.

QUESTION: I think it’s about 54 of them are Yemenis out of 67 cleared for release.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, but there are also – many of the prisoners who have been released have not gone to their home countries.

QUESTION: No, that’s true. But I mean, some of the Yemenis have gone home.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, but our policy is as I just outlined it. That hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: When Kerry testified on the Hill earlier this week, one of the topics under discussion was the language that would be used for combat troops on the ground. Senate Foreign Relations Committee just passed a version of the AUMF using the language “a strict limitation on U.S. ground combat troops, except as necessary for the protection or rescue of U.S. soldiers or citizens, intelligence operations, spotters to enable airstrikes, operational planning, or other forms of advice and assistance.” Is this language that Kerry would support?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this just passed right before we came down here, and I haven’t had a chance to talk to him or the NSC about our view on the language that passed the Senate, so let me do that. I mean, his view and the view of the President and the Administration has been there’s no reason to preemptively tie the hands of the President, even though he’s been clear about what our policy is and what our plans are in this regard. But we will discuss and we can get something around to all of you in terms of a comment on the passing of the language.

QUESTION: Also something on Congress, a risk of another government shutdown. Are there contingency plans, or is it too early – is State Department making any contingency plans right now, given the --

MS. PSAKI: There are always contingency plans. That’s what we do. We’re like Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts here in the federal government. But obviously, as you know, the House and Senate are – still have a couple more days here, potentially, so we’re not going to get too far ahead of where they are on the omnibus.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can you make a fire by rubbing two sticks together? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: I can’t personally, but I am fairly certain somebody in this building can, if I were to guess.

Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you, guys.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:37 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - December 10, 2014

Wed, 12/10/2014 - 17:10

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 10, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

2:04 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Hello.

MS. PSAKI: I know we have a time crunch here because of the Secretary’s speech, but we’ll get a quick signal when he’s about to speak. So if he’s running late we’ll be able to go a little bit longer if you all would like.

QUESTION: What do you think the chances of – chances are that the Secretary will be running late?

MS. PSAKI: I would bet you a hundred dollars that he may be a little bit late, given how packed his schedule is today, Matt.

QUESTION: Oh. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I will not --

MS. PSAKI: If you’d like to take that bet --

QUESTION: I will not take that bet because I think I would --

MS. PSAKI: Good. I was looking to get my husband a nice Christmas present. So I was hopeful. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: For a hundred bucks?

MS. PSAKI: I may have insider information. But – okay, I have a couple of items for all of you at the top. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the December 8th killing of three Orient News journalists in southern Syria. Rami Asmi, Yousef El-Dous, and Salem Khalil were driving to cover recent opposition advances in the villages of Sheikh Miskeen and Daraa province when a missile struck their car. This tragedy serves as a reminder of the great risks brave journalists are taking in order to shed light on the truth of what is happening in Syria. The United States remains committed to promoting freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and journalist safety and security globally.

I won’t repeat them, but I just wanted to note for all of you, we put out a travel announcement yesterday about the Secretary’s travel to Peru and Colombia. You should have seen that in your inboxes, as well as on our website. We also put out an announcement this morning about the Secretary’s travel to Rome, Italy this weekend to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. They will discuss a number of issues, including recent developments in Israel, the West Bank, and Jerusalem and the region. He will also – well, there was a more detailed travel announcement I would point all of you to.

Finally, you’ve heard the topic of nominees addressed several times at recent briefings, but that should be an indication to all of you of the Secretary’s great focus on this issue. Today, we still have 39 nominees who are waiting for the Senate to confirm them. Seventeen of these nominees are career Foreign Service officers. We need the Senate to act on these nominations as quickly as possible. It’s in the best interests of our foreign policy and it’s the right thing to do for their families. We welcome the strong support of leaders Reid and McConnell and that of Chairman Menendez and Ranking Member Corker in cutting into the backlog before the Senate goes out into recess for the holidays. We greatly appreciate the progress made this week, including the Senate approval of Rich Verma as U.S. Ambassador to India and Mike McKinley to be the ambassador in Kabul. This offers great progress in our ability to get this important work done.

But right now the Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance is operating without its assistant secretary. Our nominee for this post is Frank Rose, a highly-qualified candidate with nearly 20 years of experience in these issues. And he has been waiting to take the reins for more than 500 days. Continuing to leave this post empty is a detriment to our ability to manage these great national security concerns.

We’ve also previously spoken about Arnold Chacon, our nominee to the director general of the Foreign Service and director of human resources. He served with distinction as chief of mission in Guatemala, was approved unanimously by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February, and for nine months he’s waited for his day on the floor. He’s now been waiting for more than 400 days since being nominated, even though he has broad support, including from officials who served in senior positions under George W. – under the George W. Bush Administration, like Deputy Secretary John Negroponte, and he worked closely with Secretary Rice. It has been since August of 2013 that the Department and Foreign Service has gone without a head of personnel who focuses every day on making a positive impact on the working – the work lives of every civil servant and Foreign Service officer in the State Department and overseas. So we would again call for end-block confirmations, because there’s no objection to a great number of these highly-qualified and dedicated nominees.

I believe also, if I’m correct, there are some interns from USAID in the back, so I just wanted to welcome them as well, and thank you for joining us for the briefing. With that --

QUESTION: Okay. So there’s a lot going on. I’m sure we’ll get back to the Secretary’s trip, but I need to start with the CIA report released yesterday. The first question about that is just a kind of a logistical one, which is: I’m aware of six embassies that have – and one consulate that have put out notices warning of the possibility of anti-American protests or violence due to the release of the report, or due to the contents of what’s in the report. Is that number still correct? Do you know if there are more? Is there going to be a larger, more – a broader warning coming from this building, as opposed to individual embassies?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that is correct. And just to reiterate for everyone, some posts have – it’s up to the chief of mission at each post or embassy to make a decision to issue a security message. Obviously, as you noted, seven have made a decision to do that, obviously, leading up to the release of the report, and we’ll continue to advise American communities around the world. I can’t anticipate for you whether there will be others; there could be, and we’ll certainly keep you abreast of those.

QUESTION: Some of the ones that have put – some of the seven are understandable – Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, perhaps even – and Thailand, given what is widely assumed to be in the report. But some, like the Netherlands and Sweden, are not so obvious. Do you know why the head – the chief of mission in those countries decided that it was appropriate or that they should go ahead and put this out?

MS. PSAKI: Well, a security message is different from a Travel Warning.

QUESTION: I know.

MS. PSAKI: I know you know, but just for everybody’s information – in that it’s – the role of security messages is to provide information to American communities about changes in the security environment, any recommended precaution. So we of course rely on and respect the view of any chief of mission personnel who --

QUESTION: I know. But I’m asking you --

MS. PSAKI: -- determine – make that determination.

QUESTION: But I’m just asking you if you are aware of any special circumstances in either Sweden or the Netherlands, which would might not be at the top of everyone’s list --

MS. PSAKI: No, I would not draw that connection.

QUESTION: Okay. All right, now, it has been not so widely noted that the report that was released yesterday is actually the – is the majority report, not the minority report, although the minority and majority are soon to switch. I just want to make sure – is it the position of the State Department, and I know that the White House answered a lot of questions about this already, but since you’re the building that has to deal with this, the ramifications, implications of this overseas, I think they’re also appropriate – it’s also appropriate to ask you: Does the Administration agree with the minority report that was released yesterday, or does it agree with the – I mean – sorry, the majority report that was released yesterday – or does it have issues with it like some in the minority on the committee have?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think my colleague over at the White House addressed this earlier when he did his own briefing. We’re not going to comment on any specific findings or conclusions in the committee’s report, the minority report, or the CIA response. Our view is that we supported the release of the report. We believed that it was an opportunity to kind of lay out mistakes that have happened in the past and try to move forward to the future.

QUESTION: So do you agree with its findings?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to speak to the findings of the report.

QUESTION: By saying that you support it, though, does that mean you accept the findings of the majority report?

MS. PSAKI: We supported the release, but again, I think the most important point – not again – but the most important point I would point you to is that one of the first acts that the President did when he came into office was sign an executive order that brought an end to the program --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- and prohibited the use of harsh interrogation techniques. That happened more than five years ago, so this isn’t speaking to programs that are ongoing.

QUESTION: No, I know – yeah, I think everyone is aware of that.

MS. PSAKI: But I think it’s a relevant point of fact.

QUESTION: Okay. But I mean, I’m wondering if you, by saying that you support the release of this report, does that mean that you accept its findings?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we made a decision – the President made a decision to end these programs five years ago. I think that speaks for itself.

QUESTION: So you do, correct?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak broadly to the findings of the report. I think that’s an important point, that that decision was already made long before the report was released.

QUESTION: It’s my understanding – and correct me if I’m wrong – that the Justice Department says that it does not intend to reopen any investigation into the alleged – what was alleged to have happened. And I’m wondering if you – if that’s not wrong, how it is going to be when you call for accountability for rights abuses in other countries, how you’re going to be able to do that without being essentially laughed out of the room?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d certainly point you to the Department of Justice. As you noted, they’ve already spoken to this.

QUESTION: Correct.

MS. PSAKI: I would say, one, we would put our record against any record around the world, and we think it’s very rare and unique for a country to decide to put out a report such as this, a release of a report that we supported. It points to the fact that we believe these techniques were contrary to our values as a nation, were overall detrimental. We believe that. The President has said that.

QUESTION: It may well be that it’s rare for countries to do it, but what you’re just saying – you’re pointing out – what the report does is point out a problem; it doesn’t hold anyone accountable for it. You regularly complain from this podium, and embassies do abroad as well, when foreign governments do not follow through and hold people accountable for what you consider to be wrongdoing. Since you consider what this report outlines to have been wrongdoing, how can you continue to make those kind of cases, to make that – to make those arguments, if no one is actually going to be held accountable here at home?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think what we’d point to is that we’re willing to be transparent about our mistakes, we learn from them, and we change. And our actions are evidence of that.

QUESTION: Okay. All of that is wonderful. You’re willing to be transparent about it, although I would say that it took quite a long time for this to come out. The – you’re willing to be transparent about --

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not the first time we have spoken to this, though.

QUESTION: Fair enough, but you’re – okay, you say you’re willing to be --

MS. PSAKI: And the President made a decision five years ago.

QUESTION: -- transparent about it, but transparency is only half of the question here. The other half, the other part of it is if someone did wrong, are they going to be punished for it? And the answer from the Administration seems to be no. So you seem to be saying that, “Well, we can just air our dirty laundry,” or whatever you – however you want to describe it, “and that’s it, that’s done with it.” Well, when other countries do that, and only that, you say that’s not acceptable. How is it that you’re going to be able to – how can you keep a straight face if you accept the report findings but don’t do anything about it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, we did do something about it. We ended the practice. I think that’s significant and countries will see that.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you supported, say – and I’m not at all comparing these things – you supported war crimes trials and things like that for other countries. The point of those things that you support is to hold people actually accountable and to punish them if they did something wrong. You’re saying in this instance that people did bad things, wrong things, things that contravene U.S. values, but you’re at the same time saying that you’re not prepared to hold them accountable.

MS. PSAKI: I would --

QUESTION: How is that --

MS. PSAKI: I would encourage you to have a conversation with the Department of Justice. I don’t have anything to add from the State Department.

QUESTION: Well, does the State Department have any concerns that its arguments in human rights forums around the world – particularly today, Human Rights Day – are compromised at all by the fact that there isn’t going to be any accountability here and that you think that just publishing a report, or the Senate majority publishing this report, is good enough? No concerns?

MS. PSAKI: We, Matt, I think in all of our conversations with countries around the world, will continue to convey that we ended this practice. It was one of the first steps the President made. We’re willing to be open and transparent about our mistakes and make changes, and that’s exactly what we did here.

QUESTION: Last one. So the answer is that you’re basically going to say – you’re going to be – it’s going to be kind of parental: “Do as I say, not as I have done or do”? Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: Actually, I think we made the decision to lay out very transparently what exactly we had done in the past that we didn’t think was consistent with our values, and I think that’s showing strength as a nation and that’s the conversation we’ll have with countries around the world.

QUESTION: One, people will argue that showing strength is not just revealing this, but actually doing something about it other than just ending it.

MS. PSAKI: And we changed – ended the practice.

QUESTION: You don’t just end – you can’t just end it and not punish anybody and claim that it’s – I mean, some would argue that you can’t just stop doing it, then reveal it, and then not punish anybody for it. You’re not going – you’re only halfway there.

MS. PSAKI: I have nothing to add to what the Department of Justice has said.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: Let’s continue on this topic.

QUESTION: A follow-up?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Very quickly, really --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- because the President has said that this belongs in the past and that’s where it should belong. So in other words, the admission – the mere admission – is good enough. I mean, just to follow on what Matt was just asking. So that’s good enough before the world, that no one is to be held accountable, that all these things, abuses that you constantly and ceaselessly – you talk about other countries when they commit similar things and so on – but for the United States, the mere admission is good enough, right?

MS. PSAKI: If other countries want to put out a report on their human rights practices, on their intelligence gathering practices, we’d certainly welcome that. We haven’t seen that from anywhere in the world.

QUESTION: If you see this happening in another country you would – and they would come and admit it, that would be good enough?

MS. PSAKI: We’d certainly welcome that level of transparency, Said, but we ended the program, which I think is a very important point here.

I think we have to keep moving along. Go ahead.

QUESTION: President – the president of Afghanistan has reacted on the CIA report, saying that what CIA did with some Afghanistan was a violation of human rights and violation of international laws. Do you agree with his assessment?

MS. PSAKI: I think I’d leave it at what I just conveyed. The President, when he first came into office – this was one of the first steps he made was to end these practices. I think that speaks for itself.

QUESTION: And has the Afghanistan Government raised this issue with the U.S. after this report was released?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve had a range of conversations. The Secretary’s been engaged in discussions. A number of officials in the State Department have. I’m not going to outline those for obvious reasons, given the sensitivity of the content of the report.

QUESTION: I have one more: How serious is the threat to the U.S. missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan after this CIA report?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we clearly are in touch with our embassies and posts around the world, and certainly, we’re working closely with governments as well. At this time, none of our posts have asked for additional resources from Washington or from the military. Our posts and embassies are working with host governments if there are needs on the ground, and we of course continue to monitor the situation. As we – as I noted, I think two days ago, some military resources have moved in in case they are needed, and that was in advance of the release. And obviously, our chiefs of missions at posts and embassies around the world did an evaluation of what was needed on the ground as well.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish this, Said, and then I’m happy to move to another topic.

QUESTION: On the --

MS. PSAKI: On this topic? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. On the conversation with the European countries, the – for example, Poland has accepted that there were CIA detention centers. Do you – are you in conversation, are you updating – what is the situation on – with the EU and other countries there?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as I just noted, we have undertaken diplomatic outreach to some of our partners about the release of the report. The Secretary has been involved in that, a number of senior officials here, as well as from other government agencies. I’m not going to outline that in terms of the specifics of countries we’ve spoken to. As you know, there aren’t specific names listed in the report either.

During these conversations, we’ve been discussing the fact that this program ended years ago. The techniques in the report have been shared with the public before, and we have, of course, emphasized that we greatly value our close cooperation with our allies and – on a range of shared initiatives, and that certainly will not change.

QUESTION: Can we go to --

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish this topic and then we can go on. Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: I just wonder if you’ve been surprised by the depth of the reaction from some of your partners, particularly in Europe. There have been sort of calls for investigations, much in line of what Matt was saying – prosecutions. What are you – I know you say – you’re going to say that we’ve been transparent, but more particularly going to the point of prosecutions, what are you going to be telling your allies – countries like Germany and France and Britain – about the way you proceed now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, broadly speaking, Jo, we are – obviously believe that our own legal authorities here are appropriate in dealing with issues here. But as it relates to specific asks or requests, I’d have to talk to our legal team if there’s anything new to add on that front.

QUESTION: But are you surprised at how strong the reaction’s been?

MS. PSAKI: I certainly believe that since we’ve been preparing our posts and embassies around the world, we certainly are well aware of the sensitivity around these issues. That’s why the President ended these programs five years ago. I don’t have any assessment of how surprised we were or weren’t about the response.

QUESTION: And I just wonder if you feel today that maybe the United States has lost some of its moral footing.

MS. PSAKI: I – no, we don’t feel that we have. We released this report in order to lay out for the world some programs and techniques that we’ve ended more than five years ago that we don’t believe are consistent with our values. That’s a very relevant part of the equation here in terms of the context. That’s the conversation we’re having with countries around the world, and we’ll continue to take steps to improve our own record as needed.

QUESTION: I mean, should the officials who were involved in those programs, particularly the specific – it was very detailed, the report yesterday, about four al-Qaida suspects and the way that they were treated. Should the people who were involved in that – should they be feeling shame? I mean, some of the techniques that you were talking about – repeated beatings, people being hung from their hands, shackled to ceilings, left naked – I mean, it’s a bit – pretty medieval way of treating people in captivity, isn’t it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you saw the President of the United States and the Secretary of State both release strong statements yesterday indicating that those tactics, those techniques are not consistent with our values. That’s why these programs were ended five years ago. At the same time, we believe that obviously the men and women who are serving in our intelligence agencies, the men and women who have served to help keep our country safe, are doing – playing important roles and one that we have great value and respect for. But it doesn’t mean that those tactics and techniques should be continued.

QUESTION: Jen, a couple minutes ago in response to one of those questions, you said, “We released this report.” Well, “we” did not release this report.

MS. PSAKI: We supported the release of the report.

QUESTION: You fought it, and up until the end you didn’t want it to come out, right?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, actually, no. That’s incorrect.

QUESTION: Well, you wanted it delayed. You didn’t want it out.

MS. PSAKI: We believed – the Secretary, when he spoke with Senator Feinstein, the first thing he said was that he supported the release of the report and it was up to her on the timing.

QUESTION: All right. And then --

MS. PSAKI: So that’s incorrect. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Then the other thing is that you – I presume, but I don’t know and I want to make sure, that your response to the question about other countries calling for investigations and prosecutions, I think, was, “We believe that our own legal authorities are competent” – right. So that response would apply to both the UN special rapporteur for torture. He’s saying that they should be prosecuted --

MS. PSAKI: I think I also said that, obviously, there are a range of legal questions I’d just have to talk our legal team about.

QUESTION: I understand, but your response to them calling for prosecutions – the special rapporteur on torture, and there’s another one for UN – these are people who you supported getting these positions in the UN system – they’re both calling for prosecutions, saying there should be no statute of limitations and no immunities granted. Your response to them would be the same as your response to the countries that are --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I said two things One was, broadly speaking, while we’re committed, of course, to complying by our domestic and international obligations, we believe the U.S. justice system is the appropriate place for allegations about conduct by U.S. officials to be handled. But there are also a range of different questions about --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- legal obligations and the convention, and I have to just talk to our legal team and see if there’s more.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you check to see if there is an answer? Because it would seem to me that if you don’t go ahead or – well, I don’t know. The question is: If you don’t prosecute what you consider to be wrongdoing, does that put you in violation of your international obligation, something that you complain regularly that other countries are in violation of? So if you could take that --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I will – we’ll see if there’s more we can offer.

QUESTION: And then the second part of my question is you say that the U.S. justice system is the appropriate – that you believe that it’s the appropriate (inaudible) – don’t you see how people could find that amusing at best and disingenuous at worst given the fact that no one’s going to be prosecuted for this? It’s not even going to get to the justice system for there to be a trial.

MS. PSAKI: Matt, I think the Department of Justice has spoken to this. I don’t have anything further to add.

QUESTION: I know. I’m not asking you about that decision. I’m asking you about the implications of that decision as it relates to foreign policy and your attempting to get other countries to abide by international obligations and commitments that your – that the Administration is not abiding by themselves.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to make a sweeping generalization. I’m probably not going to entertain any specific example of comparison you have, Matt. But obviously, again, this happened – these programs were ended five years ago, which is relevant information. This current President of the United States decided to end them, and that’s important context in our foreign policy discussions.

QUESTION: Right. But so – so the foreign policy of the United States now rests on if something was being done – if something was done that was wrong and that you stopped it, that’s the end of the story. Right?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more to add on the justice question.

Go ahead, Abby.

QUESTION: Do you believe that anyone who participated in these programs should be allowed to keep their job working for the U.S. Government?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speak more specifically to this.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we go to a different topic?

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish this topic. Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: I just have one more, actually. Although the – in the report, the sites, the location of the sites was redacted and kept secret, the former Polish president has come out today and said that one of the sites was indeed in Poland, as has long had been suspected. I wonder if you would confirm that from the American side on the podium. And one of the things that he also said was that the Polish had asked you to stop, or had asked the American Administration at the time – not you – to stop interrogations happening because they couldn’t get any insight into what was going on; the program was too secret and they were uncomfortable with it. Could I have your reaction to that, please?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any reaction or comment on it.

QUESTION: You won’t speak even though he came out – this is a former Polish president; it’s not just (inaudible) --

MS. PSAKI: Don’t have any comment on it.

QUESTION: Can we go to another topic, please?

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish, Said. I promise we should be almost done here.

Ali, do you have a question on this report --

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: To quickly clarify something --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- on the previous line of questioning that --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- Matt was asking: So is it – the statement from Ben Emmerson said that states are not free to maintain or permit impunity for these crimes under the conventions, but currently you’re saying that if the U.S. continues its policy of not prosecuting anyone who is responsible for these programs, you’re not aware of whether – or it’s not clear whether the U.S. would still be in compliance with its conventions (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: That’s not at all what I said, actually. But I conveyed that, broadly speaking, we believe that our legal system is the most appropriate place for U.S. – for individual cases in the United States to be handled. I can check with our legal team and see if there’s more to offer on this particular question.

QUESTION: But they’re asking for – they’re asking – they’re saying that the U.S. justice system should be responsible for this. And the U.S. justice system is saying, “We’re not going to do anything about it.” And that would seem to present a big problem.

MS. PSAKI: The U.S. justice system, which is independent, is responsible for making their own decisions. I’m not going to speak to it further.

QUESTION: Well, bringing prosecutions is a responsibility of the Justice Department --

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: -- which is a part of the Administration. So --

MS. PSAKI: The Justice Department, which is independent.

QUESTION: Exactly.

MS. PSAKI: I have nothing further to add.

QUESTION: The problem – the question is: How does the State Department, which routinely calls on other governments to prosecute this kind of thing – how are you going to be able to do that with a straight face or with even a modicum of self-respect if you’re not willing to – if another branch of the Administration isn’t willing to do that here?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, because you’re familiar with how the government works and is divided, the U.S. Department of Justice makes decisions about legal cases. That’s why I would point you to them. As it relates to foreign policy, the relevant context of the decisions that have been made more than five years ago, long before this report, is important context.

QUESTION: I guess the question, though, is a pretty clear-cut one, which is whether the U.S. is compliance with its international obligations under the UN convention.

MS. PSAKI: I just said we’re committed to complying with our international obligations.

QUESTION: But your commitment notwithstanding, whether the U.S. is in compliance is a question that – the special rapporteur is saying that if the U.S. doesn’t prosecute anyone, then it won’t be in compliance. So the question is --

MS. PSAKI: I will check with our legal team and see if there’s more to add. I just answered that question seven times.

QUESTION: If you could ask them --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we go to another --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Yes. A few days ago, the Secretary expressed or it was reported that he has some concern about the timing. And you stressed that he didn’t ask for a delay, but he preferred to make it another decision another time. So after 24 hours now, is still worry about the timing? Does he any – change his attitude about the timing and the repercussions or what he was expecting to happen from the release of the report?

MS. PSAKI: Well, he called a former colleague, Senator Feinstein, who he worked with for decades, to convey there’s quite a bit of sensitive issues – quite a few sensitive issues happening in the world. He wanted to discuss those with her as she prepared for the release of the report. But he conveyed it was up to her on when the timing of the report would – when the report would be released and that he supported the release of the report.

Obviously, it was released yesterday. He supports that. The President supports that. We take precautions at the same time to protect our men and women serving overseas, and certainly, we’ve been working with posts and missions, as I mentioned, to make sure we do everything possible in that regard as well.

QUESTION: So to my second question regarding that it’s a legal issue, you stressed many times that it’s a legal issue, whatever with what kind of people took – people are responsible on these things. But the reason I’m asking this question, because this is not just an American issue, and I assume through the State Department you are working with the rest of the world. For the rest of the world it’s how you are going to handle the issue if it’s – I’m not talking about the legality of the issue which is on this land. I’m talking about politically or let’s say diplomatically how you are going to tackle this challenge of working with people with changing the policies or not changing the policies, and they know what was done and what was not done?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this was not the first time. These programs have been public for some time. They also were ended five years ago. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, the State Department, the Secretary of State, a range of senior officials have done quite a bit of outreach – and that will continue – over the last couple of days. And we’ve been discussing with our counterparts or with their counterparts the fact that the program ended years ago; the techniques described in the report have been shared with the public before; and we’re, of course, emphasizing our desire to continue to cooperate closely. And the context of the fact that they were ended years ago, that we are willing to be transparent, look at our mistakes, make changes, is important context in any of our foreign policy relationships.

QUESTION: Can we go to the West Bank?

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish – is it on this topic. Or – okay, go ahead. We can move to a new topic, Said.

QUESTION: Yes, very quickly. Today in the West Bank, in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ein was killed as a result of a scuffle with the occupation army. I wonder if you have a statement on that.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you for the question, Said. We are deeply concerned by the death of Palestinian Authority senior official Ziad Abu Ein, which reportedly occurred during a protest in the West Bank. We offer our condolences to his family and the Palestinian Authority. We’ve seen the reports that the Israelis are looking into an investigation into this incident. As always, we call for this investigation to be swift, fair, and transparent, and at this difficult time we continue to call on both sides to work to lower tensions and prevent an escalation of violence.

QUESTION: As a result, the Palestinian Authority has suspended security cooperation with Israel. Are you aware of that?

MS. PSAKI: I had not seen that report yet.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to talk to our team about that.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any calls that were made by the Secretary of State perhaps to President Abbas and so on to urge him to not to suspend security cooperation?

MS. PSAKI: As you know, we’ve supported the security cooperation in the past. I can talk to our team and see if there have been calls made over the course of the last few hours.

QUESTION: And on the Secretary’s trip, I know you said he’s going to discuss the issues. Is there anything in particular as to why – first, why Rome was chosen? And second, is there anything that will focus on perhaps restarting talks or anything of that kind?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they’ll also certainly talk about current initiatives at the UN. And while I’m certainly not going to get ahead of either the Secretary’s discussions with Prime Minister Netanyahu and others, or other decisions about what the United States will do on any UNSCR that has not yet been tabled, clearly there is a range of proposals out there. There are a growing number of countries that are pushing for action on this issue at the UN. This warrants discussion with Israel, the Palestinians, and key members of the international community. And certainly, that will be part of their focus as well.

QUESTION: And since you started with the freedom of press, mentioning the journalist, today Israel closed down al-Aqsa Television, which belongs to Hamas but it’s a television station in Ramallah. Would you call on them to open it, because they designated it as a terrorist organization – the TV?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have – as you know, we’ve also designated Hamas. I will --

QUESTION: I understand. But I’m talking about --

MS. PSAKI: I will check with our team and see if we have a particular comment on the closing of the television station.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about your opening there? What is – exactly is it that makes you deeply concerned? I mean, obviously, a guy died.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you believe that that’s the result – he died as a result of Israeli security forces killing him?

MS. PSAKI: We really don’t have details, as you know, Matt, at this point. So obviously, there’s been a range of video and reports out there, but we don’t have a conclusion on what happened.

QUESTION: All right. Are you familiar at all with this guy’s past?

MS. PSAKI: A little bit. But is there a particular --

QUESTION: Well, I’m just – I mean, he’s a Palestinian official – obviously, a senior Palestinian minister – and it’s of concern anytime one dies, but he was extradited from the U.S. and served – was sentenced to life in prison in Israel for killing some Israelis and then was released as part of a prisoner swap. I’m not suggesting that that should make any – that that should impact at all your offering condolences to his family or not, but I’m just wondering if that past, his past, was weighed – if it was looked into at all before you came out with the --

MS. PSAKI: Well, regardless of the – his past, we don’t have all the circumstances of his death, and so until we know those, I think we have – it’s certainly valid and justified for us to be deeply concerned about his death.

QUESTION: All right. On the other side of the coin, just talking about the – not the other side of this particular coin, but the Israeli coin, have you – are you aware of the latest comments that Israeli Defense Minister Ya’alon made?

MS. PSAKI: I have seen those.

QUESTION: Do you have any – about settlements and U.S. criticism of them. Do you view them as a – as evidence that your complaints or your denunciations of settlement activity has – have – in fact, have had an impact?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we all saw the comments. I wouldn’t go that far. I think one thing I would note, since you gave me the opportunity, is that our opposition – this Administration’s opposition to settlements is fully consistent with the policies of administrations for decades, including of both parties. So the notion that that would change is not borne out by history.

QUESTION: The notion that – you mean once the Obama Administration --

MS. PSAKI: The policy.

QUESTION: He was quoted as saying the Obama Administration is not going to last forever, which is – seems to be a statement of fact rather than --

MS. PSAKI: That is correct. It will be done in two years.

QUESTION: But you’re predicting that whatever – whoever the next president is, his or her administration is not going to change the U.S. position on settlement --

MS. PSAKI: Well, given our policy has been consistently the case for decades, through --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- Republican and Democratic administrations --

QUESTION: So in other words, you would tell Defense Minister Ya’alon you’re stuck with U.S. opposition to settlements even beyond the Obama Administration? Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: I would say our position, our policy has been consistent for quite some time.

QUESTION: But you usually, though, don’t pull out the crystal ball and predict the future.

MS. PSAKI: Fair enough, Matt.

QUESTION: This is an issue, though, that you think that is bipartisan enough that it will survive --

MS. PSAKI: It has been for some time now, yes.

QUESTION: -- post – okay.

QUESTION: Jen, can I ask what has prompted the Secretary to make this sort of special trip to Rome to meet with the Israeli prime minister?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, there has been quite a bit happening on the ground. He often feels that personal face-to-face diplomacy is the most effective way of engaging. And clearly, it’s also an opportunity, as I mentioned, to talk about the push for action on – at the UN and the fact that some countries are encouraging that and have a discussion about those issues.

QUESTION: But given that we’re only a few months away from an Israeli election now, does it make much sense? I mean, the government’s going to be changing by sometime in mid-March if they get a government straight away. Why not just talk on the phone or whatever?

MS. PSAKI: Well, he --

QUESTION: Why a face-to-face meeting at this particular point?

MS. PSAKI: Prime Minister Netanyahu remains the prime minister of Israel. Obviously, we are not involved with or engaged with or will in any way be engaged with the elections or the political process in Israel. But there are times when you have to seize the opportunity to have face-to-face diplomacy about important issues and not wait for months until an election is concluded.

QUESTION: But (inaudible), he did meet with the prime minister a couple of weeks ago in Oman. So it’s not like they haven’t talked --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and at that point, there was a certain amount of guarantees that were supposedly made and some – obviously, the event today is different, but on Monday, you were sort of saying that it seems that tensions to a certain extent have lowered. I just wondered what’s actually triggering the need now for a face-to-face meeting.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think it’s more complicated than what I just laid out.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: Who requested the meeting?

MS. PSAKI: Hmm?

QUESTION: Who requested the meeting?

MS. PSAKI: It was a discussion between the two of them.

QUESTION: Is it correct that --

QUESTION: Jen, I know the Secretary addressed this issue --

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do – okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. He addressed this issue, but the Israelis, or Likud members are saying that you are actually interfering in their elections – in their upcoming elections.

MS. PSAKI: I think I just answered that question in response to Jo, but --

QUESTION: But don’t you see why it could be taken as that, that suddenly, out of the blue, there’s a meeting arranged in Rome between Secretary Kerry and the Israeli prime minister where there doesn’t seem to be a difference today between where we were on Sunday, when in fact, the Secretary said exactly what you just said, that we’re not going to get in the middle of these elections and that we don’t expect the peace process to resume tomorrow until --

MS. PSAKI: We’re still not and we still don’t, but there are still issues unrelated to the peace process and unrelated to the elections, like the situation on the ground in Israel, like the action and desire by many countries to move forward with action in the UN, that warrant a discussion. And so it’s an opportunity to do that.

QUESTION: So the claim that you are trying to unseat or helping in the process to unseat Netanyahu is wrong, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, yes – wrong, incorrect.

QUESTION: Wrong?

MS. PSAKI: Incorrect.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, because that’s what --

MS. PSAKI: The claim is wrong, yes. The claim is wrong.

QUESTION: That’s what Likud sources – they’re saying that you are rallying, you’re marshaling resources and efforts and so on, basically, to seat someone else other than Netanyahu.

MS. PSAKI: No, we’re not – we’re not going to Israel. Obviously, there’s diplomacy and foreign policy that needs to happen even in months before an election.

QUESTION: So your – so the proposed action at the UN is among the top agenda --

MS. PSAKI: Among the topics.

QUESTION: -- among the top agenda items you’re --

MS. PSAKI: Sure, yes.

QUESTION: I mean, that would seem to be the only thing that’s really coming up between now and the end of the year that could make an impact on the situation, although I think it’s doubtful that that would have an impact, but – so is there a resolution currently existing or a proposed draft resolution that currently exists that you could support?

MS. PSAKI: There’s a range of proposals that are out there, as you know, because you all have reported on them. I’m not going to go farther than that than to suggest we’ll have a discussion about the information out there.

QUESTION: All right. Okay. And then one more tangentially related, but Israel-related: Are you aware of this American citizen who has been arrested, charged in Israel for attempting to – or allegedly attempting to blow up Muslim holy sites? Have you had consular access to him? Can you – do you know anything about this case?

MS. PSAKI: We do. We don’t have a Privacy Act waiver. So what I can confirm for you is that, as you know, Israeli authorities have publicly confirmed that a U.S. citizen was arrested in Israel in November. Beyond that, there aren’t additional details I can share from here.

QUESTION: Jen, on – the UN resolution, an Israel newspaper has said that the Americans won’t use the veto this time. Is this accurate or not?

MS. PSAKI: As I noted in an answer to Said’s question, I’m not going to get ahead of any action the United States may or may not take on a resolution that hasn’t yet been tabled. And that’s pretty standard.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Different topic?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you give us a readout --

MS. PSAKI: Or do we have any more on Israel, just before we move on? Okay, go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: Can you give us a readout on the – about the Secretary’s meeting with the Saudi minister of interior?

MS. PSAKI: He was just going into the meeting when I was coming out here. So why don’t we see if there’s anything we can share with you after the meeting.

QUESTION: Do you know – there was some concern expressed by some human rights groups on Human Rights Day, the day after the Senate report came out, about this meeting with the Saudi interior minister. Given your own concerns about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, do you know if human rights was going to be an issue that the Secretary planned to raise with the Saudi interior minister?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think it was planned to be a very long meeting. And obviously, there’s a range of issues we discuss with Saudi Arabia, including human rights issues. I can convey to you after the meeting if that’s an issue that came up.

QUESTION: Okay. There’s a – specifically, the case of these two women who have been held for more than a week now, I think, for driving – this has been an issue that, especially the previous Secretary of State, but also this one has raised concerns about, the ban on female – on woman drivers.

MS. PSAKI: We can check and see if there’s a readout of the meeting once it’s concluded, which it should be at this point. But I’m obviously out here.

Any more on Saudi Arabia? Okay. Scott, go ahead.

QUESTION: Azerbaijan.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any more information about the detained journalist, Khadija Ismayilova, and/or U.S. Government communications with authorities in Baku about her case?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t know that I have more information. I’m happy to reiterate. I don’t know if any of this is new because I haven’t spoken about this in a couple days, but let me reiterate and see where we are. We’re concerned – we’re very concerned by the arrest and pretrial detention of Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova. We’re deeply troubled by increased restrictions on civil society activities, including on journalists, in Azerbaijan. We are increasingly concerned that the government is not living up to its international human rights commitments and obligations. We urge the Government of Azerbaijan to respect the universal rights of its citizens and allow them to freely express their views. Azerbaijan will be best able to ensure its future stability and prosperity by allowing a more open society. We have, of course, raised the increased restrictions on civil society and freedom of press at multiple levels in both Washington and abroad with the Government of Azerbaijan officials. I don’t have anything specific as it relates to this individual case.

Go ahead, Lalit.

QUESTION: I have one on Pakistan.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Last week, when Secretary Kerry met the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, did he raise the issue of Hafiz Saeed, who is – who the U.S. and the UN have declared as a global terrorist? And he was – he held a rally in Pakistan which was supported by the Government of Pakistan. Do you have – was this issue raised by him?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have more to read out from the meeting. They had spent some time one-on-one as well. I can see if there’s more we can convey to you on it.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a few questions on the report the State Department released last week on South China Sea.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Regarding the timing of the report, as you know, the Philippines urging an international tribunal to invalidate the – China’s nine-dash line. So this report basically conclude that the nine-dash line doesn’t accord with international law. So is the U.S. coordinating with Philippine to gain legal high ground?

MS. PSAKI: No, is the short answer. But the “Limits in the Seas” series is a longstanding legal and technical series that examines national maritime claims and boundaries and assesses their consistency with international law. The series so far has addressed maritime claims and boundaries of more than 80 countries – so this is not a – just a one-off – with many countries being considered in multiple studies. As you noted, we recently published studies on the maritime claims of the Philippines and also a separate study on Indonesia. So this is a technical and legal analysis as part of a larger series and something that we do regularly from the State Department.

QUESTION: But on the other U.S. position, on one hand you are keep saying that United States does not take side. But on the hand, like, issuing this report objecting China’s stance and objecting China taking any unilateral actions and providing military assistance to Southeast Asian countries – by doing this, how can you convince China that the United States does not take side?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this is – these are simply reports, of which we’ve done, as I mentioned, 80 of them, that review legal – that are legal reviews. They’re very --

QUESTION: But it’s favoring Southeast Asian countries’ interests.

MS. PSAKI: They’re very technical; they’re not political. As a matter of longstanding policy – and this hasn’t changed – the United States does not take a position on the sovereignty over land features in the South China Sea, nor do we comment on the specific merits of the Philippines-China arbitration case. That’s obviously up for legal authorities to speak to in a more official arbitration system. But we still do reviews, as we’ve done for decades – and as we’ve done dozens of them – as it relates to maritime claims.

QUESTION: But Jen, you’re always saying actions speak louder than words. Do you say your action actually meet your words? Have you done any actions to – in favor of China’s claims?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think we’re obligated to even out legal analysis one way or the other. Legal analysis is technical legal analysis, and I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: But your policy is based on legal analysis, right?

MS. PSAKI: Our policy is we don’t take a position on the sovereignty, but we can still --

QUESTION: Yeah, right, but if your legal analysis is that sovereignty should be – should rest with one state or another, surely the policy doesn’t intentionally ignore that analysis, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are --

QUESTION: Or does it?

MS. PSAKI: That’s not exactly what the report says. I’m sure you’re eager to read it later this afternoon when you have time, Matt, but --

QUESTION: I’m thinking about the plane ride. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Excellent. You have – we have some time for that later. It doesn’t make an evaluation that’s that severe.

QUESTION: So it does not set out what your opinion is of the legal – of sovereignty claims, of the legal --

MS. PSAKI: It does not speak to sovereignty claims, no.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can we go to China, please?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Is there anything you can tell us about this – there was a report that a Chinese national was arrested in – I believe in Connecticut on the charges of transporting sensitive, proprietary information about a U.S. Air Force program. I was wondering if you --

MS. PSAKI: I hadn’t seen that report. I’m happy to check and see if that’s something we would handle, or DHS or somebody more appropriate.

QUESTION: Sure. I was just, I guess, curious about whether you had heard anything from your Chinese counterparts – any complaints or anything --

MS. PSAKI: I hadn’t even heard of the report yet, so --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- I’ll check and see if there’s more to offer.

QUESTION: That’d be great. Thank you.

QUESTION: I have one more on Uber company. One of its driver in Delhi was involved in rape of an Indian woman. He has been arrested, and the company, which is based in the U.S., has been banned in Delhi. Do you have anything to say on that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe we will, but I can check if you can give us details at the end of what the name of the company is. I think it’s likely we’ll point you to the company.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on Putin’s visit to Delhi?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any updates. I would point you to the Russians or the Indians on that for any details.

QUESTION: No, the – Marie has spoken about it the previous week, and there was a sentence that this is not the right time to deal – do business with Russia. So are you disappointed --

MS. PSAKI: Well, that remains the case, but – and it’s specific to kind of what the agenda is, and I’m not sure I’ve seen much of a readout of kind of what was accomplished on the trip.

QUESTION: On Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, on Syria.

QUESTION: No, mine’s on Cyprus.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead, Syria.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to this report that northern Syrian rebel commanders are saying that the U.S. has stopped transfers of arms and payments?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Sure, yes, you have a response, or yes, that is the case?

MS. PSAKI: I do. I do have a response. As you know, we don’t outline, nor have we ever outlined, every element of our assistance, as much as we do talk about how we’ve increased the scale and scope of our assistance. So I can’t speak to the specifics of the report. From the State Department, we of course continue to increase our nonlethal assistance – continue to deliver that – and work with the opposition to boost their capacity, but unfortunately, I don’t have much I can convey or confirm on the report.

QUESTION: Okay, but – I mean, because they’re saying the opposite. They’re – you say that the U.S. is increasing the scale of its support. People on the ground are saying that the U.S. is decreasing the scale of its support.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s exactly right. Over the course of the last several --

QUESTION: Well, stopping shipments of payments and arms would be decreasing --

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. Over the course of the last several months, factually, we have increased the scope and scale of our support. We passed a train and equip program, we’ve provided a range of assistance. There are some programs and equipment and assistance that we don’t talk about. That remains the case here.

QUESTION: Jen, I believe yesterday the Secretary made mention of the Russian effort to try and get some kind of a Syria political discussion back on track, and you know that the deputy foreign minister was in – Russian deputy foreign minister was in Damascus today. And at the end of his trip, he said that the Russians would be willing to host in Moscow a meeting between the Syrian Government and the – and a representative of the United States. Would the Administration be willing to send someone to such a meeting?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’d have to know what the details are and what the agenda is and what the objective is, and we’re reaching out to them to get more details.

QUESTION: So you’re not automatically opposed to meeting with an Assad representative?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there have been in the past a range of proposals to have the opposition and the regime and representatives meet. In terms of our participation, I haven’t seen that posed before. But in terms of our support for what kind of a meeting this would be and whether we’d support the effort, we just need more details on it.

QUESTION: All right. You just don’t know. Okay. And then I want to go Iran if I could very quickly.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: There was that report on Monday that you all have downplayed and said is not particularly relevant to – or is not new and not particularly relevant to the whole ongoing negotiations. This is the – about the concerns raised at the UN sanctions committee about continuing procurement for Arak.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is it the Administration’s position that Iran continuing to purchase material for the Arak facility is not a violation of the JPOA or the UN sanctions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re two different things, as you know.

QUESTION: I know.

MS. PSAKI: Iran has long been in noncompliance with its Security Council obligations and remains so.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: And we’ve spoken to that, and that’s obviously not breaking news.

QUESTION: And this is a violation of that?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the UN, but it’s not new that they’ve been in violation.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: And certainly, this is an example – these reports – without confirming them. They are not in violation of the JPOA, and that remains the case.

QUESTION: So the JPOA, to your mind, superseded the sanction – the UN sanctions – and violations of those sanctions – of the UN sanctions – are not all necessarily violations of the JPOA?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, but the JPOA, as we all know, is temporary. It’s interim. It’s not meant to be a final, lasting, comprehensive agreement. That’s why we want a comprehensive agreement.

QUESTION: But – and it is not a violation of the JPOA, why?

MS. PSAKI: I would – I think we – there are reviews, as you know, Matt, by the IAEA of whether there are JPOA – whether Iran is meeting its obligations. They’re meeting their obligations; that hasn’t changed. There are certain requirements that are very technical of both the UN Security Council obligations and, separately, of the JPOA. There – I just gave you the answer on whether they’re violating each of them.

QUESTION: Well, you’re saying – okay. But can you point me to the JPOA – the bit in the JPOA that would back that up?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we can get you a technical answer, Matt, on --

QUESTION: Because I’m not sure that one – a public one has ever been presented. So it’s very hard to tell if they are complying or not complying, because --

MS. PSAKI: Well, the IAEA is a well-respected international organization --

QUESTION: -- we don’t know.

MS. PSAKI: -- that makes that evaluation, and they haven’t made the --

QUESTION: On the JPOA?

MS. PSAKI: They have not made the evaluation that they’re – that they have violated. They’ve verified that they’re abiding by it.

QUESTION: Right, but if we don’t know what the details of the JPOA are – and I don’t believe we do – how do we know? How do we know?

MS. PSAKI: I guess you’re going to have to trust the IAEA, Matt.

QUESTION: Uh-huh, okay.

QUESTION: I have one more on --

MS. PSAKI: Okay, let’s just do a few more here. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Secretary Kerry wrote a nice op-ed in Huffington Post India edition this week.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: “Our Time Has Come” was the headline. So on that note, is he planning to travel to India with the President on January 26th?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think he’s planning to travel with the President, although I’m sure he hopes to get to India in 2015. I don’t have any scheduling updates for you at this point in time.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: One quick one on the --

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: I did read this – when the Secretary met the Kazakh foreign minister and whatever they spoke. Was the issue of human rights raised?

MS. PSAKI: We raise that at every opportunity. We can see if we can get you a readout after the briefing.

QUESTION: The ambassador of – Mr. Mavroyiannis from Cyprus came to the State Department yesterday and he met with Ms. Nuland. Do you have any readout of --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I can check with EUR and see if there’s a readout we can provide.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m not really sure that you’ll have anything on this --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- but there was a report in an Uruguayan newspaper --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- of a U.S. Embassy employee who was turned away from a club for, among other reasons, being black. And they reached out – the U.S. Embassy there reached out to the State Department to see if they could do anything.

MS. PSAKI: We have actually seen that report. We are looking into this, but I have no update at this point in time, and we’ll see if anything transpires over the next day or so.

All right. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:58 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - December 8, 2014

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 17:01

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 8, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:11 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Hope everyone had a good weekend. It’s Jo Biddle’s birthday today, so hopefully everyone will wish her a --

QUESTION: Happy birthday, Jo.

MS. PSAKI: Matt’s closing on a house. Arshad got married this weekend. So lots going on in the bullpen. That’s my only topper.

QUESTION: Is that really all you have?

MS. PSAKI: That is my only topper, so let’s get to your questions.

QUESTION: Right. Well, let’s start with Iran and this report this morning that you guys believe that the Iranians are at the very least cheating on their JPOA or UN obligations. One, is that true?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first be very clear. Iran has kept all of their commitments under the JPOA. We continue to believe that. I saw this report; we all saw the report this morning. It’s not breaking news that we are concerned about Iran’s procurement activities. I believe that’s referenced in the report. We rarely get into specifics of that. We have ongoing discussions with the UN, with a range of organizations out there about our concerns. We’ve repeatedly spoken about this concern. We’ve also put in place sanctions related to these concerns. So I don’t think there’s a great deal of new information in there that should --

QUESTION: Well --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, is this a violation?

MS. PSAKI: What specifically?

QUESTION: Is the procurement of components for the Arak – for a reactor at the Arak complex a violation of either the JPOA or of existing UN sanctions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I’m not going to confirm specifics of our private discussions with the UN, but we continue to believe that Iran has abided by all of their obligations under the JPOA.

QUESTION: Well, yeah. But so this is – so this, if it is true, this kind of activity, this procurement is not a violation of the JPOA?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve talked about our concerns about procurement in the past. I’m not going to get into specifics. We know that there are still steps that they need to take and they haven’t gone far enough on. Frankly, that’s why we want a comprehensive agreement.

QUESTION: Right, but this is a problem. This is my problem with trying to understand your answer, is that, look, if Iran goes and explodes, detonates a nuclear weapon, that’s a violation, correct?

MS. PSAKI: There are a range of steps that would be a violation. Iran has not --

QUESTION: Is this one of them?

MS. PSAKI: -- has kept by their commitments. I’m not going to speak to specifics in the report about internal discussions.

QUESTION: All right. Well, if – regardless of whether it’s a technical violation of the JPOA or a violation of the spirit or letter of either the JPOA or the other sanctions, what does this tell you about their intent? I mean, to put it in laymen’s terms, this is like if you have a house, right, and you – I tell you – if I have a house and I tell you, “Well, I’m not going to do any renovation to it at all, I promise I won’t,” and then I start going around and buying all sorts of stuff to renovate the house with – I don’t actually do it, but why am I buying this stuff? Why am I trying to – I’m not just doing it for the hell of it. I’m doing it because I intend to use it, right? Isn’t that --

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, specifically, as we’ve said many times and as the Secretary has said, this is not about trust. They’ve said – Iran has said many times and they’ve taken steps to move their programs forward. That’s why the JPOA is important, because it halted the program, it rolled several pieces back, and that’s why a comprehensive agreement is important.

QUESTION: Right, but it didn’t – but they haven’t stopped doing this.

MS. PSAKI: Again, Matt, I’m not going to speak to specifics. I can just reassure you or repeat what I just said about the fact that we believe they haven’t – they’ve abided by all of their obligations. We’ve spoken about concerns we’ve had in the past. That has not changed.

QUESTION: But these appear to be current concerns. Are they not?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not – I’m not going to have much more for you on this.

QUESTION: Well, all right. But I just don’t understand how you can – yes, it’s an automatic – you’re not going to trust them, but they seem to be doing everything they can to destroy any trust that there might be. And it seems a bit disingenuous to claim that they’re doing everything and complying with everything if, in fact, you suspect that they’re not, whether it’s with the JPOA or with the original UN sanctions.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, not just the United States but there’s a great – a process in place that monitors whether they’re abiding by the agreements in the JPOA. If that were not the case, we would certainly speak to that. But there are a range of private discussions that happen. The report also noted that there was progress in another area. So it was a long, lengthy story. We are not going to get into specifics about it. I think I’m going to leave it at that.

Do we have any more on Iran before we move on?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: Can I ask – you guys are supposed to be meeting again soon --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- for the next stage of the – trying to get a comprehensive deal. Has that been arranged yet, where it’s going to be and when?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specific updates on the schedule. It’s still planned to be soon, this month.

QUESTION: And do you anticipate that these – this report about the procurement – acquisitionment for – acquisition for Iraq of – will come up? Is this something you’re going to address, or have you already addressed it with your Iranian --

MS. PSAKI: Well, our concerns about Iran’s procurement activities and the concerns about our P5+1 partners long predates this report.

QUESTION: But I mean, have you actually since this report or have you currently in the last few hours, days, raised it with the Iranians?

MS. PSAKI: These are discussions that have been ongoing. There wasn’t a new discussion warranted by a news report.

QUESTION: Jen?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is former Deputy Secretary Burns still on board? He will be participating in the upcoming negotiations as well?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have – as soon as we have a date, I can give you more information on who will be participating.

QUESTION: But did you ask him to stay on board or not?

MS. PSAKI: There’ll be a range of discussions with a number of the partner – or participants who have been leading these negotiations. Obviously, a number of people, including former Deputy Secretary Burns, has been working very hard on it. The Secretary understands that there are some people who will have family or other professional obligations, but I don’t have anything to announce for you on who will be a part of the team.

QUESTION: One more on this. Prime Minister Netanyahu has said yesterday that “our voice and our concerns played a critical role in preventing a bad deal” with Iran. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, we engage very closely with our partners in Israel, with Prime Minister Netanyahu, as we do with many partners around the world. The Secretary of State, the President of the United States, though, have been clear that they were not going to agree to a bad deal. They haven’t. I don’t know if there’s more specifics on it than what you just suggested.

QUESTION: But do you think that Israel has prevented the U.S. and the P5+1 to reach an agreement in Vienna?

MS. PSAKI: What do you specifically mean by that?

QUESTION: When Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the Israel voice and the concerns played a critical role in preventing a bad deal with Iran, that’s --

MS. PSAKI: Israel remains an important partner. We agree we’re not going to pursue a bad deal. In fact, the Secretary was the one who made that specific statement first.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: The implicit suggestion here is that you were on the verge of a deal and the Israelis’ concerns really stopped the deal. Is that the case?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t know what that would be based on.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: We made clear that certainly, throughout the negotiations, that our objective was to meet a deal or come to a comprehensive agreement by the end, but we were not going to step back on our principles. And we certainly abided by that.

QUESTION: Well, I have a question on Israel but not on Iran. Can we move forward?

MS. PSAKI: Okay, let’s finish Iran and then we can go to you.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Iran?

QUESTION: No. On Syria --

MS. PSAKI: Iran?

QUESTION: On Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just go to Iran and then we can go back to you, Said. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I know you said this is new and it’s just only a couple hours old, but have you reached out to Congress in any fashion to allay any fears they might have as a specific result of this, or has anyone in Congress reached out to this building?

MS. PSAKI: We have ongoing discussions with Congress about a range of issues, including Iran, but I don’t have any other specific calls to read out for you.

QUESTION: No specifics on this?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to read out for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the alleged airstrikes by the Israelis into Syria in and around Damascus?

MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen the reports. I don’t have any comment.

QUESTION: But you have – you don’t – you’re not confirming that it happened or did not happen?

MS. PSAKI: I am not.

QUESTION: Okay. The secretary general of the Arab League said that this would be a dangerous escalation if this happened. Would that be considered a dangerous escalation?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specific comment on it, Said.

QUESTION: On Israel --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- there was a report last week, one report I might mention – it was picked up by others, it stayed at the – but it was only one report at the beginning – that the White House, that the Administration is considering imposing sanctions against Israel because of its opposition to their settlement activity.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There was kind of non-answers going back and forth here and at the White House last week, but then on Friday a bunch of lawmakers, senators and congressmen and women, wrote to the Secretary and to the White House, I believe, demanding to know whether this is true or not. Can you tell us whether it’s true?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, obviously, just as my colleague Marie didn’t get into specific deliberations, I’m not going to do that from here. But I can set the record straight and be clear that reports that we might be contemplating sanctions against Israel are completely unfounded and without merit.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Hold on, Said. Let me just finish.

MS. PSAKI: Let Matt finish and then he’ll go – we’ll go to you, Said, if that’s okay.

QUESTION: So can I just ask, if they’re completely unfounded and without merit, why – why did you not say it? Why did people not say that last week? Why not tamp this down?

MS. PSAKI: Well, without pulling back the curtain of how we determine what we say publicly, we typically don’t get into internal meetings or deliberations. But obviously, it was warranted that we --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- make – set the record straight.

QUESTION: The reason that I ask is I’m wondering: Is that – is what you said today, just now – “unfounded and without merit” – was that true last week? Or was this – could you have said that last week, you just weren’t allowed to? I mean, I want to know: Was there consideration going on last week – when the report was published was it accurate?

MS. PSAKI: I believe, Matt, that this has been consistently true. Obviously, we don’t typically get into internal discussions or deliberations, and that’s warranted --

QUESTION: Oh.

MS. PSAKI: -- why we didn’t say a great deal in response to your questions.

QUESTION: Okay. But can you say for sure that when the report was published there was no consideration of imposing sanctions on Israel?

MS. PSAKI: I just am not going to have any more for you on it.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead – oh. Okay, we’ll go to you next, (inaudible).

QUESTION: And then the obvious corollary – sorry --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- is from the – coming from the other side of this: Why not?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, as you know, we put sanctions in place around the world for a variety of reasons. We – this isn’t a situation where we’re obviously moving forward with that or contemplating that, as my comments made clear. We work closely with Israel; they’re an important partner. We’ve obviously spoken out when we have concerns, but it’s simply not something being considered.

QUESTION: All right. And when you say sanctions, does that include not just kind of the punitive sanctions that we see on the other countries, but also does that include not – does that – would that include not vetoing resolutions that you consider to be anti-Israel at the UN, for example?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Would you consider that to be a sanction, as covered --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that that’s the same category, Matt. I’m referring to sanctions.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we consider different proposals in the UN on a case by case.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, but at what point your denunciations will move into action, so Israel can actually heed you – your calls for them to stop settlements? At what point?

MS. PSAKI: What are you specifically referring to, Said?

QUESTION: Specifically, I mean, you keep denouncing the increase of settlement activities and so on, but the Israelis keep on building more settlements and so on. Now I was asking at what point you will move into action, actually, just to follow up what Matt was asking from the other side. So why not sanction Israel on these issues?

MS. PSAKI: Said, we believe that the settlement activity, which in our view is illegitimate --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- is against the interests of Israel. That’s why we continue to make that point and we will continue to make it as long as that continues.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Now in the loan guarantees that the United States extends to Israel, there is a clause in there that says dollar for dollar, money that goes into the – that the Americans will take away whatever amount that is spent on the settlements. Are you likely to enforce that clause? And that is --

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to look more specifically at what you’re referring to, Said.

QUESTION: I’m saying that in the loan guarantees, it’s very specific that any money spent on the settlement activities – that the United States will take back or will – I don’t know how deep --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure that’s exactly an accurate description, so why don’t I look into this --

QUESTION: Could you get us – yeah, get us the accurate description --

MS. PSAKI: Why don’t I look into what you’re referencing and see if there’s --

QUESTION: Okay, now just to follow up on the weekend.

MS. PSAKI: -- what you might be referencing.

QUESTION: Okay. This past weekend there was a great deal of talk at the Saban Forum on the potential Palestinian-Israeli talks, and so on. And the Secretary made it very clear that there is no option except the two-state solution. Are we likely to see any activities in that path, so to speak, any time soon?

MS. PSAKI: Well, you also heard the Secretary convey that we don’t expect the negotiations to resume tomorrow. There’s an election in the next few months; that’s obviously a factor. And the Israeli people will have important choices to make. It – we still believe – he continues to believe that we need to do everything possible to support any effort to pursue a two-state solution, given that that’s the only way to have lasting peace and security in the region.

QUESTION: Is that, in a way, admitting that we are not likely to have any kind of direct talks or face-to-face talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis until after the elections?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ll let that be determined by the parties on the ground, but certainly the fact that there is an election in the coming months is a factor in that process.

Do we have any more on Israel or – before we move on to another topic? Israel? Or – okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: So the Secretary, like, talked yesterday and he said there’s a potential emergence of a new regional alliance – alignment against Hamas, Daesh, Ahrar al-Sham, and Boko Haram. Can you give us, like, any more – can you elaborate on that? Can you tell us, like, what countries, like, participate in this alignment? I mean, this is Hamas. It’s not like Daesh or something. It’s different.

MS. PSAKI: And certainly, we see them as different. I don’t have any more specifics for you though, no.

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: It’s about the torture report. You said – the State Department said the timing is not quite right for the release of the report. What exactly is not right about the timing?

MS. PSAKI: That’s not exactly what we said, nor have we ever said that publicly. I think you’re referring to reports of a phone call --

QUESTION: That’s right.

MS. PSAKI: -- between the Secretary and Senator Feinstein. And during that call, which he made on Friday, he not only reiterated the support of the Administration and his own support for the release of the report, but he also made clear that, of course, the timing is her choice. The fact is that there’s quite a bit going on in the world, and he wanted to have a discussion with a former colleague, somebody he worked with for decades in the Senate, about foreign and policy implications of the release of the report, ongoing efforts – everything from our ongoing efforts related to ISIL, the safety of Americans being held hostage around the world, and he was simply having a discussion about the impact that the release will have on those factors.

QUESTION: Do you think a few days would matter, really, in this case? Because the Senate doesn’t have much time left and --

MS. PSAKI: It’s a good question. He didn’t discuss a specific proposed time or anything along those lines. He was simply raising the fact that these are issues that are ongoing right now and certainly wanted to have a discussion and make sure that they were factored into the timing.

QUESTION: In a Republican-controlled Senate, the report may not be published at all. Would the Administration risk not having it published at all?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, there’s a lot of politics that happen – happens in the Senate and Congress, and certainly I can’t make a prediction of that. I would leave that to colleagues who speak for those on the Hill. We continue to support the release – the Secretary does, the President does, and obviously, as we’ve seen the announcements, that will be happening soon.

QUESTION: Jen, right after this --

QUESTION: Jen – well, I’m – just on the phone call, did he or did he not ask her to consider delaying it?

MS. PSAKI: He discussed the implications of the timing. I’m not going to get more specific than that.

QUESTION: Would a reasonable person who was on the other end of that phone call come to the assumption or take from the conversation that the Secretary wanted to see or would like to see the report – the release of the report delayed?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t speak to what a reasonable person listening in would say. He was discussing --

QUESTION: You can’t? Are you not a reasonable person? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t listening in on the call, Matt. So it’s a kind of a third party that didn’t exist.

QUESTION: Well, from your understanding of the phone call, would the recipient of such a call take away from it that the Secretary is not a great fan of it coming out sooner and would rather have it come out later?

MS. PSAKI: The Secretary called his former colleague to discuss the implications of the timing. Obviously, they discussed the timing and when it might be released as part of that. I’m just not going to get into more specifics.

QUESTION: Okay. But he’s – so he’s neutral on the timing?

MS. PSAKI: He conveyed it is up to Senator Feinstein.

QUESTION: But that doesn’t mean that he’s neutral or would like it to come out now or would like it to come out next week.

MS. PSAKI: He wouldn’t have called if he didn’t feel that it was important to have a conversation about the implications of the timing.

QUESTION: So those implications – what are the implications of the timing if the timing is today or tomorrow or Wednesday?

MS. PSAKI: I’m going to let you draw your own conclusions, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, could I ask on that, though: Is it correct to say, as some reports have said this morning, that there’s been new messages, security messages, come out from the State Department or from this Administration to diplomatic posts around the world to assess their security?

MS. PSAKI: That wouldn’t be an accurate statement, I believe, of how – as you may know, several months ago when this report was going to be released, we – all chiefs of mission were asked to review their mission security posture in advance of the upcoming release of the report, given the range of possible reactions overseas. That was something that we reiterated again over the last couple of days given the likely pending release. We monitor our global security posture on a real-time basis and will continue to do so. But there wasn’t a new worldwide caution or anything like that issued, no.

QUESTION: So what exactly did you ask them to do, then?

MS. PSAKI: We asked chiefs of mission to review their mission security posture in advance of the upcoming release of the report.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Didn’t that happen on Thursday?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, it happened several days ago.

QUESTION: Why is this coming up now?

MS. PSAKI: Because there were reports over the weekend --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: -- I think Jo was referring to.

QUESTION: Has there been a new one since Thursday?

MS. PSAKI: No. That was --

QUESTION: Oh. All right.

MS. PSAKI: -- the last one, yes.

QUESTION: Why --

QUESTION: Are you aware that there’s, like, American forces out – being put on alert at the present time in anticipation of the release of the report tomorrow?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what you’re referring to, Said. Obviously --

QUESTION: Well, I think there --

MS. PSAKI: -- let me finish – every embassy is reviewing their own security postures and needs. We’re in close touch with them. But I’m not going to get into any specifics about security at our embassies now.

QUESTION: Okay. And --

QUESTION: Didn’t that also happen on Thursday?

MS. PSAKI: It did.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: And I think Jo was asking this question because there were new reports --

QUESTION: Reports over the weekend.

MS. PSAKI: -- that made it sound like there was a new issue --

QUESTION: All right. So any report that said that there was a new warning that was sent out, or whatever you call it that was sent out, since Thursday is wrong?

MS. PSAKI: Was referring to last week. They were referring to last week, I believe.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: It may have just been a couple days behind.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Michael Hayden came out on television and said, actually, the last time this torture took place was in 2003. So it’s been quite a while since this happened. What – why is the time now so critical for it to be released or not released and so on? What is the likely impact that you expect as a result of this – the release of this report?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to make predictions of that, Said. Obviously, it’s our job and our role to be as prepared as possible. You’re correct that these programs ended a long time ago, and certainly that’s reflected in the report.

QUESTION: Would there be --

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish this topic, Said.

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. PSAKI: Let’s let a couple of other people – go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: On this phone call, did the Secretary make that call on his own or did the White House ask him to call Senator Feinstein and talk about the implications of this report?

MS. PSAKI: The White House was aware of his plans to call his former colleague.

QUESTION: I was told the White House said that they knew that the call was being made, but nobody really said if the Secretary said, “I want to make this call,” or if the White House said, “Will you make this call.”

MS. PSAKI: Well, he’s the Secretary of State, and oftentimes, he makes proposals, and certainly he worked with Dianne – Senator Feinstein for decades. I’m not going to get into more specifics other than to convey that it was known he was going to make the call; it was a call to discuss, as I described, implications as the Secretary of State on our foreign policy priorities.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: On the same subject, why is the release being put off so consistently?

MS. PSAKI: Put off?

QUESTION: Yes, over and – delayed.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn’t characterize it in that way. As you know, there’s a lot of sensitive information in this report. Obviously, the White House and not us – so I’ll really send you to them – has worked with the committee on redactions and information that can’t be public, and that takes some time. But I would point you to them and point you to the Senate committee for more specifics.

QUESTION: But Jen, the Chief of Staff of the White House, Mr. McDonough, has been in close touch – they basically went with a fine-tooth comb over every little detail with Senator Feinstein. Why suddenly the concern, this heightened concern, by the Secretary of State?

MS. PSAKI: Well, to be clear, as I stated at the beginning, Said, the Secretary of State, Secretary Kerry, supports the release. He believes it’s up to Senator Feinstein to determine the timing. But certainly, one of the benefits of having been in the Senate for 29 years is the ability to call a former colleague and convey, “Look, this is what I’m seeing and hearing around the world,” and that’s exactly what he did.

QUESTION: Jen, the situation that --

QUESTION: Jen, your colleague at the White House has just said that the report is coming out tomorrow and that the White House supports it coming out tomorrow. Is that --

MS. PSAKI: We support it as well.

QUESTION: Coming out tomorrow?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: And the Secretary, did he make that clear to Senator Feinstein?

MS. PSAKI: He made clear it’s her choice and up to her, and he --

QUESTION: And he would support it?

MS. PSAKI: I talked to him about it this morning and he certainly supports the release.

QUESTION: Okay. And he would support the release whenever she decided?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Jen, presumably --

QUESTION: And did the situation that concerns the Administration, like the hostage – the American hostage, just – the ISIL fight, like – they are things that are not going to change in a couple of weeks, no? So these concerns would go until the next Senate takes – the Republicans take control of the Senate, no?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure I understand your question totally, but maybe you can --

QUESTION: Like, I mean, the concerns that the Administration has today with the release of the report, they are not going to change in a couple of weeks. So if the timing – the appropriate time would probably be under a Republican Senate, would not be now?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure I have much more to add in response to your question.

Go ahead, Allie.

QUESTION: But Jen, presumably Senator Feinstein knows that she is the one that has the choice of when to release --

MS. PSAKI: Of course.

QUESTION: -- the report. So why did Secretary Kerry feel the need to convey that to her?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you all know this, but there are calls that happen all the time between Administration officials, members of the Cabinet, and members of Congress. And part of that communication is something the Secretary certainly supports. It goes two ways. He expects people will call him as well when they have – whether it’s concerns or things they’d like to see, more information they can share. And this was an example of that.

So it’s going to be, as it’s been announced, released tomorrow. The Secretary supports that, and we’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: Can I ask one related question, which is: The UK and Canadian embassies in Cairo just closed over the weekend. They were citing security concerns. They didn’t get into much detail, but is there any belief among the United States that this might have something to do with reaction to the report coming out?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe – I’d certainly point you to them, but I don’t believe they have cited any reference to the release of this report, nor have I seen any internal reporting on that. We certainly – just since you gave me the opportunity, we of course prioritize the safety and welfare of our personnel and work fervently to ensure our staff are protected worldwide. We’re continuing to monitor developments, and Egypt will calibrate our security posture in accordance with the security situation on the ground.

Unrelated to the announcement by the UK and Canada, and unrelated to any report, we did put out a new travel security message to U.S. citizens late last week in light of heightened tensions and recent attacks against Westerners. I’d certainly point you to the UK and Canada for the reasons for their position – their announcements.

QUESTION: But so then since that message came out, there’s been no change to the security posture of the U.S.?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: And that message was also on Thursday, right – December 4th?

MS. PSAKI: That’s correct, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: You’ve been paying close attention over the last --

QUESTION: On Thursday, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Thursday was a big day for you.

QUESTION: A lot of stuff happened on Thursday – (laughter) – and not much seems to have happened in – since then.

MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s been continued reporting, so it’s an opportunity to clarify when there’s new information, and not – do we have – I’m not even sure what topic we’re still on. Egypt or on --

QUESTION: On the torture report.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Is one of the implications that the U.S. believes could come out of the release of this report violence against U.S. personnel and U.S. citizens abroad? And what were the warnings that went out to diplomatic posts? Were the ones sent to sort of high-risk posts – did they go into sort of more detail about what the concerns were, or was this something that was general to all diplomatic missions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I certainly understand your questions, but as is the case of any security posture, we’re not going to get into specifics of why we’re doing what and exactly what we’re doing, because that would defeat the purpose of the security steps. All I can convey to you, again, is that obviously we asked chiefs of missions to review their mission security. I’m not going to get ahead of the release of the report. I’m sure we’ll have more to discuss once that report is released.

QUESTION: It went to all chiefs of mission?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

More on this report, or should we move on to a new topic?

QUESTION: I had an Israel one.

QUESTION: One of the – on Israel?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Well --

QUESTION: Well, I want to go back to Israel, sorry. And again, apologies for bringing something up on the weekend.

MS. PSAKI: Don’t feel bullied. It’s okay.

QUESTION: I’m not going to feel bullied. (Laughter.) I was sick over the weekend, so I’m just catching up.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. It’s your birthday; it’s fine.

QUESTION: And it’s my birthday, yes. So --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Israel? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, is that all right, Matt?

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: There were reports over the weekend that the Secretary had spoken – I believe it was either Friday or Saturday night – by telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who’d asked him about Pollard. We haven’t talked about this.

QUESTION: We haven’t talked about Pollard yet --

QUESTION: No.

QUESTION: -- but the Secretary mentioned the call in his speech.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: He spoke with him. I don’t have any more details on it. I can see if there’s more to share.

QUESTION: There was reporting out of the region that the prime minister asked --

MS. PSAKI: I believe it conveyed that he brought it up, which I would point you to the Israeli Government for that. I don’t have any more specifics. I can follow up and see if there’s more we have to say on it.

QUESTION: But just in general on Mr. Pollard, do you have anything new to say about him?

MS. PSAKI: I do not. Nothing has changed.

QUESTION: All right. Can I go back to --

QUESTION: Syria?

QUESTION: Well, I just want to go back to --

MS. PSAKI: Should we finish – can we finish Israel?

QUESTION: This is slightly related to the torture report, but it’s not – actually, it’s complete – well, it’s not completely unrelated, but it’s a very tangential link.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. I’m intrigued.

QUESTION: One of the concerns that you’ve had and you’ve just mentioned from the podium was the safety of American hostages. So with that, I wanted to get to the situation in – what happened in Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: In Yemen, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And your ambassador in South Africa said this morning that you guys had no idea that there were negotiations underway for the release and – of the South African hostage who was being held. And I’m just wondering, how is that possible? How – if you guys knew he was there --

MS. PSAKI: No. Well, let me tell you what we know. We assessed that there were two hostages at the location, one of whom was Luke Somers. We did not know who the second hostage was. And as all of you know, there have been several hostages from a variety of locations around the world held in Yemen, so we did not know, obviously, that the other individual was the South African hostage. We were not in touch with any government, for obvious reasons given that, and we did not know about – this was a negotiation by an outside private organization.

QUESTION: Right, but – well, were you aware that there was a South African aid worker being held hostage in Yemen, whether or not they were at this location or not? Do you know that?

MS. PSAKI: I can check on that, Matt. I believe there’d been some publicity about it, but there were a range of hostages that were being held in Yemen from around the world, so we had no way of knowing that that was the second hostage.

QUESTION: All right. So there was – so when you say – and I just want to put a fine point on it.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: When you say that you didn’t know who the identity of the second person who was being held there --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- and there was no discussion with any foreign government about that --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- there was no discussion with the South African Government?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, yes.

QUESTION: And are you aware of any injuries sustained by American personnel (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: No, and I appreciate you asking, because there are a range of reports out there.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: No one – let me just – you didn’t ask this, but no one was captured, and no DOD personnel were injured. They were all returned safely.

QUESTION: I presume that your colleagues at the Pentagon will say the same thing, yes?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, yes.

QUESTION: Can we go to Guantanamo and --

MS. PSAKI: Let’s finish Yemen, Said, if that’s okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. A follow-up on Yemen: Is there a debate within the Administration on the policies about the way you handle the – you are handling, sorry – the hostage crisis? The question has been asked many times, but as a matter of fact – I’m not saying that one policy is better than another, but as a matter of fact, countries which are negotiating for their hostages manage to have them freed, and countries like the U.S., which don’t negotiate, it ends, tragically, differently. So is there a debate within the Administration of reviewing of this policy?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, our goal has always been to use every appropriate resource within the bounds of the law to assist loved ones to bring their love – their family home. In light – and this is something that we’d previously talked about, but I understand the reason for the question today.

In light of the increasing number of U.S. hostages – U.S. citizens taken hostage by terrorist groups overseas and the extraordinary number of recent hostage cases, this summer President Obama directed relevant agencies and departments, including DOD, the State Department, the FBI, and the intelligence community, to conduct a comprehensive review of how the U.S. Government addresses these matters. We’re obviously not going to detail every effort or every tool we’re using to bring hostages home, but we’ll continue to bring all appropriate military, intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomatic capabilities to bear.

But the question of ransom is not a part of this review. The United States Government, as a matter of longstanding policy, does not grant concessions to hostage takers for a very important reason: Granting such concessions would put all American citizens overseas at greater risk for kidnapping. Furthermore, paying ransoms would only sustain the very same terrorist organizations that we are working to destroy. So nothing has changed on that front.

Obviously, in the case of this operation, these are some of the riskiest and most challenging and most difficult operations that our men and women in the military undertake. And they’re – as I sort of referenced, they’re not without risk. We certainly knew that going in but felt that after AQAP released a video announcing that Luke Somers would be murdered within 72 hours, there was a compelling indication, clearly, that his life was in danger. There was a recommendation made to the President that he approved to authorize an attempt to rescue him with the risks in mind.

QUESTION: Can I just ask – you said prior to the operation, for obvious reasons, you weren’t in touch with the South African Government. Have you been in touch with the South African Government since?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, we have an ambassador on the ground who’s been in close touch with them. I don’t have any calls from the Secretary to read out --

QUESTION: No calls from the --

MS. PSAKI: -- but we’re in very close touch on the ground.

QUESTION: Is there a plan for the Secretary to call?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls to preview for you, but if there’s a call we’ll make sure you know.

Let’s – Yemen? Any more on Yemen?

QUESTION: Yemen, Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. So like, it seems like al-Qaida and ISIS really don’t care, like, if you keep, like, not paying the ransom. They just keep kidnapping American and kill them. Are you, like, planning to do this forever? I mean, not paying ransoms, and then they kill their – your hostages?

MS. PSAKI: I think I just answered that question.

Do we have any more on Yemen?

QUESTION: Yes, Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Luke Somers’s family told CNN today that they were not told in advance about the efforts to rescue him or asked to sign off in any way on this raid. They also – a few members of the family expressed that they felt more discussion was needed to try and resolve this case through dialogue, maybe through intermediaries. What’s your reaction to that, and do you think that – was there an effort beyond these raids to sort of negotiate a dialogue through intermediaries?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, AQAP, as we all know, is a terrorist organization and one that that’s not typically how we engage with. I will say that we certainly – as was evidenced by the Secretary’s statement and the President’s statement, our hearts go out to the Somers family and we can’t imagine the heartache and the pain that they’re going through at this time.

The decision was made for exactly the reasons as I outlined. There was a video making clear the intention to take Mr. Somers’ life within 72 hours, which we assessed to be Saturday. So there was a very short window and timeline during which, obviously, we had to determine whether we were going to be able to have the operational capabilities and the medical teams necessary and all the steps necessary in order to carry this out.

There has been – we have been in touch – the Administration has been in touch, certainly, with the Somers family. But that’s why the decision was made as it was.

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Let’s – can we finish Yemen? Do we have any more on Yemen?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead in the way back.

QUESTION: Yes. Just, you mentioned there’s not been any call from the Secretary of State to his South African counterpart about this, but has there been any call from this Department to Mr. Korkie’s family at all? Has there been any kind of “sorry about what happened”?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, I mean, there was a public statement. There has been contact from the Administration, but I don’t have any more details to outline for you at this point in time.

QUESTION: And is there any more active diplomacy between this Department and the South Africans about what happened? Has there been any conversations at all?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve been in very close touch with the South African Government. We have an ambassador on the ground who worked for the President for a numbers of years, who’s in close touch with them, that we’ve remained in close touch with through this building as well.

QUESTION: Does this not perhaps call for looking at the state of the communication between here and Pretoria given that it seems that there wasn’t enough communication about the state of this – status of this hostage?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think a very important point here is the fact that we did not know who the other hostage was. We did not know what country they were from. There wouldn’t have been a way to – it wouldn’t have made sense, in fact, for us to reach out to the South African Government. We didn’t have information at the time that led us to believe there was – the other individual was from South Africa.

QUESTION: Do you feel they could have done more to reach out to you before this took place?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I’m not sure that – I don’t – I think that’s kind of looking back without information that we would have had available at the time. They remain an important partner and one that we’ll remain in close touch with working on this and many other issues.

QUESTION: This may be getting far too into the weeds, but it does raise the question, though: How come you didn’t know who the other hostage was there? If you knew that one of them was Mr. Somers, why didn’t you know who the other one was?

MS. PSAKI: It’s just not a level of detail I can get into, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, I know. But that would seem to suggest that your intelligence on this was imperfect, right? I mean, obviously, there’s no perfect – there probably never is perfect intelligence on something. But that’s not the kind of thing that would give you pause if you didn’t know who the other --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we knew there were two hostages, including an American citizen there. I think that’s pretty solid intelligence. There are obviously a range of individuals, unfortunately --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- from a range of countries that are held hostage in Yemen.

Any more on Yemen? Yemen? Yemen? No, okay.

QUESTION: Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Let’s go to Scott in the back and then we’ll go back to Syria. Go ahead, Scott.

QUESTION: Venezuela.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In an interview with the broadcaster Telesur, president and – President Maduro said he’s investigating the U.S. Embassy there for acting in a dangerous way toward Venezuela. Is the U.S. Embassy there acting in a dangerous way toward Venezuela?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our Embassy operates in accordance with the requirements of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. We will continue to speak out regarding our concerns about the lack of respect for human rights and democracy in Venezuela, most recently evidenced by the Venezuelan decision to charge opposition leader and former national assembly deputy Maria Corina Machado for allegedly conspiring in a plan to assassinate President Maduro. We continue to call on the Venezuelan Government to respect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and release political prisoners, and to act in accordance with the principles and values set forth in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man in the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

So we continue to operate as we – as we long have in the country with regard to every legal obligation, every internationally accepted obligation. And I can assure you that there’s no – been no stray from that.

QUESTION: In that interview, President Maduro said that the Obama Administration is caught in their own failed policies. Is it the opinion of the State Department that U.S. policy in Venezuela is failing?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to have too much of a comment on President Maduro’s comments, I should say. Obviously, we continue to work on all the lines of effort I just outlined. But beyond that, we’re not going to speak to his comments further.

I have time just for a couple of more here. Do we have any new --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Hmm?

QUESTION: Can we talk about the Guantanamo detainees?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. First of all, do you have any comment on that? I mean, is – are they to remain in Uruguay? What would be the deal for them? What is the next stop, or is that just a way station?

MS. PSAKI: Well, just to reiterate some of the news you’re referencing, on December 7th, the Department of Defense announced the transfer of six detainees to Uruguay – four Syrians, a Tunisian, and a Palestinian. With these transfers, there are 136 detainees at Guantanamo. We, of course, thank the government there. We are continuing to reach out to many countries from across the globe and are very appreciative of the support we are receiving.

As you know, we obviously also – the decision to transfer a detainee is made only detail – after detailed, specific conversations with the receiving country about the potential threat a detainee may pose after transfer and the measures the receiving country will take in order to sufficiently mitigate the threat. That was, of course, the case here. Beyond that, I’m not going to have any other specific details from the government.

QUESTION: So would you object – would you object to Uruguay sending them to their countries?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I reiterated that we have a range of assurances from the country. I am not going to get into specifics on that.

QUESTION: Can I ask – I want to ask about Syria, Jen. Russia is working on hosting a conference in Moscow this month that includes the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime to find a political solution to the crisis. How do you view these efforts made by --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know there were some meetings earlier, over the weekend I should say, that – we saw reports, of course, that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov met yesterday with SOC President Hadi al-Bahra in Istanbul. But in terms of specifics, I don’t think there’s been a date set or a time set. We’ve certainly seen the reports but don’t have details on the format, the objective, the goals, or the timing. As you know, Secretary Kerry met with Foreign Minister Lavrov just last week. They certainly discussed Syria during that meeting and that discussion will continue.

QUESTION: That means that the news reports that said that the U.S. supports these efforts are inaccurate?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are not a lot of details quite yet. I’m not sure what report you’re referencing, and we haven’t spoken to it, so I don’t think they’d be quoting anybody who actually was speaking on behalf of the United States.

QUESTION: That they --

MS. PSAKI: Obviously – let me finish – there are a lot of details more that we need to know here in terms of what the objective are – objectives are, what the format would be, and we’ll have discussions about those and see where we go from there.

QUESTION: And one more on Syria. UN Special Envoy to Syria de Mistura has met today in Turkey with rebel leaders from Aleppo to discuss a possible freeze in fighting in the city. What do you think about this plan?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve spoken about this quite a bit from here, and he’s – de Mistura has spoken about this quite a bit as well. Well, we certainly support efforts – his efforts and certainly support efforts that would reduce the suffering of the Syrian people. We also have to look at any of these proposals with clear eyes, given in the past they haven’t been implemented with the necessary actions by the regime.

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do a couple more on Syria. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Many argue that – about this freezing work, as something that can work for Syrian regime since it would relieve the Syrian regime to – for the two-front fight.

MS. PSAKI: By many, who are you referencing who argues that?

QUESTION: There have been many articles published on this issue. If you want name, I can give you the name.

MS. PSAKI: So articles – so reporters are arguing that? Or a specific individual?

QUESTION: Reporters and commentators and the newspapers around especially Middle East that I am sure you are following.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as I mentioned, I think, again, this is a difficult issue and we support de Mistura’s efforts to come up with solutions and options that will reduce and hopefully bring to an end the suffering of the Syrian people. We’ve seen the regime in the past act in a way that does not fully implement these ceasefires, that takes advantage of them in some cases, and so we’re certainly aware of that potential and that’s why we believe everyone should be clear-eyed. But we support the effort to pursue options here, which is what he’s doing.

QUESTION: Syria (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: So Salih Muslim, the leader – one of the leaders of PYD in Syria, he said, “We have given” – and I’m quoting – “We have given a guarantee to the United States about sending arms to – not sending arms to PKK or using them against Turkey.” Do you have any comment on that? Can you tell us what kind of guarantees they gave you?

MS. PSAKI: This is a guarantee from whom? Can you say it one more time?

QUESTION: PYD, the Syrian Kurdish, like, arm of PKK.

MS. PSAKI: I will check and see if we have any information on that.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I have one on Asia.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have a readout from Assistant Secretary Russel’s meeting today with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, let me see what I have on that. Chinese vice foreign minister met today - he was at the Department today for meetings with Acting Deputy Secretary Sherman and Assistant Secretary Russel. In these meetings, they discussed matters of bilateral and regional importance. They have not yet concluded. We’d refer you to the Chinese embassy for further details about the vice foreign minister’s schedule while he’s in the United States.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Acting Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman met with South Korean unification secretary (inaudible). Do you have anything on their schedule or --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I’m happy to check and see if we have more on that front.

Go ahead. It’ll have to be the last one.

QUESTION: I have a question about Egypt, if I could real quick.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the reports that emerged this morning about a raid on a bathhouse in Cairo where 40 men were taken into custody? And one of the journalists that I read said that this bathhouse is, quote, “the biggest den of group perversion” in this part of Egypt, and this goes against the backdrop of ongoing persecution of LGBT people.

MS. PSAKI: I have not seen that report. Why don’t I look into that after the briefing --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- and we’ll see if we can confirm it, and if there’s something more we have to offer on it.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have one on Pakistan. There was – out of Bagram, which is in Afghanistan, of course, there were three Pakistanis released back to Pakistan over the weekend. I wondered if you could confirm the identities of the three men.

MS. PSAKI: I cannot confirm the identities, no.

QUESTION: You can’t tell us if Latif Mehsud was among them?

MS. PSAKI: I cannot confirm the identities.

Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just a quick one.

MS. PSAKI: Are you going to sing? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Next.

QUESTION: Not here.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Just a quick one on Ukraine. I’d like to have --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- your comment on the upcoming peace talk this week between the pro-Russian separatists and Kyiv.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, as you noted in your question, they’ll be meeting tomorrow. This is certainly an opportunity to – for Russia and the separatists to show they support – or they will live up to their commitments. This is not a discussion about a new ceasefire agreement, but discussions on implementation of the ceasefire agreed to in Minsk in September, which Russia and the separatists it backs have not implemented to date. So we will see what comes out of the meetings tomorrow.

Thank you, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:57 p.m.)

DPB # 207


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - December 5, 2014

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 16:44

Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 5, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:19 p.m. EST

MS. HARF: Happy Friday, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. I would point out my Ohio State Buckeyes are playing for the Big Ten championship tomorrow.

QUESTION: Good luck to them.

MS. HARF: I’m wearing some scarlet and grey today in honor of that. Only item at the top is the Secretary is on his way back to Washington and will be back later this afternoon.

Matt.

QUESTION: I want to start with something that I don’t know if you’ll have anything about. We had a story earlier today about police in Kenya, extrajudicial killings/death squad type things. And I’m wondering if you can tell us if the Administration has concerns about the activities of the Kenyan police and whether that has any impact on the assistance that you provide to them.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, we obviously take such allegations of extrajudicial killings seriously everywhere in the world, certainly, of course, in Kenya as well. We would urge the Kenyan Government to thoroughly investigate all of these reported claims. All of our trainees and units are – that we work with are thoroughly screened in accordance with the Leahy law, which I know you all are familiar with, and all training includes modules devoted to respect for human rights and the rule of law. Our training for law enforcement entities in Kenya aims to increase the professionalism and capacity of partner forces, and includes support for police oversight bodies to improve accountability and transparency in the police services. So this is an ongoing process here, but our assistance – hopefully the goal of it is to help professionalize it.

QUESTION: Right. Do you know if the Administration has come to any opinion or determination as to whether this training that you’re providing is working, or are there concerns that vetted – groups that you have vetted have – that the training hasn’t taken?

MS. HARF: I can check with our team and see. Obviously, there are challenges here. This is one of the reasons we are continuing the training, because we know there’s more work to do. But I can see if there’s more of an assessment for you.

QUESTION: All right. And then on a related matter – well, a Kenya-related matter --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: The International Criminal Court today has dropped the crimes against humanity charges against President Kenyatta.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: I’m wondering – I realize that you’re not a party to the court or the treaty that created it – or at least it hasn’t been ratified – do you have any comment on that?

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly take a note of the court’s finding. We’re aware of their decision to deny a request for an indefinite adjournment of the proceedings against President Kenyatta, and then the prosecutors subsequent decision to withdraw charges. Independent of these developments in the court, I would say the U.S. continues to emphasize the importance of the principles of accountability, justice, and the rule of law. There’s certainly an accountability for the 2007-2008 post-election violence, is an important element in ensuring Kenya’s democracy, peace, and long-term stability. So we will continue urging the Kenyan Government to live up to its commitments here sort of regardless of what the court has done.

What else? Shortest briefing in history? Yes. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Two questions, actually. The first one deals with Panama and that is that the foreign ministry has sent an invitations for the April Summit of the Americas to Cuba, and this, of course, has been something that the U.S. has blocked with previous summits. I wanted to know if the State Department had reaction this time.

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly recognize Panama’s prerogative as the host of the 2015 summit to extend invitations to whomever it chooses. This is fully consistent with the precedent of past summits and really a question for them to decide, and they’ve done so.

QUESTION: So --

MS. HARF: And did you have a second question? Sorry.

QUESTION: Well, if she --

QUESTION: I did, but if there’s something else on the same topic --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Just on this.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: So you don’t have any problem with this at all?

MS. HARF: Again, it’s not our decision who’s invited, it’s Panama’s, and they’ve made their decision.

QUESTION: No, I know. But I mean, there are a lot of people, particularly on the Hill, who are unhappy about – who are unhappy at the prospect of the possibility that Panama might invite Cuba to attend.

MS. HARF: Well, I think what we’re focused on is less on who’s invited and more on what’s discussed, right. And obviously, our vision for this summit is one that upholds the region’s shared commitments to the collective defense of democracy and human rights, that reinforces the value of strong regional leadership on those commitments and those issues. So that’s certainly what we’re focused on.

QUESTION: Right. But if Cuba, which you have big complaints about on all of those issues, is invited and attends, can the conference be credible? Will the United States attend? Do you think that it --

MS. HARF: Well, certainly the conference can be credible and you know we attend these summits. We think they’re important. And what is important to us most of all, as I just said, is what’s discussed. And talking about human rights and democracy and all of these issues in the Americas, that should be a key part of this and that’s what we’re focused on.

QUESTION: So Cuban participation in this summit in Panama will not be – will not affect U.S. participation.

MS. HARF: Well, we don’t have details on U.S. participation yet. That’s the decision the White House will make. So for specifics, obviously I’d refer you them. But again, these are important fora, and what we are focused on is what is discussed as part of the summit.

QUESTION: Well, but – well, I’m not asking who specifically, whether it will be the President or someone else who goes. I’m just saying you – the U.S. will still participate even though Cuba has been –

MS. HARF: I have no reason to believe that we won’t, but again, the White House makes those decisions, and I’ll let them speak to that one.

Yes, your second question.

QUESTION: In Azerbaijan, authorities have arrested a journalist, Khadija Ismail, on charges of defamation, and this is something that the OSCE has condemned saying this is orchestrated intimidation. I wanted to find out if you had any reaction to the detention.

MS. HARF: Well, I’ve seen those specific reports on that case and can’t independently confirm some of the details in it. Broadly speaking, we are deeply troubled by restrictions on civil society activities, including on journalists in Azerbaijan, are increasingly concerned that the government there is not living up to its international commitments and obligations when it comes to these issues, so it is something that is deeply troubling to us. Folks on the ground certainly have raised this issue with them many, many times.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

indiapakistan">QUESTION: Okay. Two questions. The first one is about a terrorist attack from across the border where 11 security forces, including a lieutenant colonel has been killed just two days ahead of Indian prime minister’s visit. And as we know, the Indian prime minister’s party and he himself is very hawkish and no-nonsense kind. So this is going to erupt into some tensions, something. What is the U.S. –

MS. HARF: Are you talking about the attack in Kashmir?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: So obviously we’re concerned about any violence in Kashmir. Our policy on Kashmir hasn’t changed. We still believe that the pace and the scope and character of India and Pakistan’s dialogue on Kashmir is for those two countries to determine, of course. Our embassies in both places have raised these types of incidents with their respective host governments and certainly encouraged both to continue working together on the issue.

QUESTION: Knowing the Pakistani army’s alleged hand behind – or the blessings on this terrorist, the Pakistani army chief was here and met the Secretary, and then he goes back and this happens. So what message the Secretary gave him?

MS. HARF: Well, I think that you’re conflating a couple of things. Obviously, we know the Secretary and the army chief of staff had a very productive discussion on Sunday on a range of security-related issues, and again, we’re concerned about any violence in Kashmir, and I wouldn’t jump to conclusions here. But we have encouraged both countries to work together on this.

QUESTION: When you say jumping to – you wouldn’t jump to conclusions, you mean about who might be behind this attack?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is that – because you sound --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: It sounded like you were accepting the premise of the question, that it was --

MS. HARF: No, I was saying – I actually was trying not to accept the premise of the question. Thank you.

QUESTION: All right. You don’t know, in other words, if --

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: -- there was any Pakistani involvement?

MS. HARF: I wouldn’t assume anything.

QUESTION: And the other one is the Russian President Putin is arriving in Delhi on 10th, and what we know that there going to be a lot of trade agreements on oil and gas, but also a nuclear site. So what is the – what are you doing about the U.S.-India nuclear deal --

MS. HARF: Well –

QUESTION: -- which has been hibernating in a way?

MS. HARF: A couple of points on that. First, let’s wait and see what comes from the visit. I know there’s a lot of rumors, often of trade deals or economic deals, but let’s see what’s actually put into practice here. What we’ve – and as we’ve said before, now is not the time for business as usual with Russia. We’ve conveyed this certainly to our allies and to our partners across the world.

Regarding U.S.-India civil nuclear cooperation, during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the United States, both sides renewed their commitments to fully implement the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, to find a way forward to allow U.S.-origin reactors to eventually be built in India. The two leaders also agreed in their joint statement to establish a contact group for advancing the implementation of civil nuclear energy cooperation, which will address administrative issues, liability, technical issues, licensing, and other topics as required. So there’s a path forward here for this to keep moving.

QUESTION: When you say that it’s not time to have – to deal with Russia, normally, like because of what’s going on in Ukraine and other parts of the world. And so – and next month President Obama is going to visit. So is it casting a shadow on that visit with --

MS. HARF: It’s not, not at all. And I was saying, broadly speaking, that’s our position on doing business with Russia. But again, India is a very, very close partner. Let’s see what comes out of the actual visit, but we’re confident things will continue as they --

QUESTION: And India has been a very close partner of the USSR before, and now Russia.

MS. HARF: Well, it’s possible to have good relationships with multiple countries even when we disagree on things. But again, it’s not, to my knowledge, impacting any visits one way or the other.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: This is kind of offbeat --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- but on the lines of not the time to do business as usual with Russia, do you have any comment at all or concern about the British Museum sending one of the Elgin Marbles to – loaning it to the Russians for the Hermitage?

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen that.

QUESTION: This is the subject – I don’t know if you’re aware, but it’s been a long bone of – huge bone of contention between the Brits and the Greeks, who want the marble back. And anyway --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- so for the first time since they’ve been in Britain, they’re – one of them is actually leaving, going to the Hermitage. I’m just curious if you have --

MS. HARF: I will check. No, that’s an interesting question.

QUESTION: -- any thought on that.

MS. HARF: I will check.

QUESTION: May I just have a follow-up on that?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is it – like, when it was – we are dealing with Iran and we are putting this sanction up, and India deals with Iran, trade and everything in different ways, and we turn a blind eye to that. And now the Russians are going there and they --

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly don’t turn a blind eye to any action that could be sanctionable when it comes to sanctions on any country. That’s certainly not true. We, in fact, have very vigorous sanctions enforcement and work very closely with our partners to ensure they can meet their obligations under international sanctions architectures.

QUESTION: So the U.S. is watching what comes out of the Putin visit (inaudible)?

MS. HARF: Well, I think it’s fair to say that we watch a lot of things that go along – or go on around the world. I wouldn’t express a large amount of concern, though.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: The Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation program is due out hopefully early next week. I know that the State Department had voiced some concerns earlier this year that the release of the document would endanger overseas personnel. Does the Department feel comfortable with its release now? What’s the position on --

MS. HARF: Well, I think we’ll probably talk about it more when it’s actually released, so we’ll probably hold off on too much comment until then. As you all know, there’s been a robust interagency process working with the State Department and the DNI and the CIA and the Department of Defense, the NSC, on the redaction process. And again, until it’s released, I think I would probably refrain from more comment.

QUESTION: Does it support the release of the document at this point, or is --

MS. HARF: Well, the Administration has always said they support the declassification of this report. The question was always: What’s redacted, what’s not? That’s been an ongoing process. And again, I don’t want to get ahead of any upcoming release.

QUESTION: Yeah. There was talk about a 72-hour window, kind of like a heads-up to overseas missions, whatnot, to kind of let them know the report was going to come out. Has that – I mean, is that going to come from the Senate, or --

MS. HARF: I wouldn’t agree with the characterization of exactly what you’ve just said.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Obviously, as we’ve said publicly, we take a number of steps. And in this case, and we talked about this a little when we thought the report might come out a few months ago, that we have directed all of our posts overseas to review their security posture in light of if and when there is a release of this report to ensure that our personnel, our facilities, and our interests are prepared for the range of reactions that might occur. So certainly, that’s been an ongoing process. As I said, we did it, I think, back in the summer when we thought it might come out in August, I believe, and have been doing it now as well. So that’s an ongoing process that we are undertaking.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yes, Pam.

QUESTION: Are there any new developments in talks with Yemen concerning the American journalist detained by al-Qaida?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re in constant communication with the Yemeni Government to, as we said yesterday in a number of statements, have been very closely coordinated with us on trying to return Mr. Somers home. I don’t have anything new to those conversations to add.

Yes, Abigail.

QUESTION: The U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued a security message warning of heightened tensions and recent attacks on Westerners in the region. Is that related to the murder of William Henderson, or is there --

MS. HARF: I can check on that. It may be. I can check. We issue these fairly frequently, I think.

What else?

QUESTION: I’m wondering if there was any – if you ever got an answer to the question about the Hungarians calling in the charge --

MS. HARF: Which question, specifically, on that? That they – I mean, they did call in --

QUESTION: About Senator – yeah, exactly. But I mean, what – can you tell us what the charge told the Hungarians?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m certainly not going to detail the private conversations, I think.

QUESTION: Well --

MS. HARF: Publicly we have conveyed concerns about democracy and the rule of law in Hungary to the Hungarian Government, broadly speaking. I’ve also done so publicly.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: We’ve spoken publicly about government actions and decisions that harm the health of the democratic institutions. I’m not going to outline further what the specific conversation was, other than to say there was a meeting and we will continue working with the Hungarians to address these issues.

QUESTION: So in other words, he didn’t tell the Hungarians that you disagree with Senator McCain’s comment that the prime minister is a neo-fascist dictator?

MS. HARF: I think I’m not going to further outline those discussions. He made clear what our position is, which is as I just outlined it. As I said the other day, I would not use the same words that were used there.

QUESTION: Right. You would not use the same words that Senator McCain did.

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: Did the charge also tell the Hungarians that that – that Senator McCain’s comments do not represent the feelings of the Administration?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to further outline what that discussion looked like.

QUESTION: In other words, the Administration may very well feel that prime minister --

MS. HARF: No, I said the Administration would not use those words. I’ve said that publicly.

QUESTION: I know. But – so why can’t you say that the charge --

MS. HARF: I’m just not going to outline the private discussion further right now.

QUESTION: Well, but --

MS. HARF: You can not understand why, but I’m not going to. So unless there are any other --

QUESTION: I don’t understand why if someone – if a member of Congress gets up and insults or says something that you believe – that you don’t agree with, you can’t tell us that you’ve told the government in question --

MS. HARF: Because we don’t always outline what our private diplomatic conversations look like. I have made very clear that we don’t agree with the use of the language, so there should be no question.

QUESTION: Yeah, but why can’t you say that the charge told the Hungarians that?

MS. HARF: Because I am not going to outline what they talked about privately.

QUESTION: Well, that leaves open the question that they said, “Hey, why did – do you agree with Senator McCain when he calls our prime minister a neo-fascist dictator,” and the charge then, based on your response, could have said, “Yes, we do agree with that.”

MS. HARF: No, I made very clear the government’s position is that we would not share that sentiment or use those terms.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. HARF: Yes, Samir.

QUESTION: Amnesty International criticized today Gulf countries for not receiving Syrian refugees, saying it’s shameful. Do you share such a criticism?

MS. HARF: I haven’t actually seen that report. I’m sorry about that. I’ll check on that. We know the refugee crisis is a huge problem from Syria and there are a number of countries, including Turkey and others, who have really borne – and Jordan, the king is in town today – who have such a huge share of this burden that’s come from these refugees, and we are very grateful for the work they have done. I’ll check on that report.

QUESTION: Any update on the UN World Food Program to get some money to --

MS. HARF: No update since we talked about it earlier this week. We need more money for it.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. considering providing more contributions to this program?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve certainly provided quite a bit already. I don’t have any more – anything else to announce or preview.

Yes.

QUESTION: More on the – you must have seen the reports about the Indian Government’s announcement that the U.S. – a lot of citizens from a lot of countries, including the U.S., will get visa on arrival. I think it’s a 30-day visa on arrival. Will there be anything from the U.S. side for business people visiting or anything? Are you planning anything to --

MS. HARF: Let me check.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Let me check. I don’t know the answer.

QUESTION: And the second – the second thing is about this continued – about the very highly trained spouses of H-1B visa people who are not given the permit to work. Is there any update on that?

MS. HARF: Let me check. I’ll take both of those and see.

Yes.

QUESTION: I know this topic was touched upon yesterday, but there was a report that the Administration is considering sanctions against Israel for the construction of settlements. Is this something the United States is open to?

MS. HARF: Well, actually, it’s come up I think two days ago, and what I said is that I’m obviously not going to respond to unidentified anonymous sources’ reports about alleged internal deliberations. We have made clear publicly what our position on settlements is, and I’m just not going to get into the business of responding to those kind of reports.

QUESTION: Do you expect the Secretary to announce any new proposals regarding the Middle East next week?

MS. HARF: I don’t have – I didn’t – I don’t have anything to preview for you. Certainly, he’s always said that we support getting back to the negotiating table, but the two sides have to take steps to do so.

QUESTION: Is --

QUESTION: I meant in his coming speech.

MS. HARF: At the Saban Forum?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: Well, we’ll see what he says. Tune in.

QUESTION: Really? So you don’t want to preview it as a major Middle East policy address?

MS. HARF: It’s an important forum. The Secretary was happy to speak last year. The Vice President is as well. So we are looking forward to it.

Yes.

QUESTION: On UAE, I’m wondering if there’s any update on the Emirati investigation into the attack on the school teacher. In particular, there are reports from there that this – the alleged assailant’s home was being used as a kind of a safe house or a --

MS. HARF: I’ve seen some of those. I can’t independently confirm them. We’ve obviously – are following the case, but the Emiratis really have the lead here and I just don’t have a lot of an update for you. We’re not assisting in the official investigation, I don’t think. Obviously, we have some folks on the ground who may be helping out in some way from a law enforcement perspective.

QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t know, though, if the Emiratis have told you that or told officials on the ground that this is --

MS. HARF: I don’t know, but I can check with them.

QUESTION: And is there – as far as you know, there’s really no U.S. involvement in the investigation? No --

MS. HARF: Well, there’s certainly some folks on the ground who I think are assisting on the law enforcement side, but I wouldn’t say that they’re sort of – this is an Emirati investigation and we’re helping if we can, but it’s mostly their work.

Yes.

QUESTION: As a result of this arrest, are there any early indications that this may be tied to broader threats against Americans?

MS. HARF: Well, we – according to the UAE authorities, as I said yesterday, the suspect may also have placed a – what they describe, I think, as a primitive bomb near the home of a different individual. So in terms of motive, I think that’s still unclear and authorities are looking into it, but there may be a pattern here. We’re just not sure.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you expect the Secretary to meet with the king of Jordan this evening, or he is coming late?

MS. HARF: I don’t think there’s anything on the schedule. The Secretary obviously meets with the Jordanians quite a bit, but I don’t think there’s anything on the schedule.

What else?

QUESTION: On the question of the sanctions on Israel, this morning a conservative channel was repeatedly playing your statements and calling that the White House and Israeli Government are – completely don’t see eye to eye. Do you think this building sees eye to eye with --

MS. HARF: I think this whole Administration, including the White House, has an incredibly close, essential relationship with Israel. We have arguably the closest military-to-military relationship we’ve ever had. That’s not based on us; that’s based on senior Israeli officials saying that. We’ve provided unprecedented amounts of security assistance to Israel. We helped them build – develop and build Iron Dome, which, if you remember, it’s incredibly successful in shooting down rockets from Hamas this summer during the Gaza conflict. So our relationship is an incredibly close one, it’s an unshakable one, and I would firmly disagree with those kinds of analyses of our relationship right now.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS. HARF: Anything else?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Great.

QUESTION: Have a good weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:41 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 24, 2014

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 14:57

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 24, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:19 p.m. EST

MR. RATHKE: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR. RATHKE: So I have one thing to mention at the top. You probably have seen the Secretary’s press conference in Vienna where he spoke about the next steps in the P5+1 negotiations. The Secretary is departing Vienna and headed back to Washington. Our negotiating team is still there working through all the details, so I don’t want to get ahead of that work. And as you heard the Secretary mention, I think he is very keen not to get involved in the substantive details that are happening inside the room in the negotiations, but certainly happy to address questions to the extent I can.

And with that, over to you, Lara.

QUESTION: Great, thank you. Already Republicans in Congress are saying that the extension should be coupled with new sanctions and also allow Congress to give a final vote, an up or down vote on whether or not a final agreement would be approved. I’m wondering how the State Department plans to deal with this. I believe I heard Secretary Kerry implore Congress to not impose new sanctions while the negotiations were ongoing.

MR. RATHKE: Right. The Secretary did speak to this in his press availability, and certainly our position on this hasn’t changed. We certainly believe Congress has a role to play, and just as one – to mention one factor, that is sanctions, there is no question that we have reached the point where we are now because of the impact that sanctions have had. On the other hand, sanctions are not going to – alone going to get us the comprehensive deal. That’s why we’re negotiating.

And I think the Secretary indicated that he has been in contact with members of Congress and the leadership as well have – as members of our negotiating team have been, even over the weekend while they’ve been going through the negotiations. He will certainly be coming back to Washington to speak with the President. We will remain in consultation with Congress. So that’s certainly the way he views it, and our position on the question of additional sanctions hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Let me put it this way: Is there anything that the State Department can do to prevent Congress from imposing new sanctions as the negotiations are ongoing?

MR. RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: Sort of a veto or something like that?

MR. RATHKE: I think that question was also asked. I think we’re way – it’s way too early to be talking about any kind of a situation like that. The Secretary reminded that our team is going to come back. We will continue the very intensive consultations we’ve been having with Congress over the last few days, and we will – and I think the Secretary also mentioned that there are certain things that are only – are best discussed in closed setting so that they can be more open about the content. And so that, of course, can only happen once they’ve come back from Vienna and had the chance to have those discussions.

QUESTION: Okay. But you already have members of Congress putting out public press releases saying that they are looking to do this. So why is it too early to talk about it? And are these the types of things that are being brought up in the consultations with Congress? I mean, clearly they’re talking about it not behind closed doors.

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I don’t want to read out the Secretary’s conversations with leaders of Congress which he’s had in private, but he and the members of the team have been in close touch with the leadership in both houses. And they’ve remained in contact on the substance, and they will come back and have further discussions as well.

QUESTION: With current leadership – is that fair to say – as opposed to next year’s leadership or to committee chairmans in next year’s Congress?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to get into the list of every single person he’s spoken with. But he’s been speaking with the congressional leadership and ranking members as well. So this has been a bipartisan effort to engage with congressional leaders.

Arshad.

QUESTION: Jeff, if I’m – if I understood things correctly, the JPOA in effect is going to be extended until July of next year. Correct?

MR. RATHKE: Right. The idea is that the terms of the JPOA remain in effect.

QUESTION: So one of the terms of the JPOA was – specifically had to do with the imposition of additional sanctions. And in it there was very careful language that said something like, “bearing in mind the differing responsibilities of the legislative and executive branches in the U.S. system.” And as I understood that and as it was subsequently, I believe, publicly stated by the Administration, that meant that President Obama was committing himself to veto any additional sanctions that might be imposed by any Congress while the negotiations were going on. Is that not – is that provision not still – do you not plan to have that provision in the extension --

MR. RATHKE: Well, nothing --

QUESTION: -- and therefore you’re – the President is committed to vetoing additional sanctions?

MR. RATHKE: Well, nothing has changed in the JPOA. And as we were just discussing, it’s the Secretary’s view – and he expressed it pretty clearly just about an hour or so ago – that he is confident that the same way that we do not negotiate in public we also don’t brief Congress in public, so that when he and his team have had the opportunity to come back and to continue their discussions with Congress that Congress will see the reasoning behind the positions that we’ve taken, including the decision to prolong the negotiations.

QUESTION: I’m not talking so much about briefing in private or in public. I mean, I’m talking about the public provisions of the JPOA --

MR. RATHKE: Right.

QUESTION: -- which, of course, was published a year ago.

MR. RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: And I just want to make sure that since nothing has changed in that document, that indeed the Administration is still committed to veto – even, I mean, it may not be politically convenient to mention it right now, but you guys have said before that that meant that you were committed to vetoing sanctions if there were any during the period of applicability of the JPOA. I mean, you’re not willing to repeat that now?

MR. RATHKE: No, I’m simply saying that nothing has changed in the JPOA and our position on that hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: What is the danger – I mean, members of Congress have made the argument in public many, many times, including last week at deputy – at the confirmation hearing for Tony Blinken to be Deputy Secretary of State that they believe that the pressure engendered by U.S. sanctions, particularly the central bank sanctions, are what got Iran to this point. Why are they wrong that additional pressure would not be a good idea?

MR. RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: Why is that wrong? Why shouldn’t they pass more sanctions? Why shouldn’t the President not veto them? And why shouldn’t – why doesn’t that send you to into the negotiating room over the next seven months with a stronger hand?

MR. RATHKE: Well, the Secretary, when he was in the Senate, played a central role in putting into place the sanctions regime that exists now and that – as I discussed with Lara – that has been essential to bringing Iran to the negotiating table. Now the factors that went into the JPOA that you outlined, those remain the case. We are committed to the negotiating process not for negotiation’s sake but because we believe progress is being made. And that’s why we have on the one hand the four-month deadline for a political agreement and then three months after that to do the technical work. The Secretary outlined all that in detail. And our reasoning about the efficacy of additional sanctions during that period also remains the same as it has been throughout the period when the JPOA has been in effect.

QUESTION: And what is that? That the Iranians won’t want to talk to you if you – if additional sanctions – I mean, what is – why isn’t more pressure useful?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think it’s important to remember that the pressure that has been brought to bear thus far has gotten us a JPOA which has made the world safer both with respect to the 20 percent enriched uranium and access and inspections and a whole host of other factors. So we continue to believe that keeping the JPOA in effect during this additional period serves the security interests of the United States and our negotiating partners and our partners and allies in the region and indeed the whole world.

QUESTION: I still – I still don’t feel like there’s a clear answer --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- to what was originally Lara’s point and is now the question that I’m asking, which is you are being criticized by some members of Congress. There are people already out there making the case for additional sanctions. And I don’t feel like you’ve properly or fully or directly addressed the question of: Why isn’t additional pressure useful? I mean, there are potential answers. One answer would be, well, we committed that we wouldn’t under the JPOA a year ago and we have to keep to our commitment. Another might be, well, we think that the Iranians won’t negotiate with us if they feel that we’ve broken a commitment. Or I mean, there are potential answers, but I don’t feel like I understand what is your point of view on why you shouldn’t pressure them more.

MR. RATHKE: Well, with respect I’ll say it again, but the JPOA envisions those steps by both sides which – one of which was the – not imposing additional sanctions. And we have agreed to extend the JPOA throughout the additional period of negotiation. So I think that’s --

QUESTION: You need to keep your word.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think that’s an essential part of the negotiation, the same way that we expect Iran to keep its word with respect to all of the requirements of the JPOA, on which the Secretary spoke at length.

Elliot.

QUESTION: Yeah, thanks. Could I ask you to address why in this extension there was like a two-step process laid out with the political agreement reached by end of March and the whole comprehensive agreement with the I’s dotted and T’s crossed reached by the end of July? Why was that approach taken this time?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think as you heard the Secretary describe it, we have made progress, we believe, and narrowed some gaps, while, of course, important significant gaps remain. And it was our judgment that four months is sufficient time to achieve political agreement, and that’s why there was a decision to extend the talks for that period. As the Secretary also said, if after four months there’s no progress and no clear path to a comprehensive agreement, then we’ll revisit how to proceed.

QUESTION: I guess I’m not clear why you’re now separating the political agreement and the comprehensive agreement, whereas previously that didn’t take place. Was it – is it some kind of lesson learned that you took away from previous negotiating rounds that led you to this approach?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t want to draw that conclusion, but I think the Secretary was pretty clear in saying that we will – if we see a path to a final comprehensive agreement, then that will be clear and that there would then be some technical work that would be required to outline all the specific details. But that the – in four months we’ll look at what progress we’ve made, and if the way isn’t clear then we would revisit.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say that those – that four months is meant to put a little bit more pressure on the negotiators to try to get them to reach an agreement a little bit sooner than the whole time period?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I would say that we’ve always – that the negotiators have been meeting at technical, at political directors, and at times at ministerial level throughout the period since the JPOA was originally concluded, and we expect that to continue. Certainly, the Secretary – you heard him say that we expect the next meetings to happen in December. And so we intend to keep up the pace – the pace of work and to keep working toward an agreement.

Anything else on Iran?

QUESTION: And who decided on the time – like seven months, four months, and three months?

MR. RATHKE: Well, that was an agreement of the – of all the parties to the negotiation.

QUESTION: Didn’t Iran push for that – the lengthy period of time? Tried to buy time?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, the agreement on the extension was mutually agreed among all the participants in the negotiation.

QUESTION: Is this the final extension?

MR. RATHKE: Well, this is an extension. I’m not going to get into characterizing it. The Secretary described why we thought an extension now was in the interests of the United States and our negotiating partners in the P5+1. I would leave it at that.

QUESTION: Doesn’t the original JPOA only allow for two extensions though, or did they – or did I not read that right?

MR. RATHKE: I’d have to check the text. I don’t have it.

QUESTION: To be extended by mutual consent.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. RATHKE: Anything else on Iran?

QUESTION: What about the March deadline for the political agreement? Is that open to an extension, that specific part?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, the Secretary was pretty clear, I think, in saying that we – if we aren’t able to reach political agreement in four months then we’ll revisit, but that’s the time that they fixed for reaching that understanding.

All right. Anything --

QUESTION: Not on Iran.

MR. RATHKE: No? Okay. New topic?

QUESTION: I just have --

MR. RATHKE: Or same topic?

QUESTION: -- one more question.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah. Please, Abigail.

QUESTION: Was the extension something that was agreed to earlier in the weekend? Was that conclusion arrived at or was it a last-minute decision to --

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to characterize the ebb and flow of negotiations inside the room. I think we have been pushing for a comprehensive agreement as long as possible and because we thought that was in our best interest and in our partner’s best interest. But it turned out gaps remained, and so this was the arrangement arrived at. I’m not going to put a specific timeline though on when that was reached.

Same topic, Ilhan?

QUESTION: Turkey/Syria.

MR. RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Vice President Biden’s visit concluded yesterday. Is there any way you can tell us what has issued during the visit?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think, of course, for the Vice President’s meetings and the particulars, you should start with the White House and his staff. I would give them the opportunity to comment. But clearly, the Vice President’s visit was an opportunity to – again, to compare notes and to talk about the many ways in which we and Turkey are helping to address the conflict in Syria. Turkey is a key partner for all the reasons that we’ve discussed in recent days, both on the humanitarian side, on the humanitarian corridors, on foreign terrorist fighters, on financial flows, and indeed through the hosting of the train and equip program. But for any additional characterization of the Secretary – of the Vice President’s, sorry – of the Vice President’s conversations with President Erdogan, I’d refer you to the White House.

QUESTION: Is there any way you can confirm that this train and equip program is indeed finalized, and the terrain or camp of these 2,000 fighters – Syrian opposition fighters location is also now clear (inaudible) --

MR. RATHKE: Well, that’s a DOD-led program, as I think we’ve said a number of times in recent days. So for details about those kinds of particulars, I’d refer you to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: Is there any way you can tell us whether the no-fly zone – how the no-fly zone and buffer zone discussions --

MR. RATHKE: Again, for specifics of the Vice President’s discussions with President Erdogan, I’d refer you to the White House.

QUESTION: Were you just asked about the reports about Turkey to train 2,000 Syrian opposition forces in a particular town that --

MR. RATHKE: I think that’s what Ilhan was --

QUESTION: Okay. I’m sorry. Yeah, yeah.

MR. RATHKE: -- referring to, yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. So you can’t confirm that?

MR. RATHKE: Again, Pentagon-led program. They will --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. RATHKE: -- have the details about those kinds of particulars.

Yes.

QUESTION: What’s the U.S. reaction to Israel’s nationality law approved by the government?

MR. RATHKE: Well, this is the beginning of a process, and so I don’t want to speculate on the outcome. It would be our general view, though, that we would expect any final legislation to continue Israel’s commitment to democratic principles.

QUESTION: That means that every person should have a vote, not just Jewish people?

MR. RATHKE: Well, the United States position, which is unchanged, has been clear for years – and the President and the Secretary have also reiterated it – is that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state in which all citizens should enjoy equal rights.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you’re not sort of – when you – I mean, you’re saying it should – and I’m sorry, I forget the verb now, but you stressed the importance of any final outcome on the legislation being one which strengthens or is in line with --

MR. RATHKE: Or continues.

QUESTION: Continues the --

MR. RATHKE: “Continues” was the verb, if that’s --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- democratic principles. That means you’re worried that it won’t continue democratic principles, and it suggests that you’re worried that Israeli Arabs may be disenfranchised. Is that your concern here?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I would say also that this is a process that is underway. It is not final. And naturally, it has aroused quite a bit of interest, so I think it’s not strange that we would be expected – that we would be asked and that we would offer our view.

QUESTION: And is it fair, then, to say that your concern is that it will not continue – that it’s possible it won’t continue democratic principles?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to speculate about the shape and final outcome of the legislation, but simply to point out that we would expect it to continue Israel’s commitment to democratic principles.

Something on the same topic? Same topic? No? Okay, you first.

QUESTION: Thank you. On Cuba, the Spanish foreign minister arrived last night in Cuba and – which has – officially, it has been labeled from Spain with very concrete messages from the U.S. Government to Havana. And this also – all comes ahead of – days ahead of Alan Gross’s fifth anniversary of imprisonment and also amidst the talks about the Summit of the Americas. I was wondering if you can confirm that there’s been any kind of messaging or talks that Spain might deliver a message from the U.S. to the Cuban authorities.

MR. RATHKE: I’m sorry. What sort of a message are you referring to?

QUESTION: If – Spain is saying that he comes with very concrete messages from the U.S. to the Cuban authorities.

MR. RATHKE: And this was said by whom?

QUESTION: The official source is from the Spanish foreign ministry.

MR. RATHKE: No, I have nothing to confirm about that.

A new topic? Yes, Pam.

QUESTION: This is a follow-up, actually, from a question on Friday concerning the GAO report that came out earlier this month on human trafficking.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: The report indicated that there is still the potential for trafficking in persons on State Department contractors involved – contracts involving foreign workers, in some cases in high-risk environments. What – first of all, what concrete steps is State taking to address these concerns?

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Well, yes, the GAO did release a report last week which discussed agency oversight of contractors that employ foreign workers. The State Department concurs with the GAO’s two recommendations to improve contract oversight: first, to develop a more precise definition of recruitment fees, of permissible components and amounts; and second, to ensure that there are trafficking monitoring plans, a process for auditing efforts, and also enhanced monitoring in any case where a risk of trafficking might be heightened.

But I think it’s also pointed out in the GAO report that the Department of State already forbids charging any recruitment fees to the recruited individual. And I think the GAO report also recognizes that we are providing training on contract monitoring to prevent and mitigate the risk of trafficking in persons. So in short, it’s certainly a situation we take seriously. We welcome the report, and we agree with its recommendations.

QUESTION: Can you go a little bit more into the particulars of what State is doing to address the potential abuse in terms of the recruitment fees, which could, of course, open the way for the possibility of debt bondage?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we, of course, on the one hand provide training to our contracting officials, as well as we’ve implemented – there are new federal acquisition regulations, which implement the relevant executive order on this, which is 13627, if you want the number. And these will be published soon and they will prohibit charging employees recruiting fees on a government-wide basis.

Lara, yes.

QUESTION: Yemen?

MR. RATHKE: Please.

QUESTION: There are reports out today that there was a Yemini national working at the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a who provided visas to 50 other people to go travel to the United States to visit some bogus oil thing – an industry conference in Texas, apparently. Do you have any comment on that? And apparently, only the one person has been tracked down in Brooklyn, according to court-sealed – or court documents that had been unsealed in Brooklyn.

Do you know anything about the whereabouts of the other 49 people who were given visas or who obtained visas illegally and what their interest was in coming to the United States, if it wasn’t for this oil conference?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’re aware of the – of these reports, and we are looking into this matter with the appropriate authorities. Of course, we take any allegation of visa fraud seriously. Ensuring the integrity of the visa process is really essential. We have, of course, extensive programs to combat visa fraud and investigate any allegations. I don’t have further comment, though, on current cases. We don’t comment on ongoing investigations.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean, the court documents have already been unsealed in Brooklyn, like I said. I’m just wondering, is there any cause for alarm here in terms of security breaches or mishaps of – since we don’t know or it’s not clear, at least, where these other people are?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we are working closely with our law enforcement partners, as we always do, to investigate all allegations of visa fraud. But I don’t have anything further to report.

QUESTION: Okay. But aside from visa fraud, is there any reason to believe that these people are dangerous to the United States?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, we are working with our law enforcement colleagues. I don’t have any further information to share publicly. And – but naturally, we take these cases seriously.

QUESTION: Do you happen to know why or how this worker in Sana’a was able to obtain these visas and issue them illegally?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to be able to comment on an ongoing investigation.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. RATHKE: Yes, Elliot.

QUESTION: There was a report last week out of IHS in London that new satellite imagery shows that China is constructing basically a new island in the Spratly Islands that would eventually be capable of hosting an airstrip and a harbor. Do you have confirmation or any comment on that?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I would go back to the Declaration of Conduct, which goes back to 2002. Under Article 5 of the Declaration of Conduct among China and the members of ASEAN, the parties committed themselves to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability. Large-scale construction or major steps to militarize or expand law enforcement operations at outposts, such as dramatically expanding the size of a feature through land reclamation, would seem to complicate or escalate the situation in our view. So we believe that an announcement by the claimants that they would avoid certain actions during the negotiating process for the code of conduct would create a conducive and positive environment and dramatically lower the risk of a dangerous incident.

QUESTION: But clearly in this case, they’re proceeding in – not in that direction. I mean, their foreign ministry has already said that the project is intended for humanitarian and public service reasons, and that essentially that they have – they’re within their full rights to build it.

MR. RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: “Indisputable sovereignty” is what the spokeswoman said.

MR. RATHKE: -- the Chinese Government can speak for themselves, but we would urge China, as well as all of the claimants in the South China Sea, to be transparent about their activities in disputed areas of the South China Sea.

So yes, you had a question earlier.

QUESTION: Yeah, it was about China as well. So do you have any comments to – a comment on the claims of a Chinese general that China’s the only one that doesn’t have an airstrip in this region? I mean, balance seems like it would help prevent conflict, right?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I would go back to the declaration of conduct, which has been in effect for about 12 years and which China and all of the ASEAN countries committed to, and in which the parties committed themselves to self-restraint. So I think this is also something that the President spoke to in his press availability with President Xi on his recent visit to Beijing. While the United States does not take a position on competing claims in the East and South China Seas, it’s clear that we have a fundamental – we, the United States – have a fundamental interest in freedom of navigation and that the territorial disputes in the region should be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law.

New topic?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Would there be any way that China could demonstrate that its construction is purely humanitarian, or is any construction escalatory?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to issue a blanket statement of that sort. But again, the declaration of conduct is pretty clear in our view. And, of course, there is an ongoing process to negotiate a code of conduct between China and the ASEAN countries, and it’s the United States point of view that avoiding certain actions during the negotiating process would create a conducive and positive environment.

Pam.

QUESTION: Armenia. OSCE monitors have still been unable to visit the site of the Armenian helicopter that was shot down by Azerbaijani forces earlier this month. Is the U.S. doing anything to try to get the monitors in?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we are of course following the operation to recover the bodies of three crew members killed in the November 12th downing of a military helicopter along the line of contact. This incident and the subsequent violence underscores once again the need to find a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and we urge all sides to show restraint and avoid actions that would increase tensions along the line of contact. And we also urge the sides to refocus their efforts to negotiate a peaceful and lasting settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As a co-chair of the Minsk Group, the United States remains ready to assist.

Now, as far as the OSCE, we do understand that an OSCE representative may have been refused access to the site. We would refer you to them for further details, but clearly, we see a need to find a peaceful resolution in Nagorno-Karabakh.

New topic? Okay. Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:49 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 21, 2014

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 16:38

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 21, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

12:54 p.m. EST

MR. RATHKE: Good afternoon. So I have three items to mention at the top and then we’ll get started.

First, with respect to the travel of the Secretary: Since arriving in Vienna last night, Secretary Kerry has had a variety of meetings and consultations with Baroness Ashton, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, French Foreign Minister Fabius, UK Foreign Secretary Hammond, and German Political Director Lucas. Those meetings are still ongoing. He continues to stay in close touch with his interagency colleagues in Washington. The situation on the ground remains fluid, so any updates to the itinerary will come from the Secretary’s team on the ground.

Second item: The United States is deeply disappointed that Chinese authorities upheld the separatism conviction and life sentence for prominent Uighur professor Ilham Tohti in a closed jailhouse hearing today. His detention silenced an important Uighur voice that peacefully promoted understanding among China’s ethnic groups. We will continue to call for Chinese authorities to release professor Tohti.

The United States is also deeply concerned about reports that veteran journalist Gao Yu is being tried on a charge of leaking state secrets to a foreign news outlet. The United States remains concerned by the ongoing detention and prosecution of public interest lawyers, journalists, bloggers, religious leaders, and others who challenge official Chinese policies and actions. We urge Chinese authorities to differentiate between peaceful dissent and violent extremism. And we continue to call on Chinese authorities to release all persons detained for peacefully expressing their views, to remove restrictions on their freedom of movement, and to guarantee them the protections and freedoms to which they are entitled under China’s international human rights commitments, including the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly.

And the last item: I would like to welcome a group of young Palestinian journalists to the daily briefing in the back. They are here today as part of an UNRWA-sponsored program which brings young people to the United States to learn how journalists here engage on foreign policy and interact with the State Department, of which you all are a model.

So please, Lara, why don’t you lead off.

QUESTION: (In Arabic.) (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Nice job.

QUESTION: Thanks. Let’s start with Iran if we could.

MR. RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: The last update we got from Vienna was that Secretary Kerry was planning on traveling back to Paris tonight. Is that still the case?

MR. RATHKE: Yeah, I don’t have any update to his travel schedule.

QUESTION: Okay, but he’s meeting with Foreign Minister Zarif and Baroness Ashton right now. Is that right?

MR. RATHKE: Well, he’s had a variety of meetings. I can’t tell you with certainty exactly whom he’s sitting down with now. It’s been, as I said, a very fluid situation with a number of meetings in bilateral, in multilateral settings. But those meetings continue as we speak.

QUESTION: Right. And so it’s getting kind of late in Vienna, hence the question about what his travel plans are. I mean, the point, I suppose, of this is that since it’s so fluid and since it’s been going back and forth and some of these meetings seem like they have arisen at last-minute notice, what does that suggest in terms of the prospect of a deal and the state of the negotiations right now?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I wouldn’t draw a particular conclusion from it. This is a fluid situation and we’re staying flexible in terms of the logistics and travel arrangements as to what is needed on the ground. The United States intends to keep working hard to resolve the differences and to do everything in our power to try to get across the finish line. But with respect to the fact that meetings are continuing intensively, I think that shouldn’t be a surprise given that we’re nearing the November 24th deadline.

QUESTION: And does Secretary Kerry plan on staying in the region through the deadline, I mean until the 24th?

MR. RATHKE: Again, I don’t have anything to update as far as his travel plans. I have no changes to announce.

QUESTION: Why – can I ask something directly on the travel? Why is it that – I mean, if – I don’t understand why it might be necessary for him to leave and then come back. I mean, if his presence there is of utility, why doesn’t he just stay there and hang out at a hotel or do whatever and step in as necessary? And if his presence isn’t necessary, why doesn’t he just come back to Washington? I don’t fully understand the need to hop to a new European city every couple of days here.

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, his travel schedule is driven by how he sees his time best used, and he’s had a variety of consultations this week in advance of arriving in Vienna. He’s there now. I don’t have further announcements to make, but clearly he remains in close touch with his counterparts both within the P5+1 as well as internationally, and with the team in Washington.

QUESTION: Are all other members of the team, notably Acting Deputy Secretary Sherman, former Deputy Secretary Burns, former National Security Council official Jake Sullivan – are all of them staying?

MR. RATHKE: Again, I don’t have anything to announce about their travel. They’re in Vienna now. I don’t have any announcements to make about that.

QUESTION: And can you offer any characterization beyond what you already have on the nature of the talks given that you are now three days to the deadline?

MR. RATHKE: Well, given where we are in the negotiations, I’m not going to give readouts of those meetings.

QUESTION: Earlier this week, you told us that – you said, “We’re not talking about an extension.” Are – I think that was on Wednesday.

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are you now talking about an extension given how close to the deadline you are?

MR. RATHKE: The situation on that hasn’t changed either. We’re focused on the 24th of November. That’s what we’re focused on.

QUESTION: And the statement, “We are not talking about an extension,” is still true?

MR. RATHKE: Right. We’re not talking about an extension with the Iranians. We’re not focused on that.

QUESTION: What are you talking --

QUESTION: Are you talking to your own partners about it?

MR. RATHKE: It’s not what we’re focused on. We’re focused on the 24th.

QUESTION: But can you make the same statement with regard to the Iranians with – about your five other negotiating partners, that, “We are not talking about an extension”?

MR. RATHKE: Again, I don’t have readouts of the meetings that are ongoing as we speak. What I’ve said is that we are focused on the 24th. We’re not focused on an extension.

QUESTION: Would you dissuade us from concluding from your series of answers to these questions that you are, in fact, discussing the possibility of an extension with the other five, just not with Iran?

MR. RATHKE: Again, the meetings are ongoing on the ground. I am not going to persuade you or dissuade you beyond what I’ve said. Again, it’s a fluid situation.

QUESTION: Is it conceivable to you that you could – and I’m not talking about a formal extension to some significant – to some date in the future. Is it conceivable to you that, as was the case a year ago, that you might – that the negotiations might slide an extra few hours or 12 hours or day or two days? I mean, is it conceivable to you without a formal extension that you guys could – that all the parties could just keep talking through Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, maybe even Thursday?

MR. RATHKE: I appreciate the opportunity to comment on a hypothetical, but I’m not going to. We’re focused on the 24th. That’s where our energies are directed.

QUESTION: I don’t think technically it’s a hypothetical. I asked if something was conceivable to you.

MR. RATHKE: Again, we’re focused on November 24th.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. RATHKE: Anything else on this topic? No? Please, Elise.

QUESTION: I’d like to return to the case of Taqi Maidan. You said yesterday – was it yesterday --

QUESTION: Or Wednesday.

QUESTION: -- Wednesday, sorry – that you were aware of the recent report published by the Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and you said you share many of the concerns related to his detention and you take its work very seriously.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Could you say what areas of that report that you share their concerns about?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to get into a further characterization of the content of the report. But I will say --

QUESTION: Well, I can – I mean, there are reports that the detention was arbitrary. There are reports that – about his alleged abuse in prison. There are allegations that the confession was forced. I mean, which of the confessions – which of the allegations in the report do you share the concerns of, or just the general nature that his detention has been arbitrary and that he should be released?

MR. RATHKE: Well, as I mentioned yesterday, this is a case that we’ve taken very seriously. We’ve raised this at the highest levels of the Government of Bahrain. And we continue; we remain in contact with them about it. And our concerns relate to Mr. Al-Maidan’s safety and welfare, his treatment in prison – including his medical and nutritional needs – and the Bahraini court system’s judicial proceedings.

QUESTION: When you say “the Bahraini court system’s judicial proceedings,” are you suggesting that you feel that he did not get due process and didn’t receive a fair trial?

MR. RATHKE: Well, first I would also note in that respect that Mr. Al-Maidan’s attorney has informed us that they plan to appeal the verdict. Of course, we’d refer you to them for any additional information on those steps on their part. But in our discussions with the Government of Bahrain about this case, we continue to emphasize the importance of Bahrain’s commitment to fair trial guarantees required by international law.

QUESTION: When you say that, that would indicate that you feel that the initial trial was not fair.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I would say, again, that we continue to raise our concerns with the Government of Bahrain about a fair trial.

QUESTION: Is there – do you – are you concerned that there’s evidence to support the claim that the confession for what he was actually convicted of, which is – I think there’s a recognition that he was caught up in the protest, so maybe that would be unlawful assembly, but intent to kill police, destruction of police vehicles, and possession of Molotov cocktails, that that was all a forced confession? Because he says he just threw rocks. Is there evidence to support all of these other claims?

MR. RATHKE: Well, with respect to the evidence, I would refer you to Bahraini authorities. I would --

QUESTION: Are you concerned that there was a forced confession, I guess is my --

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, we’ve – I’ve discussed that we have raised our concerns at high levels of the Government of Bahrain regarding his safety and welfare and his treatment in prison, including medical and nutritional needs. I’m not going to specify that further.

QUESTION: Were there --

MR. RATHKE: If I could also, though, mention, because we’ve – we have visited Mr. Al-Maidan several times. We are in regular contact with him and with his family. So since his detention, we visited him five times, most recently --

QUESTION: In two years?

MR. RATHKE: Yes, five times. The most recent was September 30th, 2014. And in addition to that, staff from our Embassy in Bahrain have attended six separate court hearings that concerned Mr. Al-Maidan’s case.

QUESTION: Is that common that in two – like, that in two years, your basic – that a year, when there’s an American citizen in detention on cases that you have a concern about, is kind of two and a half times a year really a sufficient, do you think, amount of time to visit someone in jail --

MR. RATHKE: Well, we --

QUESTION: -- when you have – when you do have concerns and claims of abuse in prison?

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, I don’t have further details to share about the general approach of the Government of Bahrain in terms of access to prisoners, but certainly, we always seek regular access to Americans who are imprisoned overseas.

QUESTION: Okay. And just one more on this: You said that – you mentioned the appeal.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: It’s my understanding that it’s not guaranteed that the Bahrainis will accept another appeal. I think that this is, like, their one last chance of recourse for a possible appeal, and it’s not guaranteed that the government accepts it. Are you urging the government to allow the case to go forward for appeal?

MR. RATHKE: Well, if my understanding is correct, there is a plan to appeal. I don’t believe that that appeal has actually been filed yet, so it would be premature to say how that will go. But I would revert to the statement I made at the start, which is we remain in contact with the Bahraini Government, including at the highest levels, and we continue to consult with Bahraini officials on this case.

QUESTION: Without getting into the kind of specific question – diplomatic discussions, if there was – this was just a case of an American who broke the law, I don’t think you would be raising this case with the Bahrainis at the highest levels of the government. So why is this case being raised with Bahrainis at the highest level of government? Is it about your concern about lack of due process? Is it concern about the potential abuse in prison? Is it all of it? Do you think that this was a disproportionate sentence for --

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, we have a variety of concerns which I’ve listed, and as a result of those --

QUESTION: But the highest levels of the government would indicate that you feel that something needs to be done about – do you think he should be released?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, we have a number of concerns about his treatment and about the judicial proceedings, which is why we continue to raise this. We take it seriously, which is why it’s been a topic of discussion at the highest levels.

QUESTION: And you’ll continue to raise it at the highest levels?

MR. RATHKE: Well, yes, we continue to consult with government officials.

QUESTION: And Jeff?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: On this – actually, just quickly, in this time that you’ve been consulting with the government and raising these concerns at the highest levels, has the State Department or the Embassy there or the U.S. Government as a whole seen any indication whatsoever in that time that the government has acknowledged these concerns and is willing to address them?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we take seriously any allegation of abuse, mistreatment, or torture, and that’s why we’ve raised our concerns about the conditions of his custody. We understand that in response to our concerns, he has been given appropriate medical access and treatment. So I would highlight that. But again, this is a matter of ongoing concern. I would not want to suggest that that is the – that that would suggest an endpoint to our concern.

QUESTION: When was that? Do you happen to know?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have specific details to share on that.

QUESTION: Just one more: Are you also raising the kind of length of the sentence? Because my understanding is that when the government – or the court, rather, handed down the 10-year sentence, the consular officer, who I won’t name, expressed shock to the – to Mr. Maidan about the sentence and said that she thought it was a disproportionate sentence.

MR. RATHKE: I don’t – I simply don’t have the basis to make a judgment about that. I lack the information to compare.

QUESTION: And just one other question: If you could clear up why, the last two years, you’ve been saying that you don’t have a Privacy Act waiver? I understand now that one has come to light, you’re talking out about the case and that’s great, but it’s my understanding that the family signed a Privacy Act waiver some time ago.

MR. RATHKE: I’m sorry, but you’re suggesting --

QUESTION: I’m suggesting that for the last two years you haven’t talked about the case, claiming a Privacy Act waiver.

MR. RATHKE: I’m not aware – but perhaps I’m simply not familiar – I’m not aware that it’s been raised in the briefing over the last couple of years.

QUESTION: This is not the first time the case has been raised.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Well, that’s – I don’t – I’m not aware. Again, I think there may have been a mistake in locating the Privacy Act waiver, but clearly we’ve had a lengthy discussion.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. RATHKE: We’re – we’ve got the authorization to speak about it and therefore we’re doing so.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. RATHKE: Anything on this topic? Okay, we can move on. Elliot.

QUESTION: Yeah, can I go to Ukraine?

MR. RATHKE: Please.

QUESTION: I know the Vice President already spoke to this, but do you have any reaction to the new Ukrainian legislative coalition being agreed to?

MR. RATHKE: Right. We welcome today’s signing of an agreement among all five participating political parties in Ukraine to form a coalition government. This is an important and transparent step in the formation of a new government as a result of last month’s parliamentary elections. And we will continue to support the Government of Ukraine in its efforts to build a more prosperous, unified, and democratic society. Of course, the Vice President is there and he’s – his presence certainly underscores that at the highest levels.

QUESTION: And then the coalition has also laid out its major sort of policy and political goals, including – and that includes aiming to join NATO and returning Crimea to Ukrainian control. Does the U.S. support this agenda?

MR. RATHKE: Well, first of all, nobody aside from Russia recognizes the illegal occupation and attempt to annex Crimea. So that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. I would also say that the people of Ukraine and in – through their commitment to democratic values and principles and the elections have supported politicians who are focused on reform in a wide variety of areas. So reform, anticorruption, and those sorts of issues are extremely important to them, and we think that emphasis is important.

Now, with respect to their security policy and their calls for ties with NATO, our policy is that the door remains open, and the countries that are willing to contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic alliance, in the Euro-Atlantic space are welcome to apply for membership. Each application is considered on its merits. Ultimately, that’s a Ukrainian decision to make.

QUESTION: Russians have already said that they would need a 100 percent guarantee that Ukraine will not join NATO. Given that statement, do you think that this is a positive step toward reconciling with Russia, or do you see it as something that could possibly make tensions even worse?

MR. RATHKE: Which step do you mean?

QUESTION: The step of moving toward joining NATO.

MR. RATHKE: I thought you might have meant the Russian call for veto over Ukraine’s own sovereign decisions.

QUESTION: Well – (laughter) --

MR. RATHKE: Anyway, the United States remains committed to NATO’s open door policy and to previous decisions by the alliance. Again, Ukrainians have the right to make their own decisions about what policies they want to pursue. That’s really their responsibility.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: Anything else on Ukraine?

QUESTION: Yeah, I’ve got --

MR. RATHKE: Yes, please.

QUESTION: Just given the amount of – the number of deaths in Eastern Ukraine in the last several months, does the United States still recognize or believe that a ceasefire is in place?

MR. RATHKE: Well, the – unfortunately, the root of the problem in eastern Ukraine remains the same: Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and its support to separatists who are fighting against Ukrainian authorities. Time and again, Russia has made commitments, has failed to live up to them, and then later offered explanations that it knows and the rest of us know are untrue.

So we think that the ceasefire needs to be observed and that Russia and the separatists need to abide by the Minsk agreements, and that’s essential for a peaceful way forward.

QUESTION: But you just laid out a very good argument for why the ceasefire is really no longer in place, given all of the movements.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to draw that conclusion. We think that this – of course, there is activity of concern, and that’s why we call on Russia and the separatists to abide by their commitments in the Minsk protocols. And that’s essential. There are – the Ukrainian authorities have done what’s been expected of them under the Minsk agreements. That hasn’t been reciprocated.

QUESTION: So would there be any kind of policy adjustment by the United States if the ceasefire were to be called off?

MR. RATHKE: That’s – I’d put that in the hypothetical category.

QUESTION: Probably, but I mean, it’s – goes back to the question of why not just call it as it is. I mean, there is violence happening on both sides. Whether one is instigated and one is in defense – I mean, there’s – it’s undeniable that both sides have suffered attacks and losses.

MR. RATHKE: Well, the loss of life in eastern Ukraine is truly regrettable, all the more so because it didn’t have to happen. It doesn’t – and it doesn’t need to continue. Our policy --

QUESTION: And it wouldn’t have happened if the ceasefire was really in place.

MR. RATHKE: Well, our policy hasn’t changed. We’ve stated that we will increase the costs to Russia if it doesn’t take steps to – on its own and through the proxy separatists to abide by the Minsk agreements.

QUESTION: And on that, do you think that the response to Russia or to the separatists – would that – is the United States still willing to take unilateral action against Russia and the separatists, or would that be only in conjunction with the EU partners?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’ve had broad agreement with our European partners. Of course, those kinds of steps are always better if taken in harmony and in concert, and that’s our preference and that’s where we remain. And we remain on the same page, so --

QUESTION: So you’d be unwilling to take unilateral steps.

MR. RATHKE: No, I didn’t say that. I --

QUESTION: Would you be willing to take unilateral steps?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’re not in a situation where we need to contemplate that, because we have a broad understanding and a similar point of view with our European partners with respect to the steps Russia needs to take and the ways in which the costs to Russia should increase if they fail to abide by the agreements.

Yes.

QUESTION: Not only have they not abided by the agreements, but by the assessments of senior NATO officials and senior U.S. government officials, they have blatantly violated them. I mean, Deputy Secretary Blinken – Deputy Secretary-designate or nominee Blinken said that you have very strong evidence that they have sent troops and materiel into eastern Ukraine. Why haven’t you already, given the harmony with the Europeans – why haven’t you already broadened the scope of the sanctions, given that Russia is not merely not abiding by but is just – in your telling, is flagrantly violating the agreement?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we have continued systematically, in conjunction with our European partners, to increase those – increase the costs to Russia. We remain in contact with the European partners and continue discussions to that end. I don’t have further description to offer.

QUESTION: Are there any kind of discussions ongoing, either just in Washington or with our – the United States European partners as to how long Russia can continue to violate these terms before there is action taken?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I would dispute the notion that no action has been taken. I think we’ve just been talking about --

QUESTION: Before additional action is taken.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to put a specific timeframe or deadline on it. This is a matter that we remain actively discussing with our European and international partners.

QUESTION: Sure, but it’s ongoing, as you’ve said.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: So at some point --

MR. RATHKE: Well, it was just about a week, week and a half ago that the European Union took certain measures. They – at the end of a European Foreign Affairs Council meeting. So again, there is a continuing ratcheting of the pressure and raising of the costs. And until Russia and the separatists change course, that’s going to continue.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. RATHKE: Anything on this topic, or --

QUESTION: Yeah, still on this topic.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Just on the issue of Crimea, I understand what you said before about nobody recognizing the Russian annexation, but this is – I mean, what they’re calling for as a top-priority policy goal is a little different. It’s actually restoration of Ukrainian control over Crimea, which, in the absence of any kind of Russian action to relinquish Crimea, would presumably require some kind of military action into Crimea. But is that – like, to what extent is the U.S. prepared to support something like that?

MR. RATHKE: Well, in the first instance, I’d ask you to ask the Ukrainian authorities how to interpret the statement in the program that was concluded by the five political parties.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. RATHKE: I’m not certain that it necessarily means what you said it implies. We, the United States, have – we believe and we continue to believe that there’s no military resolution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine or, indeed, in Crimea. Our focus from the outset of the crisis has been on supporting Ukraine and pursuing a diplomatic solution.

QUESTION: So what – let me ask you this then: What steps is the U.S. prepared to take in order to assist in that goal of returning Crimea to Ukrainian control?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t have anything – any further details to outline now. We don’t recognize the illegal incorporation of Crimea into Russia, but I don’t have any further steps, other than what we’ve already discussed in this briefing room before.

Yes, just – Pam, on the same topic?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. RATHKE: Please.

QUESTION: Are there any new developments on the diplomatic front in talks in terms of whether or not the U.S. should move toward providing Ukraine with lethal aid?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think you will have seen the fact sheet released by the White House today, which outlines more than $23 million in new assistance to help support comprehensive reform in the Ukrainian law enforcement and justice sectors, and also to support the UN World Food Program’s humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. The fact sheet is quite detailed, and indeed, it outlines the full spectrum of areas where the Ukrainian Government has committed to reform, whether that’s in energy security, in economic reform, and so forth.

And I think with regard to the question of lethal assistance, we spoke to this yesterday, and indeed, Tony Blinken in his hearing in the foreign relations committee spoke to it as well. And I don’t have anything to add beyond our discussion yesterday, that this is something that remains an option. I don’t have an announcement to make though.

QUESTION: Over to Iraq?

MR. RATHKE: Yeah. Anything else on Ukraine? Okay, we’ll go to Iraq and then we’ll come to you, Tejinder.

QUESTION: The Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was in Baghdad and Erbil over the past two days. How do you view Turkey’s attempts to mend ties with Baghdad?

MR. RATHKE: Well, of course, we support good relations between Iraq and Turkey. That’s – and indeed, Turkish – the Turkish Government has played a very important role in recent weeks and months in dealing not only with the threat that comes from ISIL in Syria but also ISIL in Iraq. And so we’re, of course, supportive of anything that improves relations between Turkey and Iraq.

QUESTION: And we know that happens at a time when Joe Biden is expected to arrive in Turkey today. I think he arrived, right? Do you think that the two events are related? Is Turkey trying to be a better partner in the anti-ISIS coalition ahead of the visit?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not sure I’d characterize it that way because Turkey has been doing a lot. We talked about this yesterday and the day before. Turkey is – hosts the largest refugee population, people fleeing the fighting in --

QUESTION: That has nothing to do with the coalition. I mean, it’s been hosting a refugee population since the civil war began because refugees been streaming across its border. That is not related to the coalition.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I wasn’t – I hadn’t finished my sentence.

QUESTION: Okay, please.

MR. RATHKE: That’s not all that Turkey has done.

QUESTION: That has nothing to do with the coalition, right?

MR. RATHKE: Well, but we’re not talking about – purely about the coalition. He was talking about Turkey as a partner.

QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry. I thought he was asking about --

QUESTION: As a part of the anti-ISIS coalition.

MR. RATHKE: Fine. Turkey has also taken steps to impede foreign terrorist financing and also the flow of foreign terrorist fighters. And on the humanitarian side, they have contributed and have helped keep humanitarian corridors open. So these are – in addition to that, they have agreed to host part of the train and equip program for the Syrian opposition. So Turkey is doing quite a lot, and we value greatly the Turkish contribution, which I think is one reason why the Vice President is going there. Turkey is a strategic NATO ally and a valuable partner.

QUESTION: Just one more --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- question on Iraq – on Kurdistan specifically. Chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce, he introduced a bill yesterday authorizing the President to directly provide advanced conventional arms to the Kurdish Peshmerga. Have you seen that bill? What do you think of the bill?

MR. RATHKE: I think we talked about this yesterday, but I’m happy to --

QUESTION: Well, the bill came out yesterday. I mean, specifically --

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m happy to talk about – I haven’t read the bill, and I’m not going to comment directly on the provisions of the bill that is in Congress. But we have enormous respect for the courage that the Kurds have shown and the fight that they’ve already taken to ISIL. And that’s why, in coordination with the Government of Iraq, the United States and the coalition have been very supportive of Iraqi Kurdish forces. Since the crisis began, the United States and members of the coalition have worked with the Iraqi central government to send 46 plane loads of needed equipment to the Kurdish Regional Government, and we continue our support.

QUESTION: Can you conclude that top lawmakers of this country – I mean, they’re at odds with the Administration on a lot of domestic issues, but also on this matter, which is very crucial for U.S. national interest, like fighting ISIS, you are, like, on opposite sides? They want you to work with non-state actors such the Kurds more closely than what you are already (inaudible).

MR. RATHKE: Well, our policy remains as we’ve discussed it over the last few days, and as it has been indeed for months and years, that all arms transfers must be coordinated through the sovereign central government of Iraq. That’s our policy. It’s also a legal requirement under current U.S. law. And we think this is – this policy is the most effective way to support the effort to combat ISIL and to promote our policy of a unified, federal, pluralistic, and democratic state as envisioned in the Iraqi constitution.

QUESTION: So one more: You said on Wednesday that the Kurdish delegation was going to meet State Department officials on Thursday, yesterday. Do you think that --

MR. RATHKE: Well, they had a variety of meetings throughout the entire week, but yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any update, any --

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have a readout of those meetings. Anything more on Iraq?

QUESTION: Yeah. Can I follow up on that?

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I mean, it doesn’t really answer the question of whether the policy that you maintain of supplying arms directly to the central government of Iraq would exist if it wasn’t for the legal requirement that binds you to that. Can you address that?

MR. RATHKE: Well, as I think I said, our policy is to promote a unified, federal, pluralistic, and democratic state, as indeed is outlined in the Iraqi constitution. And so our policy with respect to arms and the Iraqi central government and the Kurdish forces is a natural result of that policy.

QUESTION: So freed from the legal requirement of having to supply arms and equipment to the government in Baghdad, you wouldn’t necessarily shift to directly supplying the Kurds?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I’m not going to get into commenting on a bill that has been introduced, but which hasn’t been passed. So our policy is as I described it for those reasons.

QUESTION: But it has the support of both the chairman of the Senate foreign affairs committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, so it’s --

MR. RATHKE: I’ll decline the opportunity to comment on who supports or has spoken out in Congress on the bill.

On Iraq?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: I just kind of want to take a step back if I may and --

MR. RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: -- since some things seem to change and some things stay the same, but if you could just remind me, regarding the United States involvement in Iraq and Syria, is it fair still to say that defeating ISIS is still the main effort? I think General Allen said that the other day, that it’s still an “Iraq first” policy, right?

MR. RATHKE: But let me make sure I understand your question correctly. You mean with respect to the fight against ISIL and where our focus is in that regard, or do you mean our policy toward Iraq overall?

QUESTION: Iraq and Syria overall.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. So the – well, I think the – as General Allen has said and as others have said, we’re focused on fighting ISIL in Iraq. We are cooperating with Iraqi authorities to that end, both Kurdish authorities as well as the central government.

QUESTION: And Syria as well.

MR. RATHKE: And at the same time in Syria, so – but the circumstances in both places are quite different, and therefore the approaches need to be different.

QUESTION: Well – okay.

MR. RATHKE: So I don’t have anything to add or change in what General Allen and others have said about this.

QUESTION: Let me just put it this way. I mean, I’m not trying to – I’m honestly trying to understand --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- a larger point here. I’m not trying to back you into a corner.

MR. RATHKE: Right.

QUESTION: But we do have people saying that what’s happening there is an “Iraq first” policy of defeating ISIS that will also spill over into Syria. At the same time, we have a policy of all of this must be solved politically, which means Assad must go. So I’m just wondering if you can explain the U.S. position on how these two things or where these two things come together, because from the outside, they’re two separate tracks.

MR. RATHKE: Well, but again, are you talking about our policy toward ISIL in Iraq and Syria, or are you talking about our – of course, our position on Assad is well known.

QUESTION: But how does your position --

QUESTION: That is the crux of the problem.

QUESTION: The crux of the problem --

QUESTION: That’s our question too.

QUESTION: The unanswerable question that no one seems to be able to answer, which would make it unanswerable – (laughter) – is that – how does your policy of a political transition in Syria fit into your overall strategy for ISIS?

QUESTION: Or how does the policy for defeating ISIS fit in --

QUESTION: That’s – yes, that’s a better way of putting it. Thank you.

QUESTION: -- with the overall strategy of a political solution that includes removing Assad?

QUESTION: Thank you, yes.

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’ve been clear that our goal --

QUESTION: No, you haven’t been clear. Okay. (Laughter.)

MR. RATHKE: You have, Elise. Let me tell you that. So our goal is helping the Syrian people reach a negotiated political transition that fulfills their aspirations. Now this means a future without Assad or ISIL, and as President Obama has said repeatedly, Assad has lost his legitimacy, and there can’t be a stable and inclusive Syria under his leadership. So we’re taking action against ISIL in Syria because the Assad regime has shown that it can’t and won’t confront terrorist groups effectively.

So remember, of course, as I’m sure you know but it’s worth repeating, that Assad’s own actions have fueled the rise of extremism. And so therefore we are working to support the opposition in Syria. We have been supporting the opposition for years. We’re stepping up that, especially through the train and equip program, and that is to help them defend themselves from Assad but also to defend and fight back against ISIL.

QUESTION: Right, but if Assad’s own actions have fueled extremism, can you really, truly put an end to extremism in Syria without getting rid of Assad?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, our overall goal with respect to Syria is that the Syrian people are able to reach a negotiated political transition that fulfills their aspirations. So – and we’ve also been clear that we don’t see a stable and inclusive Syria under the leadership of Assad.

QUESTION: Are these two separate tracks or are they related?

MR. RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: Defeat ISIL, unseat Assad, or is it related? I mean --

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think it’s been clear that ISIL represents a threat not only in Iraq and Syria, but the neighboring countries in the region see a clear threat from ISIL and that’s where the international effort is focused as a result.

QUESTION: Is it fair to assume that the U.S. priority is defeating Iraq since – I mean, obvious and --

MR. RATHKE: Defeating Iraq? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, defeating ISIL. Sorry, not defeating Iraq, but defeating the Islamic State, given that there has been overt and repeated action by the United States to fight ISIL?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think it’s clear from our actions, as you say, that we’re devoting enormous energies – energy and resources to the fight against ISIL, both supporting Iraqi forces as they do so as well as in Syria.

QUESTION: Let me put it this way: If and when Assad ever leaves, who takes his place under the current environment?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t have a prediction or a prescription for that to offer at this point. We believe there needs to be a political solution that embodies the aspirations of all of Syria’s people, but we are unfortunately far from that right now. So I don’t have any further details to offer on (inaudible).

QUESTION: Is it not a concern that elements of ISIL and Khorasan and other extremist groups could step into that vacuum if Assad leaves?

MR. RATHKE: Well, of course we are concerned about Khorasan and ISIL and other extremist groups. That’s indeed why we’ve carried out, I think, over 400 strikes in Syria in recent weeks and months, including most recently just a day or so ago.

QUESTION: Well, but what – I mean, there’s some lip service that’s paid to kind of boosting up the – I mean, train and equip program aside, how are you ever going to get to the day for an Assad-free Syria if your efforts at the – to help not only effect a political transition in Syria, but get the opposition to a place where it can fill a vacuum left by Assad in the event that he leaves? And how is that – is ISIL – are you ever going to truly defeat ISIL and see a political transition if you’re not working with the opposition?

MR. RATHKE: We are. I’m sorry, I --

QUESTION: What are you – do you have in your book, like, recently what has been done to help get the Syrian opposition together? We haven’t heard for months about kind of meetings with the Syrian opposition or any programs that have been done to help the – again, I’m not saying the train and equip program, which is great, but the political opposition. I mean, we haven’t really heard much about that in a very long time.

MR. RATHKE: Well, we remain in close contact with the political opposition, and I think in recent weeks we’ve talked from here about the consultations that Daniel Rubinstein has had. He’s, of course, the envoy who’s most actively engaged on this. So we remain in close contact. We’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars in support of the Syrian opposition, and of course that’s without even speaking about the train and equip program, which is getting underway. So I would dispute the notion that we’ve been inactive.

QUESTION: But for your hundreds of millions of dollars, can you say that the political Syrian opposition is in any more shape to fill a vacuum filled by Assad than it was when you started?

MR. RATHKE: Well, they’re clearly under a --

QUESTION: If he were to go tomorrow, I’m saying.

MR. RATHKE: The political opposition is clearly under pressure both from ISIL and from Assad. That’s why we are committed to supporting them. That’s – I don’t have more to say beyond that.

Anything else on this topic?

QUESTION: Do you have --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- any more details – just to quickly follow up on Elise’s – do you have any more details on the training and equip program in --

MR. RATHKE: Not beyond what we talked about earlier this week.

QUESTION: Which was just that it was maybe happening.

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, it’s a Department of Defense-led program, so I’d refer you to them for details about the specifics – excuse me – of implementation.

QUESTION: Did it start? Did the program start?

MR. RATHKE: Again, I’d refer you to the Department of Defense. They’re working with our partners who have agreed to host the elements of the train and equip program. But I’d refer you to them for the details.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you don’t know yourself if the program ever started?

MR. RATHKE: I think they are putting in place all of the arrangements necessary to commence, but again, as far as the details, I’d refer you to them.

Thomas.

QUESTION: Yes. You mentioned the train and equip program for the opposition, but it seems that the train and equip program is to fight ISIL, or to replace Assad?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think we’ve talked about this already a couple of times this week. We are training and equipping appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian armed opposition through the Department of Defense, and this will help them defend the Syrian people from attacks by ISIL and the Syrian regime, will stabilize areas under opposition control, and empower those trainees also to go on the offensive against ISIL.

QUESTION: The reason that I’m asking this question, because opposition people, most of them are talking about getting rid of Assad and not – they are not just fighting ISIL. And the second thing, which is: Do you believe that Assad and his army, whatever, his security system, are fighting ISIL, or he doesn’t do anything to them?

MR. RATHKE: I think I’ve said already at the start that the reason that you’ve seen the rise of ISIL in Syria is because the Assad regime has shown no interest and no ability to deal with extremist elements and that it’s fueled the fire.

Arshad, did you want to add something on this?

QUESTION: I – no, I wanted to shift to Sudan. So --

MR. RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: Well, I – can I just finish the thought?

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Why do you think that is? Because he sees that ISIL is going after the opposition and that’s doing his work for him? Or --

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going --

QUESTION: -- is he cooperating with ISIL in any way, do you think?

MR. RATHKE: Well, clearly, the Assad regime has not gone after ISIL in the ways that it could have. I’m not going to speculate about the reasons why they might do that from this podium, though.

So Tejinder, go ahead.

QUESTION: Two. First is that Secretary Biswal is leaving for India day after tomorrow --

MR. RATHKE: Right.

QUESTION: -- for – and you say internal consultations, bilat meetings. Can you tell us how long she will be in India, how many hours, how many days?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t think I have that level of detail about her schedule. We put out an announcement about her travel, and she’ll be making a trip to a number of places, including India, also to Nepal, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, and to Switzerland. And that’s a long trip. It’s going to start November 23rd, go until December 5th.

I don’t have additional detail about her itinerary or her scheduled meetings at each of those stops at this point.

QUESTION: And is it --

QUESTION: Just a follow-up?

QUESTION: -- is it connected with President Obama’s visit to India in January?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to connect it to the President’s trip. Of course, you will have seen that the White House put out an announcement that the President will be traveling to India. But I think this is a – I think Assistant Secretary Biswal’s trip is a long-planned trip for a variety of reasons. Of course, it gives her the opportunity, though, to contribute to developing the agenda for the President’s visit. But that’s led by the White House, naturally.

QUESTION: And how does this building, the people here, look at the trip of Mr. Obama? Like, it came to light through a tweet from Indian prime minister. So was it already – yes, already there was something going on?

MR. RATHKE: I think if you’ve got a question about the President’s travel, this is not the right room in which to be asking it. I’d refer you to the White House for details.

QUESTION: No. I’m talking about the diplomatic part of it. What is the diplomatic --

MR. RATHKE: Well, of course we’re excited that the President’s going to India. We’ve had a great visit by Prime Minister Modi to the United States, and we have a number of areas where we’re cooperating, some of which I outlined I believe yesterday or two days ago, through high-level visits. So we look forward to that continuing.

QUESTION: So do you feel that this was a – will put a final nail in the coffin of the subject of Khobragade and then other visa issues, other – all these issues that have been really souring the relations?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have anything to add on those. I think we’ve got a vibrant and productive bilateral partnership that we look forward to developing further.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

MR. RATHKE: On that? Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: As I ask other day, so much going on between the two countries as far as trade, economics, and other diplomacy and other relations are concerned. And a number of agreements were signed by the high level officials in Delhi during this – last week visits. And as far as President’s visits are concerned, of course, he was invited by the Prime Minister Modi in – when he visited the White House and also in Burma and at the G20. My question is: Secretary is going to join him on this trip in January 26 when the President will be at the Republic Day of India, guest of honors?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have anything to announce about the Secretary’s travel at this time, so I simply don’t have anything to add.

QUESTION: And anything on this ongoing agreements signed and ongoing --

MR. RATHKE: I have nothing to add to what we discussed on Wednesday.

Arshad?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: So there is a report that the Sudanese Government has asked UNAMID, the UN-AU peacekeeping mission in western Darfur, to prepare plans to leave, to prepare an exit strategy. That doesn’t mean that they’ve been asked to leave immediately, but they’ve been asked to draw up plans to leave. Do you have any view on that request, particularly in the light of the difficulty that UNAMID had in first gaining access to investigate mass rape allegations, then in getting into the town to investigate them but there being a very heavy Sudanese Government presence when they tried to interview people, and lastly their renewed request to continue investigations in that – into that?

MR. RATHKE: Right. Well, I’m aware of the reports. I became aware of it just before coming out here, so I’m not in a position to verify it or confirm it in any way. But I would refer you and others to the statement that we put out about two weeks ago which still is pertinent, I think, in this regard.

The United States has been deeply concerned by allegations of mass rape by Sudanese military forces in north Darfur. And we took note then of – that the Government of Sudan allowed access to UNAMID to investigate those allegations, but we expressed our regret that the initial access was denied and that access to potential witnesses and victims was only allowed after significant delays and under close observation of Sudanese security officials.

So we urge the Government of Sudan to fulfill its obligation to grant immediate, unhindered, and full access to UNAMID and other UN agencies. That was our position just a week ago, and it remains our point of view now. But I don’t have further reaction yet to those comments.

QUESTION: Okay. A simple question – and I don’t know if you’re in a position to answer it or not.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: But given your belief that UNAMID should be allowed to investigate these allegations, does the U.S. Government believe that it would be bad if UNAMID were to leave at the request of the Sudanese Government before it has had an opportunity to conduct further investigations into the allegations?

MR. RATHKE: Well, UNAMID plays a key role. We think it should be able to carry out its role. That’s – I think that’s clear.

Yes, Pam.

QUESTION: A General Accounting Office report on human trafficking states that oversight of contractors’ use of foreign workers in high-risk environments needs to be strengthened because without consistent monitoring of contractors’ labor practices, the U.S. Government is unable to send a clear signal to contractors, to sub-contractors, and foreign workers. My question is: What concrete steps is the State Department taking to address concerns raised by the GAO on the potential for abuse of foreign workers, particularly the payment of recruitment fees, which opens the way to debt bondage for those contracted to work with the Department of State in high-risk environments such as Iraq or Afghanistan?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we take human trafficking extremely seriously. Of course, you’re familiar with our annual report on human trafficking throughout the world. And our embassies devote a lot of energy to trying to ascertain and improve the human trafficking situation in all countries where we have embassies.

With respect to that particular report, I have to admit I’m not familiar with its recommendations. I’m happy to talk with folks here who are experts in that area and get back to you with more detail, but I apologize I don’t have more at this time.

Ali?

QUESTION: Can I actually follow up on that?

MR. RATHKE: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: Do you happen to know if there’s any kind of standard for pay parity or conditions parity for third-country nationals as what – working as subcontractors or contractors in security situations on behalf of the United States Government overseas?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t happen to know that. I’m happy, though, in looking into that question, to see if we have something on that. That sounds like a pretty broad question --

QUESTION: Well, I mean --

MR. RATHKE: -- but happy to see what we can say about that.

QUESTION: -- there should be some kind of standard of living and security situation for these people who are in these high-risk environments --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: -- one would think, so --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah, I understand. No, we’re happy to look – I just don’t know that offhand.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR. RATHKE: Ali?

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about a report today that details some of the reckless driving violations that various foreign diplomats have been cited for over the past few years, and obviously, as the State Department is the de facto DMV for these folks, these questions apply to you guys. This report said that the State Department has dismissed foreign diplomats 45 times in the past two years because of reckless driving – repeated offenses. I just want to ask, first, is there is a threshold for which – that these diplomats would have to meet that they would be dismissed by the State Department? What is the standard there?

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Well, let me start off by saying that it is important to emphasize that the vast majority of foreign diplomats and their family members operate motor vehicles responsibly and in compliance with local traffic laws. However, the Department, as you say – our Office of Foreign Missions – issues driver’s licenses to eligible members of foreign missions, and we maintain driver histories on those individuals. We have a points system that we use and similar to those used by departments of motor vehicles elsewhere. And if an individual accumulates 12 or more points over a 24-month period, then we will suspend driving privileges for three months. And if there is a pattern of bad driving habits or egregious offenses such as driving while intoxicated – just one example – then those drivers would be subject to having their licenses suspended or revoked. So this of course depends on the infractions being reported to the Department so we can keep track of them, but if – in cases of repeat offenses or especially egregious offenses, certainly, we take action.

QUESTION: Sure. And notwithstanding the fact that the vast majority of diplomatic officials and their families are responsible drivers, there have been hundreds of cases of reckless driving in the past few years. So I’m just wondering, has there been any efforts by the State Department to issue some sort of general alert or guidelines to these embassies for folks who work here, expressing the importance that while they’re not party to the traffic laws here, that it’s important that they abide by the laws that are in place when that --

MR. RATHKE: Oh, it’s absolutely essential that, irrespective of any individual’s entitlement to diplomatic or consular immunity, that they – that there be consequences when they fail to abide by the laws. And so we of course make all missions aware of this, and we keep them updated. I don’t have further details about specific programs that we do.

QUESTION: Yeah, if you --

QUESTION: Do you have the same standards for your own diplomats overseas?

MR. RATHKE: How do you mean?

QUESTION: I mean, like, if there’s reckless driving, or – do you – the same standards that you provide for diplomats, do you have them for your own?

MR. RATHKE: Well, certainly, we expect all of our diplomats overseas to follow local traffic laws, and --

QUESTION: Because there have been numerous, repeated cases of U.S. diplomats not doing that.

MR. RATHKE: Well, and then – and when appropriate, we take action. I know I’ve had to pay one or two speeding tickets to places where I’ve been posted overseas, and it was understood that if you --

QUESTION: Where and when was that, Jeff? (Laughter.)

MR. RATHKE: We’ll talk about that afterwards.

So certainly, we hold our people to that standard too.

QUESTION: I just --

QUESTION: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry. I just have a couple more questions on this line --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- then I’ll stop.

I wanted to ask specifically about Saudi Arabia, which, according to this report, has more than four times the number of reckless driving citations than any other foreign country. And I’m just wondering: Have any – has there been any communication between the State Department and the Saudi Embassy specifically on what seems to be a specifically high number of reckless driving incidents that have been happening there?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have anything on that. I’d – I’m happy to look and see if there’s more to say.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. And two more --

MR. RATHKE: I simply don’t know.

QUESTION: -- really quick. The reporter who FOIA-ed the document said that she didn’t receive all of them because some were listed under an exemption for foreign relations, which is typically something that’s used for national security concerns. And I’m just wondering what national security concern does the State Department believe applies to the reckless driving records of foreign diplomats.

MR. RATHKE: Well, we have responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act, and I’m aware that there were some issues highlighted in that story. We’re actively reviewing those issues. So I don’t have further comment beyond that.

QUESTION: And one of the efforts to impose more transparency on the whole process has been some people suggesting that it might be advisable to kind of name and shame those who have repeatedly violated these laws, but may not fall under the 12-point – they might not be at that threshold yet. What’s the State Department’s position on listing --

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to pin down specific measures, but certainly we take this seriously and we continue to keep it under advisement.

Time for just one more. Michelle.

QUESTION: The UN Security Council added two branches of Ansar al-Sharia in Libya to its al-Qaida sanctions list. Do you agree with the UN’s report linking the groups to al-Qaida?

MR. RATHKE: So there – you are – you highlighted the decision by the UN Sanctions Committee. We certainly welcome the designation of Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi, and Ansar al-Sharia in Derna as terrorist organizations by the UN Security Council. The Department of State in January of this year, we announced our designations of both organizations as separate foreign terrorist organizations. So this brings the international view on these two organizations in line with the view that the United States had expressed before.

Now, the – it is not the U.S. Government’s assessment that these groups are affiliates of core al-Qaida under Ayman al-Zawahiri, and therefore we don’t recognize them as affiliates of core al-Qaida, but that doesn’t diminish in any way how – our grave concern about both these organizations and their activities.

QUESTION: So you’re not linking them to al-Qaida --

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think the document that the UN Security Council has release, it does not connect – it – that these groups are associated with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, but they are not arms of core al-Qaida, if you look at the report. So certainly we take these groups seriously, and that’s why we acted 11 months ago to designate them. But that’s separate from I think what you were suggesting.

QUESTION: So they’re like a second degree of al-Qaida or something. Al-Qaida-lite --

MR. RATHKE: They are --

QUESTION: The JV team.

MR. RATHKE: -- they have been associated with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. But in our assessment --

QUESTION: Which in itself is associated with al-Qaida core.

MR. RATHKE: Which is an affiliate. But we don’t see them as being subordinate to or a subsidiary of AQIM. There has been an association --

QUESTION: You mean, like, franchises, like at McDonalds?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t think I can put it in those kind of terms.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Thank you very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:55 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 20, 2014

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 15:43

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 20, 2014

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TRANSCRIPT:

1:29 p.m. EST

MR. RATHKE: Good afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: Afternoon.

MR. RATHKE: Sorry for the delay. Two things to mention at the top before we get started. Secretary Kerry was in Paris earlier today, where he met separately with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud and French Foreign Minister Fabius. He is now in Vienna to check in on the Iran nuclear negotiations. And this afternoon, he will meet with the U.S. delegation before having a trilateral meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and Baroness Ashton. His date of departure from Vienna has not yet been determined.

And second item at the top – you’ve heard me address this twice already this week, but that I bring this up again today should be an indication of Secretary Kerry’s focus on this issue. Today, we still have 49 nominees who are waiting for the Senate to confirm them, and half of them – 24 of these nominees – are career Foreign Service officers. We need the Senate to act on these nominations as quickly as possible. It’s in the best interest of our foreign policy and it’s the right thing to do for career professionals who have dedicated their lives to working to make our country stronger and safer. We welcome the strong support of Leaders Reid and McConnell and that of Chairman Menendez and Ranking Member Corker in cutting into this backlog before the Senate goes into Thanksgiving recess. The progress made this week in confirming several career diplomats is a very positive development, but we’re still facing a very significant backlog, and the clock is ticking.

I spoke yesterday about Ambassador Arnold Chacon, our nominee for director general of the Foreign Service and director of human resources. Ambassador Chacon, a career diplomat, who served with distinction as chief of mission in Guatemala – after being nominated in October 2013, over a year ago, and approved unanimously by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February 2014 – is still waiting to be confirmed by the Senate. Not one senator has expressed anything but support for his nomination, but for nine months he’s waited to be confirmed on the Senate floor. He has now been waiting for nearly 400 days since nominated, even though he has broad support, including from officials who served in senior positions under the George W. Bush Administration, like Deputy Secretary John Negroponte and Ambassador Cresencio Arcos.

It has been since August of 2013 that the Department has gone without a head of personnel. This is the office that plays a central role in recruiting, developing, and retaining our diplomatic personnel who help the Secretary carry out the President’s foreign policy goals. The director general is a critical member of the Secretary’s domestic team in bringing about necessary reform, innovation, and expanded benefits for all members of the Department of State family.

We’ve asked the united – that the Senate confirm these nominations en bloc or by unanimous consent, as we’ve seen in some cases this week, particularly because there’s no objection to these highly qualified and dedicated nominees. We urge the Senate to confirm them quickly and put them to work for the country. We need it desperately.

And with that, let’s go to questions. Ali, please.

QUESTION: Thanks, Jeff. Welcome to the briefing room.

MR. RATHKE: Thanks.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the Iran talks, obviously. Secretary Kerry just arrived in Vienna. What should we interpret his arriving now, five days out – how should we interpret that in terms of where the talks are right now?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I – you probably have seen, but it’s worth referring to, the Secretary’s comments just before leaving Paris from – for Vienna. He is going there to check in on the talks. He has had conversations over the last few days with many of his international counterparts, including during stops in London and in Paris. And so he’s there to consult with the U.S. delegation, to check in. I’m not going to draw any further conclusion than that, though.

QUESTION: “Check in” seems to be a sort of static verb to use to describe the nature of his arriving there. Is that how you – it should be characterized?

MR. RATHKE: Well, as I expressed, he’s meeting with the U.S. delegation. Of course, our delegation has been on the ground there for several days now. So he’s going to discuss with them, and then he has a trilateral afterwards with Baroness Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. After that, then we’ll see where things stand.

QUESTION: And in his remarks today, he mentioned the potential for an alternative to ending these talks on November 24th. He didn’t use the word “extension,” but he did talk about there being an opening for an alternative way forward. What – to what extent does that represent a willingness on the part of the Americans and the rest of the negotiators to extend these talks past November 24th?

MR. RATHKE: Well, you skipped over the part that he said before that, though. When he was asked about this, his answer was, to my mind, quite clear. He said we’re not talking about an extension, not among ourselves. We have not talked about the ingredients of an extension. We are negotiating to try to get an agreement. That’s his focus and that’s the reason he’s gone to Vienna.

QUESTION: But at the same time, you had the UK foreign minister say he was not optimistic that a deal could be reached. You had, in fact, the nominee to the Deputy Secretary of State saying it doesn’t look like a deal is possible to be reached by Monday. So where are we?

MR. RATHKE: That’s also not what he said. He said difficult, but it’s doable.

QUESTION: Okay. Fair enough.

MR. RATHKE: So let’s be clear about what they’ve said and what they haven’t said.

QUESTION: Okay. So – yeah.

MR. RATHKE: So – now, of course, the – our partners have expressed views. We’re – as the Secretary also said after his meeting with Foreign Minister Fabius, we share the principles and we’re focused on achieving an agreement. That – I think he couldn’t have been clearer.

Okay. Anything else on Iran?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah? Okay. Samir and then Abigail.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Iran – I mean, did Jen put a readout about his – the Secretary’s meeting with the Saudi foreign minister in Paris?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t believe I’ve seen one.

QUESTION: He didn’t mention anything about it.

MR. RATHKE: I don’t believe I’ve seen one. I’m happy to see if there’s more we can say, but I haven’t seen one yet.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: Abigail.

QUESTION: That was my question.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. All right. Anything else on Iran?

QUESTION: He mentioned in his press availability, “We are driving towards what we believe is the outline of an agreement.” Are you, like, looking for a framework agreement, or a complete agreement?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I would refer you to his comment, which is, “We are negotiating to try to get an agreement.” It’s that simple. That’s a direct quote, and I think that’s pretty clear.

Iran?

QUESTION: No.

MR. RATHKE: No. Okay. Change the topic?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. It’s about the journalist Serena Shim, who died in Turkey under very suspicious circumstances. Did her death raise suspicions here at the State Department?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think we’ve spoken to this in the briefing room several weeks ago, after it happened. I don’t have anything to add to what the spokesperson said at the time, though.

QUESTION: But then she died several days after she claimed she had been threatened by the Turkish intelligence. Have you inquired about this? Have you asked questions? Is there really nothing new about this?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I just don’t have any update to share with you. Again, this was raised shortly after her death. The spokesperson addressed it. I don’t have an update to share with you at this time.

Next topic? Yes. Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: Do you have an update or can you confirm reports that the Iraqi Security Forces ended the siege by ISIL on the Baiji oil refinery in Iraq?

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Yes, we are aware and we congratulate the Iraqi Security Forces on breaking the siege at Baiji refinery. Iraqi forces have started deliberate clearing and cleanup in the oil refinery compound. They are also no longer besieged and are able to resupply over land. So isolated fighting is ongoing in the area near the refinery, as we understand, but we also understand there is steady progress by Iraqi forces fighting ISIL house to house in Baiji city. The Iraqi Security Forces are removing improvised explosive devices and other explosives emplaced by ISIL and returning the city to its citizens.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Elliot.

QUESTION: Yeah, a related topic. Tony Blinken had some back-and-forth during his hearing yesterday with members of Congress about what a potential AUMF could look like. Could you update us on what the Administration would like to see in that AUMF, given that they discussed a little bit of – a few specifics in the hearing?

MR. RATHKE: Well, it – you’re familiar with what he said during his hearing. The – there were suggestions from members of the Senate about the nature and scope of a new AUMF. The Administration has not taken any formal position on specific elements, but as Tony Blinken stated yesterday, those are the types of elements and the sorts of specifics – as far as timing, duration, scope of a potential AUMF – that the Administration is interested in discussing with Congress. So I don’t have anything to announce about that, but that’s, indeed, our understanding.

QUESTION: Will the Administration be proposing concrete language, if not specific – if not language, then any kind of specific items that you’d like to see to Congress for this AUMF?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, we continue to engage with Congress on the elements, again, with the goal of ensuring that they are appropriately tailored and preserving the authorities that the President needs to execute the counter-ISIL strategy. But I don’t have an announcement to make about particular details from here today.

QUESTION: Does that mean you haven’t decided whether you would be proposing anything, or --

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think if there is to be a proposal for the particulars of a new AUMF, it will probably come from the White House, not from this podium.

Yes, Pam.

QUESTION: Can we stay with Blinken? Two more questions regarding his testimony from yesterday. First of all, he said that the U.S. should consider giving Ukraine lethal aid. Russia, the foreign ministry, has had reaction to that, saying it would be destabilizing. What is your reaction? And then also, is this a possible policy shift that is under consideration?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think if we’re talking about destabilization, we have to start with Russia’s actions and the separatists that are backed by Russia. So I think that’s a starting point for any discussion about the situation in Ukraine.

Now the United States continues to believe that there’s no military resolution to the crisis. Our focus from the outset has been to support Ukraine and to pursue a diplomatic solution that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. And we’ve worked closely with our partners in Europe and around the world to help accomplish this. But at the same time, Ukraine has a right to defend itself against this continued aggression, and the United States, as you’re no doubt aware, is providing about $116 million in security assistance to help Ukraine in this effort.

This assistance also includes advising and training, and the United States will continue to send advisory teams to Kyiv to help improve Ukraine’s combat medical care and to identify areas for additional security assistance. The situation in Ukraine remains very fluid and we are very concerned by the continuing violations by Russia and its separatist proxies of the commitments that they made in Minsk. Therefore, we are continuing to assess how best to support Ukraine.

Of course, our focus remains on pursuing a solution, and we will continue to support Ukrainian authorities to that end.

QUESTION: When you say “continuing to assess,” does that mean that the prospect of stepping up to lethal aid may be under consideration?

MR. RATHKE: Well, our position on lethal aid hasn’t changed. Nothing is off the table, and we continue to believe there’s no military solution. But we, in light of Russia’s actions, as the nominee mentioned yesterday in his testimony, this is – as he indicated, this is something that we should be looking at.

QUESTION: And on a different – with Blinken also --

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- but he said that he would not be opposed to additional sanctions against Venezuela. Is this something that is currently under consideration?

MR. RATHKE: Well, the Administration shares the concerns of Congress as well as those of regional and other international actors about the situation in Venezuela. We have not remained and we will not remain silent in the face of Venezuelan Government actions that violate human rights and fundamental freedoms. And as we have said before, we continue to monitor closely the situation in Venezuela, and all diplomatic options remain on the table. And we look forward to staying closely engaged with Congress on this issue. We also continue to work closely with others in the region to support greater political space in Venezuela, and to ensure the government lives up to its shared commitment to the collective defense of democracy, as articulated, among other places, in the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

New topic?

QUESTION: I just want to --

MR. RATHKE: Said, we’ll go to you, then we’ll come back. Said.

QUESTION: I wanted to go to Syria, ISIS.

MR. RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: Okay. Last night, I ran into the chief of staff of the Kurdistan president’s – Barzani, he’s the chief of staff of Barzani. And he talks about perhaps 100,000 – upward of 100,000 ISIL members in Iraq and Syria. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any update on numbers that --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: We’ve spoken to numbers in the past --

QUESTION: Right.

MR. RATHKE: -- and the general estimates, but I don’t have an updated number to share.

QUESTION: Do you think these kind of figures that are staggering, I mean, would they, let’s say, influence U.S. policy in terms of having boots on the ground or having forces on the ground, at least in Iraq or in the near future?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I’m not going to comment on that particular number. I’m just not familiar with it. And I think also, the President and the entire Administration have been quite clear about our policy with respect to troops in combat roles.

QUESTION: Okay. I mean – okay. In view of the additions that took place last week – we’re talking about maybe an additional 1,500 whatever, advisors, military advisors and so on, and perhaps a discussion, as was done with General Dempsey last week, there is an indication that these forces might be involved in combat. Is there a likelihood that these forces might be involved in combat, if not directly, in an advisory kind of capacity?

MR. RATHKE: Again, I think the President has spoken to this quite clearly in just recent days. I don’t have anything to add to his words. There’s – we do not envision U.S. forces in combat roles.

QUESTION: Now, also, there are reports that the Iraqi forces, with American advisors, are getting ready to recapture Heet. It’s a town, a township called Heet or a city that’s called Heet. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have a specific comment on that particular location. I did comment at the start about the success of Iraqi forces in breaking the siege at Baiji refinery, but I don’t have operational comments on every particular location.

Anything staying – wait, staying with Iraq?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Chairman Royce today introduced legislation that would provide the President with authority to give arms directly to the Kurds. Do you have any comment or reaction on that?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not familiar with the legislation that you have referred to, so I don’t want to comment on that. But we have spoken on several occasions about the matter of arms for Kurdish security forces and overall to the Iraqi Security Forces. Our position on that hasn’t changed. We continue to be supporters of Iraq’s Security Forces, of the Kurdish security forces as well.

And it’s our understanding that there was some discussion yesterday, which you may recall, about whether there were delays in shipments. I’d just like to point out, to kind of close that loop from yesterday, that the Government of Iraq has cleared and inspected incoming aircraft carrying weapons deliveries, but we are not aware that it has constrained or delayed the emergency supply of weapons to the Kurdistan Regional Government. That was a point made or a question raised yesterday.

And as well, the Government of Iraq itself has delivered over 300 tons of supplies in Iraqi air force aircraft to the KRG. We are committed to helping the Iraqi Security Forces and the Kurdish security forces. Also, many of our coalition partners have been very supportive of Iraqi Kurdish forces. So we plan to continue that kind of support going forward.

QUESTION: Okay. So I guess the question is: Are you happy with the way things are currently going, with the current state of affairs, and thus do you not see any need for a change, any need for what’s contained in this legislation as a general proposition?

MR. RATHKE: Well, it remains the U.S. Government policy that all arms transfers should be coordinated through the sovereign, central Government of Iraq. We have no plans that I’m aware of to change that.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the legislation calls for direct supplies to the Kurds without the --

MR. RATHKE: I understand that question, but again, I’m not familiar with that legislation, so I don’t want to comment on it. But I simply want to indicate that our policy remains the same. Now, are we happy with the overall situation in Iraq? Of course not. That’s why we are leading a global coalition to disrupt and defeat ISIL. But that’s – we are very supportive of Iraqi and Kurdish security forces in that effort.

On the same topic?

QUESTION: Yeah – no, on the same – very quickly. Are there any meetings planned with Dr. Hussein, Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of President Barzani, in the Department? Because he normally, when he comes here, he meets with --

MR. RATHKE: Oh, yes, we’ve had – yes. This came up yesterday also. There is a delegation from the Kurdish Regional Government led by Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff to KRG President Barzani, and other members as well. On Monday, they had meetings with our Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration, Anne Richard. They also met with the Acting Assistant Secretary in the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau, Gerry Feierstein. And today, they are expected to meet with the Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs, Puneet Talwar.

QUESTION: Jeff, can I ask, as a related --

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- question, you mentioned in your statement that the Government of Iraq has not delayed the emergency – delivery of emergency weapons. I’m just wondering what constitutes an emergency shipment of weapons. Does that – is that a blanket for all of the weapons that are being delivered in the context of the fight against ISIS, or --

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think you – since the crisis began, especially in northern Iraq, we’ve had a number of emergency deliveries. I believe that refers to the deliveries that have taken place since then. That’s --

QUESTION: And then --

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah. Could I just ask – so you’re not aware of any delay. Are you aware of equipment being siphoned off and sold to other – to third parties, including ISIS, for profit by ISF forces? So like, kind of corrupt requisitioning of U.S. supplies that have then been sold off elsewhere?

MR. RATHKE: No, I’m not. Of course, there have been some instances where equipment has been captured by ISIL. That’s – that happened some time ago and we’ve spoken to that. But I don’t have any information of the sort you describe.

QUESTION: Well, the reason I ask is because there have been some reports in the last few weeks based on seized document – internal ISIS documents that are saying that they’ve bought night-vision goggles that are in like-new condition for certain amounts, and these are the same types of supplies that would be presumably supplied to the ISF from the U.S. So if you could look into it, that would be --

MR. RATHKE: Happy to look into that and see if there’s more.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. RATHKE: Anything on the same topic?

QUESTION: Yeah, it’s on the Kurds.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: The Kurdish delegation brought up another aspect of what they are kind of looking for from the United States, which was cooperation on training Peshmerga forces. I wanted to know if that came up in the context of any of the meetings that have happened at the State Department thus far, and whether there – they’ve said that there really haven’t been any movement on discussions about a training program for these forces. Just like – where do these discussions stand?

MR. RATHKE: Well, from the very start of our concerted response we’ve had a joint operations center in Erbil with the Kurdish security forces, in addition to the one we’ve established in Baghdad. So clearly our liaison with the Kurdish security forces has been at the forefront of our response. And in coordination with the Iraqi central government, with our coalition members, the United States has been supportive of the Kurdish forces, and in particular, training and advising the Kurdish forces as part of the broader plan to support Iraqi military forces.

I’m – I don’t have a detailed readout of the meetings described, but certainly the training and advising of Kurdish security forces is a key element of our approach in Iraq to fighting ISIL.

QUESTION: Sorry, Jeff.

MR. RATHKE: Yes, Said.

QUESTION: On the same topic, on Syria: There is a high-level delegation headed by Walid Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, in Moscow meeting with officials there – likely to meet with President Putin next week to launch a new peace initiative, and so on. Is that along the ideas that were proposed by Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, and will you support that or is this a topic that has been discussed with Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not familiar with that particular visit that you described, and so I don’t have any detail to offer. Just have nothing to add on that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: I just want to go back to Serena Shim. You rightly said the State Department commented on her death several weeks ago, and you say there is no update. Why is there no update? A U.S. citizen dies days after she said she’d been threatened by the Turkish intelligence.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I simply don’t have any information to share at this time. I’m happy to check and see if there’s anything additional. We spoke out about it, as I said, at the very start several weeks ago after her death, so I – but I don’t have anything with me right now to offer. I’m happy to check and see if there’s more that we can share.

Yes, Taurean.

QUESTION: Thanks. I have one on North Korea. So as you know, the – a draft resolution on North Korean human rights passed a UN committee a couple days ago. And North Korean central media criticized the efforts of the European Union and Japan for drafting this resolution, saying that it’s not motivated out of a genuine promotion and protection of human rights, but is simply for subservience and sycophancy to the U.S. I wanted to know if you had any comment on that.

MR. RATHKE: This is about the UN General Assembly third committee human rights resolution --

QUESTION: Yes, it is.

MR. RATHKE: -- just to be clear? Well, as we discussed yesterday, we welcome the passage of the resolution on the situation of human rights in the DPRK at the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee. As I said yesterday, this sends a clear message from the international community that the egregious human rights record of the DPRK is noticed and taken seriously by the international community. So we would reject any suggestion that any country is motivated by anything other than a sincere concern about the human rights situation inside North Korea. The United States has been a co-sponsor of this resolution ever since it was first passed back in 2003, and we continue to be supportive.

The Commission of Inquiry, which has also recently issued its final report, is extremely important in this international effort. We support that final report and we especially support its calls for accountability, and we commend the jurists who served on the commission. Their findings are compelling and they deserve the full attention of the Security Council and of all members of the United Nations.

Anything on the same topic?

QUESTION: Yes. Yes.

MR. RATHKE: Yes. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: What is your response to North Korea’s threat to carry out another nuclear test in response to the UN condemnation of its human rights record?

MR. RATHKE: Well, on the – we certainly remain committed to denuclearization in North Korea. And as I mentioned yesterday, the fact that the DPRK would respond to the legitimate international interest in the human rights situation there by threatening to resume nuclear testing is something that is cause of great concern. And it only underscores that there is a necessity for North Korea to take steps, the steps that are called for under the 2005 joint statement, to come into compliance with the applicable Security Council resolutions through irreversible steps leading to denuclearization. It’s – the burden is on North Korea to take meaningful actions.

Yes, Elliot.

QUESTION: What’s your response to Foreign Minister Lavrov’s comments that referring North Korean leadership to the ICC would be counterproductive and that he doesn’t support any types of these country-level human rights investigations by the UN bodies?

MR. RATHKE: Well, with respect to the particular question of the ICC – well, first let me just say the position on country-specific resolutions. We think it’s extremely important as a vehicle for the international community to express its concern about human rights situations wherever they are in need of attention.

Now, with regard to the ICC, that is – we are in the process of discussing with our Security Council colleagues the possible next steps regarding the human rights situation in the DPRK. But I don’t have anything further to add in specifics on that.

QUESTION: Would you disagree with Mr. Lavrov that it’s counterproductive?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m just not going to comment on the particulars related to ICC referral in that context.

QUESTION: He made these comments after meeting with an envoy from North Korea who also met with President Putin. Does it concern you at all that North Korea is making this kind of diplomatic overture to a country that the U.S. has seen declining ties with in the last two or three years?

MR. RATHKE: Well, Russia has been a key part of the international effort on denuclearization. And so we certainly would refer you to the Russian Government for their point of view on that, but we continue to cooperate with Russia to counter the threat to global security that the DPRK’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs present.

QUESTION: I understand that you cooperate with them on the nuclear issue, but the way most people are looking at this trip is that the North Koreans are trying to bolster support for eventually rejecting a move in the Security Council, should it come about, to bring their leadership to the ICC. It doesn’t concern you at all that this type of activity is taking place?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, North Korea is a neighbor of Russia. They have diplomatic relations and remain in contact. I’m not going to comment further on that. I would simply stress that Russia remains an important part of the international effort to deal with denuclearization in respect to North Korea.

Yes, Pam.

QUESTION: This is a follow-up to a question that was raised yesterday, Burkina Faso. In particular, does the country having a military officer as prime minister fit into the U.S. view of democracy, and also of the country returning military authority to civilian rule?

MR. RATHKE: Right. Let me just start off by saying once again that there is a transition charter that was agreed in Burkina Faso, and it was supported by representatives of civil society, political parties, religious and traditional leaders, and the military. The United States welcomed that transition charter. We also congratulated Michel Kafando when he was appointed as the interim president of Burkina Faso.

Now you’re asking more specifically about the selection of Lieutenant Colonel Zida as the new prime minister, and we understand that Lieutenant Colonel Zida was selected by interim President Kafando in accordance with the transition charter. We have urged interim President Kafando and all parties in Burkina Faso to respect and follow the principles of civilian-led democratic government in the formation of the transition government. It’s also our understanding that according to the terms of the transitional charter, neither Michel Kafando, the interim president, nor Zida will be allowed to stand in next year’s presidential election. Of course, we continue to keep – pay attention carefully to the situation in Burkina Faso. We are supportive of the transition to civilian-led rule, and that remains an area of attention for us.

Yes.

QUESTION: I asked you yesterday about the statement by your ambassador to Nicosia. I wanted to know if you have any answer on the – on his statement that Barbaros – and I quote, of course – “is in violation of the United Nations Law of the Sea and international conventions.”

MR. RATHKE: I really have nothing to add to what I said yesterday in the briefing.

QUESTION: You don’t – you didn’t see the statement or you don’t agree with the statement? That’s --

MR. RATHKE: I’m saying neither of those things. I have nothing to add to the statement of U.S. policy which I gave yesterday in response to the question.

QUESTION: And I have a follow-up. Can any of your ambassadors express an opinion or a position, a different position from the one that you expressed from this podium?

MR. RATHKE: I’m sorry, what’s – what are you getting at?

QUESTION: Can any of your ambassadors express a position that is different from the position that you express from this podium? Because your ambassador to Nicosia says something else, and – because you have a different– as I understand, you have a different position.

MR. RATHKE: Again, I think we’ve talked about this multiple times over the last few weeks in response to your questions. I’ve stated our policy with respect to this issue. That’s our policy.

QUESTION: Palestinian-Israeli issue?

MR. RATHKE: Yes. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. Are you aware that the Israelis announced plans to build 200 new housing units in East Jerusalem?

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead. What’s your question?

QUESTION: The Israelis announced plans for expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem, 200 housing units. Are you aware of that?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t know if I’m aware of that specific report, but our position on that issue hasn’t changed and remains clear.

QUESTION: Okay. They also confiscated in the neighborhood of maybe a hundred – 1,500 acres in the occupied West Bank in the area of Tulkarm and Jenin and so on, saying that this is government land; that’s not Palestinian land. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. RATHKE: I’m – again, I’m not familiar with that specific report, but again, I think our policy and our position on that issue also remains clear and hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: On the content of the conversation between Secretary of State Kerry and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a couple days ago, it is said that the Secretary of State emphasized that the Palestinians should roll back whatever efforts they have at the United Nations. Is that – could you confirm that statement? Did he tell him not to go forward with any efforts at the UN?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, the conversation that the Secretary had with President Abbas a couple of days ago after the attack in Jerusalem, the Secretary – he was quite clear in talking about the need for leadership and the need to calm tensions on all sides, and that this requires leadership by – at all levels and on all sides. I’m not going to get into further details about his conversation.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any comment on a statement attributed to President Abbas saying that we are going to go to the United Nations come what may? What do you --

MR. RATHKE: I think our position on that is also clear.

QUESTION: I really appreciate you indulging me, but I have more questions on this.

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Spanish parliament, of course, voted to recognize symbolically a Palestinian state. French parliamentarians are set to do the same thing on the 2nd of December. The French senate is set for the same – do the same thing on the 11th of December and so on. So this is, like, snowballing, so to speak, among European countries, among your allies and so on. Are you doing anything in particular to dissuade them from doing that, although that is symbolic?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think our position on this issue is clear and it’s well understood by our partners in the region, as well as other partners around the world. We are supportive of a two-state solution as agreed through negotiations by the parties, and we’ll let our partner governments speak for themselves.

QUESTION: And finally, we discussed last week, as we did early this week, aspects of incitement that is done by Palestinian Authority President Abbas. Now, conversely, there are incitements by the Israeli Government. They’re calling him responsible for this latest cycle of violence. In fact, some of the cabinet members like Naftali Bennett or even the Defense Minister Ya’alon. They said very strong statements. Do you consider that also as incitement?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to put a label on particular comments that – the exact quotation of which I’m not familiar with. What I would say, as we have said especially since the attack in Jerusalem but that we’ve been saying for weeks and months, indeed, is that we urge all sides to do all they can, and we believe that both sides can do more to reduce tensions and preserve or try to restore calm.

QUESTION: So you assign blame for incitement to both sides, correct?

MR. RATHKE: That is not what I said.

QUESTION: Would you say that you assign incitement to both sides? Are both sides actually practice incitement against one another?

MR. RATHKE: Again, you’re trying to put words into my mouth, and I’m not going to go that route.

Yes, Samir.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary contact the Israeli prime minister recently about the Iran negotiations?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any recent calls to read out. I don’t have anything recent since we talked about it the other day in respect to the Jerusalem attack.

Yes, Abigail.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Iran for one moment?

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: I know that this has been talked about in various different ways, but I was wondering if you had any clarity on what would happen to the sanctions if another joint plan of action is not reached.

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’re focused on getting to an agreement. We’re focused on completing a joint comprehensive plan of action, so I’m not going to prejudge that outcome. But that’s where our focus is. That’s why the Secretary’s in Vienna.

Yes.

QUESTION: On sanctions, you said you will suspend the sanctions, right, if there’s an agreement?

MR. RATHKE: Well, the agreement is not done.

QUESTION: In case --

MR. RATHKE: That’s what we’re working towards.

QUESTION: In case --

MR. RATHKE: So I’m not going to prejudge the outcome of the agreement.

QUESTION: Yeah. But I’m trying to ask: Will – the suspension of any sanctions will be limited to only to – from the U.S. – U.S. sanctions will be limited only to nuclear activities, or will they cover also other things like the central bank? There are U.S. sanctions on the central bank for money laundering and the support of terrorism. Will this be under the whole thing, or will be --

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t have anything new to add to our position on sanctions. Again, we’re focused on completing a joint comprehensive plan of action. I don’t have any further detail about it to share that would prejudge its outcome.

QUESTION: But are the sanctions that are imposed for supporting terrorism will be separate from sanctions imposed on nuclear activities?

MR. RATHKE: Again, I don’t have anything new to say. I know this is a topic that’s been discussed from this podium throughout the process of the negotiations. I don’t have anything new to add on that.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah. In the event there is an agreement – now, the suspension of sanctions – we understand that only Congress can lift and nullify the sanctions altogether, but the President has the authority to suspend the sanctions. Are we likely to see this happen right away, or will the, like, probation period or the grace period – how would that work in the --

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, this is similar to Samir’s question. I’m not going to prejudge the content of an agreement that hasn’t been achieved yet.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: Yes, I have question. I know that they asked this yesterday, but I wonder if you have any updates about the enlisting of CAIR and Muslim American Society as terrorist organization in the United Emirates. Problem is like – seems like the United States is really, like, not very concerned about the issue when it actually said that – I mean, there are legal procedures that’s supposed to be taken against those organizations if the United – if the Emirates, like, implemented those – I mean, put those in action, so --

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t have an update to offer since this was raised yesterday. The – as I said then, we’ve seen this list from the United Arab Emirates – this list of organizations – and we are seeking more information from the Emirati authorities about the background and the reasons for that listing. So we remain engaged, but I don’t have an update to provide.

I also said, with respect to the question about those two American organizations, that the U.S. does not consider them to be terrorist organizations.

QUESTION: Are you cooperating with them, like, in a matter of – like knowing if they have – I mean, this come, like, during a campaign that the United States is trying to disrupt funding for ISIS and other stuff, and it seems like the United – the Emirates, like, were – like (inaudible) part of their activity and such prospects. Are you wondering if there were any funds coming from those organizations going to ISIS or any other terrorist organization? I mean, there got to be a reason for --

MR. RATHKE: Well, as I said, we are engaging Emirati authorities, seeking more information about the justification behind their listing. I don’t have anything additional to add, though, at this point.

QUESTION: You haven’t got anything from the Emiratis, so --

MR. RATHKE: I just don’t have anything to add to that.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR. RATHKE: Yes, Pam. Please.

QUESTION: President Obama tonight is expected to announce measures that could ease restrictions on illegal immigrants in the United States. I know you’re not going to get ahead of the President’s announcements, but can you talk in general about what you anticipate would be the State Department’s role in terms of outreach and diplomacy?

MR. RATHKE: Right. Well, it may not surprise you, and you seem to have foreshadowed my answer, but I’m not going to comment in any way on any announcement that hasn’t been made. I think the President has made clear that while nothing replaces Congress acting on comprehensive immigration reform, that he will use his executive authority to take significant steps to reform our broken immigration system. The President wants to fix the system in a way that is sustainable for the long term, that is most effective and good for the country. But as far as impact on current programs, I’m not going to get ahead of the President’s announcement.

QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up?

MR. RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: The majority of immigrants here are coming from Mexico. More specifically, are you looking at any kind of new engagement with that country?

MR. RATHKE: Again, I – if you mean that – do you mean that in an immigration context?

QUESTION: Right.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not – again, I’m not going to comment on anything that might be related to the President’s announcement tonight. We’ll let the President make his announcement and then we’ll – but, of course, we have a broad and deep partnership with Mexico that encompasses a vast area of policy, economic cooperation, and so forth. So I don’t in any way mean to suggest that – anything to the contrary.

QUESTION: Jeff, I had another question.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: I don’t know if you heard the statement. Mr. Erdogan said that the Turks, not Christopher Columbus, discovered America. And I wonder if you have any comment to say about this statement by the president of Turkey.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t really have any comment on those reports. I’d let you talk to President Erdogan’s office about that.

QUESTION: But he said --

MR. RATHKE: We’re aware of the reports, but I think I’ll let you consult with them about that.

QUESTION: What is the State Department position on who discovered America?

MR. RATHKE: Thankfully, we don’t have a position on that. (Laughter.)

So thanks very much, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:13 p.m.)

   


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 18, 2014

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 17:15

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 18, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:23 p.m. EST

MR. RATHKE: Hi. Good afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR. RATHKE: So I have three things to mention at the top – first of all, with respect to nominations. Yesterday, the Senate confirmed four State Department nominees, each a career Foreign Service officer: Karen Stanton to Timor-Leste, Ted Osius to Vietnam, Erica Barks Ruggles to Rwanda, and Barbara Leaf to the United Arab Emirates. This is welcome progress. We’re grateful to Leader Reid and Leader McConnell, and of course, the Chairman Menendez and Ranking Member Corker.

We desperately need all of America’s team on the field of diplomacy, and these are all spectacularly qualified career nominees. This is exactly how our remaining nominations should be considered and confirmed. There are 19 career Foreign Service officers awaiting confirmation on the Senate floor. They were all carefully considered in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and approved. The full Senate can consider each of these nominees quickly. Certainly, our career nominees could be confirmed en bloc, they’re well-qualified, and they’re experienced.

A total of 58 State Department nominees, including 35 career diplomats, are still waiting. One example, our nominee to head the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, Frank Rose, has been waiting nearly 500 days since July 2013. Career Foreign Service officer Arnold Chacon, the nominee for director general of the Foreign Service, who would head the State Department’s Bureau for Human Resources, has waited nearly 400 days. And each day waited is a day lost which would be better spent engaging our international partners and promoting U.S. interests overseas. That includes security matters, but it also means that we aren’t using every tool we have to promote U.S. businesses overseas and creating jobs here at home.

Nominees on the floor have waited for more than eight and a half months on average, 258 days. It’s critical, in the Department’s view, that we get these nominees confirmed before the Senate adjourns for the year to prevent further delay in meeting our foreign policy objectives, and while we appreciate the progress just made, we know that America is stronger if the backlog is cleared and our nominees are confirmed before Thanksgiving. The Secretary has made a personal plea to his former colleagues in the Senate, and we would ask again for their help.

Second item: Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL John Allen will travel to Ankara November 18th and 19th to meet with Turkish Government officials to discuss international coalition efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL. On November 19th, General Allen will then travel to Brussels for a meeting at NATO headquarters, where he will provide an update on coalition efforts. General Allen and Deputy Special Presidential Envoy Ambassador McGurk will also visit Rome on November 21st to meet with Italian Government officials on global coalition efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL.

And my last item is the Secretary’s trip. The Secretary is in London. Today, he met with British Foreign Secretary Hammond, Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry, and Omani Foreign Minister Alawi. In his meetings, Secretary Kerry provided an update on his meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and Baroness Ashton last week. He also discussed the tension on the ground in Israel and the West Bank, and specifically the attack this morning. He also spoke with his counterparts about the ongoing effort to degrade and defeat ISIL and the ongoing cooperation in this effort. Secretary Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning to express condolences and offer support, and following the meetings with Foreign Secretary Hammond, he spoke with President Abbas and expressed support for President Abbas’s statement condemning the attacks and urged him to do everything possible to de-escalate tension. And he agreed to stay in close touch with both leaders.

So with that, over to you, Lara.

QUESTION: Great, thanks. I actually wanted to ask you about President Abbas’s condemnation of the attack. He also took the opportunity, as you probably saw, to criticize Israel for some of what he called provocations at the Holy Site in Jerusalem. I’m wondering if the State Department thinks that that was an appropriate time to bring that up.

MR. RATHKE: Well, as I mentioned, you heard the Secretary condemn this act of terror within hours of the attack, and he spoke with President Abbas. And in that conversation, he expressed support for the condemnation of attacks and he urged him to do everything possible to de-escalate tension. President Abbas agreed. The Secretary’s going to stay in touch with both leaders. I would say President Abbas has condemned this attack. Clearly, more needs to be done at all levels, and the – you’ve heard the president’s statement, certainly, and it’s clear that extremists cannot be allowed to prevail. So the United States is going to stand with those who reject violence and seek a path toward peace.

QUESTION: And --

QUESTION: Did the Secretary ask --

QUESTION: May I just ask --

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- a couple of more on this? Specifically, regarding Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement as well, he said that Israel would respond in the harshest way possible, including the demolition of some of the homes of people who were involved either in this attack or previous attacks. Does the State Department think that’s appropriate?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to speak to all of the steps that each individual leader has outlined. I think it’s – as I mentioned, Secretary Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He will speak with him again, possibly today. They’ve spoken a number of times in recent days and remain in frequent contact. So he expressed our condolences and offered our support.

I can confirm, as you have probably heard elsewhere, but three U.S. citizens were killed in this attack. So today, families in the United States are mourning side-by-side with Israel. And so clearly, in those circumstances, we express our condolences to the families, and the Secretary did to Prime Minister Netanyahu as well, and I’d leave it at that.

QUESTION: Last week in Amman --

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

QUESTION: Sure.

QUESTION: Just on the home demolitions, I thought it was the U.S. Government’s position that you were opposed to home demolitions as a counterproductive activity. Is that not the case?

MR. RATHKE: Well, with respect to that, our position hasn’t changed, so I don’t have anything new to say in that regard.

QUESTION: Well, would you say that that is – I mean, while not justifying in any way the attack or the horrific nature of it, it sounds like if you’re saying that the position on demolition hasn’t changed, then you would think that that is a kind of disproportionate response to what happened.

MR. RATHKE: Well, look, I’m not going to characterize – the reference was to a statement, so I’m not going to jump forward to that, to an action that hasn’t taken place.

QUESTION: I understand, but clearly – I mean, again, not justifying in any way the attack, but is the – was the tone of the Secretary’s conversation with the prime minister, “We understand you need to respond to this, but keep in mind not to do anything and use restraint so as not to further exacerbate tensions in the region”?

MR. RATHKE: Well, the Secretary urged both sides to do everything possible to de-escalate tension, but again, let’s keep in mind the horrific attack which just happened and --

QUESTION: I did keep it in mind in my question.

MR. RATHKE: -- we – our view is that punitive home demolitions are counterproductive to the cause of peace, especially in an already tense situation. I would refer you to the Israelis for any more details, but our view on that remains the same.

QUESTION: Did he – just one follow-up on the conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning. Did the Secretary – in that conversation, beyond offering his condolences and his support following the attack, did he privately ask the prime minister to do everything he could to de-escalate or to reduce tensions?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not sure what you mean by privately. I mean, the United States Government and the Secretary have long urged both sides to do everything possible to de-escalate tensions. The Secretary was just in Jordan, and I don’t need to recount all of that. So --

QUESTION: No, the question is whether he said that to the prime minister in private, just as you have just said, and he said it in public. I’m wondering if that was a feature of his private conversation with the prime minister.

MR. RATHKE: Well, we continue to urge all sides to work to lower tensions, but I’m not going to get into more detail from their conversation.

QUESTION: Well, if you’re saying publicly that you believe that punitive home demolitions are against peace, then one would stand to reason that the Secretary also reiterated that.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m just not going to characterize every single thing that the Secretary said and recount the entire conversation. I think I’ve conveyed the essentials of the conversation.

QUESTION: So --

QUESTION: Do you know if that came up in their conversation?

MR. RATHKE: The Secretary spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu very soon after the attack to express his condolences. I don’t have further detail on --

QUESTION: And that’s it, just to express condolences and not in the realm of “Let’s make sure that this doesn’t completely further – again, exacerbate further”?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, the Secretary has spoken with Prime Minister Netanyahu numerous times just in the last few days, so he’s made our views on that question quite clear.

QUESTION: One other factual matter: Three of the four people who died, you said, were U.S. citizens. Are they – were they dual U.S. and Israeli citizens?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have information to confirm about other nationalities. I’d refer you to the Israeli authorities for anything they want to say on that.

QUESTION: Last week in Jordan when the Secretary finished his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and King Abdullah, he was asked specifically on what steps might have been taken in that meeting. And as you know, he didn’t announce what steps they were going to take --

MR. RATHKE: Right.

QUESTION: -- to de-escalate tensions, but how this could prevent or how either side could prevent hardliners from coming forward and continuing to raise escalations, not to mention horrific attacks such as this. I’m wondering, if the State Department or the U.S. Government is now willing to say, “Hey, this is what we tried to do, this is what our intent was,” or are doing anything more to try to prevent hardliners – to help both sides from keeping hardliners from lashing out like this.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t think that the Secretary’s – that there’s any change to the Secretary’s posture on this as he expressed it in Jordan. He had conversations with the parties. He made it clear how important it is to take affirmative steps to restore calm and implement practical measures to prevent further escalation of tensions and --

QUESTION: But clearly, it’s not working, right? I mean --

MR. RATHKE: Well, certainly, we’ve witnessed a horrific attack today, and all leaders in their discussions in Jordan agreed on the importance of de-escalating tensions. The Secretary reiterated that in his conversation with President Abbas today, and President Abbas agreed that everything needed to be done to reduce tensions. So – but I’m not going to go back and then read out more details of those conversations from Jordan.

QUESTION: Okay. Aside from agreeing that tensions need to be reduced, is it still fair to assume that whatever deal that was worked out or whatever steps were discussed and agreed upon in Jordan are still enacted today, are still being followed today? I mean, it kinds of seems “no” if President Abbas is out there saying that – or criticizing Israel for provocations.

MR. RATHKE: Well, this is unfortunately not the first tragic loss of innocent life in recent months. There have been too many Israelis and too many Palestinians who have died. So clearly, more needs to be done. That’s --

QUESTION: But I mean since those talks last week in Jordan. I mean, steps were agreed on to de-escalate tensions.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Kerry was asked, how will this keep hardliners from striking out? Clearly, hardliners are continuing to strike out. So is it fair to assume that these steps are no longer being followed by both sides?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t think we would look at it that way, as some sort of a snapshot. The Secretary, in talking to both President Abbas and to Prime Minister Netanyahu, stressed that this is a time for leadership. And as the President said, extremists can’t be allowed to prevail. So we’re committed to remaining in contact with both leaders and continue working with both the Israelis and Palestinians to that end. I don’t have more to say than that.

QUESTION: Let me ask it one more way.

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In his conversations with the Secretary today, or the conversations, did both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas agree to continue implementing and embracing those steps that they agreed to last week?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not – I think we’ve already seen the step undertaken by Israel with respect to access to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, and I don’t have anything further to add on that. In his discussion with President Abbas, President Abbas agreed with the Secretary’s urging to do everything possible to de-escalate tensions. I’m not going to characterize it further.

QUESTION: Can I branch that out just a bit? I mean --

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- beyond the steps in the last few weeks and the violence that we’ve seen at the Temple Mount, I mean, you have seen in recent months a kind of increase in tensions for a multitude of reasons, whether it’s settlements or the Temple Mount or – an increase in violence and tensions. Do you in any way see the lack of a ongoing peace process as contributing to a kind of vacuum where this type of extremism on both sides has a kind of climate to flourish? And would you say that this underscores the need to get back to the peace table?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think that’s – we’ve always said that depends on both parties and their readiness to do so. So I don’t have anything new to report in that respect. Of course, the United States has invested great energy not just in recent months but over decades in support of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

QUESTION: I understand. But do you see the climate of tensions and violence over the last several months a product of the lack of a peace process?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to characterize it in those terms. We condemn violence in the strongest terms. I’m not going to do an analysis here --

QUESTION: I’m not saying you don’t condemn it. That has nothing to do --

MR. RATHKE: I understand. But I’m not going to do an analysis here from the podium about factors that contribute to it.

QUESTION: So you don’t think that all this increase in – like, there was virtually no violence in the period where Secretary Kerry was engaged in a peace process, and now there is no peace process. Again, I understand what you’re saying, that it’s the parties that want it, but since the peace process has broke down, there’s been a steady increase in violence and tension, so you don’t --

MR. RATHKE: Well, but there’s been a number of – there have been a number of things, including the attacks, the rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel. So I’m not going to try to affix --

QUESTION: Also since the breakdown of the peace process.

MR. RATHKE: Right, but Elise, I’m not going to try to affix a specific single cause to it. Further on this topic?

QUESTION: Any plans to change your Travel Warning for Israel given the multiple deaths of U.S. citizens in Jerusalem?

MR. RATHKE: Not that I’m aware of. Not that I’m aware of. If there is a change, then of course, we would notify that broadly as soon as it happens, but not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

MR. RATHKE: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Bahrain.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: I’m wondering if you can talk about continued political detentions in Bahrain, and also the case of an American citizen, Tagi Madu, who – UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention cited his case as an arbitrary detention and criticized the Bahraini’s continued detention of this individual.

MR. RATHKE: Right. Well, we’re aware of reports that a U.S. citizen is being detained in Bahrain.

QUESTION: He’s been detained for over a year.

MR. RATHKE: Well, for privacy considerations, I’m just not able to comment further on the specifics of that case. But we’re certainly aware --

QUESTION: Not even on the UN report of it?

QUESTION: What do you think about the UN report?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’re certainly familiar with the report of the UN Human Rights Council Working Group. That’s – we’re certainly familiar with it. I don’t have a judgment or an assessment of that report to offer to you.

Lara, I know you had asked the question yesterday about the --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. RATHKE: -- pre-election --

QUESTION: Right.

MR. RATHKE: -- situation, and I don’t have an answer to provide. But we’re working on that and we’ll be able to --

QUESTION: Actually, I think it’s closer to two years that this gentleman has been in detention. I mean, without getting into the specifics of what you’re doing, can you say whether you’re providing consular access to this gentleman, or providing any type of discussions with the Bahraini Government about his detention, or doing – can you assure the American people that you’re doing everything you can to make sure that his case is resolved with fairness and due process?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we certainly take our obligation to assist U.S. citizens abroad extremely seriously and provide all appropriate consular services. But again, in this case, privacy considerations prevent me from offering any further detail.

QUESTION: Why would privacy considerations prevent you from talking about the UN report on this?

MR. RATHKE: No, that isn’t what I said. That’s --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have anything – I don’t have any analysis to offer on the UN report. If I have more, I’m happy to share that. But --

QUESTION: Okay. Do you think you will have analysis on the report?

MR. RATHKE: I’m happy to check and see what --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: So again, you asked a question that is in some ways probably related, so I – we anticipate coming back with more --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: -- detail in response to your question from yesterday.

QUESTION: Can we talk --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. RATHKE: Yes, Arshad.

QUESTION: Can we follow up on yesterday’s question about the Council for American-Islamic Relations --

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- and its being designated as a terrorist organization?

MR. RATHKE: That’s right. There was a question yesterday about this. So just to pick back up where we were, we have seen the report of the United Arab Emirates of a list of terrorist organizations that they have published, and we are aware that two U.S.-based groups were included on that list. The United States does not consider these U.S. organizations to be terrorist organizations. And – but we are seeking more information from the Government of the UAE about why that designation was made by them and what their background – what their information is.

QUESTION: On this point --

MR. RATHKE: Yes, Said.

QUESTION: -- I know you said that you are – you’re following up with the Government of UAE. But the head of the organization is someone who really does frequent the State Department and gets invited to the White House and so on. So that basically puts them in a very difficult situation. So are you asking for an immediate kind of response as to why they were placed?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we are approaching Emirati authorities, asking for more information. I’m not going to put a timeline on it, but clearly we’ve seen this report and we’re engaging. Now, as part of our routine engagement with a broad spectrum of faith-based organizations, a range of U.S. Government officials have met with officials of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim American Society. We at the State Department regularly meet with a wide range of faith-based groups to hear their views, even if some of their views expressed are at times controversial.

QUESTION: Okay. So I know from reports that the head of the organization, or the director of the organization, has actually traveled overseas. Is he likely to face any kind of difficulties getting back into the country because of the designation? No?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, the United States Government does not consider these organizations to be terrorist organizations.

On the same topic?

QUESTION: No, Afghanistan.

MR. RATHKE: No. So, anything else on this topic? Okay. Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Yes. For Afghanistan, London conference will come soon. Do you think that U.S. has a role and what topic will discuss on it? And this --

MR. RATHKE: I’m sorry, did I – I didn’t hear the first part.

QUESTION: London conference --

MR. RATHKE: Right, at the London conference.

QUESTION: -- regarding Afghanistan.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Yes. What will be the U.S. role, and what topic will discuss on it? And the second question: The new cabinet in Afghanistan hasn’t announced yet. Do you think that United States concerned about it and it has negative effect between two countries’ relationship?

MR. RATHKE: Well, on the second question, President Ghani and CEO Abdullah share a common vision and are working effectively together during the first months – the first month, excuse me, of the new administration. The nomination of cabinet ministers is a process that takes some time. We understand that President Ghani and CEO Abdullah and their teams have been working together with the goal of putting key ministers in place soon. So I think they’ve stated the goal of the London conference; that’s their goal, and we’re supportive of that. But naturally, forming a cabinet remains a complicated process.

With respect to the London conference, I don’t have any specific details to announce. But of course, we see this as an important opportunity for the Afghan leadership and the international community to reaffirm and address the international support for Afghanistan going forward, also for the Afghan Government’s policy priorities and programs. So as we get closer to the conference, I’m sure we’ll have more detail to offer in that respect.

Different topic, Said, or same topic?

QUESTION: Different topic.

MR. RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m sorry for being late. I’m sure that you discussed the Jerusalem attacks.

MR. RATHKE: Yes, we did.

QUESTION: I wonder if I could ask you a question. You may have even addressed this. Has anyone contacted Palestinian Authority President Abbas?

MR. RATHKE: Yes, Secretary Kerry spoke with him.

QUESTION: He spoke with him. Now, today, in the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his foreign minister accused Abbas of being behind the incitement that we have seen lately, although the head of the Shin Bet, chief Cohen, came out and said there’s no evidence that Abbas is actually doing the incitement; quite the contrary, he’s also blaming a great deal of the tension on some extremist elements within Israeli society. Are you aware of that report?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to – you’re asking me to analyze and discuss views of different Israeli politicians in a cabinet meeting, which I’m not going to do.

QUESTION: Okay. Your view of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as an interlocutor for peace has not changed, has it?

MR. RATHKE: No. No, it hasn’t.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: Scott.

QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts on the political development in Burkina Faso?

MR. RATHKE: Can you be a little more specific?

QUESTION: Well, you’ve called for some time since the coup for the military to appoint a transitional authority. So, such moves have been made.

MR. RATHKE: That’s right. Just a moment. So the United States congratulates the people of Burkina Faso and their leaders on the signing of the transition charter by representatives of civil society, political parties, religious and traditional leaders, and the military. This will guide the transition to full civilian rule. And we congratulate Mr. Michel Kafando on his selection as interim president of Burkina Faso.

We also urge the men and women of Burkina Faso’s armed forces to return to their primary mission, safeguarding the territorial integrity of Burkina Faso and the security of its citizens. And at the same time, we firmly hope that the central mission of the transitional government will be to ensure effective preparation for national elections in November 2015.

QUESTION: Can I stay in Africa, if nobody else wants to go to Burkina Faso?

MR. RATHKE: You may.

QUESTION: Human Rights Watch today has a report on the Democratic Republic of Congo, alleging that authorities there have killed more than 50 young people and are responsible for the enforced disappearance of some 30 others as part of an anti-gang-related program. Are you aware of that report, and do you share the concerns expressed by Human Rights Watch of these alleged extrajudicial actions by Congolese security forces in the capital?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’re reviewing the Human Rights Watch Report and we call on the Congolese Government to conduct a prompt, thorough, and transparent investigation of these alleged serious human rights violations and to hold accountable any individuals who are found responsible. Further, we remain disappointed that with the October release of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office report on Operation Likofi, the Congolese Government has chosen to dismiss the report’s findings and instead call for the expulsion of the Human Rights Office director. And so we are concerned that impunity for human rights violations remains a grave problem. We call on the Congolese Government to take robust and decisive action on reports of abuses, as detailed in the Human Rights Watch report, in the UN Joint Human Rights Office report and others in order to achieve their stated commitment of ending the cycle of impunity.

QUESTION: Different topic?

MR. RATHKE: Yes. Go ahead, Lara.

QUESTION: You brought up General Allen’s trip to Ankara and elsewhere at the top of this briefing.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Wondering if you can bring us up to speed with training missions that are sanctioned or supported by the United States that are being housed or based in Turkey.

MR. RATHKE: More specifically, you’re talking about the Syrian train-and-equip program?

QUESTION: Yes. You’re probably aware there’s reports out there that the U.S. will be training 2,000 troops, I believe, at a Turkey base.

MR. RATHKE: Well, we are going to train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian armed opposition. And this is a program, as you know, that runs through the Department of Defense and this is going to help moderate Syrian fighters defend the Syrian people from attacks by ISIL and the Syrian regime, stabilize areas under opposition control, and empower a subset of the trainees to go on the offensive against ISIL. So we see this as a key component in our strategy, in addition to the political, financial, and other support to the moderate opposition that we’ve been providing for some time. Our partners in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have offered strong support to host and to quickly stand up the program. But nonetheless, it requires some time at the front end to develop infrastructure and to plan that action. So as far as specific details of that, I would refer you to the Department of Defense, but clearly we see this as a critical element in our strategy.

QUESTION: Well, I ask here because General Allen is based here, and it’s a State-led component of the coalition to combat ISIL. So I was just wondering who – if that number is right, if it’s 2,000 troops, SOC troops or moderate Syrians who will be trained. And also, who’s doing the training? Is it U.S. forces or U.S. civilians? And if it’s U.S. forces, is it special forces?

MR. RATHKE: Well, the Department – the train and equip element of that, of the strategy is a Department of Defense-led program, authorized by Congress. So again, they would have the more detailed information about it, including the numbers.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. RATHKE: Sorry. Same topic?

QUESTION: Same topic.

MR. RATHKE: Syria. Okay. Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: You said they’ll be trained to go on the offensive against ISIL.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: What about the regime forces? Will they go offensive against the regime forces?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, we have – as we’ve said, we see this as a program that will help moderate Syrian fighters defend the Syrian people from attacks by ISIL and the Syrian regime and empower a subset of the trainees to go on the offensive against ISIL. That’s --

QUESTION: Only?

MR. RATHKE: Well, that’s the way we envision the program.

QUESTION: Not the regime?

MR. RATHKE: Again, that’s – we see the role of the Syrian opposition defending against attacks by the regime to be also important. The Syrian opposition is between in some – in many cases the Syrian regime and ISIL, subjected to attacks by both. So clearly there is that need.

Yeah.

QUESTION: But that’s defending against the regime, not attacking the regime. Correct?

MR. RATHKE: Well, that’s the way I put it, yes.

QUESTION: So not attacking the regime, not forces against the regime, attacking the regime?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, the – I’m not going to get into the specific, on-the-battlefield actions.

QUESTION: Well, there’s a difference.

MR. RATHKE: Again, they’ve got to defend themselves, and they’re under serious attack, for sure, by the regime.

Said.

QUESTION: Yeah. But they’re also trying to oust Assad, so they’re on the offensive.

MR. RATHKE: I understand.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: There are reports that the Syrian forces, Syrian regime forces are slowly but surely regaining territory in the environment of Aleppo. How does that fit in with the proposal by the UN Special Envoy de Mistura to have local ceasefires in the area? Is there any – do you have any view on that? I mean, does the Administration have a position on these proposed ceasefires, local ceasefires?

MR. RATHKE: But is your question about de Mistura’s proposal or is your question about something else?

QUESTION: Well – okay. No, because they are connected. As the forces gain in Aleppo, and his proposal was to have ceasefires in Aleppo, would you demand or would you request that a ceasefire would take place, or this plan to have a ceasefire in Aleppo take place immediately?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we remain committed to a political solution in Syria and we support – we would support any local arrangements that would alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people, the – and Staffan de Mistura has made some proposals in that regard. This includes ceasefires that could provide relief to Syrian civilians and be consistent with humanitarian principles.

As we’ve seen in previous cases, many local truces have been much more akin to surrender arrangements. So we think there would need to be the appropriate assurances that humanitarian assistance would reach those in need. But in ceasefire arrangements to date, there has been no enforcement mechanism, so that’s – we would be supportive of ceasefires that provide genuine relief, but I’m not going to get – I’m not going to characterize --

QUESTION: I want to understand you correctly. So you would support ceasefires that actually would keep both forces in place? In other words, the regime forces and the opposition forces in place in Aleppo, correct?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I didn’t say that. What I said is that with respect to some of the ideas that have been raised by Mr. de Mistura, we would be supportive of local arrangements that met those criteria that I outlined. So I’m not going to characterize that, though, in this specific context. I think this was also raised yesterday, and I would just highlight that with – the United States, along with out coalition partners, have conducted nearly 400 airstrikes in Syria and we continue to target areas around Kobani as ISIL is concentrating its fighters and materiel there, and we’re focused on degrading ISIL and its sanctuary.

Now, these strikes in Syria hit fixed targets – command and control, for example, finance centers, training camps, oil infrastructure. Those kinds of strikes are going to continue and – but the targeting in Syria is also evolving beyond fixed facilities and also includes more dynamic targeting of a more tactical nature, such as vehicles, armor vehicles, convoys. So the destruction and degradation of ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq will further limit their ability to lead, control, and project power and conduct operations.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the resolution of North Korean human rights issues? They had final discussions today.

MR. RATHKE: Well, the resolution is before the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly. It’s expected to be voted on today. As we have said before, we support the Commission of Inquiry’s final report and its calls for accountability. The commission’s findings and recommendations are compelling, and we feel they deserve the full attention of the Security Council and the General Assembly. We’ve been a co-sponsor of this resolution on DPRK in the Third Committee every year, including this year, so of course we are supportive. As of the time I came out to brief, though, the vote had not been held.

QUESTION: Can I --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Can I go back to Syria to round out that --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- part of the world. In light of the killing of Abdul-Rahman Kassig, there’s talk of a review of the U.S. policy on hostages, specifically with ransoms. I’m wondering if it’s still the State Department’s view that ransoms should not be paid to terrorist organizations for the release of hostages.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I know there’s been some attention to this in the last couple of days as a result of a report about a letter to Congress. The Administration’s goal has always been to use all of our resources, within the bounds of law, to assist families and to bring loved ones home. In light of the increasing number of U.S. citizens taken hostage by terrorist groups overseas and the extraordinary nature of recent hostage cases, this past summer, President Obama directed relevant departments and agencies – which includes the State Department as well as the FBI, the Department of Defense, the intelligence community – to conduct a comprehensive review of how the U.S. Government addresses these matters.

Now, we’re not going to be able to detail every effort or every tool we use to try to bring American hostages home, but we continue to use all appropriate capabilities – military, intelligence, law enforcement, diplomatic – to recover American hostages, and those efforts continue.

QUESTION: Okay. So you said within the bounds of law. Paying ransoms to a known terrorist group would constitute material support to terrorism. So would that still be illegal?

MR. RATHKE: Well, it’s a matter of longstanding policy that we don’t grant concessions to hostage-takers. We feel that doing so would only put more Americans at risk of being taken captive.

QUESTION: Is that policy under review as part of this broader review?

MR. RATHKE: Well, as I say, the President directed all of the agencies involved to conduct a comprehensive review of how we address these matters. I’m not going to get into any more detail.

QUESTION: I mean, “these matters” is vague, and I guess what we’re asking is a reasonable question, which is whether or not the United States’ longstanding policy of not paying ransoms or providing other concessions to hostage-takers is, itself, being reviewed. If you say that it’s being reviewed, it seems to me that you are then potentially giving an incentive to hostage-takers, maybe you’ll change the policy and then they can hope to get paid off. So – but I still think it’s a reasonable question: Are you reviewing that policy or not? “These matters” is completely vague. I have no idea what’s in that. So are you reviewing it or not?

MR. RATHKE: Well, no, it’s – our policy – our longstanding policy on granting concessions to hostage-takers remains. I’m not going to characterize further the nature of an ongoing review.

QUESTION: Is that for government ransoms as well as private ransoms?

MR. RATHKE: Again, I’m not going to characterize the scope of the review.

Yes.

QUESTION: Short of her identity, do you have anything to share with us about the 26-year-old woman hostage that is with the group? Do you have anything to say?

MR. RATHKE: I’m sorry. I don’t have any additional thing to say about – what is it you’re --

QUESTION: My question is: Can you confirm that there is another American hostage, a woman hostage, with the group? (Inaudible) they don’t want to identify her, but at least can you confirm --

MR. RATHKE: We’ve – as we’ve said in the past, there is a small number of hostages being held by ISIL. We’re not discussing specific numbers or other details.

QUESTION: A small number of hostages or American hostages?

MR. RATHKE: U.S. citizens.

QUESTION: Okay. Is that still true? Because you’ve said in the past that there were a small number, but three or four of them have been killed to this point, so --

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to discuss a specific number or other details.

QUESTION: Can you say multiples or --

MR. RATHKE: No. I’m not going to discuss a specific number or other details or characterize it in any other way.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, I have a question on Colombia.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: President Santos suspended the peace talks with the FARC guerrilla after a general was abducted or kidnapped. Do you have a comment on that?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we condemn the kidnapping of Brigadier General Alzate and his travel companions on November 16th, particularly given the ongoing peace efforts by the Colombian Government. We’re a longtime supporter of Colombia and the Colombian Government’s efforts to bring peace to the Colombian people. That’s where I would leave it at this stage.

QUESTION: And – well, considering you’ve been like a longstanding supporter of the peace talks, do you find that the suspension is a smart move? Would you characterize it --

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to characterize the Colombian Government’s reaction. We certainly condemn the kidnapping, especially because of the efforts the Colombian Government had been making.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Also on North Korea. Does the U.S. view China as a partner in addressing the human rights condition in North Korea?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we talk regularly with China about issues related to North Korea. That’s – they are, of course, one of the parties to the Six-Party Talks, and an important partner in addressing the threats that come from North Korea. So it’s certainly an issue on which we have an ongoing dialogue.

QUESTION: Well, we’ve seen China become more proactive about the nuclear issue with North Korea. Is it your hope that they’ll become more proactive on the human rights issue as well?

MR. RATHKE: Again, this is a matter of ongoing international concern. I’ll let the Chinese Government speak for themselves about how they view these issues, but clearly the United States places high importance on the human rights situation in North Korea, along with our goal of denuclearization.

MR. RATHKE: Anything else on North Korea? No, okay. We’ll come to you in a second, Said.

Please.

QUESTION: Well, I had a question about Japan, actually, so --

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I was wondering about if you have any reaction to Abe’s announcement that he’s going to dissolve parliament and hold elections in December.

MR. RATHKE: So we look forward to continuing our close cooperation with the Government of Japan across the broad range of regional and global issues. We’ve got an alliance that’s based on a shared commitment to democratic values, and that alliance has broad support across the political spectrum in Japan and the United States. So that’s the way we view the relationship with Japan. I don’t have a comment on his move to dissolve parliament.

QUESTION: Yeah, one more about North Korea.

MR. RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: North Korean’s second (inaudible) and Choe Ryong-hae visit to Russia yesterday, and he meet with Putin. How do you feel about – between – North Korea and Russia’s relationship is very close right now. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. RATHKE: Yeah, I think we spoke to this last week. We’re certainly aware of the travel of the DPRK official to Russia. We maintain regular contact and consultations with Russia on issues related to the DPRK, and we closely coordinate with our partners, including Russia, to counter the threat to global security posed by the DPRK’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. I don’t have anything further on that visit.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah, P5+1 talks. I know the meetings are ongoing as we speak now, or as we discuss, but are you aware of any split right down the middle among the (inaudible), which is the clerics headed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and him being on the side of reaching a deal? Are you aware of that?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to analyze Iranian internal politics from here.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you expect that if there is such a deal and in fact that the supreme leader agrees to it, gives his blessing to Zarif and the government of President Rouhani, do you expect that Iran could teeter on the verge of chaos and internal dispute?

MR. RATHKE: Again, as I – I think as I said, I’m not going to analyze Iranian internal politics from here.

QUESTION: Is there anything that you can share with us about the meetings that are ongoing?

MR. RATHKE: Well, as you know, our team is in Vienna. They’re engaged in bilateral, in plenary, and in expert and a variety of other meetings – this is a sort of complicated, multilayered mechanism – along with the EU, our P5+1 partners, and Iran. Our delegation includes acting Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, former Deputy Secretary Bill Burns, and a number of other experts who’ve been engaged in these talks over the past year.

So they’re in Vienna now. Discussions have commenced, but I don’t have further readout to share.

QUESTION: During the press call by the senior Administration official yesterday, the issue of suspending the sanctions and not lifting them altogether came up, and the question. Do you have any comment on that? Is there a likelihood that the sanctions may, in fact, get suspended while not being lifted altogether?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think you were on the call, so you probably heard in detail.

QUESTION: Are you getting any kind of pressure from, let’s say, Senator Menendez and Senator Kirk, I believe, who issued a statement last week saying that the sanctions should not be lifted?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’ve said, given our past concerns, also that this Administration has and previous administrations and our partners in Congress have had about Iran’s nuclear programs and its intentions – we’ve said that it would not be logical or good policy to simply terminate sanctions immediately. So if the talks – P5+1 talks with Iran come to an arrangement, we’ve taken the view that it would be better to suspend – rather than terminate – sanctions at first, and only once we are confident that Iran had lived up to its commitments would we look to terminate the sanctions. Suspension makes it easier to snap sanctions back into – suspension makes it easier to snap sanctions back into place if Iran were not to hold up its end of the deal, so --

QUESTION: That is the thinking now, that if we reach --

MR. RATHKE: Well, that’s been our thinking all along.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. RATHKE: There’s no change in that.

QUESTION: Isn’t that (inaudible), actually, that the sanctions are approved by Congress and only Congress can lift or keep them in place, but by executive order the President can suspend them?

MR. RATHKE: Well, there are a number of different sanctions, so – all of which --

QUESTION: But the vast majority, right?

MR. RATHKE: So again, our point of view on this has been that there would be suspension first before any termination, and in our conversations with Congress we’ve always agreed (inaudible) that we need to make sure Iran would live up to its commitments if we get to a comprehensive arrangement. So nothing --

QUESTION: One thing that I see is referring to it – and this was the case with the senior Administration official on the call yesterday – where you’re no longer talking about it as an agreement and you just use the word “arrangement.” And the official on the call was very careful to avoid the word “agreement” and said that it was because of a legal technicality. Do you know why it’s no longer an agreement but something else that you seem to be seeking?

MR. RATHKE: I’d have to check. I don’t have a vocabulary – I don’t have a glossary to share on that at this point.

QUESTION: Can you take that?

MR. RATHKE: I’m happy to (inaudible) look into that, yeah.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Hacking?

MR. RATHKE: Yes, Lara, please.

QUESTION: Everybody’s favorite topic. You had talked yesterday from the podium about how the – it’s only the unclassified email systems at the State Department that was affected by this most recent data breach that prompted the suspension of – sorry, I’ve got suspended on my mind – (laughter) – but that prompted the shutdown over the weekend. But there’s been some suggestions that some of the missions and embassies and consulates have had some problems or could have some problems with processing passports or visas.

MR. RATHKE: No.

QUESTION: No? Not at all?

MR. RATHKE: No, no. These are unconnected. I mean, we have a separate system that deals with those types of consular issues – passports, visas, and so forth. Now there may be other technical issues that have arisen in one place or another. Is there a specific --

QUESTION: Yeah. Embassy Beirut, I think, had to --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah. No, that’s unrelated to the outage that we’ve had here.

QUESTION: Well, what’s going on in Embassy Beirut, then?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t have the specifics, but it’s a separate issue. And I – from what I understand, they were able to continue doing their operations today, so it was not any major impediment.

I can give you an update, though, on the outage. I can report that our external email services from our main unclassified system are now operating normally, and for those who feel they are tethered to their Blackberries, they are once again, because the Blackberry service is working. So our unclassified external email traffic is now normal, so we’ve had some progress since yesterday’s discussion. So much of it is now operational. Much of our systems that had connectivity to the internet are now operational. We have a few more steps that’ll be taken soon to reach full restoration of our connectivity.

QUESTION: But just to clarify, no consular services, no client-based services --

MR. RATHKE: That’s a separate --

QUESTION: -- have been affected by this outage?

MR. RATHKE: No, not to my knowledge. That’s – those are separate.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have internet access from the unclassified system now?

MR. RATHKE: No, we are not – we do not have internet access at this stage. That will be restored soon, we expect. Sorry, yes?

QUESTION: Anything else major that you don’t have now?

MR. RATHKE: No. No, I think that’s mainly it. But it – this has not stopped us from doing our work, so --

QUESTION: The classified system never went down, correct?

MR. RATHKE: No, it was never affected at any point. So as mentioned yesterday, that hasn’t changed. It was not affected.

QUESTION: And you still – you don’t want to hint who was behind this hacking?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have anything further to say on attribution.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Really quick – Oliver Cox, NBC. I just wondered if you guys have an update on the permit review process for the Keystone. I might’ve missed this at the top; I came in a little late. Do you have anything – updates on that?

MR. RATHKE: No, you didn’t miss anything at the top, but --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: -- I can say a word about that. Just give me a second.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. RATHKE: (Laughter.) I don’t think so. I mean, we – do you have a more specific question?

QUESTION: Just more on like the timing of when the permit review – I don’t know exactly the inner workings of how it all works, but just when the State Department is expected to give out more information on where that review process stands.

MR. RATHKE: Well, our review process continues. We have a well-established process. We are reviewing many factors. This includes energy security; environmental, cultural, and economic impacts; foreign policy; and compliance with relevant law and policy. This is also being conducted in consultation with eight other federal agencies, so as you can imagine, it’s quite a complex process, and that process is ongoing.

QUESTION: Is there any update on when – timing – when --

MR. RATHKE: No, I don’t have a deadline to provide.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MR. RATHKE: Anything else on that topic?

Said, one last?

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you quickly about the meeting between Sameh Shoukry, the foreign minister of Egypt, and Secretary of State John Kerry.

MR. RATHKE: Meeting took place. I don’t have any details to share at this point. May have more to share later.

Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:16 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 19, 2014

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 16:43

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 19, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

12:37 p.m. EST

MR. RATHKE: Good afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR. RATHKE: All right. As you know, I’m sure, Tony Blinken will be having his confirmation hearing today, so I’ll try to be quick and then we’ll leave the field to him for the afternoon.

Two things at the top: First of all, Secretary Kerry is in London today. He had a brief follow-up meeting with Omani Foreign Minister bin Alawi to congratulate – to continue, sorry – to continue the discussion they had yesterday about the foreign minister’s recent trip to Tehran. The Secretary also participated in a discussion with entry and midlevel Foreign Service officers at Embassy London. He continues to stay in close touch with the team in Vienna and with interagency colleagues in Washington. Tomorrow, he will depart for Paris, where he will have separate meetings with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud and French Foreign Minister Fabius on the Iran nuclear negotiations.

Acting Deputy Secretary Sherman is in Vienna for the EU/P5+1 talks, which began with a series of meetings, including U.S.-Iran bilateral discussions, P5+1 internal coordination sessions, and experts meetings. The Secretary will travel to Vienna later this week, but we haven’t determined the day yet. More will come on that later.

And the second item at the top: Yesterday, I began the briefing with a pitch for my fellow Foreign Service officers who have been waiting for Senate confirmation. Secretary Kerry called in from London to his chief of staff, David Wade, and he asked me to come out here again this afternoon and do the same. The Secretary has been in continued contact with his former colleagues on Capitol Hill about this. It’s very important to him. He needs to have his team and he also feels it’s important that these non-controversial nominees be confirmed before Thanksgiving as well. It’s the right thing to do for them, for their families, and for America’s interests.

We’re making some headway and we’re grateful for that. Again, yesterday, the Senate confirmed five more ambassadors, all career diplomats, including Marcia Bernicat to Bangladesh, Leslie Bassett to Paraguay, James Zumwalt to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, Craig Allen to Brunei, and William Roebuck to Bahrain. We appreciate the efforts of Leaders Reid and McConnell, and of course, the work of Chairman Menendez and Ranking Member Corker in getting these ambassadors to work for the American people.

But let me just highlight one of the most important positions for the State Department that is yet to be confirmed. Ambassador Arnold Chacon is our nominee for director general of the Foreign Service and director of human resources. He would be responsible for strengthening our workforce and the Foreign Service through professional development and recruitment and increasing diversity, as well as for the welfare of our people here and those staffing some of the highest-risk posts across the world. He is greatly qualified to do so, serving in the Foreign Service since 1983, over 30 years. And he’s served in Western Hemisphere posts and here in Washington. He is a real star. He also happens to be the first Hispanic ever elevated to this position, which is important particularly for a Secretary who wants a State Department that reflects all of our country. This matters for many reasons. Let’s get Ambassador Chacon confirmed.

Again, we’re making progress. There are 55 State Department nominees waiting, 30 of whom are career Foreign Service officers. The vast majority of these remaining nominees could be confirmed quickly en bloc. We will look forward to continuing to working with the Senate to get this done. The Secretary has always said there are great public servants up there in the Senate, and he knows that none of them want to see this gridlock continues at the expense of career Foreign Service professionals.

With that, Lara, over to you.

QUESTION: Thanks. I have two – one very quick question up top, and then on a different topic, I will switch.

MR. RATHKE: Please.

QUESTION: But unfortunately, I need to leave shortly, so I wanted to see first off if you had any update on the detention of American citizen Taqi Al-Maidan in Bahrain.

MR. RATHKE: Yes. Yes, I do. Last September, U.S. citizen Taqi Al-Maidan was sentenced to 10 years in prison following his conviction for unlawful assembly, intent to kill police, destruction of police vehicles, and possession of Molotov cocktails. The U.S. Embassy in Manama has been providing all appropriate consular services to Mr. Al-Maidan since it became aware of his detention on October 7th, 2012. We are in regular contact with him and his family. We continue to consult with officials of the Government of Bahrain regarding Mr. Al-Maidan’s safety and welfare, his treatment in prison, including his medical and nutritional needs, and the Bahraini court system’s judicial proceedings.

Since Mr. Al-Maidan’s arrest, we have continued to follow his case very closely. We are aware of a recent report which – to which you made reference, Lara, published by the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. We share many of its concerns related to Mr. Al-Maidan’s detention and we take its work very seriously.

QUESTION: And so is that something that you’ve raised specifically with the Government of Bahrain in terms of whether or not he should continue to be detained?

MR. RATHKE: Well, as I said, we continue to consult with officials of the Government of Bahrain regarding Mr. Al-Maidan’s case, including all those aspects that I mentioned.

QUESTION: Okay. And then if I may, on the P5+1 – unless anybody else has something on Bahrain.

MR. RATHKE: Anything else on Bahrain? No. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, great. So just quickly, there seems to be increasing talk of an extension in these negotiations. That’s something that the State Department has said that there would only be a small possibility in very limited cases. Is it fair to assume that the State Department or the Obama Administration would be more flexible now with an extension of the negotiations than it has been previously?

MR. RATHKE: No. I don’t have anything new to say about that. We remain focused on November 24th and don’t have anything further to say about that.

QUESTION: Some of your allies, including the British foreign minister, with whom the Secretary met earlier this week, however, are saying things in public. He was just quoted, I think in Riga, as saying that he is not optimistic about getting a complete or a comprehensive agreement by the deadline, and therefore evoking the possibility of an extension of the prior JPOA or some version of it. Are you dismayed that your closest ally is publicly airing his doubts about getting this done in the next five days?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to express judgment on whatever the UK says for itself. Our hope remains to try to achieve an agreement by November 24th. We’re not talking about an extension.

QUESTION: Do you – when you say we’re not talking about an extension, do you mean that your negotiators are literally not discussing the possibility of an extension with their Iranian or other counterparts, that there’s no discussion of that whatsoever?

MR. RATHKE: As I said, we’re focused on November 24th. We’re not discussing an extension.

QUESTION: Including in the negotiating room?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to discuss what’s happening in the negotiating room. That’s been our position --

QUESTION: I just want to make sure – I want to make sure it’s not a – I want to make sure it’s not a deliberately ambiguous statement. In other words, I want to understand if when you say, “We’re not talking about an extension,” that that applies to the actual negotiations.

QUESTION: Or if you’re just saying you’re not talking about it from the podium or publicly.

MR. RATHKE: Well, our position on this hasn’t changed. It’s – so I’m repeating what I’ve had – what my predecessors at the podium, before they left on their travels, have said, and that is we are focused on November 24th as the deadline. We’re not having discussions about an extension. So there’s no change. There’s no difference to parse there.

QUESTION: Can I move to Iraq?

MR. RATHKE: Anything else on Iran?

QUESTION: But are you hopeful that you will be able to meet the November 24 deadline?

MR. RATHKE: Well, that’s our hope. We’re focused on the November 24th deadline. If there – of course, our team is on the ground. They are in active discussions bilaterally, multilaterally. But the readouts of that will come from them. I don’t have anything to add.

QUESTION: How much percentage we have reached, 90 percent or 95 percent?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to affix any kind of percentage number. We’ll know it’s done if we reach an agreement, but I’m not going to go beyond that.

QUESTION: Do you still believe it is possible to reach a comprehensive – excuse me – arrangement by the deadline?

MR. RATHKE: Yeah. That’s why our team is there. Yes.

QUESTION: Well, it could be there to – even if you no longer believe it to be possible.

MR. RATHKE: But no, that’s – no, we consider that as achievable.

QUESTION: And you just made reference to it as an agreement, whereas the senior Administration official who briefed, I think, on Monday pointedly avoided using that word. Yesterday, we had asked if you could check on why legally there’s some technicality that means that a joint plan of action or a comprehensive joint plan of action maybe should not be called an agreement. Did you get an answer on that?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I did check into that after the discussion yesterday. There are a lot of words that senior U.S. officials have used to describe what we’re trying to achieve here – agreement, arrangement, deal, set of understandings, you name it. Officials are using these words colloquially, and they’re all referring to the same document. Whatever you want to call it, it’s not completed. But if we do end up getting it done, we expect that the proper name for this will be the joint comprehensive plan of action, and that’s the way we view this --

QUESTION: And why isn’t it --

MR. RATHKE: -- these different nouns.

QUESTION: Why isn’t it – and I understand the colloquial use of varying terms to describe that document, if one is ultimately embraced by all sides. My question is: Why isn’t it an agreement?

MR. RATHKE: Well, it is because at the – what we have right now is the Joint Plan of Action, and the end goal of that was a comprehensive – joint comprehensive plan of action. So that’s –

QUESTION: But that’s not my question.

MR. RATHKE: Right.

QUESTION: I mean, my question is the same as from yesterday, and I’m not trying to belabor this, but I would like an answer to it, because I think it’s reasonable for us to understand the legal terminology here. Why isn’t it legally an agreement? Is it that it’s not binding, for example? Is it that you haven’t actually signed anything at the end of it? I mean, I feel like there is a legal nicety here which L ought to be able to explain to you to explain to us.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m happy to check, but I’m not going to be able to guarantee you I’m going to have more to say on that topic. Happy to research that further.

QUESTION: Well, why wouldn’t you want people to understand the difference between a joint plan of action and an agreement? I mean, it seems like a very reasonable thing to want your citizens and the people who need to – who will – in Congress who are ultimately going to have to agree to any termination of sanctions to understand the difference. So, I mean, I don’t understand why that would be something you would be reluctant to air publicly.

MR. RATHKE: Well, as I say, the document itself is not completed, and that’s why our team is in Vienna working on it. I’m happy to see if there’s something more to say.

On the same topic?

QUESTION: Yeah, on the Vienna talks.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Did Deputy Sherman meet with the Iranian foreign minister in the bilateral or with his deputy?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t know have information about who was a participant on the Iranian side. There was a bilateral discussion with Iran today. We can check and see if there’s more information, but I don’t have the names of the lineup.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks

MR. RATHKE: Yes. Same topic?

QUESTION: Iraq.

MR. RATHKE: Okay, anything else on Iran? Okay, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. First of all, there was a deadly explosion today in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region, killing five people. And it was probably the first most serious attack this year – and injuring more than two dozens of people. Do you have anything on that?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we just released a statement, I believe, or we will be releasing it shortly. The United States strongly condemns the continued terrorist attacks in Iraq, including the suicide car bomb attacks today in Basrah and in the Iraqi Kurdistan region in front of the Erbil Provincial Council Building that took a number of innocent lives. We extend our condolences to the families of the victims and hope for a rapid recovery for those who were injured.

The Iraqi people are determined to stand against the violence and the horrific ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and have successfully reclaimed their territory from ISIL at Mosul Dam, Rabia, Zumar, and other areas, including in recent days Bayji. So as Iraqi Security Forces continue to gain strength and ISIL loses territory, it may resort to cowardly attacks and killing civilians and other desperate measures to try to maintain its reign of fear and prove its relevance.

QUESTION: I mean, that happens at a time when a delegation of Kurdish officials, a high-ranking delegation, is here in Washington. They include Kurdistan president’s chief of staff, Fuad Hussein, and they have met with State Department officials. So yesterday I talked to Fuad Hussein. He said they are here because they want heavy weapons from the United States. He said they want Apache helicopters, they want all sorts of weapons that the United States is reluctant to provide to them. That’s why they have been very slow in recapturing the towns they lost to ISIS. Why is the United States so reluctant to arm the Kurds?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we are committed to helping the Iraqi security forces, including the Kurdish security forces, achieve victory over ISIL, and I think our recent actions clearly demonstrate that commitment. We are continuing to evaluate the needs of all of Iraq’s security forces to ensure they have the necessary weapons to defeat ISIL. We also have enormous respect for the courage that the Kurds have shown and the fight that they already have taken to ISIL. Now as you know, because we’ve talked about it quite a bit in this room, in coordination with the Government of Iraq, the United States and our coalition partners have been very supportive of the Iraqi Kurdish forces. The U.S. and other coalition members are also training and advising Kurdish forces as part of the broader plan to advise Iraqi military forces.

I would also note that Kurdish forces already have significant numbers of heavy weapons, including over a hundred tanks and hundreds of other armored vehicles and artillery systems that they are currently using in the fight against ISIL. So that’s --

QUESTION: But none of those weapons have come from the U.S. (Inaudible) yesterday was saying that the United States doesn’t give us, like, the weapons we need that are essential to basically implement President Obama’s degrade and defeat strategy against ISIS. And he said, “We’re not sure why they’re so reluctant to arm us. Are they waiting for the Iraqi Government forces to go and protect Kurdistan” – something which is really not quite reasonable at the moment.

And he was also saying, like, “While they are afraid about arming some rebels in Syria because they might – afraid those weapons might fall in the wrong hands, well, we wonder whether they have the same fear about us.”

MR. RATHKE: Well, the President has pledged to expand our efforts to support the Iraqi forces, including the Iraqi Kurdish forces. We are continuing to coordinate with the international community to provide the Iraqi Government and the Kurdish forces what is needed, and our policy in that respect hasn’t changed. As I say, we have provided a large amount of support, weapons, materiel to Kurdish forces. We’ve detailed that in previous briefings here, and that remains our position.

Anything else on Iraq?

QUESTION: Yeah. I’ve got two quick follow-ups – I’m sorry – and then I have to run.

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead, Lara, and then we’ll go to Ilhan.

QUESTION: Yeah, just two quick follow-ups on Iraq. Further to my colleague’s point, there was some discussion some months ago in this room about whether the United States would provide military aid directly to the Kurdish Peshmerga or whether it’d go through Baghdad and it would be the Government of Iraq in Baghdad that would allocate those resources. Do you know what stream is currently underway now, if it’s a direct aid to Erbil or if it is routed through Baghdad?

MR. RATHKE: Right.

QUESTION: Because that has a lot of weight on when those weapons are delivered and how often.

MR. RATHKE: Well, our policy remains that all arms transfers have to be coordinated through the sovereign central government of Iraq. As far as the exact pathway, I’d refer you to colleagues at the Defense Department, but the central point for us – that is, the sovereign central government of Iraq – these have to be coordinated through them.

QUESTION: Right, so – and the point being that it could be that the central government is holding up some of the delivery of this aid to the regional authorities.

MR. RATHKE: Not that I’m aware of, but again, that’s – if you’re asking about the logistical route followed, then --

QUESTION: No, no, no. It’s the political route, basically, that’s important here.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. So my other question is: You mentioned the Basrah attack up top --

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- in conjunction with the Islamic State. Basrah is really far down south. Are you meaning to make those attacks – or attribute those attacks to the Islamic State? That would be a weird place --

MR. RATHKE: No, I didn’t mean to give that impression.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: I think, with respect to the – I was speaking to the fact that there were two attacks today which we were condemning. I’m not speaking about attribution in particular in the case of Basrah. I think that has just happened recently. We’re trying to gather more information, but we don’t have anything conclusive to state about the source of that at this point that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: It would be pretty newsworthy if the Islamic State was down in Basrah, so --

MR. RATHKE: Well, naturally.

QUESTION: Yeah. Okay, thanks.

MR. RATHKE: So – okay. Ilhan.

QUESTION: On Iraq. Today, Turkish President Erdogan stated that no-fly zone and buffer zone need to be established in Iraq as well, since 40 percent of Iraq is invaded by ISIL, I believe. Do you have any kind of planning for no-fly zone and buffer zone in Iraq?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t have anything new to announce. We are in constant discussion with our Turkish allies. Let me highlight, first of all, that the Special Presidential Envoy to Counter ISIL, General John Allen, had productive and positive discussions with senior Turkish officials today in Ankara about our shared efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL. General Allen also expressed our appreciation for Turkey’s contribution to the efforts thus far, including generous humanitarian support for over 1.3 million Syrian refugees, maintaining corridors for humanitarian support to the Syrian opposition, agreeing to host the train and equip program for the moderate Syrian opposition, as well as taking measures to restrict the flow of foreign fighters and oil smuggling. So we look forward to further conversations with Turkey about what more we and our partners can do to degrade and defeat ISIL. I would also highlight that Vice President Biden will be in Turkey on Friday and Saturday.

The White House put out an announcement about that, I believe, yesterday. And so he will be meeting with President Erdogan as well as the prime minister. So we anticipate that those meetings, of course, will also focus on our cooperation.

With regard to the question you asked about no-fly zone, this is --

QUESTION: In Iraq.

MR. RATHKE: Excuse me?

QUESTION: In Iraq. No-fly zone in Iraq.

QUESTION: In Iraq, not Syria.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Well, that’s something I don’t have – I’m not aware of that statement, so I don’t have anything new to say on that. Our views on a no-fly zone in Syria have been clear, I think, for the past months – not part of our current plans, but it’s something we realize that others, including Turkey, have felt strongly about, and so we’ve continued conversations about that.

Yes.

QUESTION: So if we are talking about Syria, yesterday there was a conference call by the White House, and one of the officials stated that Turkey is already an active member of the anti-ISIL coalition. And today the President Erdogan again put forward a no-fly zone and buffer zone with regards to Syria. And he said that until these conditions are met, Turkey’s position regarding the coalition will not change. So I’m just trying to – many people are just trying to understand that – whether Turkey is part of the coalition, or as Ankara leadership seems to be saying, that Turkey will be part of the coalition if these conditions are met. Is there any way you can some – shed some lights onto this?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I would let the Turkish Government speak for themselves about how they want to describe their efforts. I will simply state, as I mentioned at the start of my response to your question, that General Allen was just in Ankara, that we have had ongoing discussions with Turkey, and we have expressed on many occasions our appreciation for Turkey’s contribution to the efforts thus far, which have been in the humanitarian realm, also in stopping the flow of foreign fighters, in dealing with financing and so forth. So these are areas where Turkey is playing an important role – also in its readiness to host train and equip efforts. So these are all topics where we continue to work with Turkey and will continue to work with them.

QUESTION: Train and equip program. Do we have any kind of a calendar when this program will start?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think this was raised yesterday as well, and we spoke to this in a little bit of detail. Now, the – of course, this is a DOD-implemented program, so if you were looking for a lot of detail about it, I would refer you there. But our partners in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have offered a strong support to host and quickly stand up the program. The program is a long-term investment and one that takes some time on the front end for infrastructure, planning, logistics, and so forth, so I would refer you to the Department of Defense for more specific information.

QUESTION: Do you have any update --

MR. RATHKE: One more, and then we’re going to have to move on.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any update on Kobani? Some of the reports saying that the local forces are gaining some grounds against the ISIL.

MR. RATHKE: Right. We’re aware of those reports. We continue to target our air power around Kobani because ISIL is concentrating its fighters and materiel in that area, so we’re focused on degrading ISIL in that sanctuary. But as far as battlefield analysis, I don’t have anything new to share on particular movements.

Anything else on Iraq?

QUESTION: Yeah, one more. The Kurdish delegation – are they meeting with anyone from this building, something you can tell us about what they’re doing?

MR. RATHKE: Yes, just a second. They are. The Kurdish delegation is in town, of course, from the Kurdish Regional Government. And on Monday, the delegation had meetings here at the State Department with our Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne Richard, and also the acting Assistant Secretary of our Near Eastern Affairs Bureau Jerry Feierstein. And today they are expected to meet with the Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Puneet Talwar.

Samir.

QUESTION: I was going to ask about the visit of the Vice President to Turkey. Does it have anything to do with the negotiations with Iran, the expected deal, the timing?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I would refer you to the White House for the particular details of his program and goals and outcomes on that.

QUESTION: The timing of the visit, because the briefing in the White House yesterday, they didn’t mention Iran as an issue on the agenda.

MR. RATHKE: Right. Well, again, you’d have to ask the White House about that. They put out a lengthy release yesterday, and – but I don’t have anything to add on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Israeli-Palestinian issues?

MR. RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: I presume you saw the announcement by a municipal authority that it had approved the construction of an additional 78 housing units in settlements that the Israeli Government regards as having been annexed to Jerusalem, part of greater Jerusalem. Does the U.S. Government have any view on this settlement announcement, or this housing construction announcement? And do you think that it is in consonance with your call yesterday for all sides to do what they could to reduce, rather than raise, tensions?

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, let me start with one sentence of context, which will be clear to, I think, most, but at any rate: The President and the Secretary strongly condemned yesterday’s attack on worshippers at the synagogue in Jerusalem – we talked about that in some detail yesterday – which killed five innocent people and injured several more.

With regard to the plan for construction activity in East Jerusalem, we would reiterate our clear and consistent opposition to construction activity in East Jerusalem. During this sensitive time in Jerusalem, we would see such activity as inconsistent with the goal of lowering tensions and seeking a path towards peace. That’s – and our concerns are well known to Israel’s leaders, and we continue to make those concerns known.

QUESTION: To ask what is typically Matt’s question: Are there any consequences --

MR. RATHKE: His spirit is in the room? Is that what you’re saying, Arshad?

QUESTION: His – are there any consequences to the Israeli Government for acting directly in contravention of your publicly stated position and in a manner that you regard as inconsistent with your goal of reducing tensions? Do they – are there any consequences for the Israeli Government, or not particularly?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we remain in close contact with the Israeli leadership. And we mentioned yesterday the Secretary, in particular, was in touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we continue to call on President Abbas, Prime Minister Netanyahu, leaders on all sides to reduce tensions. I’m not going to get to more – get further down the road.

QUESTION: Do you regard being in contact with the Israeli Government as punitive for them?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think our position on this is well known. It hasn’t changed, and we continue to make that position known.

QUESTION: Have you reiterated it to them today? And if so, at what level?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to get into the level of diplomatic discussions, but we continue to make our concerns about this issue known.

QUESTION: Okay, but does that mean that you’ve made your concerns known about the latest announcement of these 78 units, or not?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to give a tick-tock of every single diplomatic conversation we have with the Israeli Government.

QUESTION: I don’t want that.

MR. RATHKE: If we haven’t, we will. I just can’t say with certainty that a meeting happened today; the announcement was made today. But certainly our view is known and we will continue to make it known.

Yes, Scott. Sorry, anything else on this topic?

QUESTION: Same.

MR. RATHKE: Same topic? Please.

QUESTION: Yes. You talked at length about house demolitions yesterday, so at the risk of making you repeat yourself – there was a demolition today. Netanyahu promised further demolitions. He also said, with a “heavy hand, we will restore security to Jerusalem.” Do you see those actions and those words as escalatory, or at this point, what we should expect?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to put a label on it, but as I’ve said in response to Arshad’s question, we’ve made it clear that all sides have to work together to lower tensions. And we believe that punitive home demolitions are counterproductive in an already tense situation. This is a practice I would remind that the Israeli Government itself discontinued in the past, recognizing its effects. I – so I would say, once again, that we believe this is a time for leadership and for all sides to take steps to calm tensions.

QUESTION: Have they conveyed to you at all why they are resurrecting that practice then?

MR. RATHKE: I think that they can speak for themselves about that.

Yes, Scott.

QUESTION: At a government (inaudible) hearing in the state Duma today, Foreign Minister Lavrov discussed President Obama calling Russia a principal threat to the world. He said, quote, “The first time I took note of the listing of the threats that President Obama took the liberty of doing was when I spoke at the UN General Assembly. Sometime later, talking to John Kerry not so long ago, I asked him what it was supposed to mean. He said, ‘Forget about it,’” end quote. Foreign Minister Lavrov went on to say that Secretary Kerry suggested that the Russians forget about it, principally because the Secretary was interested in discussing the P5+1 nuclear deal and North Korea. Is that the opinion of the State Department?

MR. RATHKE: Well, that is an incorrect characterization. And we’ve seen, naturally, the reports of Foreign Minister Lavrov’s comments. It’s unfortunate that these reports indicate the foreign minister has incorrectly characterized the private diplomatic discussions between himself and Secretary Kerry. As we’ve said repeatedly, we will continue to work with Russia on areas where we agree while standing firmly against Russia’s violations of international principles and the sovereignty of other nations. But that characterization is incorrect.

QUESTION: So Secretary Kerry believes that Russia is a principal threat to the world?

MR. RATHKE: Well, of course the Secretary supports the President’s statements regarding Russia, and he didn’t indicate otherwise in his conversation.

Anything else on this topic?

QUESTION: No, different.

MR. RATHKE: No. Go ahead please.

QUESTION: On North Korea, on the human rights issue of North Korea. Yesterday, you said that United States have cosponsored North Korean human rights UN resolutions.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: What is the United States final destination of North Korean human right issues?

MR. RATHKE: I’m sorry. What is our final --

QUESTION: Final destinations of human rights, North Korean human right issue?

MR. RATHKE: Well, you will have noticed that the United Nations General Assembly – yesterday, Third Committee passed a resolution on the situation of human rights in the DPRK. We think this resolution sends a clear message from the international community that the DPRK’s egregious violations of human rights are not going unnoticed by the international community and that those most responsible must be held accountable. So we’ve cosponsored this resolution in the Third Committee every year since 2003 and we did so again this year. So we continue to work with the international community to sustain attention, international attention, on the deplorable human rights situation in North Korea and to seek to find ways to advance accountability for the serious violations that have been and that continue to be committed. So --

QUESTION: Will the United States bring North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to International Criminal Court?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t have anything to say on that. We are in the process of discussing with Security Council colleagues possible next steps in the council. But again, this is a vote in the Third Committee of the General Assembly. Presumably, it then goes to the full General Assembly. But I don’t have anything further to announce with respect to action beyond that. So we’ll let the UN General Assembly do its work at this stage.

QUESTION: So you said the court – not has been (inaudible), so that means will be taken to the court, like International Criminal Court.

MR. RATHKE: I’m sorry. What --

QUESTION: So you said yesterday court not – not been (inaudible). That doesn’t mean anything.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to speak to issues related to the International Criminal Court. That’s – what I’m saying is that the General Assembly – the Third Committee of the General Assembly has voted on this resolution. My understanding is then the full General Assembly would address it. So what would go – what would happen after that is something that we’ll wait to see once the General Assembly has completed its work.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. RATHKE: Yes, Michael.

QUESTION: Jeff, I have a question on Cyprus. Your ambassador to Nicosia, Mr. John Koenig, addressed last Friday the provocations by Turkey. He gave an interview to the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation, and he said, and I quote, okay, Barbaros – as we know, Barbaros is the ship that the Turks sent to the Cyprus exclusive economic zone – “Barbaros is in violation of the UN’s Law of the Sea international conventions.” This is what your ambassador to Nicosia said. Do you share this statement? Do you agree with this statement?

MR. RATHKE: I haven’t seen the statement you’re talking about, so I’m not going to --

QUESTION: Can you take the question and speak with him and ask --

MR. RATHKE: Well, look, we’ve talked about this at some length in this room. The United States recognizes the Republic of Cyprus’s right to develop its resources in its exclusive economic zone. The United States continues to support strongly the negotiation process conducted under UN Good Offices to reunify the island into a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. And we continue to believe that the island’s oil and gas resources, like all of its resources, should be equitably shared between both communities in the context of an overall statement – settlement, excuse me. I don’t have anything further to say.

QUESTION: Okay. But just please take this question because --

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not --

QUESTION: -- he’s saying something else this time. He’s --

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I’ve – what I’ve stated here is our view on this. I don’t have anything further to add at this point.

Yes. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I take it back to North Korea for a second?

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: I believe that they responded to the resolution yesterday by saying that they’re threatening more nuclear tests. Do you have any response to that?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, we take very seriously the human rights situation in North Korea. That is not the only issue related to North Korea and its activity, unfortunately. Naturally, denuclearization is the top priority with respect to North Korea. So I’m not familiar with that statement, but it would certainly be unfortunate to threaten with that kind of activity in response to the legitimate focus on North Korea’s human rights situation by the international community.

Anything else on North Korea?

QUESTION: So when you --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: One more?

MR. RATHKE: One more.

QUESTION: When you resume the Six-Party Talks, your link is with North Korean human right issues. Is the same category or different, separated talk?

MR. RATHKE: Well, our view on the Six-Party Talks remains the same. We – North Korea knows what it has to do in order to – for the talks to be reinitiated. We’re not interested in talks for talks’ sake only. North Korea has to take steps, and those are clear.

Arshad, you wanted to ask about Burkina Faso.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. I’m sure you will have seen that the military officer has now been named prime minister. Is that a good move?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I don’t want to put a label on that. I think I would stand by what we said yesterday about the transition in Burkina Faso. We congratulate the people of Burkina Faso and their leaders on signing the transition charter. We also congratulated Michel Kafando on his selection as interim president. We urge the men and women of Burkina Faso’s armed forces to return to their primary mission, which is safeguarding the territorial integrity of Burkina Faso and the security of its citizens. And the central mission of the transitional government, we firmly hope, will be to ensure the effective preparation for national elections in November of 2015.

QUESTION: So it doesn’t give you any pause that the army colonel who had declared himself head of state following the departure of Compaore is going to be the prime minister? Does that not strike you as perhaps not leading in the direction of democracy --

MR. RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: -- nor necessarily leading in the direction of the armed forces returning to their primary goal of protecting the territorial integrity of the country?

MR. RATHKE: Well, this is something we keep a close eye on. Of course, we’re watching this carefully, and there’s been not only attention from the United States, but the international community on the transition there. So this is something we continue to keep under scrutiny. I simply don’t have a further statement on it today. But naturally, this is something we are focused on and will remain focused on.

Scott.

QUESTION: The U.S. ambassador to Yeravan discussed the downing of the Armenian helicopter by Azeri forces in a meeting with the Armenian defense minister. The Armenian defense ministry, in a readout of that meeting, said they spoke of the need to recover the bodies of the helicopter crew. Do you have a readout of that meeting?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have a readout of that meeting.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: What is – what’s the nature of your question?

QUESTION: Well – okay, that was the nature of my first question. The OSCE monitors along that border have been unable to visit the crash site of the Armenian helicopter that was shot down. Is that something that the United States is working to encourage?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we understand that there are – there may have been a refusal of access to an OSCE representative; would refer you to the OSCE for further details on that.

We – our position on the helicopter shoot-down remains, though. We think that it’s a reminder of the need for all sides to redouble efforts on a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. I don’t have anything beyond that.

Yes, Goyal.

QUESTION: Two questions, sir. One on India: As far as U.S.-India relations are concerned, many high-level visits are taking place from the U.S. to India. Could you talk about those visits now?

MR. RATHKE: Well, on November 17th, Under Secretary Rick Stengel participated in the U.S.-India Higher Education Dialogue, an annual bilateral event that identifies areas for exchange and strategies for partnership in the field of education. This provided a platform for collaboration among academics, the private sector, and government.

On November 18th, Under Secretary Stengel and Assistant Secretary Charles Rivkin participated in the India-U.S. Technology Summit. This is India’s 20th annual technology summit and the first time that the United States has participated as a partner country. The summit convened representatives of several hundred Indian and U.S. companies as well as senior leaders from industry, government, and academia to build partnerships and encourage bilateral trade and investment.

And today and tomorrow – that is, November 19th and 20th – Under Secretary Rose Gottemoeller is in India to co-chair the U.S.-India Strategic Security Dialogue with Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh. The under secretary will also meet with other Indian counterparts on matters of international security. So clearly, there is a lot happening in our bilateral relationship.

QUESTION: And second, as far as Afghanistan is concerned, foreign workers especially – the Indian workers there are being targeted, and somebody somehow wants them to be out of Afghanistan. Because India has invested billions of dollars in rebuilding Afghanistan. Now, under the new government in Afghanistan, how can you show that those workers – not only India’s, but foreign workers – will be protected?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t have any particular information about the situation that you described. Naturally, that would seem to be a bilateral issue for the Afghan and Indian leadership to address in the first instance.

QUESTION: The reason I’m asking – I’m sorry. Two days ago, the bombings in Afghanistan, and several foreign workers were injured or killed and targeted as well.

MR. RATHKE: Well, of course, we continue to support Afghan security forces in their mandate to provide security for the Afghan population, and they have been fighting their own battles against the insurgency. They’ve been holding gains previously made by ISAF, so we continue to work with and support the Afghan security forces.

QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?

MR. RATHKE: Yes, go ahead, and we’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: Follow-up of the question we asked on Monday on TAPI about Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India gas pipeline – do you have anything on that?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have anything new to say. I’m happy to get back to you afterwards.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yesterday there were reports that Islamic State is now in complete control of the town of Derna in Libya. So this is only a little over 300 kilometers from Italy. Will General Allen be discussing Islamic State in the Mediterranean coast when he travels to Italy?

MR. RATHKE: Well, let me mention a couple of things with regard to Libya. First, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Bernardino Leon, announced this morning that a ceasefire had been negotiated in Benghazi. We welcome this announcement and the reports that the parties are adhering to the ceasefire. We call on all Libyans to support the ceasefire, to allow the Red Crescent to evacuate civilians from affected areas, and to allow affected civilians the opportunity to address their immediate humanitarian needs. Libya’s problems are political in nature and require a political solution, so we fully support the efforts of the UN special representative and urge all parties to cooperate with him.

Now with regard to Derna, we are closely monitoring the situation and are concerned by the destabilizing threat that militias and terrorist groups pose to the Libyan people and government. We have seen reports that some violent extremist factions have pledged allegiance to ISIL and sought to associate themselves with it. We continue to watch for signs that these statements amount to something more than purely rhetorical support.

All right. Anything else? Thank you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: About – I know yesterday you were talking about promoting dialogue between the protestors in Hong Kong and the Government of China, but it seems like the news from the last week hasn’t been very positive in terms of dialogue, and I was wondering how confident you are that dialogue will bring a viable solution to the situation.

MR. RATHKE: Well, we are aware of reports that a small group of protestors attempted to break into the Hong Kong legislative council. We note that legislators of all political stripes and protest leaders condemn these actions. We continue to call for protestors to express their views peacefully and for Hong Kong’s authorities to exercise restraint.

Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:23 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 17, 2014

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 11:48

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 17, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:32 p.m. ET

MR. RATHKE: Hello. Good afternoon, everybody. So I just have on item to mention at the top, and then we can get started. As you’ve probably seen, Secretary Kerry is traveling to London today for consultation with his European counterparts and to brief government officials from the Middle East on the ongoing EU and P5+1 negotiations with Iran. He will later travel to Vienna, Austria this week, but the date and time of that arrival is still being determined. And you will also perhaps have seen – I think we just put out a note or will shortly put out a note about our delegation to the P5+1 talks. So you’ll see that shortly if you haven’t already.

And with that, Lara, please.

QUESTION: I’m sure people have a lot of P5 questions to ask, but I wanted to quickly ask about Ebola. My understanding is that the doctor who died wasn’t brought to the United States from Sierra Leone as quickly as he might have. I’m wondering if you can explain why.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t have any details to share about the timing. The Department was asked by a U.S. citizen to provide medical evacuation assistance to the lawful permanent resident family member, and we carried out the evacuation in accordance with that request. I don’t have details about the timing.

QUESTION: You don’t know when that request came in?

MR. RATHKE: I’d have to check on that. I don’t have that.

QUESTION: Okay. If you could, please.

QUESTION: Can we go to cyber security?

MR. RATHKE: Okay, just – any other questions on Ebola or that evacuation? Okay. Please, Arshad.

QUESTION: So it’s fairly widely disseminated that the State Department unclassified email system was hacked, for want of a better term, several weeks ago, and that the Department chose to shutdown portions, I think, rather than all of that system over the weekend, to try to improve its security. To start with, who do you believe is responsible for the hacking, for the breach of the system?

MR. RATHKE: Well, first of all, let me start – as we mentioned to some over the weekend in response to queries, the State Department, like any other large organization that has a global span is a constant target of cyber attacks, and we closely monitor cyber security. And we detected activity of concern several weeks ago, and as a result, we immediately formed a team to develop and implement a response plan, in coordination with cyber security experts from DHS and from other agencies. And we are implementing carefully planned improvements to the security of our main unclassified network, taking advantage of a scheduled outage. Let me also highlight that no classified systems have been affected by this incident.

And so with regard to attribution, I don’t have anything to share at this point on the origins of the intrusion. It’s something that remains under investigation.

QUESTION: Does that mean that you don’t know or does it mean that you – does it mean that you don’t know and you’re still investigating it, or that you know but it’s just not something that you feel you can share?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we are still investigating it. I don’t have anything further to share right now.

QUESTION: So you may know, but you’re just not willing to say.

MR. RATHKE: Well, that’s all I’m going to say at this point on that.

QUESTION: Just a couple more ones on this.

MR. RATHKE: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Regardless, I understand your statement that no classified systems were breached. Do you believe that any classified information might have been compromised as a result of its being aired on the unclassified email system, presumably in contravention of your policies?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we take our responsibility seriously to safeguard information, and we do not send classified information over our unclassified systems. So in that respect, and also because no classified systems were affected by this incident, then no, we have no reason to believe classified information would have been affected.

QUESTION: And are you going back to check or to spot-check in any way, because it is – even if it is the rule that classified information should never be transmitted over an unclassified email system, we know, for example, from the mobile phone conversation that was recorded and broadcast of one of your assistant secretaries, that sensitive diplomatic communications are sometimes conducted over non-secure systems. And so I’m wondering if the Department is making an effort to ascertain whether there might have been any breaches of classified information from the untoward activity on the unclassified system.

MR. RATHKE: Well, we take cyber security very seriously, and we are well aware of the difficulties that cyber threats present. And so we are careful about that. I don’t have anything more to say though beyond what I already said on that.

QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t know if you’re actually looking into whether there may have been breaches via the unclassified system?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to go into all the details of our response and to technical issues, but again, I stand by what I said, that is we have no reason to believe classified information was compromised.

QUESTION: But that’s different from what you – you said no classified systems had been compromised, not that no --

MR. RATHKE: Well, that’s correct as well.

QUESTION: So both are true. Okay.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Great. And just last one for me on this: A senior official said that this was part of the same incident previously disclosed by the Executive Office of the President. Were multiple U.S. agencies targeted as part of that wider incident of several weeks ago? Or was it just those two – the State Department and EOP?

MR. RATHKE: Well, it’s – we believe that this activity was linked to the incidents – connected with the Executive Office of the President a few weeks ago. I don’t have a broader conclusion to draw than that --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: -- at this time. Anything else on this topic?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: So it doesn’t have anything to do with the Secretary’s travels over the last two weeks? There’s no indication --

MR. RATHKE: No.

QUESTION: -- that any of the information was compromised either in the countries or by the countries where he was traveling?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, this is similar to Arshad’s question. I’m not going to get into all of the technical aspects and all the details of our investigation. We became aware of this intrusion a few weeks ago, and we immediately began working with other agencies in order to come up with a plan to mitigate it. But I’m not going to get into any further details than that.

QUESTION: Why do you think it’s linked?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I’m not going to get into the technical details of our network security.

QUESTION: What --

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: You said that you immediately formed a team to look at this. Why not immediately shutdown the system?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we reached a judgment that that was the best way to deal comprehensively with the situation that we had to deal with. This was – we are regularly upgrading our security, and in this case the response to this specific incident needed to be more comprehensive than our regular updates. And so we took the opportunity of this scheduled outage to do so.

QUESTION: And just so we’re clear, when you say “scheduled outage,” the outage was previously scheduled. It was already expected to happen during the period of time that it happened. It was not something that was scheduled after you realized the attack on your unclassified system?

MR. RATHKE: No, the former. That’s my understanding.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RATHKE: Yes, Lalit.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) attack origin was from inside the U.S. or outside the U.S.?

MR. RATHKE: As I’d said in response to Arshad’s question, I don’t have anything to share, at this point, about the origins.

QUESTION: Did at any point of time it also compromised the non-classified network which the Secretary himself uses?

MR. RATHKE: I’m sorry. Repeat the question.

QUESTION: Did this attack also compromise at any point of time the unclassified network being used by the Secretary of State or his office?

MR. RATHKE: Well, this – as I said, this is a – this was an attack that affected our unclassified email system. And in order to address that, we’ve used this scheduled outage in the connectivity of our main unclassified network to implement enhancements to our security measures.

QUESTION: Does the Secretary use an unclassified system?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to get into the Secretary’s --

QUESTION: To what extent was the damage? What is the assessment of the damage caused by --

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to get into those details at this stage.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

MR. RATHKE: Just a moment. Anything else on this topic?

QUESTION: So this has – this has stopped? There’s no longer a cyber-attack on this unclassified network right now? It has stopped?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’ve – our email systems operate on a worldwide platform. We have our internal – our internal connectivity remains in place. It’s connectivity to the internet that has been affected. None of our classified systems have been affected, and we are doing right now – implementing the security upgrades that I described.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Nazira Karimi. I’m correspondent for Ariana Television from Afghanistan, and I’m from Afghanistan. Unfortunately, now it is the Taliban increase their activity again. And the day before yesterday was big suicide bomber accident and one of the congresswomen also get injured. Do you have any concern?

And also the other question: Comedian John Oliver described about interpreter in Afghanistan who worked for U.S. authority that their visa process take a long time, and they are – and their family there under arrest. Do you know that there is some U.S. authority work to expedite their visa process?

MR. RATHKE: Well, with respect to your first question, we strongly condemn the November 16th attack that targeted member of parliament Shukria Barakzai. We offer our sincere condolences to those affected by the attack, and our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. At this time, we’re not aware of claims of responsibility, but that does not diminish in any way our strong condemnation of the attack.

Now, with respect to the Special Immigrant Visa Program to which you referred, the State Department and the United States Government are committed to supporting those who have helped the United States, often at great personal risk, and we have been working to improve our process for the so-called Special Immigrant Visas. I would point out that this year we’ve issued more than 7,900 Special Immigrant Visas to Afghans, and those are principal applicants. That overall benefits more than 11,000 Afghans and their family members who have benefitted from this program.

Now, in August, Congress raised the ceiling, authorizing an additional 1,000 visas for the SIV Program, and this allows us to keep issuing visas into Fiscal Year 2015, but there may be a need for additional action if we approach that ceiling. So this is something we take quite seriously and we take every step we can to expedite the process in these kinds of visas.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. RATHKE: Yes, Lalit.

QUESTION: So this figure of 7,900 or 11,000 is up to the fiscal year ending September 30th?

MR. RATHKE: That’s right. That was in the Fiscal Year 2014.

QUESTION: And what’s the quota for the next year?

MR. RATHKE: That I’d have to check. I don’t have those data in front of me.

Yes.

QUESTION: And (inaudible) the SIV program is for Iraqis? I believe it was supposed to expire, and if that’s the case, I’m wondering if there will be any move to extend it given all the unrest in Iraq of this year.

MR. RATHKE: Well, in Iraq also there is in addition to the Special Immigrant Visa Program, there are also people who are eligible for refugee resettlement processing, so there it becomes – it looks like a more complicated --

QUESTION: Right, but anybody can apply for ION.

MR. RATHKE: Well, yes, but --

QUESTION: But it was – SIVs were given to Afghans and Iraqis specifically --

MR. RATHKE: Right, correct.

QUESTION: -- especially those who were helping American soldiers --

MR. RATHKE: So in Fiscal Year 2014 we issued over 1,400 Special Immigrant Visas to principal applicants and family members from Iraq.

QUESTION: But could you take the question? I’m more interested in whether or not that might be extended for future years.

MR. RATHKE: Happy to look into the Fiscal Year 2015 situation.

QUESTION: Great, thank you.

QUESTION: Jeff, is the difficulty with people who had helped the U.S. Government – what is it a function of, from your point of view? Is it a function of not having sufficient spots to be able to offer, and hence one that can and was addressed by congressional action, or is it some other issue?

MR. RATHKE: I’m sorry, your question is about the numbers or about the --

QUESTION: The question began with talking about the comedian John Oliver’s piece on this, which I think basically talked about the difficulty that people have had from these countries taking advantage of this program. And I don’t understand why that’s been (a) a problem and (b) a problem for so long. I mean, I think it was first brought to light in an op-ed piece by the late Senator Edward Kennedy, who talked about what a shame it was that people who had helped the United States were not able to get visas to escape or to leave. And so I just don’t understand why this isn’t kind of a well-oiled machine at this point. Now, it may be that there were limitations on the number of people who were permitted to be granted those visas, and therefore it’s a matter for congressional action because the Executive can’t just by fiat, I think, increase that program, right?

MR. RATHKE: Correct.

QUESTION: Or if there’s something more intrinsic in the process, that the process doesn’t work efficiently or smoothly as it should.

MR. RATHKE: Well, let me just start off by saying again we have the highest respect for men and women who take risks in supporting our military and civilian personnel, and we’re committed to helping those people who’ve helped us. So in general, the visa application process, it takes some time, and all visa applicants are thoroughly vetted to ensure they do not pose a threat to the security of the United States.

Now, as far as the numbers, the issuance of Special Immigrant Visas in Afghanistan has ramped up over the past year because we’ve made a number of improvements to the processing times at every stage. And we’ve also expanded our outreach to current employees to former employees who might be eligible, and we remain focused on expediting the processing time. But it’s an interagency process that takes a bit of time to complete.

As far as the numbers go, then there was – we were in the situation at the end of last fiscal year where we were approaching the ceiling, Congress raised that ceiling for Fiscal Year 2014. I’ll have to get back with more details about the 2015 situation.

QUESTION: And one more on this. What is the processing time, or what was it before you began instituting the improvements, and sort of what is it now from A to Z? And I understand that there are multiple agencies and multiple levels that are involved in this, but for an ordinary person who is trying to take it – well, I guess none of them is ordinary, but someone in this category who’s applying for such a visa, how long was it taking before your improvements, and how long is it taking now?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t know what – I don’t have data for before the improvements, but the current average processing time, and this is roughly consistent both with respect to Afghanistan as well as Iraq, is about eight months from start to finish. Of course, that depends on a number of factors; that’s average – the average processing time.

QUESTION: Could I go back to cyber if that’s okay?

QUESTION: I have one (inaudible).

MR. RATHKE: Yes. Okay, Lalit. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you know how many – the number of pending applications for these visas, or what’s the estimated number of people who require the visas?

MR. RATHKE: I do not have any information here about number of people in the pipeline, so we’ll have to look into that and get back to you.

QUESTION: And is this the highest number so far, the last several years – 7,900 or 11,000?

MR. RATHKE: I believe so, but we’d have to check. I don’t want to --

QUESTION: Two quick ones on cyber. You said that you have no reason that any classified information was compromised. How can you know that without having done some kind of a check on the unclassified system to see whether classified information was, in fact, being transmitted using that system in violation of your normal rules?

MR. RATHKE: Well, you will appreciate, I’m sure, that I’m not going to get into the details of exactly how we are responding to this particular incident. And I’m also not going to get into details of how we are analyzing the effect of the intrusion. But it’s our view that there has not been –that our classified systems have not been affected and that we have not had a breach of classified information.

QUESTION: And what harm would it cause to disclose, “Yeah, we’re taking a look at some tiny fraction of unclassified emails to make sure that classified material isn’t disseminated on them”? I mean, why is it hard to admit that? I understand you don’t want to let the people who are trying to attack your systems have any information that might make it easier for them to attack your systems. I don’t see how letting people know, “Yeah, we’re going back to check to make sure that there are no problems here in terms of using the unclassified system as it’s properly meant to be used” – which is to say, not putting classified information on it – I don’t see how that would help a potential hacker, as it were.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m just not going to get into more detail about the security measures we’re taking.

QUESTION: And then – okay. Last one from me on this: When – I know that you’ve said that you expect your unclassified system to be back up soon. Is it back up yet? Do you think it’ll be today, or is this a matter of days?

MR. RATHKE: It’s not up right – well, let me be more precise. So it’s our connectivity to the internet. So our internal systems – that is, people emailing from one state.gov address to another – that functions, both in Washington and overseas.

QUESTION: Unclassified.

MR. RATHKE: Unclassified.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. RATHKE: As well as classified, in which there’s been --

QUESTION: Of course. Yeah.

MR. RATHKE: -- no effect. It’s internet-connected systems that have been taken down while we implement these security measures. So that remains down.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. RATHKE: But I’m not going to give a specific deadline or prognosis.

QUESTION: That includes, however, emails from people like me to people’s unclassified email systems at State. I mean, I got bounce-backs even this morning.

MR. RATHKE: Right.

QUESTION: And you don’t have any kind of an estimate on when that may be?

MR. RATHKE: I’m just not going to give an estimate. We’re working on it as fast as we can, but I’m not going to give a specific estimate.

Anything else on this topic?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. RATHKE: On this topic?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. RATHKE: Yes. Go ahead (inaudible).

QUESTION: I’m sorry for being late – traffic. How much assurance can you give to people in India and other countries that their information that they have submitted to you electronically is safe and has not been stolen?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I would go back to what I said, which is this has affected our email system; it has not affected our business systems. So that’s, I think, worth noting.

New topic?

QUESTION: Iran?

MR. RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Who exactly is the Secretary going to be briefing about the Iran negotiations while he’s in London?

MR. RATHKE: Well, the schedule is coming together. We’ll have more to say on that soon. He’ll be meeting with European counterparts, also with counterparts from the Middle East. But this is coming together on short notice, so I don’t have details to share right now.

QUESTION: And in signaling that he will be going to Vienna at the appropriate time, does that not almost guarantee that there’ll be no headway until he shows up? I mean, isn’t that often the way negotiations work, that the lower-level negotiators don’t – if you know that a more senior one is coming in, you might as well just wait until they show up before showing your hand?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to make a prediction about these talks. And certainly we have a team that is going out to Vienna. They’re leaving today, as I mentioned. A note will be going out shortly with the composition of our team, which will look very familiar, I think, to those of you who have been following the P5+1 talks – a very senior team, very experienced team. So they will be getting to work right away. And the Secretary will go to Vienna at the appropriate moment, but we’re not going to suggest exactly when that will be.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. RATHKE: Yes, Samir.

QUESTION: Will there be a bilateral meeting, or it’s going to be a ministerial? Because I read the French foreign minister is planning to go to Vienna, too.

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any details about the particular format of the discussions, but again, these are P5+1 discussions. So we would expect them to go ahead in that format. But then, of course, during each of the sessions, there have usually been meetings in smaller formats, whether they’re bilaterals or trilaterals. So those have happened in the past. I don’t have any scheduling information, though, to give right now about the talks coming up later this week.

Yes, go ahead. Same topic?

QUESTION: Same topic, yeah. I want to take a step back to the Amman meeting between Secretary Kerry, Javad Zarif, and Catherine Ashton. Is it fair to say that that meeting not only didn’t resolve anything, get their views any – bring their views any closer, but that maybe Iran presented demands beyond what had already been – was being discussed and made things even more complicated?

MR. RATHKE: No, that’s not a fair statement. We’ve said all along we’re not going to do a day-to-day tick-tock readout of what is happening inside the room for very sensitive negotiations. We’ve been direct in our negotiations, but I’m not going to characterize – and we’ve also been clear about the overall objective, which is ensuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon and closing down the pathways to obtaining a nuclear weapon, and reminding Iran that it has to find – that it has to demonstrate that its assurances about the purely civilian nature of its nuclear program can be verified and proven. Those things are all clear, but I’m not going to get into characterizing individual conversations such as you’ve described.

QUESTION: Because it’s not a fair characterization, you said. So are you in fact saying that things did not move backwards?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to characterize that conversation.

QUESTION: That’s fine. If you don’t want to characterize it, that’s fine. But what you said was it wasn’t a fair statement. So that’s characterizing it in some way, no?

MR. RATHKE: No. I was saying that I thought the question was unfair because it seeks to reach a conclusion about a specific meeting and its outcome, which is not what we’re going to get into.

Yes, Lalit.

QUESTION: I have one on Afghanistan-Pakistan. Last week --

MR. RATHKE: I’m sorry, just a moment. Anything else on Iran before we move? Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Last week, four countries – Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India – established a joint venture company for transportation of gas from Turkmenistan to India, passing through Afghanistan and Pakistan. Do you have anything to say on that, on that four-countries gas pipeline?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have anything to – on that. I’m happy to look and see if there’s something I can share, but I just don’t have anything in front of me.

QUESTION: I have one more small thing. The Pakistan’s army chief is visiting.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Is anyone from this building meeting him? And --

MR. RATHKE: So General Raheel Sharif began his first visit to the United States as chief of the army staff with a series of high-level meetings with U.S. officials and a visit to Central Command headquarters in Florida. Senior State Department officials will continue to engage with General Raheel Sharif, and the State Department will participate in the general’s visit. But at the moment, I don’t have further details to announce about exactly whom he would meet with and when and that kind of scheduling information.

QUESTION: From the State Department’s perspective, what are the issues that you plan to – that you’re planning to discuss with him?

MR. RATHKE: Well, of course, we have a broad relationship with Pakistan, and the chief of the army staff is a key figure. So we’ve been having – already he’s been having productive and positive meetings. They’ve focused on a range of issues, from the situation in North Waziristan to border security and so forth.

QUESTION: He is coming to this – to the city after (inaudible) you said and the actions against terrorists in North Waziristan for the past several months. Are you satisfied by the actions that the Pakistan army has taken against terrorist groups?

MR. RATHKE: Well, of course, we consider it extremely important to, the fight against extremist groups and we’ve offered at every stage to be supportive, and we remain in dialogue with our Pakistani counterparts about that. I don’t have anything new to read out about that. Of course, the general will be meeting with a range of high-level Administration and congressional officials this week, which is an opportunity to continue that conversation.

Samir, and then we’ll go to Ilhan.

QUESTION: The Saudi minister for the National Guards, who is the son of the king, also visiting tomorrow Washington and expected to meet with the President. Is there – is he coming here part of this military – the meetings with military people from the --

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have anything to – any meetings to announce with respect to that. If there is a meeting at the White House, I’d refer you to them for details of that.

Ilhan.

QUESTION: Thank you. I had couple for Turkey. Prime Minister Davutoglu, during – over the weekend, he had a press meeting. And he said that he had this lunch meeting with the President Obama, and he was stating that Turkey and U.S. agreed that the ISIS could not be defeated unless President Assad is toppled. Is there any way you can speak to this? Is there some kind of a consensus emerging between --

MR. RATHKE: If I understand correctly, you’re asking about a conversation the President had --

QUESTION: In general.

MR. RATHKE: -- with President Erdogan, so I’d encourage you to --

QUESTION: Sure.

MR. RATHKE: -- ask that question at the White House about the content of that conversation.

QUESTION: In general, would you be able to tell us that there is some kind of a consensus emerging between the U.S. and Turkey in terms of strategy in Syria, that Assad must be defeated in order to defeat ISIS?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I would refer you to the speech that the Secretary gave this morning, where he went to – at the Open Forum on Transformational Trends. He gave an update on Operation Inherent Resolve. He talked about the five lines of effort. Our strategy has not changed, and he recounted where we stand now, what progress has been made. I don’t have anything further to add on that.

QUESTION: I am sorry. I have not seen that particular speech, and I will check it. Is there any way you can tell us that – do you think that in order to defeat ISIS, first – or at the same time – Assad must be toppled?

MR. RATHKE: I really don’t have anything further to add on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: I mean, he – I saw the speech. He didn’t make that link directly, so it’s not this building’s belief that --

MR. RATHKE: Well, our strategy remains as – it remains the same.

QUESTION: But the strategy has been Iraq first, so – I mean, heretofore, anyway. So is that the case, then? Is it still Iraq first? Is it not that Assad must go before ISIS can be defeated?

MR. RATHKE: Well, our focus is on defeating ISIL, and that of course takes different forms in Iraq as opposed to in Syria because the situations in each country are quite different. Again, there’s – we’ve spoken to this in some detail. The strategy remains the same, though, and I don’t have any change in it to announce.

QUESTION: So in other words, you think that ISIS can be defeated without toppling Assad first or at the same time?

MR. RATHKE: No, I’m not going to have words put in my mouth, Ilhan. What – do you have something particular to ask?

QUESTION: Yes. Yeah, for the last couple of days, a couple of deputy prime ministers in Turkey were talking about whether U.S. leadership has been talking to PKK leadership at Qandil Mountain, northern Iraq, regarding the peace process between the PKK and Turkish administration. Is there any way you can confirm --

MR. RATHKE: We have – I have no information about any meetings with PKK representatives. The PKK remains a designated foreign terrorist organization.

QUESTION: Okay. I can move to Syria if --

MR. RATHKE: Anything else on that topic? Okay, one more, and then we’ll – go ahead.

QUESTION: On Syria, just in – generally, the U.S. started its airstrikes in Syria for about two months now. Do you think the Assad regime forces on the ground got stronger since the U.S. began its airstrikes? Is there any way you can give us some kind of assessment?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we have – as you say, we’ve been taking strikes against ISIL and other targets in Syria. Those have been part of our comprehensive strategy, and of course, there have been attempts by the Syrian regime to give the impression that they are gaining. Frankly, we see ISIL – halting ISIL’s momentum as our focus right now, and that’s why we have been dedicating the effort to the strikes in Syria. And we’ve been – I think we’ve shared a vast amount of detail about those strikes, where and what their targets have been, and we see that as the focus of our effort. I’m not going to characterize on a – give a day-to-day battlefield readout, though, of where the regime might be focusing its efforts.

QUESTION: Final question: It looks like the Aleppo – regime forces, Assad regime forces are gaining or becoming even more stronger in Aleppo. Do you have any update on Aleppo situation, whether Aleppo is going to fall to the regime anytime soon?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think we spoke to this on Friday last week. We talked about Staffan de Mistura’s proposals and his ideas of local freezes and so forth. I don’t have any update on the precise battlefield arrangements around the region of Aleppo, so – yes, Lara, go ahead.

QUESTION: I wanted to go to a different topic, if that’s all right.

MR. RATHKE: Please.

QUESTION: On Bahrain --

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- there are parliamentary elections coming up this weekend, and yet there are reports of a crackdown on women protesters. I’m wondering if this is something that the U.S. has brought up with the kingdom and what their reaction is.

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm. I’ll have to look into that and get back to you.

Scott.

QUESTION: Nigeria.

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: We spoke briefly on Friday about Boko Haram capturing the town of Chibok, from which those 200 girls were kidnapped. The military says that it retook that town over the weekend. Do you believe that to be the case, and do you have any more knowledge about the state of the potential ceasefire talks between the Nigerian Government and Boko Haram?

MR. RATHKE: So we’re aware of the reports, and as with the reports on Friday, we are not in a position to confirm details. We condemn Boko Haram’s attacks on Chibok, a community that has suffered far too much already, and we extend our condolences to the families of the victims.

Now with respect to the fight against Boko Haram, the United States remains committed to helping the Government of Nigeria address the threat that Boko Haram poses and to find and free those who have been abducted in Chibok and elsewhere. So we continue to support Nigerian efforts to bring them home, and we are providing assistance, both through humanitarian programs, through sharing of intelligence, and advising on strategic communications and other issues. We also continue to encourage Nigerian authorities to adopt a comprehensive approach to violent extremists.

With respect to the – any talks that might be ongoing, I’d refer you to the Government of Nigeria for any detail.

QUESTION: Could I go back to Bahrain? I had another question. Is there more on Boko Haram?

MR. RATHKE: Sure. Anything else on this topic? On this topic? Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jeff. With regard to Boko Haram and bringing back our girls, nine months ago these 285 young women were abducted. There was an international task force assembled to locate them. Very little has been said beyond – there’s been a recent bombing in the last four or five days, 47 students killed, lots more injured. It’s obvious that the Nigerian Government does not have the capability of conducting this search and find operation on their own, although they’ve announced two weeks ago that they had reached a deal with Boko Haram and that the girls would be returned. Now there’s been reports over the weekend about all of the girls having been converted to Islam, many of them forced into arranged marriages, others given as gifts to soldiers for use for sex and rape abuse. So where does this thing stand? I mean, what is the current status today of the international task force efforts to locate these young women who’ve been gone now for nine months?

MR. RATHKE: Well, as I said in response to Scott’s question, this is a Nigerian-led effort, and the United States is providing support to Nigerian authorities. And this support covers a range of possibility – a range of aspects, including humanitarian programs, including sharing of certain intelligence information, and we have also provided and approved sales of military equipment to the armed forces after careful scrutiny. So we have a multifaceted approach to this Nigerian-led effort and we – our hearts certainly go out to the families of the victims and to the girls themselves and all of those who have been abducted.

And this is an endeavor that we continue to support. We have devoted approximately $19 million in fiscal year 2014 for vulnerable and conflict-affected households in Nigeria. Some of that goes through USAID, some of it through other channels. But we have been providing in addition to that about $54 million in humanitarian assistance to neighboring countries where there are significant refugee populations. So this is something to which we remain committed, and we’ll continue that support.

QUESTION: Jeff, if I may, just one follow-up statement. It’s obvious that the Government of Nigeria is not competent enough to handle this operation domestically, so what is the status with respect to the U.S. policy position on this with the surveillance capabilities that the United States has, with the special forces capabilities that they have, with the international willingness of people in a coalition to come together to try and merge their assets to find these girls? Why is it proving so difficult to locate a very large group of young people who’ve been hijacked?

MR. RATHKE: Well, it is an enormous challenge and we continue to support the Nigerian-led efforts, but it’s our view this has to be a Nigerian-led effort. So we’ll continue to provide the support that I outlined because we consider this an important opportunity to help Nigeria achieve success, but it’s a Nigerian-led operation.

Lara, you wanted to go back to Bahrain.

QUESTION: Yes, I did. Yes. There’s --

MR. RATHKE: Sorry. Same topic?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. RATHKE: All right, just one there.

QUESTION: I was just wondering, when you say that the United States Government has spent $19 million in helping people who are being internally displaced in Nigeria, a lot of reports that’s coming out from the northeast of Nigeria indicates that there’s virtually no presence and no indication that there is anything that is being sent in terms of food and other things to help people in that part of the country. So I really don’t know where that money is going.

MR. RATHKE: Well, as I mentioned, in fiscal year 2014 the United States has provided more than $19 million for vulnerable and conflict-affected households; $7 million from USAID for health, water, and sanitation services, emergency relief supplies, and protection activities for women and children in northeastern Nigeria. We have also provided about $7 million in emergency food assistance and the State Department has provided more than $5 million to fund protection activities. So this is clearly something we are taking – making efforts in and taking seriously.

QUESTION: May I just also ask about the issue of intelligence that United States is sharing with Nigerian Government? We have had a chance of speaking with some people in government in Nigeria, and they’re saying that there’s not much coming out from United States and that United States is not really helping. And there was an allegation that United States said they’re not going to help with anything because of the issue of – how did they put it – from Nigerian Government perspective, they said that United States Government is actually turning their back on Nigeria because of the issue of human rights. This is the statement from the chief of defense staff from Nigeria.

MR. RATHKE: Well, we have a longstanding and important relationship with Nigeria and we value that highly. We are standing with the government and the people of Nigeria in the face of the lethal and inhumane attacks that Boko Haram has unleashed, and we’re working closely with the Nigerian Government and with the governments of neighboring states to counter these threats. We have existing programs to fight terrorism and we also have new programs such as the Security Governance Initiative, also a Global Security Contingency Fund.

So we are increasing our efforts to strengthen Nigeria’s institutions. We have begun over the last six months to share intelligence with Nigeria. We’ve begun training a new army battalion. We have held numerous high-level discussions with Nigerian authorities on ways to meet the Boko Haram threat. So I think that record is clear and we are – we have stepped up our support and our cooperation with Nigerian authorities in the face of this threat.

QUESTION: Will the United State Government debunk any statement by any Nigerian Government agency or personnel saying that United States is turning its back on helping Nigeria --

MR. RATHKE: I think I just outlined all the ways in which we are supporting both on the humanitarian side as well as the more specific assistance to Nigerian security forces. And I’m going to leave it at that.

Lara, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. There’s a U.S. citizen who’s being detained in Bahrain, name of Taqi Al-Maidan. And a UN working group recently concluded that he was being detained arbitrarily, which is to say, I would assume, illegally or improperly. Is there any response from the U.S. government on this?

MR. RATHKE: That one I don’t have anything on here, so apologies. We’ll look into that and get back --

QUESTION: Okay, if you could take it.

MR. RATHKE: -- and get back to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah. Yes, Michelle.

QUESTION: I just wanted to see if you had any reaction to the United Arab Emirates decision to designate the Council on Islamic American Relations as a terrorist organization.

MR. RATHKE: So we’ve seen the United Arab Emirates list of organizations that they published just a few days ago. We are aware that two U.S.-based groups were listed on that there and we’re – we are seeking to gain more information on why. We’re engaging the UAE Government on this list. That’s what I’ve got at this stage.

QUESTION: What’s the other one?

MR. RATHKE: Excuse me?

QUESTION: Do you know what the other one is? If one is the Council on American Islamic Relations, do you know what the name of the other one is?

MR. RATHKE: We’re aware that two U.S.-based groups, the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Muslim American Society, were included on the list. And we’re engaging UAE authorities.

QUESTION: The State Department works with CA – with CAIR all the time, no? I mean, there’s all sorts of outreach programs between the government and CAIR, right?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t know offhand whether we have particular --

QUESTION: I know the FBI works with them frequently and they --

QUESTION: Their officials may also have been invited to Iftars by the Secretary of State in years past.

QUESTION: That’s right.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah, I don’t have that information at my fingertips. But at any rate, we are engaging UAE officials. These are U.S.-based groups, so of course, our – we’re not in the lead then for domestically based groups generally.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: I was just hoping to get your reaction to a couple things going on in East Asia. First of all, are you aware of the gubernatorial elections that took place in Okinawa (inaudible)?

MR. RATHKE: So I’m not going to comment on a local election. Regardless of the outcome, we are committed to working with the Government of Japan to follow through on our alliance agreements and to fulfill our treaty commitments to the defense of Japan as well as to the peace and security of the Asia and Pacific region.

QUESTION: So you have no concern about the fact that the person that was elected has voiced pretty clearly that he will veto any – the relocation plan of the Futenma Air Base?

MR. RATHKE: Again, I’m not going to comment on the specific election outcome. We’re committed to working with the Government of Japan to follow through on our agreements.

QUESTION: Okay. I also just wanted to ask for your reaction on what’s been going on in Hong Kong recently. Students over the weekend were prevented from traveling to Beijing, and then today there was reports that the police will start clearing the protests. Do you have any reaction to the reports?

MR. RATHKE: So we are aware of reports that protest leaders were unable to travel to Beijing. We continue to encourage differences between Hong Kong authorities and the protesters to be addressed peacefully through dialogue. And that’s the call we’ve made over the last several weeks and that remains our point of view.

New topic? Nothing else. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:21 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 14, 2014

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 16:11

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 14, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:12 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Happy Friday.

MS. PSAKI: Happy Friday. I actually do not have anything at the top for you.

QUESTION: Really?

MS. PSAKI: So why don’t we get straight to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Okay. I just have a brief one. I realize that the President has already spoken to this, but that was before the House actually passed this legislation, and of course, we all know that it is the State Department where this review of Keystone resides now. So my question is: Does this vote and a potential similar vote in the Senate have any effect on the review that is currently underway?

MS. PSAKI: No, it does not. We are continuing to move ahead with our thorough, transparent, and objective review of the Keystone pipeline application. And in accordance with the executive order, this review includes consideration of many factors, including energy security; environmental, cultural, and economic impacts; foreign policy and compliance with review, law, and policy.

As you know, there were a couple of factors including the Nebraska court case as well as the number of public comments that led us to make a decision about delaying that earlier this spring. Certainly, on any decision about legislation, we’d refer to the White House.

QUESTION: Right. But is it the Administration’s view that the State Department process, this review process, can be circumvented by the Congress?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the State Department process is continuing. Obviously, if there’s a decision made by the President on legislation, we’ll proceed from there.

QUESTION: No, but as a general principle, do you think that they – that Congress can legislate approval of something like this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s a process in place for a reason, but I’m not going to parse the legislation and what may or may not be done about it any further.

QUESTION: But – okay. My frustration with this is that I’m not asking you to parse the legislation. I’m asking for the Administration’s view of whether Congress can legislate approval of something like this.

MS. PSAKI: And I’m pointing you to the White House for any further comment on the legislation.

QUESTION: But – okay. And the review stands where?

MS. PSAKI: It’s ongoing, as I mentioned.

QUESTION: And with still no anticipated --

MS. PSAKI: Well, as I – as you know, but – I pointed to this, but since we haven’t talked about this in a while, there’s, as you know, litigation pending in the Nebraska Supreme Court that could ultimately impact the pipeline route in that state, and that in turn could affect the assessment of the permit application. So we’ve been monitoring those developments. We’ve also been using additional time allotted to agencies to continue reviewing and considering the unprecedented number of new public comments. Obviously, the court case and the findings of a court case which we don’t have any control over could impact the timing.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Are you still getting public comments (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: No, there’s no --

QUESTION: That’s finished, right?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, correct. But we’ve obviously taken the time to continue to review those. The permit process will conclude once factors that could have a significant impact on the Department’s national security – national interest determination regarding the proposed project have been evaluated and appropriately reflected in the decision documents, but obviously, the court case has an impact on that. We don’t have any control over the timing of that.

QUESTION: And have you been in contact with your counterparts in Canada about this legislation, or are you just waiting to see how it plays out in the Congress?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to read out from here. I think that would take place in the White House if that did --

QUESTION: In the Administration’s view, is it wise for a legislative body to try to interrupt or to supersede the review that the State Department is doing now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think my colleague over at the White House spoke to this a couple of days ago before the vote, which is fair, and said that in the past we haven’t looked fondly on efforts to circumvent the process in place.

QUESTION: Fondly?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Dim view?

MS. PSAKI: A dim view.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: That wasn’t an exact quote.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: It was a paraphrase.

QUESTION: I guess --

MS. PSAKI: Do you have any more on Keystone?

QUESTION: No.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Can we go to Israel?

MS. PSAKI: Israel, sure.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the meetings that the Secretary held yesterday. There was a press conference afterwards at which he said that there have been – they had agreed to some steps to de-escalate the tensions in the region. Today out of the region, they’re saying that the Palestinians have – all restrictions have been lifted on men wanting to go and pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I just wondered what it was – first off, if the – your reaction to the news that today seems to be free movement into the mosque for Palestinian worshippers – or Arab worshippers, I guess; and then secondly, what it is that you’re asking the Palestinians to do to de-escalate tensions.

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me talk about this a little bit, and as you mentioned, the Secretary spoke about it. I will mention one thing at the top just to manage expectations. One of the discussions they had was the fact that we were not going to announce on their behalf any steps, specific steps, they were going to take. And we feel it’s much more important that they take steps than it is that it’s publicly announced. But I can talk a little bit more about the meetings.

As you mentioned, last night the Secretary had the opportunity to sit down with leaders, have these discussions in person. The parties – as he mentioned, the parties agreed to take affirmative steps to restore calm and implement practical measures to prevent further escalation of tensions.

Obviously, you saw the lift on age limit restrictions for Muslim men entering the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. This is an important development, one we certainly welcome, and a positive step toward maintaining the status quo of the site. Forty thousand Muslims were able to visit the site today, and although tensions remain high, this is a positive step.

They also – during these meetings, President – Prime Minister Netanyahu strongly reaffirmed Israel’s commitment to uphold the status quo, and you’ve seen some of those actions. And President Abbas restated his firm commitment on – to nonviolence and made it clear that he will do everything possible to restore calm.

Now, the situation is still very tense. We have our eyes open. We will remain engaged and in touch with the leaders. And of course, actions by the parties going forward are the key to restoring and maintaining calm.

QUESTION: So on the Palestinian side, one of the issues that we’ve seen has been this spate of sort of lone attacks either by car rammings or stabbings or the instance of such ilk. Could you tell us what it is you are hoping that the Palestinians will be able to do to avoid those kind of actions taking place in the future?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, as I just mentioned, President Abbas made it clear that he is willing to do everything possible to restore calm. Broadly in the discussion they talked about a range of areas, including access to holy sites, security for holy sites, coordination among security forces and authorities, regional security architecture, incitement, and settlements. Those are a number of the pool of areas that obviously need to be addressed.

And I think the fact that there was a commitment to take affirmative steps we obviously feel is positive. Now, of course, the proof is not in the words. The proof is in the actions. So we’ll see what happens over the next couple of days. But we’re just not going to get into more specific details.

QUESTION: Jen, you mentioned that the proof is in the actions, clearly, but you’ve only cited one action and that was on the part of the Israelis to open up – to drop the age restriction. Have you seen any affirmative action from the Palestinians to do what President Abbas said that he was going to be doing?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, obviously, these discussions happened last night, and we certainly anticipate that there will be in the coming days.

QUESTION: Right. But there was – I mean, there was pretty quick and demonstrable action taken by the Israelis. I’m just wondering if you saw any quick and demonstrable action taken --

MS. PSAKI: There’s public and private actions, but I don’t have anything more specific.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: We’ll see what happens in the next couple of days.

QUESTION: Is it – I’m not sure I understand why you think that it is wise to announce that the two sides have – or that three sides have agreed to steps to calm things down and then to keep them secret. It seems to me that this is exactly the way the peace talks collapsed by you and them trying to keep everything secret, which only leads to all sorts of speculation and tempers flaring based on inaccurate speculation and information and flat-out erroneous reports that are driven by people with agendas that you – with the – I don’t want to use the word “extremist,” but people with agendas to try and disrupt or continue the – continue the conflict.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt --

QUESTION: I just – it doesn’t make any sense to me that you wouldn’t want them – that you would want these alleged steps that were agreed to to become public. That way, people know what to expect.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we sent a strong message that there were – there was an agreement to take affirmative steps in order to hopefully generate some calm in the region. There was an evaluation and discussion made by all the parties involved that this was the best way to proceed.

QUESTION: Right. But there was an evaluation and discussion made by all parties involved when they agreed over a year ago that they would get a deal by – within a year’s time or within nine months’ time. And look where that is – nowhere.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we still have no regrets about how we handled or how we managed the process last year either.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up very quickly. What would be demonstrable and quick action by the Palestinians that you would like to see?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to spell it out further, Said, other than to convey that President Abbas made clear that he’ll do everything possible to restore calm. He restated his firm commitment to nonviolence. They talked about a range of issues that both sides can work on, including regional security structure, coordination among security forces, incitement, settlements – a lot of the issues that have been causing tensions in the region.

QUESTION: But really, when you go through it, you’ll find that he’s only able to sort of demonstrably and quickly sort of lower the level of incitement. Because the Palestinians have no control over East Jerusalem or any part to sort of dissuade the public from going out and demonstrating and burning tires and throwing stones and so on – so you’re expecting --

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, he committed to the Secretary he was going to do everything he could to restore calm.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into more details.

QUESTION: Now, I know that you, from this podium – and, of course, the Secretary in his press conference – emphasized that it was really most – they were focused, as you suggested, on what’s going on in Jerusalem. But also he mentioned at the end of one statement or one question that – the talks and restarting the talks and going back to the talks. Could you give us a broader picture or maybe a clearer picture on what future is there for these talks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it remains the case that there won’t be long-term peace and stability without a two-state solution. But I can – there’s no plans to restart the peace talks. Right now we’re focused on reducing tensions and creating a climate where it may be possible to address the underlying causes of the conflict in the future. That was the focus of their discussion.

QUESTION: Okay. And also the Foreign Minister of Jordan, Nasser Judeh, said or suggested that they will not send back their ambassador until they see on the ground. So would the action today – the Israelis allowing 40,000 worshipers of all ages, as a matter of fact, to go into al-Aqsa Mosque – is the kind of action that should give incentive to the Jordanians now to send their ambassador?

MS. PSAKI: We’ll let Jordan make that decision, but I certainly can convey to you that, of course, diplomatic relations between Israel and Jordan are critical, given the two nations share security challenges and economic opportunities, and the importance, of course, of the Jordan-Israel Treaty of Peace and Jordan’s special role in Jerusalem’s Muslim holy places. The Secretary spoke with King Abdullah about this yesterday and about Jordan’s decision to withdraw its ambassador to Tel Aviv and how tensions can be reduced going forward. But we’ll let them make decisions moving forward.

QUESTION: And finally, anything new or an update regarding the Palestinian efforts in the UN?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to report on that front.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: So have you raised the issue of the continuing settlement activities, and do you think that any freeze of this activity will actually be helpful in maintaining calm and stability for a while?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as I mentioned, that was one of the topics that was discussed. Obviously, as we’ve also stated here before, we believe that ongoing settlement activity or construction in East Jerusalem is contrary to the stated goal of achieving a two-state solution. And that continues to be our view. But there are a range of factors at play here; that’s not the only factor.

QUESTION: So what was – did you get a clear reaction or commitment from the Israeli side on this?

MS. PSAKI: I think as I stated earlier, I’m not going to lay out more – further what – where they’ll go from here.

QUESTION: Jen, just a couple brief things on this.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: A lot has been made about the incitement or alleged incitement coming from the Palestinian side, and the – I’m just wondering, in view of the last questions about settlement activity and construction in East Jerusalem, does the Administration regard Israeli announcements of these kinds of things as incitement?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to put a new label on it other than to convey it’s contrary to the stated goal of achieving a two-state solution --

QUESTION: Right, but --

MS. PSAKI: -- and contrary to what they want to achieve.

QUESTION: But do you believe that contributes to the --

MS. PSAKI: Tension?

QUESTION: -- to the tension, and also can spark protests, some of which turn violent?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly contributes to the tension, yes.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, there are a range of factors at the same time that are in play contributing to the tension.

QUESTION: Secondly, are you disappointed that you didn’t get a firm commitment from the Jordanians to return their ambassador?

MS. PSAKI: I think the Secretary felt they had a good discussion about it. Obviously, Jordan will make their own decision. I think the --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- foreign minister spoke to this yesterday a little bit, too.

QUESTION: Right. He said that it would depend on whether Israel actually does what it says it’s going to do. But is it your understanding that if Israel – that if the Israelis actually follow through on whatever it was the secret steps that Prime Minister Netanyahu pledged to take, that the Jordanians will return their ambassador?

MS. PSAKI: We’ll see, Matt.

QUESTION: Is that your understanding? You don’t know?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the foreign minister’s comments.

QUESTION: All right.

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

QUESTION: And then lastly, I’ve got two brief ones on something you said yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You were asked about the home demolitions.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And – well, you had a brief line that – you said “punitive demolitions are counterproductive to the cause of peace and exacerbate an already tense situation.” I’m wondering, the – do you regard that, these home demolitions, as – you didn’t say this, but some have interpreted it to mean that you believe that these home demolitions constitute collective punishment?

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t convey that. I think --

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: -- they’re one of the factors that contribute to tension.

QUESTION: So there are some in Israel who read that – who took what you said yesterday and said flat out that you had condemned what – collective punishment and that these – you condemned the housing demolitions as collective punishment. That is incorrect?

MS. PSAKI: We said – I said, as you just quoted, they were counterproductive.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Jen, can I just --

QUESTION: Meanwhile – hold on. I just – because I want to ask now about Egypt and home demolitions, because yesterday or earlier this week, there were – the Egyptian Government demolished several hundred homes in the Sinai. Do you take the same view of those home demolitions as you do of the Israeli demolitions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, every – as we often – as I often like to say, every situation is different, Matt. And as you know, there have been some serious security challenges in the Sinai. We respect Egypt’s concern about their security in the area and support its right to self-defense. We also expect that they will ensure the rights of those being displaced are respected and that they are adequately compensated. That continues to be what we have conveyed to the Egyptians.

QUESTION: So you don’t regard that as being counterproductive to the cause of peace or fighting extremism, these home demolitions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s an entirely different scenario, Matt.

QUESTION: All right. But you would not argue that – I mean, you say that there are serious security problems in the Sinai for the Egyptians. Are there not also serious security concerns and security problems for the Israelis?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re not – Egypt is not predetermining what borders would be by taking these steps. It’s a different scenario.

QUESTION: Oh, I understand it’s a different scenario, but it’s the same tactic, as it were, to fight what is believed to be by a government to be terrorism or extremism.

MS. PSAKI: With entirely different context.

QUESTION: Yeah, but it’s not okay for the Israelis to demolish homes, but it’s okay for the Egyptians to demolish homes?

MS. PSAKI: We believe it’s counterproductive to their stated goals. In Egypt, we understand their concerns about their security. We’ve seen recent threats to that in the Sinai, as you all have reported on. I think I’m going to leave it at that. They’re different scenarios.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I just quickly follow up on something that Matt said?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: On the issue of the settlements, you may not consider it incitement, but you do consider it provocations, correct?

MS. PSAKI: I said there are a range of factors that contribute to the tension, Said.

QUESTION: But you – you consider it to be a provocative action, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. I’m not going to have you put words in my mouth. I’m going to leave it at what I just conveyed.

QUESTION: Okay. I wonder if you would consider – would, let’s say, statements by Naftali Bennett, a cabinet member, yesterday – only made yesterday, that he actually killed many Arabs and there was no problem with that. Is that an incitement?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to put further labels on it, Said. We speak out against issues when we have concerns.

QUESTION: And finally, on --

MS. PSAKI: I just mentioned – let me finish – that settlements is one of the discussions – one of the topics that was discussed.

QUESTION: And on the home demolitions, since Israel, if it says someone is a terrorist they’d kill him or whatever, do they go afterwards to demolish the home, which is really punishing the family, and these families are quite large. That wouldn’t be considered collective punishment?

MS. PSAKI: I think I just gave an answer to that question.

Go ahead, Samir. On this topic or a new topic?

QUESTION: On the meeting with the Prime Minister of Israel.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you know if the Secretary briefed Prime Minister Netanyahu about his meetings with the Iranian foreign minister in Oman and the talks with Iran?

MS. PSAKI: They did talk about Iran, as well – and of course, the ongoing discussions that are happening, and we’ll reconvene next week. The Secretary made it clear that our position has not changed and that we are working to close off all possible pathways to a nuclear weapon for Iran, in order to ensure the peace and security of the international community, including Israel. And we will continue to keep all of our friends and allies informed of what we are going to be doing in the days ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Any more on this topic, or --

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. PSAKI: On this? Oh, on this topic. Okay, and Jo, you too? Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: When you were talking about the issues discussed this, you mentioned the expression: pool of ideas need to be addressed – need to be addressed. I mean, you mean the regional security and different issues related to the conflict – Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Are these issues part of the deal or an agreement or there is a mechanism to do it, or the first thing is to – is just to lower the tense between the two parties?

MS. PSAKI: So just so I make sure I understand your question, are you talking about the topics I referenced that were discussed?

QUESTION: Yes. Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Those are the topics that we’ve all seen have contributed to the tensions on the ground. So it’s natural they were discussed as a part of the meetings.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, it’s important that both sides agree to take affirmative steps. We’ll see, though. It’s not words, it’s actions that matter. I wouldn’t call it a deal. I would call it an agreement by both sides to take positive steps to reduce tensions. And that certainly is separate from, as I mentioned, any effort to restart a peace process.

QUESTION: So it’s – so there is – first to handle the situation now, and then to take care of these issues, and then peace process?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our focus is on reducing tensions.

QUESTION: You’re focused on.

MS. PSAKI: There’s no plans to restart the peace talks at this point in time.

QUESTION: On another issue, the Baghdadi message – alleged – the one. First, can you confirm the authenticity of the message? And second, do you have any reaction to the threats he made in his message in general?

MS. PSAKI: I spoke to this yesterday in terms of his message in general. I don’t have any confirmation or – I can’t authenticate the calls or the comments, just like I couldn’t yesterday. And just to reiterate what I said yesterday, it should come as no surprise that an organization like ISIL would be putting out these type of threatening rhetoric that’s conveying and calling for more brutality, and it’s just a reminder of the threat that the group poses to the region. But I don’t have any --

QUESTION: But – so you take these threats seriously?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s not new. I don’t know about taking seriously – as you know, we’re implementing an aggressive military campaign with a number of other components to go after ISIL. That hasn’t changed since yesterday, regardless of whether we can authenticate these comments.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to --

QUESTION: ISIS and Iraq?

QUESTION: Sorry. I just wanted to go back to Israel just very briefly.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure. Sorry, Jo. Go ahead.

QUESTION: No, that’s okay. I just wondered, very quickly, you keep saying that – or you said that we will see where these steps were implemented. Did – was there any kind of understanding about a timeframe within which these steps would be implemented? Was that something that you discussed with the leaders?

MS. PSAKI: I think, obviously, it’s important that they happen soon in the coming days. We’ll see what happens, but some of these pieces will be up to them to, of course, implement.

QUESTION: I mean, it’s just that it goes back to sort of Matt’s question about why not lay out what it was that you agreed? For instance, I know it’s a different situation, but when we had the Syria chemical weapons, Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov came out and laid out a plan and a timeline, and in some ways that was kind of helpful, I guess, for the international community to sort of see --

MS. PSAKI: Because there’s always a decision made through diplomatic channels on what’s most appropriate. At that – for that scenario, we felt it would be effective to communicate publicly. We certainly understand the appetite for that. It’s not a misunderstanding of that. We’ve already seen one step taken. We’ll see how things proceed from here.

QUESTION: But it’s just a question of accountability, of holding two sides to their commitments that they made. If you know what they are but nobody else does – nobody in the wider – and I’m not even talking about the press; I’m talking about the Israeli and Palestinian community know what they are. How do those communities and the Arab world in general hold – how they – how can they hold the leaders accountable for what you say happened?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s clear what’s happening on the ground now and the level of tensions, the level of violence, the level of rhetoric is something that needs to change. I think we’ll be able to evaluate, as will people in the region, whether there’s a change to that.

QUESTION: Yeah, but they can’t – this is the problem, and I get back to – you say you understand there’s an appetite for it. The appetite is not particularly for us wanting to know just so we can know; it’s for the people whose lives are affected by this. If they don’t know, if I’m a Palestinian who wants to go to al-Aqsa and worship, I want to know if I’m going to be able to get in there. I want to know if – and if I’m an Israeli --

MS. PSAKI: Well, the 40,000 Muslims who went to the site today certainly know, don’t they?

QUESTION: Well, right. But if I’m an Israeli, I want to know what President Abbas said that he was going to do about incitement. I want to know – if I’m a Palestinian, I want to know what the Israelis are going to do about checkpoints and things like that. Keeping it secret means that they don’t – there’s no – they don’t have to do it. It’s a question of accountability. If you keep – if someone --

MS. PSAKI: They just took a step. It doesn’t mean they don’t have to do it.

QUESTION: That’s one step. But --

MS. PSAKI: And as I said, they’ll be taking additional steps.

QUESTION: But we don’t know what they are, so we can’t know if they don’t follow through on them.

MS. PSAKI: Well, you’ll just have to see in the coming days.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: And can I just ask one more? Sorry. This is just to clear it up, I guess. There was some reporting that during the meetings there was a phone call in from Sisi or a phone call to President Sisi. Can you just clarify if that was the case, and which meeting and what was said?

MS. PSAKI: It’s a very good question. I didn’t have a chance to talk about that level of specificity.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I know there have been different versions of the report, so let me get a little more clarity for you on kind of when that call happened, which I believe it did.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Sorry, Jen. Very quickly – you always talked about maintaining the status quo ante, things as they were, but the Israelis are introducing metal detectors that each worshiper has to go through. Do you have any comment on that? Was that something that was discussed?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as we stressed, it’s obviously absolutely critical in our view that all sides uphold the status quo regarding the administration of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and take affirmative steps to prevent provocations and incitement. We appreciate the prime minister’s commitment to uphold the status quo. We’ll see what happens. I know that step was referenced and reported, but obviously it hasn’t happened at this point in time, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. So you would discourage them from doing so?

MS. PSAKI: I think – obviously, the status quo does not include that.

Did we – on this topic or a new topic?

QUESTION: On this topic.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Jen, I’m from Northern Ireland. I have firsthand experience of construction being used to advance a political agenda. Your verbatim quote yesterday from this podium was “punitive demolitions are counterproductive.”

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Now, if punitive demolitions are counterproductive, are punitive settlements counterproductive?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t know that we’d call them punitive. But settlements are counterproductive to the goal of achieving a two-state solution, absolutely, because it prejudges the borders, it creates tension, and that’s one of the reasons we speak out every time, unfortunately, there are announcements about it.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Any more on this, or should we move on?

QUESTION: India.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we go back to ISIL? We were talking --

MS. PSAKI: Go to – to where?

QUESTION: You were – in the middle we talked about ISIL.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, we can go back to ISIL.

QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Sorry.

QUESTION: So – because we stopped in midstream.

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Bring us back to ISIL, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m going to bring you back to ISIL. I have a very quick question.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Yesterday Chairman Dempsey said – he was talking about the cost of the fight against ISIL and so on, but he said something very interesting about Iraq. He said that we expect them to have an inclusive government and inclusive participation of all parties, otherwise you are going to leave them – I’m paraphrasing – to their own volition, so to speak. Is there like a time limit to see how inclusive the Iraqi Government is and is functioning and so on before you say, “That’s it, we give up on you”?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t – I don’t think that’s exactly what he said. I know you’re paraphrasing in your own way --

QUESTION: I’m paraphrasing.

MS. PSAKI: -- but I think, one, we do think, absolutely, that it’s very important that not only they govern in an inclusive way but that the Iraqi Security Forces are inclusive and the way that they fight back against ISIL is inclusive. Now, Prime Minister Abadi has done a great deal of outreach to the Sunni tribes. He’s visited a number of regions to do that outreach. There was even an event just a couple of days ago earlier this week at the Al Asad Air Base where the speaker made reference to weapons and supplies that tribal fighters will be provided.

So certainly, just – the proof is in what happens, of course, as is true in any scenario. But we have seen them attempt to do a great deal of outreach. We’ve been doing a great deal of outreach through General Allen, through Ambassador McGurk, and we do feel that’s an important part of how things will be effective moving forward.

QUESTION: Okay. Seeing how the Sunni tribes were – felt alienated or felt abandoned, as a matter of fact, after the Americans left Iraq and their pay was cut off and so on, and everybody’s talking about some sort of a national guard that will bring in the Sunni tribes, is there any movement in that direction? Has any – has there been any progress, let’s say, in that area?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I just mentioned the fact that Prime Minister Abadi – he visited Sunni tribal leaders in Amman and Baghdad and stressed in public remarks that he will advocate for all Iraqis. We’re in the implementation stage – they are – of the national guard program, but obviously, beyond that it’s also about incorporating and including people from many different backgrounds into the ISF forces.

QUESTION: Yes, please --

QUESTION: So you are satisfied with his efforts so far on bringing the leaders of the --

MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen him take a number of – make a number of steps – take a number of steps, I should say – as well as people within the Iraqi Government to be more inclusive. Obviously, this is something that they’ll have to continue to work hard at implementing. There’s a great deal of mistrust, as we all know, and it’s going to take some time to incorporate everyone back in together.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: General Allen yesterday – I think today he’s in Europe, and then tomorrow is going to Abu Dhabi. Do you have any readout of what his – what is the purpose of his visit?

MS. PSAKI: I believe he was just flying there yesterday and may have had some internal meetings in France. I expect I’ll have more either over the weekend or on Monday.

QUESTION: So the other question related to – somehow to Syria, because it’s this ISIL issue – not the case that it’s the Administration is reviewing the policy towards ISIL and Syria and the presence of Assad. The issue of – at UN commissioner to Syria, he kind of – the media in the region is talking about a plan or an action plan that he is trying to put in place in Aleppo. And consequently, it’s going to be a transitional period. So it’s a political solution for what’s going on in Syria. Do you have anything --

MS. PSAKI: You’re referring to de Mistura’s proposal --

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: -- about the local ceasefires?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: I spoke to this a little bit over the past couple of days, and what we conveyed is that obviously, if this is something that President Assad agrees to or actually takes real steps toward, that that would be a completely different approach from the months and months of brutality that he’s instilled upon his people. We’ve seen local ceasefires be attempted in the past. They have not worked out in quite the way that they had been planned at the outset of them. We’ll see what happens. We certainly commend Minister de Mistura for his efforts and we support his effort to achieve a political solution.

QUESTION: So you support his effort. Do you – how do you react to this? I mean, you are – in your mentioning you are talking about the past that Assad – or he was acting different, the same way but with the same result. So do you really, let’s say, not appreciate, at least give a hand to the de Mistura or the UN --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the reason I mentioned the past and why it’s relevant in this particular case is because there have been attempts at local ceasefires before, and we would need to see – the international community would need to see considerably more than just words to demonstrate a genuine interest on the regime’s part in moving this forward in a productive way.

QUESTION: So the idea why I’m asking, because it seems that the UN commissioner is visiting Cairo and other places and meeting people, and some media reports saying that there is some different capitals in the region they are presenting or, let’s say, reacting to this proposal or whatever action plan – I don’t know how to call it. Do you consider it’s a good step or a positive step or – I’m not trying to evaluate it more than to see if you are going --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. We, of course, support ceasefires that would provide genuine relief to Syrian civilians and are consistent with humanitarian principles. But obviously, everybody needs to go into this with their eyes wide open.

QUESTION: So my last question regarding this. So do you still – do you believe that there is a still possibility for a political solution, or it has to be solved militarily?

MS. PSAKI: We continue to believe that the only solution is a political solution.

QUESTION: Jen?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you think Ambassador de Mistura is wasting his time?

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say that at all. I said we support his efforts. He’s been running point and working quite hard, as we’ve seen him travel all around the region. And we certainly support his efforts to pursue a political process, to pursue the ceasefires and any effort that would bring relief to the Syrian people. We just all are aware of what has happened in the past when these ceasefires have been attempted.

QUESTION: Do you think there’s --

QUESTION: Can I ask a very basic question? Why is there a political solution – why is – Syria has to – why is there only a political solution to Syria when there is only a military solution to ISIS?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t believe there’s only a military solution to ISIS either. So --

QUESTION: So you’re willing to negotiate with them?

MS. PSAKI: No.

QUESTION: Well, right. So --

MS. PSAKI: But we believe there’s many other important components and that it’s hardly just a military approach to ISIS.

QUESTION: All right. Can I ask a tangential question to Iraq and Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And that is – it has to do with Turkey.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The – I just want to know if there was any – if you are aware of any conversations you had with the Turks about the incident involving the sailors and whether you’re satisfied with the Turkish response. Is there anything that you would like them to see? Do you think that these – what the Navy called thugs should be prosecuted? And if you do, has it – have you seen any movement toward that end since they were all caught on film?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. We are satisfied that the Turkish Government is taking this incident seriously. The Turkish foreign ministry, the Turkish interior minister, and the Turkish ambassador to the United States have all issued statements condemning the incident, and prosecutors are currently pursuing a criminal investigation of those suspected in the assault. We’ve certainly been very close touch – in very close touch with Turkish authorities on the ground through our embassy.

QUESTION: And do you know – have you – because these sailors were targeted because they were Americans for this abuse and attack, has there been any – have you increased security or told your diplomats who are stationed in Istanbul and Ankara and at your other consulate, which – Adana, I think – to be extra vigilant?

MS. PSAKI: We haven’t put out a new travel advisory, which, as you know, we typically do if there’s new information that needs to be --

QUESTION: No, but I mean, these guys were – I mean, they were – they’re military and --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and they were official American people as – unlike a tourist, say, who might be there, but – and your diplomats are officials as well.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: So you’re not aware of any --

MS. PSAKI: -- changes to our instructions?

QUESTION: -- caution to diplomats and others who work at the embassies?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Matt.

QUESTION: All right. Thanks.

QUESTION: Can I stay on ISIS?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about Chairman Dempsey’s comments yesterday that he can envision – I’m paraphrasing – that he can envision contingencies in which U.S. troops would accompany Iraqi troops. Is there a disconnect at all between the DOD’s desire to preserve options for the battle and the Administration’s stance that no ground troops will be sent at all to Iraq?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Chairman Dempsey also made clear in his testimony that he has not made that recommendation. And he also stated that he does not see a scenario when it would be in our interest to take this fight on ourselves with a large military contingent. So it was obviously a large hearing, but he was consistent with our view, which is that yes, there are challenges on the ground; yes, there’s a need to continue to train and support and build up the Iraqi Security Forces; but obviously, the President will make any decision, and the chairman hasn’t even made a recommendation to him.

QUESTION: Sure. And he was talking about the future, but he didn’t explicitly rule it out. And he did say that for example, the fight to retake Mosul could be a situation where the Iraqi army would have difficulty on their own, which might require some close support from the U.S. But do you not agree that that is any – that there’s any kind of gap there between what you and Josh Earnest have said?

MS. PSAKI: If you look at the full context of his entire remarks, he also made clear that he doesn’t see a scenario where we would get more engaged with a larger military contingent. So yes, he was having a dialogue with members of Congress, and certainly, that’s part of what happens in any testimony, but the fact is the President makes the decision anyway. So --

QUESTION: Can I ask you, please, about the Justice – the Department of Justice said yesterday they’re sending prosecutors to Balkans and North Africa and Mideast to deal with the people who are coming from Syria, the part of the ISIL they are now coming to home countries. And the Mr. Holder said that they are doing that in cooperation with the State Department, your bureau of counterterrorism. They mentioned for Balkans countries, and do you have any comment on that, and how do that, and what is behind that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have anything to add to what Secretary Holder said. Obviously, part – sorry, Attorney General Holder – thank you, it’s a Friday afternoon – Attorney General Holder said yesterday. Obviously, part of our efforts is to crack down on foreign fighters from Western countries, including the United States. That’s something we’re working not only with other countries in the world on, but also through the interagency. And there’s certainly a role Justice plays in that.

QUESTION: But how come that any embassy here from Balkans countries and anybody in those countries – I don’t know, justice departments in Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Kosovo – they have no idea what is going on? They never heard of that action.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re working with a range of countries who are part of the coalition and talking about all five lines of effort, of which cracking down on foreign fighters is one of them. But I don’t have anything to read out for you in terms of why individuals at embassies would be informed or not.

QUESTION: But those governments in those countries, they don’t know anything about that.

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

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So based on what Attorney General Holder said yesterday, did the State Department get in touch with the governments of the four Balkan countries on this initiative?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on it. I can check and see if there’s more we can --

QUESTION: So you don’t know if or not?

MS. PSAKI: I said I don’t have any more details on it. I will let you know if there’s more we can share.

QUESTION: I have a somewhat Balkan-related one.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Yesterday, you took a dim view of the Russian announcement that they were going to be flying long-range patrols into – around here. But I’m wondering if you have – and you said that you didn’t think the security situation warranted it. I’m wondering if you have any comment, if you have any objections to the Russians who are now having a military drill with the Serbs in Serbia. Do you have anything on that, or is that something that you don’t have anything on?

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

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: I can follow up with our European team if you’d like.

QUESTION: All right. So keeping on the Russia and Ukraine theme, one, have you seen anything new in terms of evidence of the – of a Russian incursion or Russians sending troops and tanks into --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new updates on that.

QUESTION: There is a photograph that Russian television news is putting out – apparently it’s been all over the place today, in Moscow and elsewhere – that purports to show a Ukrainian fighter jet firing a missile at MH-17. Do you have any reason to believe that this is a faked picture, a fake satellite photo? Or have you seen it at all, and if not, can you look into it?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen the photo. I can check with our team and see if we have any analysis of that, and certainly I would point you to those who are leading the investigation, of course, as well.

QUESTION: All right. And another thing somewhat related to this is the Russians say the Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov again today. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: He was supposed to, and I didn’t get a readout of that. I believe – and we can get you one after the briefing. The plan was certainly to talk about the Iran – ongoing P5+1 negotiations as well as the situation in Ukraine, but --

QUESTION: Right. Okay. The --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Russian readout of the call, presuming that it is – I mean, it’s dated today so I assume the call --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- was today and that this did happen, but it did mention all of those things – the Iran talks, Ukraine – but it also mentioned that Foreign Minister Lavrov is upset at – or that Russia – that he expressed to the Secretary that Russia unhappy with the pace of the MH-17 investigation, which the Russians say is not proceeding according to the Security Council resolution and the ICAO guidelines. Do you share that view or do you have anything more to say about that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe we share that view. I would also think it’s important to note that it was delayed for quite some time in the beginning because of the fact that the Russian-backed separatists not allow access to the site to the investigators to gather the information and the proof that they needed.

QUESTION: Okay. And then on – well, I’ll let someone else go.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead, Lalit.

QUESTION: I have one on Afghanistan.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: The Afghanistan president is currently visiting Pakistan. Do you have anything on this? How do you see --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we welcome the prospect of improved cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and certainly, a trip there, a visit, an opportunity to have a dialogue is a good opportunity for that.

QUESTION: Also, the Pakistan army chief is visiting the city next week. Is anyone from the --

MS. PSAKI: Visiting the – Washington, D.C.?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: The Pakistan army chief, you said?

QUESTION: Yes, yeah. Is --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead. Sorry.

QUESTION: Is anyone from the building planning to meet him?

MS. PSAKI: Why don’t we check for you and see if there’s any meetings scheduled next week.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Follow on Afghanistan?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Madam, what do – what will – what U.S. wants India’s role in the new Afghanistan, since India has invested billions of dollars there in the past as far as construction and other things, and security. What will be the role, you think?

MS. PSAKI: Well, India has been an important partner in Afghanistan. We’ve been in close touch over the course – not just of the last few months but over the course of the last few years, and we’ll certainly continue to coordinate with them as we work to help Afghanistan maintain the progress they’ve made on certain areas moving forward after we remove our troops.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: North Korea.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Have you seen the reports that North Korea will be sending a senior official to Russia for a week-long visit, and do you have any comment on it?

MS. PSAKI: We have seen those reports. We of course maintain regular contact and have consultations with Russia on issues related to North Korea. We closely coordinate with Russia, as well as many partners, to address the global threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. I don’t have any other further details on the visit, but we don’t have a concern from our end.

QUESTION: No concern, though, that closer ties between North Korea and Russia could make it difficult for the U.S. and other countries to pressure North Korea in the UN Security Council.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we have that concern. We’re in close contact with Russia about our concerns and their concerns about North Korea’s aspirations.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Nigeria?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I don’t know if you saw the reports today that Boko Haram has apparently seized the town in the north of Chibok where these girls were from. I wondered if you had a reaction to that. And it sort of further shows how difficult or – the situation is and how really the Nigerian army really isn’t managing to take control of it at all.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we are aware of the report. And while we’re closely monitoring it, we don’t have confirmation of all the specifics that have been out there. We condemn these attacks in Chibok, a community that has already suffered too much. Our condolences go out to the families of the victims. We remain committed to helping the Government of Nigeria address the threat posed by extremist organizations and to assist – assisting Nigeria and its neighbors – Cameroon and Chad – to address critical security needs.

We have provided, as you know, a range of assistance to the government over the course that I outlined, I think, just a couple of days ago, in the form of everything from military equipment to ISR. We continue to work very closely with them on addressing this threat.

QUESTION: Are the American military advisors still on the ground? They were sent out in the back end of April to – specifically to --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- try and find these girls. Given that the girls haven’t been found, are they still there?

MS. PSAKI: I believe there is still a presence there. I don’t have the exact specifics on the numbers on that front.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we stay in Africa?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: There are officials in Somalia that are saying that you – that the Administration has threatened to withhold aid, several millions of dollars worth of aid, unless basically, they get their act together politically. I’m just wondering if that’s correct. I know you put a statement out earlier in the week talking about – well, expressing your unhappiness with the fact that they can’t seem to get along and also saying that you did not see the utility in this conference that’s happening and that you’re not going to go. But I’m just wondering if that was accompanied by – have they been told that they risk losing U.S. assistance unless they play nice?

MS. PSAKI: Shape up? Let me talk to our Africa team. Beyond the statement we put out a couple of days ago, I haven’t received an update on this particular issue.

QUESTION: Can I – I had another Africa question, actually.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: This time about Equatorial Guinea and what I would call football --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- and you would call soccer. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay. Football/soccer, we’ll call it.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay. So the Africa Cup of Nations has been moved from Morocco, which asked for a postponement due to the Ebola situation and was not granted it. So it’s now going to be held in Equatorial Guinea next year sometime. I just wondered if, from this building, you had a view about how appropriate it would be to hold what is quite a premier football event in a country where there have been serious concerns about corruption and human rights abuses.

MS. PSAKI: It’s – I’ll take the question.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to. I’ve seen the reports, but I haven’t discussed with our team whether there’s a particular view, concerns, et cetera, from our end about where they’ll host the soccer/football.

QUESTION: Your role in the Confederation – the African Federation Football is what?

QUESTION: None.

MS. PSAKI: There is not one.

QUESTION: None.

QUESTION: None? Is it – does the State Department or the United States Government have any interest at all in where this event is held? And it’s a serious question because you do have sometimes concerns or views about certain events.

MS. PSAKI: We --

QUESTION: And if you’re going to take the question, I’d like to ask you about the World Cup in Qatar.

MS. PSAKI: All right, Matt. We’ve spoken to that one --

QUESTION: Can you take that one?

MS. PSAKI: -- quite extensively. To the degree we have a desire to speak to it, but --

QUESTION: Well, you actually have a team --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- that plays sometimes in the World Cup, which is a bit different than – unless you have a team in the African Cup that would be --

MS. PSAKI: We do not, but I believe what Jo was asking --

QUESTION: I understand.

MS. PSAKI: -- and we may or may not have a comment on this – was about particularly reports of corruption and concerns --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- about that as it relates to --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- them hosting a major sporting event.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you have any – no, never mind.

MS. PSAKI: We don’t have a team to announce for this. That’s not changing. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, I mean, maybe you have an idea of where the Asian games should take place next time they have it or --

MS. PSAKI: We’ll see, Matt. We try to be responsive when we can.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, a question again on Nigeria.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: President Goodluck Jonathan announced a few days ago his intention to seek re-election. Was there any U.S. response to that? And secondly, on the subject of locating the missing girls who have been missing now for a very long time, is the U.S. still actively involved in the search to locate those girls?

MS. PSAKI: We are actively involved. We – I talked about a little – a couple of days ago – obviously, we’re very closely involved with the Government of Nigeria in taking on the threat of Boko Haram.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: We had shared surveillance capabilities several months ago. We’ve also provided a range of military equipment that I talked about a few days ago. In terms of the – tell me again your first question. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Any comment on the statement that President Goodluck Jonathan is seeking re-election?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we have any particular comment from here.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: East Timor?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I believe Monday was the last time you talked about the Stacey Addison case. Do you have any update on that? And have you been given any clarification on what the evidence is against her, when charges might be filed?

MS. PSAKI: I have a little bit of an update on this, so let me just talk through that. One, we saw Dr. Addison three times on the week of her re-arrest and visited her most recently on November 10th, so just earlier this week. Our understanding is that Dr. Addison is currently being detained as a witness to a crime. We’re currently trying to verify if charges have been filed against Dr. Addison by the government. We understand there are questions as to whether there’s any evidence linking her to these allegations, and we have requested that the legal process be expedited.

QUESTION: So you also said on Monday that State officials had raised the case in meetings with the East Timorese ambassador last Friday, that you received assurances that U.S. concerns would be raised at the highest level. Have you received any word that they had been raised at those levels? Do you get the sense that the government there is addressing those concerns? And then also, is it – are you –have you expressed further concerns about the fact that if she’s being detained as a witness, as opposed to necessarily as somebody who’s committed a crime, is that something that you’ve raised separately?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have raised questions about whether there’s any evidence linking her to these allegations. So we’ve certainly raised that, and that’s a more recent development. And we had that meeting a couple of days ago that I spoke to. I don’t have any new updates for you other than to convey that we remain in a dialogue with officials on the ground there about this particular case and we, of course, remain in close touch with her as well.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: India.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, no, no. Go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: All right, thanks. I wanted to know if you had the answer to my question yesterday about Russia’s decision to limit its effort in securing (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Well, a couple of updates on this. On a programmatic – sorry, tongue-twister – on a programmatic level we’re still working closely together. We believe that there is still very important work to do for the United States, for Russia, and for the world, and we remain ready to work with Russia. We haven’t received any official notification from Russia about canceling nuclear security cooperation. And of course, we continue to believe that we have a shared interest and a shared responsibility in promoting nuclear security, and we have a long-established partnership with Russia on a broad range of activities designed to prevent the spread of WMD by securing and eliminating WMD-related materials and technology.

We also have agreed and have in place a new framework for a nuclear security cooperation, which replaced the Nunn-Lugar CTR umbrella agreement as a mechanism for continuing to conduct nuclear security activities of mutual interest. That’s a kind of – takes place in a third country. So there’s a range of work that’s continuing on the working level, and again, we haven’t received official notification in this regard.

QUESTION: But wait, wait. You haven’t received official notification in what regard?

MS. PSAKI: Related to – she was asking about reports about cancelling nuclear security cooperation for 2015.

QUESTION: Well, yeah. But you have gotten an official notification that they’re not going to take place – take part in the Nuclear Security Summit, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s one component --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- but that’s not the entire component of work that’s done behind the scenes.

QUESTION: Understood. I understand that. But you have gotten formal notice that they are not going to participate in the summit, so it’s not entirely true, is it, that you haven’t gotten any formal notification that they’re not --

MS. PSAKI: Well, a formal notification related to them not participating at all in any effort to --

QUESTION: Right. I think the question, though – the question that was raised yesterday, and that you’re answering today, refers to one specific program.

MS. PSAKI: No, I think it refers to cooperation and the general effort, and it was a new story that published yesterday.

QUESTION: It refers to a story in The New York Times, right?

MS. PSAKI: Right.

QUESTION: Which was about a program. But you say that you haven’t gotten any formal notification, but in fact, the Russians have formally notified you that they’re not going to take part in the summit, which, writ large, is nuclear security related, right?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, and is one component --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- but there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes, so that context is important.

QUESTION: So you’re saying – okay. So you’re saying that you haven’t gotten any formal notification that the Russians are not going to cooperate on – across the board?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Go ahead. Elliot, did you have something, or did I --

QUESTION: No.

MS. PSAKI: You were kind of dancing or moving your arms.

QUESTION: Just pondering. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Okay, pondering.

Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: I have one more on Hungary, and I don’t know – you may want to take this. The Hungarian prime minister today, Viktor Orban, is saying that his government has received a document from the United States which sets out what he calls a loose collection of accusations. This relates to the visa lifting, which goes back to last month. And apparently, it raises concerns about VAT fraud, institutionalized corruption, whistleblower protection, and so on. I just wondered if you could confirm that the United States has handed over such a document, and if so, what’s in it?

MS. PSAKI: We’re not going to speak to or comment on private diplomatic communication. We, of course, have a dialogue with the Hungarian Government at many levels on a wide range of issues, including the fight against corruption. And obviously, as you know, we’ve spoken to the recent decision to apply Presidential Proclamation 7750 to current and former Hungarian officials, which, of course, is related to the visa ban, et cetera.

QUESTION: So there was a document that was handed over; you just did not – you confirm that? You’re not – just not going to tell us what’s in it? Is that --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to confirm details of how we communicated or what we communicated, but obviously, we have a dialogue about corruption and our concerns about that issue, among others, with the Hungarian Government. We’re just not going to speak to it in more detail.

QUESTION: Well, when this came up last week, or the last time it came up, I thought you said that you were going to – that the Hungarian Government had raised – had asked questions about it and that you were going to respond through diplomatic channels. Is that not – is my memory wrong?

MS. PSAKI: Well, but that can happen through dialogue, that can happen through a means of communication. I don’t – I will see if there’s more to confirm. I doubt there’s more we have to say on this.

QUESTION: Well, I guess I just don’t understand. What do you mean, it can happen through dialogue or a means of communication? You mean --

QUESTION: A letter?

MS. PSAKI: There’s a range of ways we can answer questions.

QUESTION: What --

MS. PSAKI: That’s what I was getting at.

QUESTION: So the head of the tax office – the Hungarian tax office who is called Ildiko Vida has actually outed herself as one of these people who’s on the list. Could you confirm that, since she’s said that she is?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, and she’s put her name out there, yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: All right.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Last one on --

MS. PSAKI: I think we have to wrap this up. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:08 p.m.)

DPB # 194


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 13, 2014

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 18:07

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 13, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:08 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Hello.

QUESTION: Hello.

MS. PSAKI: I hope everyone visited the Chili Cook-off.

QUESTION: Yeah, I did.

MS. PSAKI: I know Said did.

QUESTION: I sure did.

MS. PSAKI: All right.

QUESTION: You bet.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. On a serious note, a couple of items for the top. The Secretary is in Amman, Jordan today, where he participated in bilateral meetings with Jordanian Foreign Minister Judeh, Palestinian Authority President Abbas, and Jordanian King Abdullah II. Right now he’s also in a trilateral meeting with King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. The meeting will focus on ways to restore calm and de-escalate tensions in Jerusalem. The Secretary will be doing a press availability after the meeting, so we will point all of you – the readouts of those meetings to his comments there.

With that – oh, actually, one more to list at the top. We put this out publicly, but just wanted to note for all of you that Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL John Allen and Deputy Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk will travel to Paris November 13th through 14th to meet with the French Government and military officials to discuss international coalition efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL. Over the past six days, Ambassador McGurk has also traveled to the UAE, Iraq, Turkey, and Denmark to meet with a range of government and security officials to review coalition cooperation across several lines of effort, including the next phase of the global campaign to degrade and defeat ISIL.

On November 14th General Allen and Ambassador McGurk will travel to the UAE to participate in the Sir Bani Yas Forum, an annual high-level gathering for world leaders and thinkers to discuss critical issues of peace and security. General Allen and Ambassador McGurk will hold – will also hold a series of bilateral meetings and consultations with other leaders in attendance on global coalition efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Recognizing that you’re going to punt all the – or punt is the wrong word – you’re going to refer most questions or almost all questions about the situation in Israel and the PA to the traveling party and the Secretary, I just want to – this meeting that’s going on right now that you mentioned, was there any thought or idea of having President Abbas join this meeting? Because it seems to me that if you’re trying to reduce the tensions and calm the situation and stop the incitement that everyone has talked about so much, that you – it would be natural or advisable to have the president of the Palestinian Authority there. Does that --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, obviously, the leaders would certainly decide if they would engage in a meeting together. That wasn’t on the planning on our front-- It wasn’t in the planning on our front and wasn’t the purpose of the visit. It was for the Secretary to meet, certainly, with President Abbas, with King Abdullah of Jordan. Obviously, we added the meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, given his relationships with the leaders.

QUESTION: Right. But wouldn’t it make sense, if you’re trying to de-escalate the tensions, to get the leaders of all – well, at least the two main leaders here, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, into a meeting with the King and the Secretary, given all of their roles? No?

MS. PSAKI: That was not in the plans.

QUESTION: But I guess the question is then: Why not?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, obviously, as I mentioned in the first answer I gave to you, is that they would decide if they were interested in meeting together. Obviously they haven’t made that decision, but we did not engage in a discussion about having a meeting like that either.

QUESTION: And is that because the relationship between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas right now is not in a good state?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, clearly, there are increasing tensions on the ground. I would point you to them and their staffs to answer questions on whether or not they would meet, why they wouldn’t, et cetera.

QUESTION: Can I just ask --

QUESTION: Jen, can I --

QUESTION: Jo, let me just --

QUESTION: Could I just ask it this way, then --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: It was – so you – it was never raised? You guys never raised the idea?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of it being raised.

QUESTION: That was my question, whether you actually directly asked, because President Abbas, obviously, as you mentioned yesterday, has a home in Amman.

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: That’s where he met with the Secretary. And the meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu was added at fairly short notice, I believe. So did you actually ask the Prime Minister and the President if they were interested in meeting together?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of it being raised.

QUESTION: So just to follow up on Jo’s question --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- what has transpired? I mean, as of yesterday, when I asked you, you said there were no plans to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu for the --

MS. PSAKI: I said yesterday, Said, just to be clear – let me finish, and then you can go to your next question – that obviously the decision to go to Amman took place just in the last 48 to 72 hours. As you know, President Abbas has a home there. Obviously, King Abdullah lives there. And I said there’s, obviously, other options or possibilities that could be added to the schedule. That ended up being the case.

QUESTION: Right. But my question is: Is anything happened in the last, let’s say, 12 or 24 hours that warranted bringing Prime Minister Netanyahu to Amman to meet with the Secretary of State and with the King of Jordan?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we remain extremely concerned about escalating tensions recently across Israel, Jerusalem, and the West Bank. And obviously, having an opportunity to discuss these issues in person, discuss how tensions could be reduced, is certainly the purpose of the discussions and the meetings.

QUESTION: So just to be sure, these discussions will focus on the situation in Jerusalem and in the area of al-Haram Sharif, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, there’s particularly been tensions surrounding Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, and so we would expect that would be a part of the discussion.

QUESTION: And the reason I ask this is because also Frank Lowenstein is with them, who is trying to play – or perhaps reignite some sort of talks or peace talks and so on. He was the envoy to the talks. So is there any potential for these talks? I mean, just to get outside the --

MS. PSAKI: I think, Said, we’ll let the Secretary read out the meetings --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: -- when he does his press availability. But the focus is really on the escalating tensions in the region. Could other topics come up? Sure.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I just go back and finish what I was going to ask? I wanted to ask, more broadly – I don’t know if you’d seen today that there was some suggestion that the Israeli side might be thinking of reinstalling metal detectors at al-Aqsa, outside the entrances of al-Aqsa Mosque. Have you seen that? What’s --

MS. PSAKI: I had not actually seen that report. I mean, our view is – continues to be that we believe it should go back to the status quo of the – of what had been observed from both sides.

QUESTION: Is --

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, that would be a new component, but I’m happy to talk to our team --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- about any particularly concerns we have about that.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: The status quo ante.

MS. PSAKI: Fair enough. Okay. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Just to follow up very quickly, also on the violence in Jerusalem and so on, Israel has taken a step further, going back to a policy that has not been implemented in eight years, which is to demolish the homes of suspected terrorists and so on. I wonder if you have a comment on that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we believe that punitive demolitions are counterproductive to the cause of peace and exacerbate an already tense situation. Beyond that, I don’t have any additional details on their plans.

QUESTION: Do you think this is something that may come up in the discussions with Prime Minister Netanyahu?

MS. PSAKI: We’ll see.

QUESTION: Or that are going on now?

MS. PSAKI: We’ll see, Said.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: We’ll let the Secretary read out the meetings.

Do we have any more on this issue before we move on? Okay. Should we move on to a new topic?

QUESTION: Mexico?

MS. PSAKI: Mexico?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Jen, you were concerned about Mexico yesterday, and a couple of questions: Has the U.S. offered – or Mexico requested – any help in addressing the disappearance of the 43 students?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just – since you gave me the opportunity, let me just reiterate that we extend our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of the victims. The heinous and barbaric crime must be thoroughly and transparently investigated and those responsible be brought to justice without delay and punishment – without delay and punished, sorry – consistent with due process and respect for the rule of law. We urge all parties to remain calm through the process.

I’m not aware of any specific requests from the Mexican Government for U.S. assistance. I can certainly check with our team and see if anything has changed on that front since yesterday.

QUESTION: Please. Also, the – is there a concern by the U.S. Government – I know that Mr. Shannon met with Ambassador Wayne this morning. Is there any concern about the stability of the Mexican Government, given the violence, the lack of confidence on state and federal government, that maybe Mexico is sliding towards a failed state situation?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe that’s a concern we’ve expressed. Obviously, we’re concerned about tensions on the ground. That’s why we’re continuing to urge all parties to remain calm through the process, and obviously why we’re engaged, also, closely with officials there. We have recently put out a new travel advisory to U.S. citizens who are living there, and, obviously, we continue to provide them updated information.

QUESTION: Can we go to the – General Allen’s trip, ISIS?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. There were reports earlier today that the President is reconsidering his strategy, and people include as part of that strategy to bring down the regime of Bashar al-Assad. And then we heard Ben Rhodes from the White House say there has actually been no change in the strategy. Could you sort of set us straight on where the strategy is? Has there been any change, or has there been reconsideration on how to move forward?

MS. PSAKI: Well, a number of my colleagues have spoken to this, but I can certainly reiterate that there’s no formal review of strategy for our Syria policy. Are there hard questions being asked? Yes. Is there a discussion internally about how we should continue to adjust and consider a range of options? Of course. Syria is one of the most challenging crises we face, and it should come as no surprise that we’re engaged in an ongoing discussion and debate about a range of options. But of course, frequent meetings and discussion doesn’t warrant a – doesn’t – is not equated to a new review. There’s not a new review.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary of State been under increased pressure from countries in the GCC, especially Saudi Arabia, to sort of target Assad forces, and especially their air assets or air defense assets and so on, as some Arab diplomats are claiming?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Said, it doesn’t require me conveying what’s been communicated by many countries in the region. They’ve spoken publicly and on the record about their views. We’ve also been clear about our view, which is that our focus is on ISIL. We are obviously working to boost the capacity of the Syrian opposition through a train and equip program, through providing them with a range of assistance. We fully expect that the materials and the training we provide to them will be used to counter Assad. There’s no question about that. And as we discuss our strategy and internal discussions which the Secretary participates in, certainly we have to adjust to what happens when the opposition is trained and they have a greater capacity, and how does that work into our strategy of our airstrikes that we’ve been undergoing for the last couple of weeks.

QUESTION: And finally, Senator Bob Corker said yesterday that any strategy, he hopes that it would include an Assad compound. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: An Assad compound, similar to, I mean, other compounds. Basically a place of residence.

MS. PSAKI: An Assad compound?

QUESTION: Yes. He said that strategy ought to include – in other words, the message conveyed is that that strategy ought to include targeting Assad personally.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, I’m sorry, I hadn’t seen Senator Corker’s comments. As you know – and our view as an Administration is – continues to be that there’s no military solution, there is only a political solution. Certainly, we continue to discuss ways to get to a political solution.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: But did --

QUESTION: I’m sorry. You said that there’s no formal review – there is no formal review of our Syria strategy. Can I ask you one question? Why not?

MS. PSAKI: There’s no new – there’s no new formal review.

QUESTION: Right. Why not?

MS. PSAKI: Because there’s an ongoing discussion.

QUESTION: Is everything going the way --

MS. PSAKI: No, Matt --

QUESTION: -- you want it to?

MS. PSAKI: -- but I think there’s a difference between conveying that there’s a new formal review and the President has asked for a new range of – launched a new formal review, and the fact that this is an ongoing discussion for months and we will continue to adjust and make decisions about any additional options we’ll consider.

QUESTION: Right, but – fair enough. But I mean, if there is no – if the President has not asked for a new formal review, I won’t ask you to speak for him. But if he has not asked for a review, why hasn’t he asked for a review unless he thinks that everything is going along just fine as planned? Is that --

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, no one is satisfied with where things stand. I think that’s clear.

QUESTION: Okay. So why not ask for a formal review?

MS. PSAKI: Because there’s a difference between conveying, as you all know because obviously no one would be asking about it if it wasn’t stated in the way it was – asking about or announcing there’s a new formal review in an ongoing process that we have had in the Administration – meetings multiple in a week that the Secretary participates in about our ISIL strategy, about our Syria strategy. That’s been ongoing.

QUESTION: So --

MS. PSAKI: There have been a range of decisions that have been made along the way.

QUESTION: So when you say ongoing, is this going back three years, four years now --

MS. PSAKI: Certainly.

QUESTION: -- since the beginning of the conflict?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly. But also, of course, with our new airstrikes that we started doing several weeks ago, of course, we believe we have more leverage. We’re also engaged in a different way. There’s a different discussion we’ve having than we were having six months ago.

QUESTION: So the bottom line is you’re saying that there hasn’t been a decision made by the President or the Secretary or anyone that you report to that what you’re doing needs to be – is wrong or is bad or not effective and needs to be fixed? Is that --

MS. PSAKI: It’s not – our view, Matt, is that it’s not about being right or wrong. It’s about continuing to discussed and adjust to the situation on the ground, which has been ongoing. It’s not a new process.

QUESTION: But is it correct to say that there is a new push, perhaps, by the Secretary to find some kind of political solution, that he’s been talking in his travels over the past week, 10 days that he’s been talking with leaders particularly in the Gulf about ways of trying to find some kind of political solution, a transition government in Syria?

MS. PSAKI: It wouldn’t be correct to say that is a new process. He’s been having those discussions for months and months now, even before we started doing airstrikes in Syria.

QUESTION: Perhaps not a new process, but a new focus on trying to get some kind of political situation (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: It’s not a new focus.

QUESTION: It’s not a new focus. Does the – wouldn’t the outcome on November the 24th with the Iran nuclear deal perhaps pave the way for a different kind of focus involving Iran in this process?

MS. PSAKI: We don’t have plans to coordinate militarily with Iran. That’s not going to change. Obviously, our focus remains on the nuclear process.

QUESTION: But not militarily, but on the political side would you be looking perhaps to Iran to try and exert some pressure on President Assad to move aside or allow some kind of transitional process to start?

MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly, with any political process – and this is true in our efforts to work with Russia as well – we know that we and a number of the countries in the Gulf don’t have influence over the regime. We’re very clear-eyed about that. And so there will certainly need to be pressure exerted on the regime by those who have influence. What form that will take, we’re just not at that point yet.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the tape that allegedly made by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi that he’s alive and well? Have you --

MS. PSAKI: I’ve certainly seen the reports. I don’t have any new information about his status.

QUESTION: On more on --

QUESTION: On Syria, I’m sorry --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the tape which is attributed to him. The voice says a lot of things, including that the so-called caliphate has now extended to substantial additional countries, including Saudi Arabia. It calls for Sunnis to attack, I think, both the royal family and Shia citizens in Saudi Arabia. It calls for Yemeni Sunnis to attack Houthis. It is, in effect, incitement to violence. Do you have any comment on the substance of what is said?

MS. PSAKI: Well, without – which I know you’re not asking me for, but without being able to confirm the validity or confirm the voice – the authenticity of it – clearly, there – the brutality, the rhetoric, the efforts to incite by any leaders of ISIL has not – is not a new phenomenon. It certainly is a reminder to everyone in the region and around the world of what their intentions are.

Fortunately, we have been working with countries in the region to combat this effort, to fight back against their claims that they represent Islam, that they represent people throughout the region. And I expect we will continue to increase those efforts over the coming weeks.

QUESTION: Just to be clear, you can’t confirm that this audio recording is authentic?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t confirm it, no. Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: On Syria, so did the sources in the Administration lie to CNN? Because the report says that President Obama decided Assad’s removal is key to defeating ISIS.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can’t speak to anonymous sources. As you know, there are thousands of people who work for the United States Government. Many speak to the media. That’s what happens in a society where there’s a free press. But I can just convey to you what our strategy is and what’s accurate, and I think I just did that in response to Said’s question.

QUESTION: Just a more general question: In what way Assad’s removal would help in the fight against ISIS?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s an interesting question in the sense that we continue to believe that Assad is a – the chief magnet for terrorism in Syria, and that, obviously, a political transition would contribute significantly to greater stability in the region. But we don’t believe that there’s anything but a political solution to that. And obviously, there needs to be a process by working with a number of countries in the region to get there, and we’re just not there at this point in time.

QUESTION: But you do think that his removal would help in the fight against ISIS?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve said from the beginning, we continue to feel, that he continues to be the chief magnet for terrorism. And if you don’t have the chief magnet for terrorism, we think that certainly would help. We’ve long believed that he’s lost his legitimacy in the region, and – but we believe there needs to be a political process that plays out, and we’re certainly just not at that point right now.

QUESTION: Well, it is an interesting way of turning things around, though, because a couple of weeks ago you were talking more about the U.S. strategy was first to get rid of ISIL and deal with that threat and Syria will come later. So what has changed?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that hasn’t changed and – actually, at all. And I didn’t contradict that, I don’t believe, in any way, shape or form. Ultimately, since we believe that President Assad is a magnet for terrorism, obviously a political transition that would change the leadership in Syria would be a positive step. But we continue to support, back, and believe that an Iraq-first strategy is absolutely the right way to go about defeating and degrading ISIL, because in Iraq we have a partner. We don’t have a partner in Syria, because in Syria we can – we’ve obviously taken steps to target certain strongholds or – and take advantage of opportunities like in Kobani. But in Iraq, we have a partner that we can boost up so that they can be the ones fighting back against --

QUESTION: I thought you did have partners in Syria, just not the Assad regime.

MS. PSAKI: Not in the government we don’t.

QUESTION: Right. But --

MS. PSAKI: It’s a difference.

QUESTION: Right. Now – so Secretary Hagel and General Dempsey were on the Hill. And they’re saying that you’re looking at finding 15,000 moderate Syrians to fight?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new beyond what they conveyed.

QUESTION: My question is: Do you think that there are 15,000 moderate Syrians that you could --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think our Secretary of Defense and chairman would state that if they didn’t think we could find 15,000 moderate Syrians to train and equip, yes.

QUESTION: So you think that that’s a realistic – that that is realistic?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Can I take it back to the --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- proposal by the envoy – the UN envoy, Staffan de Mistura --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- about the ceasefire in certain areas of Aleppo or perhaps in all of Aleppo? Is that something that you support? Is that – was that something that you would actually support and encourage and perhaps sort of rally support for?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I said this a little bit the other day, but let me just repeat it because I think it’s worth repeating. Certainly we support the efforts of Minister de Mistura to find a political solution, and certainly he’s been working very, very hard at that. We have had concerns about the way, in the past, these ceasefires have been managed or dealt with, and specifically they have led to – they’ve more closely resembled surrender arrangements as opposed to genuine sustainable ceasefire agreements. So what we need – I think the international community, not just the United States, would need to see considerably more than a few words to demonstrate genuine regime interest in implementing this proposal, because support for any effort to save human life would represent a shift in the Assad regime’s approach.

QUESTION: So from your point of view, such a proposal is doable?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ll see. There isn’t a history that conveys that, Said. But we’re certainly supportive of de Mistura’s efforts.

Go ahead, Abby.

QUESTION: One more on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday, you issued a – or the State Department issued a Travel Warning which warned of the potential use of chemical warfare against civilian populations. Is there a new cause for concern in that area, or what was the reason for including --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe – and I’m happy to check with our team that issues those, but – that we update it every six months or so when we provide relevant information from what’s been – what’s happened in the interim. There isn’t a new report or a new concern. Obviously, you’re aware of both what happened over a year ago as well as concerns about the use of chlorine that the OPCW continues to look into.

QUESTION: Just somewhat related to – well, not related to this at all, but in Iraq.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Have you seen reports that the Kurds and the Iraqis – or the government in Baghdad have reached an oil agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Yes, I have.

QUESTION: Do you have any response to that?

MS. PSAKI: We welcome the announcement that an agreement has been reached between the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to take initial steps at finding a fair and comprehensive solution on the management of Iraq’s hydrocarbon resources. We urge that these steps be taken as soon as possible to build trust as Iraqi leaders continue to discuss remaining issues in the coming days toward a just and constitutional solution that will allow all Iraqis to benefit fairly and equitably from Iraq’s hydrocarbon sector.

We are encouraged by this development and the willingness of officials in Baghdad and Erbil to address these complex issues directly and earnestly. We understand that this is the first of many steps that will be required to reach a comprehensive agreement, and the United States will continue to serve as a neutral broker and facilitator to the extent desired by the leadership of both Iraq and the KRG.

QUESTION: Do you know or can you speak to what the U.S. involvement as a neutral facilitator was in getting to this point? Do you know?

MS. PSAKI: I – that’s a great question. I’d have to talk to our team about our involvement in the last couple of days. Obviously, we’ve been encouraging both sides for some time to resolve this issue, but I can see if there’s more on that front to report.

QUESTION: Ambassador McGurk was in Iraq. Did he play any role to facilitate this agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Say that one more time?

QUESTION: Ambassador Brett McGurk was in Iraq a few days ago.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, he was. It’s a great question. I don’t have any details on his involvement. Obviously, this was largely negotiated between the KRG and the Government of Iraq. We’ve certainly been encouraging them to resolve this for some time. I can see if there’s any more to read out about his involvement.

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: May we move on Russia?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let’s finish Iraq and Syria, if that’s okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. One more in ISIL. David Cohen, the Under Secretary from the Treasury, was on the Hill this morning and he said basically that thanks to the strikes against the oil refineries in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. has seen a decrease of oil revenues from ISIL. So can you elaborate on that so without giving us a balance sheet? I presume that at least some accurate figures to back up what he said. And given the fact that the oil revenues from ISIL are part of the black economy, how the U.S. could be so sure that the revenues have decreased?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, it’s a great question. Obviously, Under Secretary Cohen is the one in his team who tracks this most closely, so why don’t we follow up with Treasury and see if they have any specific statistics on this? Obviously, when we made our initial targeting decisions, part of it was, of course, going after the refineries because of this specific issue, and there’s, I think, a calculation about how much oil from each of the refineries they’re able to use and sell. But we can see if there’s more specifics on numbers.

Do we have any more on Iraq or Syria before we move on? Okay. Why don’t we go to the back? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. So today the Russian military defense minister – they told that Russia plans long-range bomber flights near U.S. shores in Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. So – and previously in September, we had this incident in Alaska when the United States intercepted Russian aircrafts and we saw a lot of rumors about Russian ships around Australia. So any comments about this military activity Russia?

MS. PSAKI: I do have something on this. Let me see if I can find it while we’re here in the briefing and I will answer your question hopefully before we complete the briefing, if that works.

QUESTION: India.

QUESTION: Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead in the back. Russia?

QUESTION: Yeah. It’s about the nuclear security. So I wondered if you had any comment about Russia’s decision to limit its participation in the joint effort with the United States to secure nuclear materials (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: We have seen that report, which I think came out just right before the briefing.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’ve been cooperating with Russia on this issue for some time now. In terms of a specific response or a reaction as to the impact, I will have to get you something after the briefing since it just posted before we came out, but we’re already pursuing it.

Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: Yeah, quickly. Madam, as far as U.S.-India trades are concerned, both countries were locked at the WTO, but finally yesterday, the recent agreement in Geneva – World Trade Organization. And also later this month, U.S.-India trade forum summit will be held in New Delhi, India. Any comment on these two issues, please?

MS. PSAKI: I think, obviously, we feel that trade and economic engagement with India is an important part of our strategic relationship, and certainly we look forward to what can be achieved there.

Let me get to your question. Sorry about the delay on that.

As you may know, Russia frequently engages in out-of-area air activities, and these activities trend up and down periodically depending on a variety of factors. While we recognize the need for routine military training activity, we have noticed an increase in the number of these flights near North America in recent months. Any such activity must be consistent with international law and conducted with due regard for the rights of other nations and the safety of other aircraft and of vessels.

We note the defense minister’s comment that “In the current situation, we have to maintain military presence in the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific, as well as the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.” We don’t see security environment as warranting such activity.

Do we have any more on Russia?

QUESTION: They are complying with international law. You said that they should comply with international law. So you’re – at the moment, you believe that these flights do comply with international law?

MS. PSAKI: That’s correct, is my understanding.

QUESTION: So you’re not overly concerned about them; you just don’t see a need for them?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. And obviously, out-of-area activities is something that we certainly look at and make evaluations about.

QUESTION: Can I ask why you don’t see the need?

MS. PSAKI: About which?

QUESTION: Why do you not see the need for Russia to do this? I’m just --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t think that there is a current situation in the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific or the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico that warrants additional flights in out-of-area territory.

QUESTION: By the Russians or by anybody?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think there’s a military situation there, Matt.

QUESTION: No, I know. I mean, you don’t see the – I mean --

MS. PSAKI: Depends on --

QUESTION: -- what is it that you – you don’t like this idea, clearly, right? I’m just wondering what you object to about it. There’s nothing – it doesn’t seem like there’s anything you can do to stop it because it’s perfectly legal, right?

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t convey otherwise.

QUESTION: I know. So your objection is that you just don’t – you think it’s not necessary because there’s no reason for it?

MS. PSAKI: It doesn’t seem necessary, that’s correct.

QUESTION: Okay. Did – you conduct flights, surveillance flights of the – and the like around areas that the, say, the Chinese don’t particularly like. But you see a need for that, right, even though there’s no active conflict going on there?

MS. PSAKI: It depends on where it is, Matt, and whether there’s a need. And every country can certainly justify their needs.

QUESTION: Okay, but it’s just like if someone else does it it’s not okay, but if we do it is okay. That’s what --

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t make that generalization.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: No, no, wait – but that’s what it sounds like. So do you know is this a mil to mil thing that you do with the Russians? Or is it a diplomatic thing?

MS. PSAKI: In terms of what? Engagement on it?

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I presume you’ve told the Russians that you think that this isn’t unnecessary.

MS. PSAKI: It would be mil to mil, I would expect.

QUESTION: It’s not like --

QUESTION: And so you have raised it with the Russians, have you?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to DOD on that.

Yeah. Go ahead, Abby.

QUESTION: This may be something that you’ve addressed a while ago. It’s an older news item, I think, but there were reports out that in the upcoming – or in next month’s Russian military doctrine, a new military doctrine, that they were going to change the designation of the United States and NATO from external military dangers to threats or adversaries. Is – do you have a response to that or is --

MS. PSAKI: I had not seen that. We can check with our team and see if we have any particular response to it. Do we have any more on Russia?

Okay. Go ahead, Scott. And we’ll go to you next. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Azerbaijan --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- says that it shot down an Armenian helicopter that it claims had attacked Azeri position. Are you aware of this report? Does that concern you? Have you had any communication with either or both of those governments?

MS. PSAKI: We are aware of the report and we regret the loss of life as a result of yesterday’s, I should say, downing of a helicopter along the line of contact. We extend our condolences to the families of those killed or injured. These events – this event is yet another reminder of the need to redouble efforts on peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, including reducing tension and respecting the ceasefire.

In terms of – we obviously are engaged, certainly, with both countries and, as you know, have a diplomatic presence in both, but I don’t have any updates on whether we’ve been engaged over this specific incident.

QUESTION: Both this and these two Azeris who are held in Nagorno-Karabakh seem to indicate that the direction of this conflict is not moving toward reducing tensions. So anything that the Obama Administration thinks that it can do to help push that in the direction you’d like to see it go?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as a co-chair of the Minsk Group, we certainly remain committed to helping both sides. Obviously, we are engaged through diplomatic channels with both sides about our belief that they need to redouble efforts to get back to a peaceful negotiation. And naturally, retaliation, further violence, escalating tensions certainly does not help that effort, but we will continue to work through our contacts on the ground to see if we can move closer to a resolution.

QUESTION: On this, I just wanted to know if you – is what you just read the same thing that you said at the Foreign Press Center yesterday? Has there been any --

MS. PSAKI: Yes. There’s no new update.

QUESTION: No change to it?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you acknowledge that it was Azerbaijan which violated the ceasefire yesterday, and also violated one of the main principles of peaceful settlement of the conflict, which is no use of force? Do you acknowledge this part?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any analysis of the exact events on the ground. We’ve seen the same reports. There are obviously comments and claims from both sides, but I don’t have any analysis beyond that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Azerbaijan shooting an Armenian vessel, then it’s pretty clear which party is violating the ceasefire.

MS. PSAKI: We understand there are views by both sides, but I don’t have any comment from the U.S. Government on it.

QUESTION: You keep eye on this and then maybe come back with any updates later on?

MS. PSAKI: If we have an update, you can – we can keep having this dialogue. That’s fine.

QUESTION: Let me go back one quickly on Russia, please.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, Goyal.

QUESTION: Any comments on Russia and China big $900 billion oil deal, despite all these sanctions against Russia? Any comments on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously we expect every country to abide by the sanctions that are in place. I don’t have all the specific details of that. Certainly, countries have a range of relationships with one another, including Russia and China.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Do we do a new topic? Is everyone all questioned out?

All right.

QUESTION: Thank you

MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Well, I had a question on --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: I just wanted to know if there’s any update on this situation in Ukraine from your point of view.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Ambassador Samantha Power made some comments about this yesterday. I would certainly point you to those. But there’s no new specific update beyond that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:43 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 12, 2014

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 18:22

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 12, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:15 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. All right, just a couple of things for all of you at the top. On Tuesday evening and for most of the day yesterday, Secretary Kerry joined President Obama and other senior U.S. officials in bilateral meetings with the Chinese. On Tuesday evening, he joined President Obama for dinner with President Xi. This was followed by further meetings and a state luncheon earlier today in China, so much before we are meeting here right now. These meetings resulted in the U.S.-China joint announcement on climate change; an agreement on the expansion of the Information Technology Agreement, ITA; an agreement on military-to-military confidence-building mechanisms – CBMs – to increase transparency and predictability and to reduce risk of unplanned encounters.

Security Kerry also handed back the first 10-year validity visas to a group of Chinese businesspeople and five-year validity visas to students at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing earlier today. When meeting with the visa recipients and with members of the U.S. Embassy consular team, Secretary Kerry highlighted the many ways the reciprocal visa validity extension will benefit the people and economies of the United States and China.

As you know, Secretary Kerry is on his way right now to Amman. President Obama is continuing his trip in Asia, and he’ll be arriving – he arrived, I should say, Wednesday evening in Nay Pyi Daw, Burma, where he attended the gala dinner at the East Asia Summit.

With that --

QUESTION: Wait, I’m sorry, I was – I thought he – where is the Secretary right now?

MS. PSAKI: On his way to Amman, Jordan.

QUESTION: Okay. And he’s going to be doing what there?

MS. PSAKI: While he’s in Amman, he will have – the schedule – this was just added over the last 48 hours given the events on the ground and the tensions on the ground in the region. So he’ll be meeting with King Abdullah. He’ll have a private dinner with him. He’ll also be meeting with President Abbas. Obviously, the schedule is still being finalized, but that’s what we have at this point in time.

QUESTION: Okay. Does that mean that there’s a possibility that he might meet Prime Minister Netanyahu or some Israeli official?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again – I mean, if there’s something added to the schedule, we will certainly let you all know. But I would remind you that he speaks with Prime Minister Netanyahu probably almost every other day, and he’ll continue to do that.

QUESTION: Right, but I mean, you guys have made a big point out of – for the – over – since the tensions began --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- that – saying that all sides need to exercise restraint, all sides need to do more.

MS. PSAKI: You’re right.

QUESTION: And so if he’s only meeting with the king of Jordan and the president of the Palestinian Authority, that would suggest that you think that they are the ones that need to do more.

MS. PSAKI: It’s actually not suggesting that. That’s why I mentioned the calls, because he doesn’t speak with President Abbas as frequently on the phone. He and Prime Minister Netanyahu tend to speak frequently on the phone. As you know, President Abbas has a home in Amman, Jordan, so it’s pretty easy to reach him there. But if anything changes in the schedule, we’ll let you all know.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you --

QUESTION: What’s the timing of the meeting with Abbas? Is it today, tomorrow?

MS. PSAKI: It’s still being scheduled. They don’t land for a few hours there. It’s later there, so tomorrow is the most likely option.

QUESTION: Can I just ask if – you probably saw the announcement in Jerusalem today of 200 new housing units in East Jerusalem. I’m – I assume that your position has not changed on this kind of activity, but could you remind us of what your position is? And also, does that have anything to do with why there isn’t any – yet any meeting with an Israeli official on the Secretary’s agenda?

MS. PSAKI: No. Just to address the meeting question first, this just came together in the last few days given tensions on the ground. And I’ll just reiterate again that he speaks frequently – almost every other day – with Prime Minister Netanyahu. So – and President Abbas has a home in Amman. That’s the reason where the – for why the schedule stands where it does.

In terms of the settlements, we – or the announcement, I should say, of new housing units in East Jerusalem – we are deeply concerned by this decision, particularly given the tense situation in Jerusalem as well as the unequivocal and unanimous position of the United States and others in the international community opposing such construction in East Jerusalem. These decisions to expand construction have the potential to exacerbate this difficult situation on the ground, and they will not contribute to efforts to reduce the tensions. So we will certainly continue to emphasize privately, as I just said publicly, our concerns.

QUESTION: Okay. That was an interesting semi-slip of the – are you exasperated with the Israelis?

MS. PSAKI: I said “exacerbate,” the potential to --

QUESTION: I know, but you started to – sounded like you started to say “exasperate.” But anyway, I’m just wondering if you – are you exasperated with the Israelis for continuing to make these announcements when you say that they will cause the tension or have the potential to cause the tension to rise?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we feel they will exacerbate the difficult situation – the announcement of this construction, building will. That’s our concern about them. So certainly, we will continue to express to both the Israelis and the Palestinians our concerns and the need to do more.

QUESTION: Leaving aside whether you are exasperated or not – forgive me – are you not frustrated that the current Israeli Government repeatedly, continually, consistently flouts your advice on this, flouts your calls to cease this kind of activity, ignores or flouts your --

MS. PSAKI: It’s not just our view, Arshad. It’s the view of the --

QUESTION: I know, but I’m not talking --

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. It’s our --

QUESTION: Well, wait. But I’m not talking to the whole international community here. I’m asking you.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, but I think that’s relevant context.

QUESTION: But I’m not – I don’t care whether other people are frustrated about it.

MS. PSAKI: But it’s relevant.

QUESTION: I’m interested in whether the U.S. Government is frustrated about it. I can ask other people what they think. Are you frustrated that the Israeli Government repeatedly flouts your request that they cease this activity?

MS. PSAKI: As I stated, we’re deeply concerned by these announcements. I would – I referenced the international community not about who is exacerbate – like, you know what I’m saying; I’m not even going to try that anymore – who is --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: -- frustrated or not, but to make the point that this is a view held by many in the international community, not just the United States. That’s important context. Of course, we continue to raise these issues, but most importantly, they’re contrary to Israel’s own stated goal of achieving a two-state solution because they make it more difficult to do that.

QUESTION: I think, Jen, one of the reasons why Arshad and I are directing this question to you is because unlike other members of the international community, who you cite many of who agree with you, the United States Government has leverage with the Israelis in a way that the Europeans, for example, do not.

MS. PSAKI: We also have an important security relationship with Israel --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- and we are one of the greatest providers of security assistance to them as well.

QUESTION: So – right. Exactly. So – and no amount of announcements of new housing units or new settlements in the West Bank is going to have any impact on that security relationship, right?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. So you basically cede your leverage.

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t suggest that. I think our word means a great deal in the international community.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Quickly follow on this, do you agree that --

QUESTION: Do you think it means much to the Israeli Government?

MS. PSAKI: I think it does, Arshad. And I think that’s why we have an ongoing dialogue with them and why the Secretary’s speaking with them regularly.

QUESTION: If it means something to the Israeli Government, why do they continually not do what you ask them to do?

MS. PSAKI: Why don’t you ask the Israeli Government that question.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you, do you agree that this year has seen really accelerated settlement activities that, in fact, threatens the future of whatever initiative that you might have in terms of achieving or restarting the peace negotiations, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as I just stated in response to Arshad’s question, obviously the ongoing construction announcements do fly in the face of the stated goal of achieving a two-state solution, because it predetermines or pre-decides where construction should be, where buildings should be, in other areas where settlements should be.

QUESTION: Okay. So the extent of your concern would basically be the statements that you just made, correct? We are not likely to see any action from the United States that can actually impact Israel’s decisions. Are we likely to see that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – Said, I think every country is going to make their own decisions. But obviously, I don’t think the Israelis want to see the tensions and the violence on the ground right now. They’ve stated they want to see a two-state solution, and certainly there are steps that need to be taken to achieve that.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on Matt’s question, that you have leverage. Now other countries such as France, other European countries, where – they are recognizing the Palestinians. Will you follow suit? Ultimately, if they – if all the community in which you agree with – as you stated, this is an international position – if they one by one, if they go ahead and recognize the Palestinian state, will you do the same thing? Or will you sort of not counter any effort at the United Nations to pursue --

MS. PSAKI: Said, as you know, we support Palestinian statehood. We believe that it should be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties that resolve the final status issues and end the conflict.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: That has consistently been our position.

QUESTION: I understand. But you support a Palestinian state within certain boundaries, correct? Within certain – on certain territories (inaudible) --

MS. PSAKI: We believe it should be negotiated, Said, between the parties.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Regarding Secretary Kerry trip, I think it was mentioned yesterday he’s going to UAE after this Amman trip.

MS. PSAKI: He is no longer – he’s not going to the UAE.

QUESTION: Okay. It’s canceled now?

MS. PSAKI: It was never – it was --

QUESTION: It was announced as a --

MS. PSAKI: I understand that, but he’s not going.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Can I follow up just to --

MS. PSAKI: I believe it was a note that went to the traveling press and may have been sent --

QUESTION: Or it was statement that maybe --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. He’s no longer going. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: There’s a difference Oman and Amman, but they can kind of get confused sometimes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Can I just ask you, in terms of – and I realize --

MS. PSAKI: No, I don’t think that was the issue. I think there was a note that went that he was going to the UAE. He’s not going to the UAE.

QUESTION: Ah.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just --

QUESTION: So when is he – sorry. Sorry, Matt. When is he planning to be home? Or does that depend on the talks in Amman?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on that, Jo. Obviously, he’ll be in Amman tomorrow and I’ll refer to the traveling team to update – the team traveling with him on what his plans will be.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just – and I realize that the traveling people – the people traveling are a better place and the Secretary himself better place to get this, but would you expect the Secretary in his meeting with President Abbas to raise the issue of incitement that the Israelis have complained about – about the letter, the condolence letter that he sent to the family of the alleged (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: I expect they’ll focus on de-escalating tensions, particularly surrounding Haram al-Sharif, the Temple Mount and the importance of maintaining calm. They’ll also likely discuss developments in Gaza, including reconstruction efforts. So I expect they’ll discuss a range of issues, including the increasing tensions on the ground.

QUESTION: Is it still the case that you’re not satisfied with what the Palestinians have done to try – or what the Palestinian leadership has done to try --

MS. PSAKI: We believe both sides can do more and continue to believe that.

QUESTION: And he would make the same case with Prime Minister Netanyahu --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- or other Israelis --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- if he had the opportunity?

MS. PSAKI: And he will because he speaks with Prime Minister Netanyahu practically every other day.

QUESTION: I know. But there’s a difference between a phone call and/or a secure video call and actually being there on the ground and, say, coming out for a photo op or a press availability and saying directly to the leader’s face, whether that is President Abbas or Prime Minister Netanyahu, “Look, we think you need to do more.” There is a difference.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can assure you that point has been made to both sides and we’ll continue to make it.

QUESTION: Did you agree that – yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of Arafat’s death, and on that occasion, many Israeli politicians and ministers issued statements saying that Abbas is much worse than Arafat, that he was really a clever embodiment of evil, he incites all the time. Do you agree with any of these assessments? Do you believe that Yasser – I mean, Abbas intentionally provokes and incites against the Israelis?

MS. PSAKI: The Secretary continues to believe that President Abbas is not only a close friend – he doesn’t just believe that, he actively partakes in that friendship – but also he believes he is – continues to be an important partner for peace.

QUESTION: He actively partakes – (laughter) – okay. That’s --

MS. PSAKI: He doesn’t just believe they’re friends; he is a friend.

QUESTION: And by extension, he also believes that Prime Minister Netanyahu is?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, that’s correct.

QUESTION: Okay. But the – with – the two sides don’t see each other that way. You acknowledge that that’s a problem?

MS. PSAKI: Agreed. But we continue to believe that they both can be partners for peace.

QUESTION: But does the Secretary believe that his personal friendship with each person can somehow bridge the divide?

MS. PSAKI: That is not at all what I said and wasn’t what Said’s question was.

QUESTION: I know. But that’s what I’m asking you.

MS. PSAKI: I think the Secretary believes it’s up to both leaders, it’s up to both the Palestinians and the Israelis to make choices needed to get back to the table.

QUESTION: Did you see there was some --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) negotiations are so hopelessly frozen – sorry, Jo. Is there any effort or any new initiative that – or we are likely to see, let’s say, in the next few weeks, in the next months?

MS. PSAKI: I expect they’ll continue when the Secretary has meetings with King Abdullah and with President Abbas. They’ll certainly discuss broadly the need for a two-state solution and the importance of that path. But no, I don’t have any new initiatives to preview for you.

QUESTION: I wondered if you had a reaction to the torching of a mosque in the West Bank today by some Jewish extremists.

MS. PSAKI: Let’s see. The United States condemns the attack against a mosque in the West Bank. We believe that such hateful and provocative actions against a place of worship are never justified. We look to law enforcement officials to quickly investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators of this attack. We encourage local authorities to work together with the community to reduce tension, to defend religious freedom, and to work against incitement.

Do we have any more on this topic?

QUESTION: Well, this is related to Israel, but it’s not on this issue.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: And I realize that this had a confidentiality, whatever, privacy written all over it, but it has become an issue.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There are reports that the State Department denied the renewal of an Israeli basketball player who was – the Indiana Pacers were trying to sign or to – I understand that that’s not correct, that it wasn’t denied, but I’m wondering if you can explain what the problem was that led to him being not allowed to play for the Pacers.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as is true of almost – most of these cases, which you referred to in your question, I can’t speak to specifics. I can convey, though, that the Department of Homeland Security handles, among other responsibilities, requests for petitions and extensions and adjustments of status. And often when individuals are requesting for an extension of a stay, that is where their case would go. So that would not be the State Department.

QUESTION: Okay, but – so in other words, the State Department had nothing to do with this case? Is that what you’re saying?

MS. PSAKI: Well, my understanding is that this case – cases like these sit in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security.

QUESTION: And that is – even just an extension of a visa is with DHS? Or is it only a change in status if the applicant is changing – a change in their status?

MS. PSAKI: Well, extensions, adjustments of status, requests for petitions, which I believe these particular reports pertain to, are applicable, too.

QUESTION: Well, okay. So are you saying, then, that in this case, the State Department didn’t have anything to do with it? Is that what you’re saying?

MS. PSAKI: My understanding, Matt, is this is in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security.

QUESTION: Okay. And there is nothing – this case is not being handled – or let’s say: Is it correct that this case is being handled the same way other similar cases of foreign athletes are being handled and there is not any difference simply because this guy is Israeli?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. Obviously, every case is adjudicated individually, just like when we handle visas, but --

QUESTION: Right. But his citizenship to a particular country is not involved in it?

MS. PSAKI: No. But I would --

QUESTION: Because – but you remember earlier this year there was a lot of concern on the Hill about tourist visas and other things for Israeli citizens being delayed or rejected. This has nothing to do with that?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to DHS, Matt, but there’s – I don’t have any more information on this particular case.

More? In the front.

QUESTION: Change the topic, perhaps?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. Can we go to Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There – so the NATO chief has come out today and sort of also backed up what you were saying yesterday about more convoys of trucks and so on, and they’re going into eastern Ukraine from Russia. And the Ukrainian defense minister now is warning about there might be possible new fighting, and that they’re gearing up their forces for combat operations and preparing their reserves as well. Is there a fear in this building that we’re on the brink of some kind of all-out fighting again in Eastern Europe – in eastern – sorry, in eastern Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve been concerned for months now, as you know, since the beginning of this conflict about the impact of the illegal actions of Russian-backed separatists and those who are going into cities and towns around Ukraine. I would note, as you noted, General Breedlove – I think who you were referring to – has indicated a NATO – that NATO has seen the same developments reported by the OSCE, that large military convoys of Russia-supplied heavy weapons and tanks have moved to the front lines of the conflict in recent days.

Obviously, our preference would be to see a ceasefire continue. And what we’ve seen is ongoing, continuous, blatant violations of the Minsk protocol by Russia and its proxies. Now, it remains the case that Ukraine has the right to defend itself and its territory, but certainly the reason we supported the Minsk protocol is because we wanted to see a peaceful resolution. I’m not going to get ahead of where we are now because, obviously, we’ve seen these reports. I don’t have anything new from the U.S. Government in terms of confirmation, though we certainly stand by what the OSCE and NATO have said about where the convoys are.

QUESTION: What is the United States actively trying to do to de-escalate the tensions in that region? There was a meeting in Beijing between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. And Secretary Kerry spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov today as well. They talked about Iran and the P5+1 negotiations, but they also talked about Ukraine and our ongoing concerns about escalating tensions there, the need to abide by the Minsk protocols, and we’ll continue to press these issues and discuss with other counterparts in the world what our concerns are.

QUESTION: But is there any kind – is there any move to try and bring the sides together in a negotiation at the moment? I mean, it’s all well and good to say that you’re concerned about it, but it does seem that there’s no diplomatic --

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Jo, in the past that hasn’t – the United States hasn’t been a party to those. In terms of how it would proceed in the future, obviously, handling things diplomatically is always our preference. I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of the OSCE and what they may or may not be doing or working on, but obviously our objective is to get back to the ceasefire and the agreements made under the Minsk protocol.

QUESTION: Jen, it seems as though both sides – both the U.S. and Russia, or at least through what you just said about Secretary Kerry and then what the Russians are saying about Foreign Minister Lavrov – both – you’re both saying the Minsk agreements needed to be abided by. And yet, you’re saying that the Ukrainians are abiding by it and the Russians aren’t, while the Russians say the exact opposite. I mean, is there a point to these conversations when they’re just talking past each other?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: You can’t even agree on this – you can’t agree on the facts.

MS. PSAKI: Matt, the challenge with the account of the Russians is that NATO and the OSCE both conveyed that a large military – that large military convoys of Russian-supplied heavy weapons and tanks have moved to the front lines of the conflict in recent days. That’s a clear violation of the Minsk protocols. So we’re talking about actions and what’s happening on the ground. We certainly agree that the Minsk protocols need to be abided by, but the actions of the Russians and their proxies is not backing up their rhetoric. That’s our concern.

QUESTION: Well – but do you think that there’s a fundamental misunderstanding by one party or another as to what the Minsk agreements actually call for?

MS. PSAKI: There should certainly not be. We’ve been pretty clear they include everything from the release of political prisoners to moving back military to moving back from the border. And obviously these are things – these actions that have been taken are contrary to it.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: They’re very clearly stated out.

QUESTION: But you don’t – and you don’t see anything that the Kyiv government is doing as being in violation of Minsk? Is that right?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what the Russians are referring to. Did they get specific about what they convey as the violation?

QUESTION: Well, they’re talking – I mean, they talk about shelling of civilian buildings in Donetsk and other places in the east. I mean, if the Ukrainians are doing that, isn’t that a violation of Minsk?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Russian-backed separatists – there’s been intensified shelling around the Donetsk airport as well as Debaltseve where separatists appear intent on moving forces well beyond the lines agreed in Minsk. So again, this is a case where there are Russian-backed separatists aggressively going into land that is owned by Ukraine and is Ukrainian land and conveying that the Ukrainians can’t take steps to defend themselves. And we just don’t agree with that.

QUESTION: Okay. But you – so you don’t – do you see no validity at all to Russian arguments that the Ukrainian army is also violating Minsk?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I have not heard any specifics that warrant – that would qualify as a violation.

QUESTION: Could you say anything about the Security Council this afternoon? There is a call for the Security Council to move --

MS. PSAKI: You’re right. Samantha Power – Ambassador Samantha Power will be speaking later this afternoon. I believe the meeting starts around 2:30.

QUESTION: 2:30?

MS. PSAKI: So she’ll speak shortly after that.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a few questions about that one?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Why did you feel the need to call for a Security Council meeting on this? And second, did the Secretary convey to Foreign Minister Lavrov in private what you from the podium and many other U.S. Government officials had publicly that further Russian violations of the ceasefire agreement would lead to Russia paying an increasing – would raise the cost to Russia of its behavior?

MS. PSAKI: We have definitely conveyed that privately to the Russians just as we’ve conveyed that publicly.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary do that? Do you know?

MS. PSAKI: On their recent call it was certainly expressing our concerns about the situation in Ukraine. I think it’s – they know what the consequences will be should they proceed down this path.

What was your second question?

QUESTION: The other one was why you felt it – why you felt it necessary to call for the Security Council meeting for Ambassador Power to speak at on Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, we’re concerned about continuous blatant violations of the Minsk Protocol and we’re certainly concerned about tensions on the ground and reports over the past couple of days about the developments seen by NATO and the OSCE. As you know, there have been meetings in the past – several over the past several months about this – and I expect Ambassador Power will speak to this in the next hour or so, if I’m doing my time right.

QUESTION: Can I start a new topic?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: One more on Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: One more on Ukraine? Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry. I mean, it just seems like an appropriate day, Jen, given the statements from NATO today and whatnot – could you remind us a little bit about what these consequences will be beyond just saying we don’t agree, we don’t agree? Is there actually something being seriously discussed in this building with regard to perhaps increasing sanctions, leveling new sanctions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say that, one, we continue to work closely with the EU to look at how we can jointly impose more costs on Russia for its unacceptable behavior. We and our allies and partners would be prepared to broaden and deepen existing sanctions. But I would also remind you that because there are so many executive orders or the European versions of that in place, I think Chancellor Merkel referenced the openness to adding people or entitles. So that’s really what we’d be talking about. I don’t have anything further to preview other than to convey that’s – continues to be where we stand and we’ll continue to coordinate and discuss exactly those issues.

QUESTION: Does it feel more likely today than, say, three days ago before there were Russian heavy armor and troops moving across the border that we might be moving closer to what you just described, adding individuals? Does this move closer today?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Guy, with every additional aggressive action it increases our focus and increases our level of discussion.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I want to ask you a couple of questions on Iran on the prospect of a nuclear deal.

MS. PSAKI: On Iran? Sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday we heard that Russia signed a nuclear deal with Iran and to build nuclear reactors. Do you have any reaction to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, just broadly speaking, civilian nuclear cooperation is not prohibited by UN Security Council resolutions. As you know, Russia has in the past built or had similar deals, and this is separate, technically speaking, from our negotiations with the P5+1, of which Russia continues to be a part.

I can assure you that through our work with the P5+1, including Russia, we take into account all the possible pathways to a bomb, including any possible enrichment pathway.

QUESTION: So are you saying it will have no impact whatsoever on the nuclear deal (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s separate. We look – it’s technically separate from the negotiations over a nuclear deal.

QUESTION: But it will, like, make Iran’s hand stronger in the negotiations Iran with the West?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t – we don’t believe it will make their heads --

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Did you say heads stronger?

QUESTION: Hand.

MS. PSAKI: Hand stronger. Hand stronger. No.

QUESTION: Sorry for that pronunciation. It’s --

MS. PSAKI: No, no, not a problem. Just wanted to state what you said correctly.

QUESTION: So one more question on – like while everybody, like, agrees that President Rouhani doesn’t have the final say on any nuclear deal with the West – it’s, rather, Ayatollah Khamenei – but many people in the Middle East, or at least in Iran, believe that it’s kind of the same here in America as well, that President Obama doesn’t have all the power that he should have on this issue. It’s the Congress that constrains him hugely. Do you --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure Congress would appreciate that comparison – (laughter) – but go ahead.

QUESTION: And do you also believe that, like, we can say that it – it’s the same here, President Obama is equally constrained by other institutions?

MS. PSAKI: No, I would disagree with that. I think every country has their own politics. Iran certainly has their own, and you’ve seen some of the public comments they’ve made over the last several months that speaks to that. Obviously, for us, we’ve been working closely with Congress to keep them abreast of these discussions and negotiations, and we continue to encourage any member of Congress to look closely at whatever final contents of a deal are before they make judgments. But there is certainly a different relationship, and I don’t think there’s a comparison to be made.

QUESTION: Can Congress kill a deal with Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Can Congress kill a deal with Iran?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we believe that the negotiators are the ones who need to have the freedom to make the decision. We’ve been – our position on whether or not there should be new sanctions legislation put in place has been consistent throughout this process because we feel that would be damaging to the negotiations.

QUESTION: Congress has the last say-so.

QUESTION: Then I’m curious. If you say that you encourage any member of Congress to look at the final deal but wait for the final deal, isn’t – I mean, isn’t that too late? Are you saying that if you do reach an agreement, you won’t actually sign it until after you weigh in with members of Congress?

MS. PSAKI: Not what I was suggesting. We’ve been keeping Congress abreast throughout. I’m certain we will do that in the final weeks as well.

QUESTION: Right, but if you’ve been keeping them abreast throughout, including up to this point right now, today, and they’re still opposed to it and still think it’s a bad deal, aren’t you suggesting, then, that by saying that you encourage members to look at a final deal, before they take --

MS. PSAKI: Well, there isn’t a deal yet, Matt, so they haven’t been briefed on a deal since there isn’t a deal yet.

QUESTION: Well, okay, but what you’ve briefed them on so far, they don’t like. Is that inaccurate?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think some – there are some members who have some views and some who have other views, but they haven’t seen the content of what a final agreement would look like because there isn’t a final agreement yet.

QUESTION: Maybe I’m wrong, but I haven’t seen anyone in Congress saying, “Wow, I think this is a great deal,” or that this is going in the right direction.

MS. PSAKI: Well, they --

QUESTION: Maybe there are, but I haven’t seen them. Certainly --

MS. PSAKI: There are some who are making evaluations without having all the details, because the details aren’t knowable yet.

QUESTION: Right, okay. But you’re saying that they – before they weigh in, they should wait for a final agreement. Doesn’t that mean that if – that it’s too late at that point if they’re not – I mean, it’s too late for --

MS. PSAKI: Matt, I will – without giving you the exact briefing schedule of how we will keep Congress abreast, I can assure you that throughout the coming weeks, we will be keeping key committee members, key members of Congress, key individuals who have a stake in this abreast of how the progress is proceeding.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, do you understand what I’m getting at? I mean, if – you’re saying that they should hold off on any comments until they see what the final deal is.

MS. PSAKI: I said hold off on making a judgment.

QUESTION: Right. If they should hold off on making a judgment until they see what the final deal is, doesn’t that mean that they’re going to be presented with a fait accompli? Or are you --

MS. PSAKI: That’s actually not at all what I said.

QUESTION: Or are you saying – okay, then explain – then are you saying that once you get a deal – if you get a deal with Iran in Vienna or wherever else it might be, that you will not sign it, that you will come back here, brief --

MS. PSAKI: Not what I said either, and that’s – no.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I said we will be keeping Congress abreast throughout this process with briefings.

QUESTION: So if --

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we don’t have a deal yet. When we have a deal, we’ll continue those discussions. I’m not going to lay it out more further than that.

QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait. But you’re saying that you would go ahead – even though you’re telling Congress that they can’t make a judgment because they won’t know all the details until a final deal is reached, you’re saying that a final deal is going to be signed off on and then you’re going to brief Congress about the results?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into more details about our briefing of Congress.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: But you know any deal will finally involve lifting all the sanctions, all of the sanctions. And Congress can only do that, correct? So – and in fact, they do have --

MS. PSAKI: That is not correct, Said.

QUESTION: That is incorrect? Congress would not – Congress would --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Samir. No, that’s not correct. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Did Deputy Sherman leave Muscat, or are they still there?

MS. PSAKI: She did. She’s on her way back.

QUESTION: To Washington, right?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, yes.

QUESTION: To Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Iran? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Can you describe us or, let’s say, let us understand what was achieved in the last three days in Muscat, at least in your words? What was achieved?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re in the final weeks here, as you know. The deadline is two – in about a week and a half, so this is obviously a key time in the negotiations. Typically with negotiations, the key decisions, the key moments happen in the final days, and we believe that will be the case here as well. Technically speaking, the meetings in Oman have concluded. There were two full days of trilateral meetings, with Secretary Kerry meeting with Baroness Ashton and Foreign Minister Zarif, followed by a day of meetings among the P5+1 political directors. They’ll be reconvening next week, as has already been previously announced. So we’re continuing to chip away and have tough discussions about these challenging issues. We can’t read out and tick-tock exact progress and exact moments because that would be harmful to the negotiations.

QUESTION: So the next step is Vienna 18th, right?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And without going in details or talking about the steps that you are taking with the Congress, just like if – are you updating the Congress now – at least it’s something going on from now till 18, or it’s going to be updated later after 18 or after 26?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve had ongoing discussions with a range of members of Congress for months now.

QUESTION: So Jen, just – Senators Kirk and Menendez put a statement out. You might have seen it. It was a little while ago, but it’s been sent to me again here. They say – and they are no slouches on this issue, having been the sponsors of the legislation that the Administration eventually supported that put these tough sanctions into place --

MS. PSAKI: That President Obama and Secretary Kerry were the driving forces on – but go ahead. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, right, but I mean, they supported it in – on the Hill.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: But anyway --

MS. PSAKI: They supported it.

QUESTION: -- this statement says, “We believe that a good deal will dismantle, not just stall Iran’s illicit nuclear program and prevent Iran from ever becoming a threshold nuclear weapons state. This will require stringent limits on nuclear-related research, development, and procurement; coming clean on all possible military dimension issues; and a robust inspection and verification regime for decades to prevent Iran from breaking out or covertly sneaking out.” Is that the Administration’s position as well?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Do you – does the Administration agree with that as --

MS. PSAKI: Matt, our position is we are negotiating with Iran about preventing them from acquiring a nuclear weapon by cutting off all of the pathways for them to acquire that. There are a range of steps that need to be included in there, including stringent monitoring, stringent verification, but I’m going to leave what our view is as that.

More on Iran or should we move on?

QUESTION: India?

QUESTION: Back to Russia?

MS. PSAKI: Russia? Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: There was an announcement this morning by Foreign Minister Lavrov that Russia was going to be extending the range of its long-range heavy duty bombers, of which they’ve got 150 in their fleet going as far as the Gulf of Mexico, and certainly, in the other direction, a very significant shift in policy with regard to surveillance on the defense side. Have you any comment on that from State?

MS. PSAKI: Let me – I haven’t had a chance to talk to our team about this. I’ve seen the reports on it. But why don’t we – I’ll do that after the briefing. We’ll get you something more substantive and around to others who are interested.

Go ahead, Abby, and we’ll go you, Nicolas, next.

QUESTION: Sorry, I just wanted clarification.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Were you saying, when you were speaking about Ukraine, that there were just – you had just seen troops – just seen Russia building up along the border and not crossing over the border?

MS. PSAKI: So NATO and the OSCE have spoken to this and they’ve spoken about proceeding past the border. We don’t have any reason to question that, but we don’t have any independent, new information from the United States.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: And General Breedlove spoke a little bit to this earlier today, and the OSCE did over the last couple of days.

Go ahead. Oh, go ahead. I said you could go next, sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can we move to Iraq/Syria and slash --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- ISIS?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any independent information about the fate of Baghdadi since Monday?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new information.

QUESTION: Okay. One U.S. lawmaker, Mr. McCaul, said this morning in Time Magazine that – he criticized the security gaps, security shortcomings in Europe, saying that Europe has the risk of becoming a super – a jihadi superhighway because of lacks of – lack of controls of foreign fighters. So do you agree with him and do you think that European countries are not doing enough to control the flow of foreign fighters coming back from Syria and from Iraq?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve all seen European countries, the United States, and others as well in the region – that the growth of ISIL and the increase in foreign fighters we’ve seen over the last year or so has been a wakeup call to everybody about the need to do more to crack down on foreign fighters, to make it more difficult, to do better tracking, to coordinate along those fronts. Over the last several months, Europe and many European countries have taken steps to do more on that front. It takes a while to implement, and obviously, there are still aggressive recruitment tactics that are happening from ISIL at the same time. But I would say that our view is that the efforts of the EU and Europeans have increased over the last several months, as has the efforts of the United States, as has the efforts of Arab countries in the region. There have been new laws put in place, there have been new restrictions put in place. Obviously, this isn’t a challenge or a problem that we can address within just a couple of months.

QUESTION: Jen, there is a meeting that will take place tomorrow here in Washington by 200 military experts from 30 countries that will be discussing the next phase in the fight against ISIL. That might also include some ground troops. Are you aware of that or could you share with us any information that you might --

MS. PSAKI: Is the Department of Defense – I assume is engaged in this event or hosting it in some capacity. Or do you have more details on it?

QUESTION: Okay. I don’t have more details. Let me ask you about a poll that was conducted by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Study in Doha. They have a satellite office here in Washington that held a press conference today. And it shows that while a majority of Arabs support the fight against ISIS itself, they remain suspicious of U.S. intentions. Now, they also say that you don’t take into consideration Arab opinion in – when formulating U.S. policy, whether military or just policy. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I haven’t seen that poll and I’m not going to speak to a poll, but let me convey, though, that obviously, from the beginning we felt it was important for Arab countries to be partners militarily when we did our first airstrikes. We’ve been partnering and working closely with Arab countries and Arab leaders because we feel specifically that the voices of those leaders, the voices of religious leaders, of faith leaders, of government leaders in many of those countries is far more effective than the voice of the United States. So I think our actions just contradict the findings of that report.

QUESTION: Well, that’s the fact – that’s why they’re angry. Their beef is on this point, that you do consult with the leaders, but you don’t – you dismiss totally the sentiments of the so-called “Arab street,” the sentiments of the public, how they view your interventions and so on in the region.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think our view, Said – and we’re not just talking to leaders; we’re talking to a range of civil society leaders, of religious leaders, of faith leaders, we’re communicating via social media. And a lot of this is done, though, through partnering with many high-level officials in these countries. We certainly feel that there is a view that ISIL poses a threat to the region. We’re taking on that threat with these countries, and I don’t know that there’s much disagreement about that particular challenge.

QUESTION: On the political dimension of your strategy against ISIS in Iraq, can we – have you made any progress in, for example, vis-a-vis Iraq’s Government’s efforts to reach out to the Sunni communities in Anbar?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there have been – Prime Minister Abadi has spoken to this, but he’s also taken a range of steps to meet with leaders, Sunni leaders and Sunni tribal leaders. He’s ramped up outreach to Sunni tribal leaders in Amman and Baghdad and stressed in public remarks that he is an advocate and will continue to be an advocate for all Iraqis regardless of ethnicity or religion. We know there’s quite a bit of history here and hard feelings given some of the events over the last several months prior to Prime Minister Abadi taking over, and we know it’s going to take some time to repair some of those relationships. But we’ve seen him take some steps to address them and we’ve seen him make efforts to both encourage the security forces to operate in a more inclusive manner, in a regulated manner, including the Shia militia, to reach out himself personally, which is what I just referenced.

QUESTION: What about the relationship between Baghdad and the KRG, Kurdistan Regional Government? Yesterday – or it was this weekend, actually, prime minister of Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani, slammed the Iraqi Government for failing to deliver on promises that it had made before forming the government in Baghdad.

MS. PSAKI: Well, are you --

QUESTION: It seems that people like the Kurds are frustrated with Baghdad, with Prime Minister Abadi’s new government, the same way that they were with al-Maliki’s government.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think it’s been put specifically in those terms. Obviously, there are discussions about everything from oil revenues to payments that are ongoing. And we’re certainly encouraging those to be – the Iraqi Government to resolve those issues, but those are negotiations that are ongoing. And there have been some back and forth on it between the Kurdish government and the central government. And we hope it will be resolved soon.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) In your response to the question earlier about this public opinion poll and the Arab street, you talked about how you’re – you are making an effort to engage with the regular people and not just the leadership, and I’m sure you are. The – but you also agree that actions speak louder than words, correct? I mean, you constantly say that as it relates to all sorts of governments, including the Russians and Ukraine elsewhere. So with that in mind, the fact that actions do speak louder than words, I’m wondering if we could talk for a short – a little bit about this huge business delegation that a senior State Department official led to Egypt. Your concerns about the human rights situation in Egypt, the political situation in Egypt, remain and so – as far as I know, unless something has changed. So in light of those concerns and your unhappiness with the Egyptian Government, what kind of signal does it send to have a senior official lead the largest-ever U.S. business delegation to Egypt with the goal of promoting U.S. investment there?

MS. PSAKI: Well, one, our concerns regarding Egypt and human rights and restrictions on civil society are well known; they haven’t changed. But we also know that one of the challenges that the people of Egypt have been experiencing over the past couple of years is the lack of economic development, of economic growth, of economic opportunity. And international investment in Egypt’s economy supports the Egyptian people, and so we believe that by bringing companies there Egypt’s economic and work force development is something that can help the people of Egypt. It’s vital to their long-term stability. It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to continue to have at the diplomatic level a conversation about our concerns about their human rights record and the steps they’ve taken to crack down on protesters, et cetera. And obviously, we haven’t moved forward with the additional certifications, as you know.

QUESTION: Right. But I mean in the past foreign investment in Egypt and to be – bring it home, U.S. investment in Egypt has benefited a relatively small number of Egyptians. Certainly, not the ones who are coming out and voted for the president who was then overthrown in the coup/non-coup. So I’m just wondering if you are of the opinion now that the benefits of specifically – of generally foreign investment, but specifically U.S. investment, will benefit the majority or the vast majority of the Egyptian people rather than the scattered elites.

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly that would be the objective of any investment/trade initiative --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- would be to impact and help the economy and help the people of Egypt.

QUESTION: Right. But I mean, the objective – good intentions are one thing. But being able to be sure that you’re – what you’re doing is promoting the kind of thing that – or is going to end up promoting and help the kind of thing that you’re talking about is something else. So you’re confident that this --

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, look, the alternative would be not to help with economic investment and bringing U.S. companies, some of the most prosperous in the world, to try to help boost up the Egyptian economy. And the many people who have been suffering without jobs, without opportunities --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- and we don’t feel that’s the right alternative.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a follow-up on that?

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Isn’t that, in a sense, just what the Administration has chosen to do by not yet – as I understand it – disbursing all of the $1.55 billion in annual assistance that it gives Egypt?

MS. PSAKI: You mean the additional certifications or --

QUESTION: Yes. And I mean you’re making a choice there to not make all that money available. At least some of that money would presumably help prop up the Egyptian economy.

MS. PSAKI: Well, but much of --

QUESTION: It’s not all military.

MS. PSAKI: -- some. But much of it is tied to, one, Egypt making progress on their human rights record and concerns we have about crackdowns over the last year-plus.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So there are specific requirements --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- as you know, that work through Congress on --

QUESTION: That were imposed by Congress.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: I mean, you didn’t ask for them, right?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. But we support them.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: But – that have been imposed by Congress, so we haven’t – they have not yet been certified.

QUESTION: So why not – I mean, just adopting the same logic, why not hold off on leading teams of American business people to Egypt until they start getting their human rights and democratic processes more in line with international norms and what you would like to see?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s – like any relationship, Arshad, there are complications to it. But we want to see Egypt’s economy thrive. We want to see Egypt be stable over the long term. We want the Egyptian people to thrive. This is an opportunity to bring U.S. businesses there, to encourage them to invest. There are still concerns we have, and that is noted by the fact that we have not certified, based on their human rights record or progress that hasn’t been made, additional funding. Some of it is military funding. Some of it is for other programs. But --

QUESTION: Could you take a question for me on this one? It’s a difficult one.

MS. PSAKI: What specifically is the question?

QUESTION: Well, I’d be interested in knowing, of the 1.55 billion that was appropriated for Egypt for fiscal 2014, how much has actually been obligated, and how much has not, and what are the reasons for the portions that have not been obligated. Is it simply the lack of certifications or is it something else?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, we will check on that for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: I just don’t understand how you’re not concerned you’re sending a mixed message. I mean, the money that Arshad’s talking about, $1.55 million --

QUESTION: Billion.

QUESTION: Billion.

QUESTION: Billion dollars, sorry – is presumably far less than a group of several dozen enormous U.S. multinationals will invest there. Do you not – are you not concerned that the people of Egypt, the very people who you hope to see benefit from foreign investment there, are getting what – are getting a mixed message from you when you are withholding aid – direct aid to the government at the same time as telling American businesses that they should go and pump their money into Egypt?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s a difference between direct assistance to the government and promoting economic opportunity and business investment that we believe will benefit the people of Egypt, and that’s why we supported this mission and why we led it.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. President Sisi gave himself or was extended the authority to turn over any fugitives that might be in Egypt and wanted by their home countries and so on. I wonder if you have any comment on that. Are you aware of this?

MS. PSAKI: The – tell me again?

QUESTION: The president of Egypt has assumed executive authority to turn anyone that may have taken refuge in Egypt for political reasons over to their countries if they are wanted by these countries.

MS. PSAKI: We’ll have to check on the specifics of that, Said.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to do that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on a different front?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: A few days ago, you said you didn’t have the chance to discuss with the team the link between Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and Daesh – ISIL, which was like the ones that were working in Sinai and ISIL. Do you have a chance to – possibility of link, because --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I can --

QUESTION: -- there was a reported story in New York Times --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- related to the killing of an American citizen in Sinai, what is somehow related to this.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I – what I conveyed at the time, I believe, if I recall correctly, is that there is a difference between publicly stating or publicly claiming support for a group and specifically taking actions that are linked and coordinated with the group. So that I don’t have any additional assessment on.

QUESTION: The reason that I’m asking this – because almost a week ago or so, the American Embassy in Cairo, there was kind of warning to the people, especially those who are going to the American school in Cairo, to be worried about – have precautionary steps regarding the possibility of a terrorist attack.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. You’re saying that a travel – a travel advisory that went out.

QUESTION: The travel advisory. Beside that, there was like a warning for the Americans who are living in Cairo and their kids are Americans --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. A couple of weeks ago, I believe. Yeah.

QUESTION: Maybe 10 days.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to – have you – I mean, like come to more details about this threat? Or it’s like whatever was done, done?

MS. PSAKI: We provide – and this is standard across the world. When there’s information that we believe the public needs to know, we provide that. And this was a case of that. I don’t believe that’s ongoing, but --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: I wonder if you would comment on a Russian report that Egypt received surface-to-air missiles – 300 – S-300 ballistic missiles. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation of that, Said.

QUESTION: Can we go to Yemen? I just wanted to ask you --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- after Monday’s announcement of the drawdown in Embassy staffing, if there are any – if concerns are – have eased, if the situation is still the same. And I’m asking because a report that says that you guys are getting ready or preparing for the possibility of an evacuation.

MS. PSAKI: I have no new changes to report, despite public reports out there, beyond what we announced on Monday. Obviously, Yemen is a high-threat post, and we always have contingency options. But there’s nothing new to report on that front.

QUESTION: Would you say that the – given the situation in Yemen now, the contingency option is more in play there than it is, say, in Paris?

MS. PSAKI: I would say in any high-threat post, it’s – we certainly always have contingency options. Paris, not a high-threat post. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Not yet.

QUESTION: I just wonder why you still have the Embassy open, given that there’s quite a lot of dangers. Today we saw another suicide bombing, not in Sana’a but in the center of Yemen. Why are you still keeping the Embassy open? Is it not a case that you should be actually closing it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Jo, obviously, in Yemen – anywhere in the world – we constantly assess the security needs of the men and women who serve in our posts there, as well as locally hired employees. We made the decision that an ordered departure was warranted. We obviously did that just a couple of days ago. If we need to make a new, additional assessment, we will do that. Typically we don’t preview those in advance, but I can assure you that we take every precaution we believe is necessary to keep our people safe. But right now, we feel that we can keep the Embassy open. It’s operating normally and continues to be.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Going back to Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I’m not sure if you were asked about this question, but in this latest round in Oman nuclear talks --

MS. PSAKI: In Oman, yeah.

QUESTION: -- was Syria or the fight with the ISIL was in of the topics discussed with the Iranians?

MS. PSAKI: In the past that’s been raised on the margins, just given it’s a prominent issue not just in the news but of concern to many of the attendees. That was the case here, but there was no new development on that front.

QUESTION: Today former State --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, can I just update one thing? Because somebody asked the other day whether he raised the concerns about the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader’s comments, and he did raise them directly with Foreign Minister Zarif.

QUESTION: Today former State official Fred Hof wrote piece and he was asking whether U.S. in this alleged (inaudible) letter to Khamenei from President Obama – whether the U.S. assured Iran that U.S. is not going to target Syrian regime in Syria. Would you be able to give us any kind of refusal or refute to this claim?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to speak to – I’m still not going to speak to a reported letter from the President of the United States to anyone, and I would certainly point you to the White House for that. I will convey that in no conversations or communications have we made a link between the nuclear negotiations and the threat of ISIL, so I would take that and – go ahead.

QUESTION: No, no.

MS. PSAKI: No, I don’t have anything else to say. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So can we say that you have not given any kind of assurances to Iran regarding Syrian regime being targeted or not?

MS. PSAKI: Our discussions have been exactly how I’ve described them.

QUESTION: Just on this, a senior Iranian official is saying that there have been responses to correspondence, and I’m just wondering if you are aware – not being specific, not talking about any specific letter that may or may not have been written by the President – but are you aware of a – discussions between the United States Government or the – between the Administration or exchanges of correspondence between the Administration and the office of the Supreme Leader in Iran?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything for you on that, no.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Syria?

QUESTION: Hi, Mary Alice Salinas with Voice of America.

MS. PSAKI: Hi, Mary Alice.

QUESTION: Hi there. With regard to Ferguson, the parents of Michael Brown, the teenager killed by a police officer in Ferguson, appeared yesterday before the UN Committee against Torture in Geneva. They’ve said they want justice for Michael Brown, and they also believe that what happened there was a – represents a violation of the Convention Against Torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment. And they say they want the world to know what is happening in Ferguson. Any response from the U.S. Government, especially now that it’s in – on this global stage?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I will let my colleagues at the White House speak to events, even as difficult as events like those in Ferguson and what that means. I can speak specifically to the fact that we stand by our record here in the United States as it relates to everything from freedom of speech, freedom of protest, freedom of media, and we would put that up against any countries in the world.

I will say – let me give you a brief update about – I know – as many of you know, there’s a meeting today in Geneva. And you may have seen that there have been comments from our legal advisor – one of our legal advisors as well. But since some have asked about that: During that meeting, the U.S. delegation has articulated a number of changes and clarifications to its legal positions with respect to the convention. In contrast to positions previously taken by the U.S. Government, we are affirming that U.S. obligations under Article 16, which prohibits cruel, inhumane – inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment apply in places outside the United States that the U.S. Government controls as a governmental authority. This position, which applies equally to other provisions of the convention with the same jurisdictional language, is consistent with the text of the convention, its negotiating history, and the Senate ratification process. Legal Advisor Mary McLeod spoke to this as well while she was there, and I’d certainly point you to her comments, but since you referenced the meeting I thought I would take the opportunity to speak to that as well.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) meeting today, just going back to what you said, that you’d put your record up against any others in the world, I don’t think it was Mary McLeod, but another one of the U.S. legal advisors said that – admitted that when it came to Guantanamo and some of the other things that happened under the previous administrations, that the United States had moved – had – outside of its boundaries.

MS. PSAKI: You’re right, and that’s an important point, too. The delegation also acknowledged that in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, we regrettably did not always live up to our own values, including those reflected in the convention. And as President Obama has said and others have said, we crossed the line and we take responsibility for that. Obviously, part of the focus here is where we are moving forward, and we’ve engaged since then in ongoing efforts to determine why lapses occurred and we’ve taken concrete measures to prevent them from happening again. And they restated what our position is at this point in time.

QUESTION: Did they specifically say it was the Bush Administration that crossed the line and we’re sorry? Is that what they said?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have the text of her remarks or the remarks of the delegation, but they acknowledged that in the wake of 9/11, we regrettably did not always live up to our own values.

QUESTION: So does that mean that when you say you put up – you’ll put the U.S. record up against anyone else’s in the world, it’s with the exception of the seven and a half years that followed 9/11?

MS. PSAKI: I’m referring, Matt, to how we operate and how it compares to the world on a number of these issues.

QUESTION: But not during that timeframe?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we acknowledged, as I mentioned, during this meeting what we regret about what’s happened in the past.

QUESTION: When you say you take responsibility for the lapses during that timeframe, what does that mean?

MS. PSAKI: That means that we’ve taken measures to prevent them from happening again; that we have established laws and procedures to strengthen the safeguards against torture and cruel treatment; that we’ve made changes; and obviously, we’ve stated how applicable we believe the convention is and our own laws are.

QUESTION: Does it mean offering compensation or an apology to the people who have been detained without trial or charge for years, or an apology or compensation to people, for example, who have been the victim of waterboarding?

MS. PSAKI: It means that we conveyed we regrettably did not live to – up to our values. I don’t have anything else for you in terms of other issues, but I don’t believe that was a part of the discussion, no.

QUESTION: India?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Abby, and then we’ll go to you, Goyal.

QUESTION: Sorry, another thread along those lines. I know that they’ll actually be speaking to this tomorrow, but does the U.S. agree with the UN’s interpretation of when solitary confinement constitutes torture? And is the U.S. currently in compliance with that interpretation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe I’d have to check with our lawyers and the team working on this on the specifics. Obviously, we reiterated clearly our commitment to abiding by the convention. In terms of the specifics of it, I’m happy to take the question and we can get you back some specifics.

QUESTION: Turkey (inaudible) question?

MS. PSAKI: Why don’t we go to Goyal and then we can go to you. Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: Thank you, Madam. I’ve been talking about this issue for the last 10 years – corruption in India and black money. Now this issue became escalated during Prime Minister Modi’s campaign, and now he’s taking this action to bring back $1.4 trillion, according to New York Times, sitting outside of India from the corrupt ministers from India.

Now my question is: Now since G20 is taking place in Australia and Prime Minister Modi will be there and so will be President Obama – so is – how U.S. is going to help? Because Prime Minister Modi and Indians are seeking U.S. help to bring that money back to India.

MS. PSAKI: Goyal, in terms of the specifics on the agenda that are happening in Australia, I’d really refer you to the White House on that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: But in generally --

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry. We have to move on just because --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: -- I have to go to something else. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Today in Turkey in Istanbul, a few of American sailors had some bags placed over their heads. Do you have any comments on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there was a statement put out by the U.S. Navy as well, which I’d point you to, but we’re deeply troubled by today’s assault against sailors of the USS Ross in Istanbul. The USS Ross is visiting Istanbul as a sign of the longstanding cooperation and friendship between the United States and Turkey. While we support the right to peaceful protest, this event clearly crossed the line from peaceful protest to violence and threats. We’re working – U.S. officials, I should say, are working with Turkish authorities to investigate this incident.

QUESTION: Do you see this incident as an isolated incident or part of trend about anti-Americanism in Turkey?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not sure what other incidents you’re comparing it to, so we believe that Turkey remains an important NATO ally. We work closely with them on a range of issues. Obviously, we’re looking at this specific incident.

QUESTION: Recognizing that you – the Pentagon and the Navy have already spoken to this, as has the Embassy in Turkey, do you consider this case closed now, at least in terms of any conversation that you might have with Turkish authorities? Or is it something that you intend to raise beyond just the local police (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re continuing to work with Turkish authorities. I don’t believe there’s a plan to raise it at a different level than that. But this is – we’re continuing to work with them now.

QUESTION: Okay. So that would suggest – and correct me if I’m wrong – that you don’t think that this is symptomatic of some – that you think that this was an isolated incident and it’s not something that --

MS. PSAKI: I think I conveyed we’re speaking to this specific incident, yeah.

QUESTION: Right. But it’s not something that you feel the need to take up with the foreign minister or senior members in the – senior members of --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of plans to raise it at that level, no.

QUESTION: Can I go to Nigeria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I just have probably time for one or two more questions.

QUESTION: Okay. I’ll try not to take up too much time.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: There was – the Nigerian ambassador here in Washington, D.C. invited some members of the Council on Foreign Relations to the Embassy on Monday. And basically, he gave a speech in which he said that Nigeria is not very happy with the United States at the moment, that he feels that you guys are not giving them the weapons that they need to really deal with Boko Haram, and that this statement that you have that it’s because you’re concerned about human rights allegations by the Nigerian army are just half-truths, hearsays put out by the opponents of President Jonathan and human rights groups.

I wondered if I could have your reaction to the comments that he made.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we first value our – highly value our longstanding and important relationship with Nigeria. Let me just lay out the facts of our assistance. Over the past six months, the United States has started sharing intelligence with Nigeria, began training a new army battalion and held numerous high-level discussions with Nigerian authorities on additional measures to best address the Boko Haram threat. We have also provided and approved sales of military equipment to its armed forces. These decisions are made, of course, after careful scrutiny to ensure they conform with United States law.

Earlier this year, we denied the transfer of some Cobra attack helicopters to Nigeria due to concerns about Nigeria’s ability to use and maintain this type of helicopter in its effort against Boko Haram and ongoing concerns about the Nigerian military’s protection of civilians when conducting military operations. We shared those concerns with Nigeria before this decision and subsequent to it.

Nigeria has purchased helicopters that originated in countries other than the United States, and nothing in our decision prevents Nigeria from obtaining weapons and equipment from other sources. We’ll continue to look for ways to deepen our cooperation with Nigeria to help it acquire the systems and skills needed to restore peace and security. But obviously, we’ve provided a great deal of assistance over the past several months.

QUESTION: So other than the Cobra helicopters, is there any request from the Nigerian Government that hasn’t been met by the United States?

MS. PSAKI: I would ask them that specific question, but we’ve obviously provided them with a range of assistance, including intelligence sharing as well as military equipment.

QUESTION: And what about their response that the allegations of human rights abuses by the Nigerian army are just – are not substantiated?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we continue to urge Nigeria to investigate allegations of abuses perpetrated by Nigerian security forces, as well as offer Nigeria assistance in developing the doctrine and training needed to improve the military’s effectiveness. We wouldn’t be raising that concern if we didn’t feel and others didn’t feel that they were warranted.

QUESTION: So were you surprised by – was this building surprised by the ambassador’s comments on Monday?

MS. PSAKI: We did not review the comments in advance, no.

QUESTION: But so you were surprised, then, to – by the depth – I mean, it was a pretty angry statement that he made.

MS. PSAKI: I’ll leave it at what I conveyed.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:21 p.m.)

DPB # 192


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 10, 2014

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 17:41

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 10, 2014

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:23 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. I just have a couple of items for all of you at the top. Secretary Kerry was in Beijing this weekend participating in the APEC Ministerial Meetings. He met with his Indonesian and Australian counterparts, where they discussed a full range of bilateral, regional, and global issues. He met briefly with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and pressed Russia to implement fully its commitments under the Minsk agreements, including securing and monitoring Ukraine’s international border.

Secretary Kerry also attended several public events before departing Beijing to travel to Muscat, Oman. He will return to Beijing later this evening to join President Obama in meetings with President Xi Jinping.

As you all know, President Obama arrived in Beijing today – or yesterday, I believe. He participated in a leaders meeting with TPP member states and a bilateral meeting with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Indonesian President Joko Widodo. The President delivered a speech at the APEC CEO summit, attended APEC’s opening festivities hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping, and will join the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting that I believe is underway or soon to be underway.

He also announced the United States will increase the validity of short-term business and tourist visas and student and exchange visas for eligible Chinese travelers. This step will make it easier for Chinese travelers and students to visit the United States. As a result of this arrangement, we hope to welcome a growing share of eligible Chinese travelers, inject billions of dollars into the U.S. economy, and support hundreds of thousands of additional U.S. jobs.

Second item for the top: We condemn Russia’s increased militarization of the Donbas region through the provision of tanks and other heavy equipment to separatists. The OSCE SMM monitors have reported the movement of large military convoys of Russia-supplied heavy weapons and tanks to the front lines of the conflict in recent days, and greatly intensified shelling around the Donetsk airport in Debaltseve, where separatists appear intent on making territorial gains well beyond the lines agreed in Minsk.

There are no excuses for these ongoing and continuous blatant violations of the Minsk protocol by Russia and its proxies. If Russia is truly committed to Minsk and peace in Ukraine, it will stop fueling the fire with new weapons and support for separatists and withdraw all Russian military personnel and equipment from Ukraine, and it will call on its proxies to stop ceasefire violations, release hostages, and close the international border. As the White House made clear on November 3rd, should Moscow continue to ignore the commitments that it made in Minsk and continue its destabilizing and dangerous actions, the costs to Russia will rise.

We also call to your attention to press reports that the Russian Government has thrown a blanket of state secrecy over what happened to its paratroopers from Pskov that were killed fighting in the Donbas – in Donbas this summer. We note that the families of those killed in action may never have the comfort of knowing from their own government what truly happened to their sons now that their fate has been declared a state secret.

Finally, I’d like to welcome Ian Clements in the back, a 7th-grade from Swanson Middle School in Arlington. So we’re glad you’re visiting today as well.

All right. Matt.

QUESTION: Right. Well, I want to go to Ukraine, but we can do that --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- and get back to that a little bit later. I wanted to start with these developments with USAID, which I think you’re familiar with.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, I’ve seen the AP report.

QUESTION: Right. Well, not just the report on it, but the statement from AID about how it’s changing its work in politically restrictive environments. And I’m wondering a couple things on this. One, what is going to be the State Department’s role in these pro-democracy programs since now, apparently, the work in politically restrictive environments is going to come under State’s rubric rather than AID’s?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I spoke with our team right before we came down here. These reports of new regulations or a change in policy is something that we’re still reviewing or discussing internally. So I don’t have a – I don’t believe any final decision has been made at this point in time. Obviously, we continue to review our programs and how to best implement them, how we should implement them, who should be responsible for them. And that certainly is applicable here. We continue to believe we need to find creative ways to promote positive change in Cuba; but beyond that, we’re still assessing what any change or what any impact would be.

QUESTION: Well, but you’re not denying that you’re considering changes or that you’re reviewing your programs in – democracy programs in restrictive countries, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re constantly reviewing all of our programs. Obviously, USAID – obviously, they’re a part of the State Department, but I believe this is a reference to some internal discussion and deliberations that haven’t yet been finalized.

QUESTION: Yeah. But does that – is this an acknowledgment that there was an – a higher-than-acceptable risk for some of – in some of – in the people who were carrying out or promoting or actually working for these programs?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, obviously, USAID has the lead on looking at any of these programs and evaluating what is effective and what’s worth continuing. So it’s just – it reflects that that’s an ongoing process, and we’ll have a discussion with them about what to do moving forward.

QUESTION: You understand, and I presume AID understands, that some of the work – at least some of it, maybe a good percentage of it – is illegal, actually, in certain countries that you would consider to be politically restrictive, including Cuba. If you’re going to be transparent about them, how are you going to continue to do them if they’re actually against the law in countries where you’re operating?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s just premature at this point to – for me to read out for you or brief for you how these programs will be continued moving forward or implemented moving forward. Obviously, with any program, we continue to evaluate its effectiveness and whether it should continue.

QUESTION: But you’re – so you’re saying that you objected to the use of the word “clandestine” or “secret” before --

MS. PSAKI: We continue to.

QUESTION: -- but you did say “discreet.” That’s been the word.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that this – any changes in policy will not mean an end to the discreet operations?

MS. PSAKI: Well, all I’m saying, Matt, is that, obviously, there’s an ongoing internal deliberation about any big program by USAID or one – or some that the State Department runs. This is a reflection of that. It doesn’t mean that a final decision has been made about how it will be implemented or if it will be implemented moving forward.

QUESTION: But it does mean that there are concerns within the Department and within USAID that some of these programs may have over-reached?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you may recall --

QUESTION: Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: -- that several months ago, I believe it was, when some stories came out about some of these programs, they made clear that they would be evaluating them. So this is a reflection of that.

QUESTION: All right. Well, do you anticipate – or is it just too early to say – do you anticipate any reduction in the number of discreet programs that you’re doing – that you’re funding and carrying out in politically restrictive environments?

MS. PSAKI: It’s too early to say at this point in time.

QUESTION: Okay. I’ll --

MS. PSAKI: Shall we move on to a new topic?

QUESTION: Going to a new topic?

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Are you following up on the statements by the special envoy, the UN special envoy, by perhaps having some sort of a ceasefire or at least stopping the fighting in Aleppo? And do you support such a thing, or was that discussed when he was here in Washington?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly support ceasefires that would provide genuine relief to Syrian civilians and are consistent with humanitarian principles. But, however, we’ve seen in some cities – Babila, Homs, Yarmouk – unfortunately, many local truces achieved thus far have more closely resembled surrender arrangements as opposed to genuine, sustainable ceasefire arrangements that are consistent with best – with humanitarian best practices.

So we certainly support the efforts of Minister de Mistura. We support any effort to save human life. That would represent a shift in the Assad regime’s approach. But we are also cognizant of the Assad regime’s record on ceasefires.

QUESTION: So you don’t take – Assad issued a statement after his meeting with de Mistura basically saying they support his idea. First of all, can you give us perhaps, if you do know, sort of an outline of those ideas? I mean, how would this – such a ceasefire work? Will it sort of declare an area that is noncombat area? I mean, how does it work? Because he said I support such a proposal.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Said, there are – have been reports related to local ceasefires. That’s what I can address at this point in time. In terms of other components of de Mistura’s proposals, I would certainly point you to him. I will just reiterate that our view is that the Assad regime bears overwhelming – continues to be that the Assad regime bears overwhelming responsibility for this humanitarian disaster and the daily suffering of the Syrian people, that as we must not – as – even as ISIL exploits this vacuum, we must not lose sight of the Assad regime’s ongoing crimes against the Syrian people that have nurtured ISIL’s growth in Syria. That continues to be our belief. And we’re just cognizant of the history on some of these local ceasefires.

QUESTION: Do you see this as perhaps a prelude for re-energized activities on the political front, perhaps a Geneva III, especially after it’s been sort of put aside for a number of months due to the rise of ISIS and the rise of fighting? Do you see now there is an opportunity perhaps with this new envoy or sort of a renewed interest by the UN to organize such an effort?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the United States continues to believe that there’s only a political solution here. The United Nations does. De Mistura does. But in terms of a mechanism for that, we’re obviously not at the place right now where both sides are going to be back at the table.

QUESTION: Okay. And my final question on this. Yesterday the President when asked if – what are the priorities, he said the priority is – I’m paraphrasing – is to defeat ISIS. And when he was asked about Assad, whether – he said that Assad continues to be someone who lost his legitimacy to rule. But the implicit message was this is not our priority at the present time. So is that no longer the priority?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the President – what the President said is entirely consistent with what we’ve said from the beginning of when we first started doing airstrikes several months ago.

QUESTION: Can I go – stick with Assad?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: There was a series of strikes Friday night, over the weekend, on Mosul by the U.S. coalition. And there have been reports, which are unsubstantiated as yet, that the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was either wounded or killed in those reports. Do you have any up-to-date information you can share with us today on his fate on what happened?

MS. PSAKI: Not much, Jo, but let me tell you what I can convey. And obviously, as – if information becomes available we’ll make that available to all of you. As you know, we assess these things through our partners in the intel community and others. But as Jo noted, there were coalition – coalition aircraft conducted a series of airstrikes November 7th in Iraq against what was assessed to be a gathering of ISIL leaders near Mosul, destroying a vehicle convoy consisting of 10 ISIL armed trucks. We cannot confirm if ISIL leader Baghdadi was among those present. We have no further information to provide regarding those strikes at this point.

It clearly demonstrates that we’re continuing to keep the pressure on. We’re continuing to target and go after the ISIL terrorist network. But we don’t have any new information at this point.

QUESTION: Do you have information on other leaders or other senior figures within ISIL who may have been in the convoy?

MS. PSAKI: Not at this point. We’re continuing to assess the impact.

QUESTION: And there were some reports today out of Egypt that one of the Egyptian jihadi movements, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis – excuse my pronunciation – has sworn allegiance to ISIL. Do you have any comment on that? Does that kind of perhaps undermine what you’re trying to do in terms of delegitimizing the message of ISIL?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first I would say that what we have to assess and what we assess in cases like this or others where individual terrorist leaders or extremist leaders, depending on the case, have sworn allegiances, whether the sworn allegiance means affiliation, whether it means action, whether it means they’re joining the effort. We don’t have an assessment of that at this point in time. That doesn’t change the fact that we remain concerned about ISIL’s strength that they’ve developed over the last several months, and obviously, that’s why we’re – we have the coalition and why we’re doing what we’re doing in Iraq and Syria.

QUESTION: And I just wondered if you’d also seen a report out of Tehran today that the vice president – or one of the vice presidents has said that Iran would be ready to help to all of its abilities in Iraq, to help the Iraqi Government with all its abilities to fight ISIL. I know that there’s been some discussion about Iran’s role here, but would that be something that you would welcome?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what exactly the minister meant by his comments. Our concerns haven’t changed. Obviously, while there’s a role every country can play, and the Secretary himself has said that, we have expressed concern and our concerns remain about Iran’s activities in Iraq. We believe that Iran’s leaders can choose to continue to contribute to the current – we believe they continue to contribute to the current instability by backing unregulated militias in Iraq and elsewhere in the region. We believe these actions have contributed significantly to the sectarian conflict. And we are aware that some Iranian active – or operatives are inside Iraq training and advising. We remain concerned about this, and it’s certainly not something that we are encouraging.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: By now, I presume your experts have had a chance to look at the IAEA report from Friday.

MS. PSAKI: Well, it wasn’t the formal release of the report, Matt, so we don’t have any additional comment on it. That’s standard how we handle these releases.

QUESTION: All right, then let’s talk about the one prior to this, which found that the Iranians, as we talked about on Friday, had not been complying with the IAEA on looking into past – any possible military dimension of their nuclear program in the past. Given the fact that they’ve said that in the last report, not this one – they also say it in this one – does that play any – does that have any impact or play any factor in the P5+1 negotiations that were going on until just an hour, couple of hours ago?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the IAEA will, of course, play a critical role, as they already have played, in the monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program. They would continue to play that if there’s a deal or an agreement. Obviously, there isn’t a deal or an agreement yet. And implementation of that and the monitoring mechanism of that will be pivotal to whether Iran is abiding by their agreement.

QUESTION: Yeah, but don’t you see what the problem is here? If the Iranians are not cooperating with the IAEA on monitoring of its previous – allegations of previous military dimensions, how in the world can you trust them to be able to effectively and to credibly monitor an agreement that you might come to in the future? I mean --

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, we had a similar conversation last Thursday or Friday.

QUESTION: I know, but I thought that – I was under the impression that today, you would have been able – or people would have looked at the report and you’d be able to speak to it.

MS. PSAKI: Well, it hasn’t been publicly released by the agency yet, so we don’t --

QUESTION: Okay. But the last one says the same thing, the one that – and that has been public for more than a month.

MS. PSAKI: Well, the point is, Matt, that the IAEA will continue to play an important role. Obviously, abiding by any monitoring mechanism would be essential to Iran abiding by any agreement.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the point is that they haven’t been abiding by the monitoring system that’s been in place for quite some time now.

MS. PSAKI: And we’re in the pivotal stages of a negotiation about a comprehensive agreement.

QUESTION: So does that mean that the negotiations now will take into account the fact that the Iranians haven’t been complying with the previous monitoring order? And will it – will you demand that Iran does comply with that now as part of an agreement that you might reach?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, they’ll be required to abide by any part of the agreement that is agreed to, but I’m not going to get ahead of that process.

QUESTION: Right, but Jen, they agreed to it before and they’re not complying with it. So why should anyone think that they’re going to comply with it now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re talking about a comprehensive agreement where there would be benefits to Iran if they agree --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- and commit to it. There would be benefits to the United States. Obviously, the monitoring component of that is a pivotal part of that.

QUESTION: Right.

QUESTION: Would that include the military dimension?

MS. PSAKI: Will that include the military dimension? There’s two and a half weeks left before we have a deadline on the agreement.

QUESTION: No, but what I’m saying is, would a verification include the – basically, in this report, the IAEA is saying that Iran is not giving us enough access – giving them enough access to sites that would prove it.

MS. PSAKI: Being able to have access to adequately monitor would certainly be part of what would be required.

QUESTION: Two weeks.

QUESTION: So them complying --

MS. PSAKI: Sorry, you’re right – two weeks, not two and a half weeks.

QUESTION: So them complying with the previous IAEA – complying with the previous inspection demands is a part of these negotiations, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, obviously, the history here and what they have or haven’t abided by is a part of the discussion. Beyond that, I don’t have anything more for you on what will be a part of any agreement.

QUESTION: All right. There is just from this report – and I realize that you say that it’s not final so you don’t want to comment on it – but there are some who look at this report and say that Iran is in violation of the JPOA right now.

MS. PSAKI: Based on what specifically?

QUESTION: Because they have increased their stockpile of low-enriched uranium gas.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we raised – I believe you’re referring to the IR-5 issue. We raised that issue with Iran as soon as the IAEA reported it, and it was resolved immediately. The Iranians have confirmed that they will not continue that activity as cited in the IAEA report, so it’s been resolved.

QUESTION: Okay. This is from --

QUESTION: Can I ask, when was that resolved?

QUESTION: When was it? Yeah, when?

MS. PSAKI: Over the course of the last few days, I believe.

QUESTION: But --

QUESTION: And one other one on this. I mean, there’s some people who read the JPOA and who argue that the R&D activities that are permissible under the JPOA would allow for the introduction of gas into the IR-5.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, it’s a very technically complex agreement, and it provides a framework. But when there are questions that need to be raised, we raise them. This was an example of that.

QUESTION: So, wait. Could I just make sure I understand this correctly?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So you – based on the report that you refuse to talk about because it’s not final, you went to the Iranians and said, “You’re in violation, fix this,” and they did? Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: This was an issue. When there are issues that need to be raised, we still raise them, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. But they were – you believe that they were in violation of the JPOA?

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t convey that. I conveyed that as soon as the IAEA reported it, then we raised it, and it’s been fixed.

QUESTION: But – right, okay, so they were in violation of the JPOA?

MS. PSAKI: No, that’s not what I said.

QUESTION: Well, why can’t you talk about –

QUESTION: Well, then why was it – why did it need to be fixed, then?

MS. PSAKI: Because we felt that it was a violation of what the IAEA requirements were.

QUESTION: Why can you talk about this aspect of the report, but not the other one that Matt has been (inaudible) you about?

MS. PSAKI: Because this was a specific report – in general, as a policy, Arshad, we don’t comment on reports before the final has been released. When there are issues that are raised that are in the news that all of you report, we try to be as responsive as we can.

QUESTION: Could I ask you --

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Iran?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Okay.

QUESTION: Could I ask you about the meeting in Muscat, Oman?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: What does it hope to achieve? And how is it – how does it fit into, let’s say, the meeting on the 24th? How is it juxtaposed against it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there – this was – these were important meetings, of course. And we’re still very focused on making progress and seeing if we can get a deal done before the deadline in all of our meetings. There’s still time to do so. This was an opportunity to have follow-on discussions with Secretary Kerry, EU High Representative Ashton, Foreign Minister Zarif. They had two lengthy meetings yesterday; two today as well. The discussions have been tough, direct, and serious. And as you know, the political directors will continue to stay in Oman for a yet-to-be-determined amount of time. They’ll be reconvening, of course, for the already-announced round of meetings that are next week in Europe.

QUESTION: Do you think it’ll become any clearer after this set of talks whether a deal is actually achievable in the next two weeks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we continue to assess that, obviously, with every meeting we have. But there continue to be – it’s pieces of a puzzle, so it’s hard to assess exactly what it will mean. It’s just continuing to chip away at a very challenging issue.

QUESTION: The talks went into a second day today, which had been unscheduled.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Yes.

QUESTION: Why did the – all sides decide that those were necessary, these meetings today were necessary?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it was always an option in our internal planning for the Secretary to stay longer, given there was room in his schedule before heading to Beijing. So it was always possible if we thought there was a reason for him to stay a little bit longer. It doesn’t mean that any major development changed. It just meant that he felt it would be and we felt it would be productive to continue the discussions.

QUESTION: Because there was enough progress in the talks that it made sense to keep going, or – I mean, it doesn’t – just because he had a little time to kill doesn’t --

MS. PSAKI: He wouldn’t have stayed had he felt it wasn’t productive to continue to stay, and that’s why he remained in a little bit of extra – an extra day, I guess.

QUESTION: Can I ask --

QUESTION: And there was – sorry, Matt – there was plans for – it was staged in the hotel while these talks were going on for a press conference possibly between – three or four-way press conference, including the Omanis, and that was – that didn’t happen. Was there any reason why it didn’t happen?

MS. PSAKI: There was never – we plan for every contingency everywhere we go, and often there are press conference setups that don’t actually happen because that’s how we prepare for things. But there wasn’t a plan at any point for a press conference.

QUESTION: Do you plan for every contingency?

MS. PSAKI: Almost every, Matt.

QUESTION: How about an attack of giant spiders?

MS. PSAKI: We plan as best as we can.

QUESTION: Is that – what’s the – no, I have a serious question.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The Israelis, as you know, are extremely concerned about what the – what’s happening in the negotiations, and extremely worried that you guys are going to accept a deal that is a bad deal in spite of the fact – despite the fact that you say that no deal is better than a bad deal. The Vice President today repeated this in his speech, and yet Prime Minister Netanyahu is still under the impression – I don’t know why – that the Israelis are going to get the shaft here, they’re going to get the short end of the stick, that this existential threat that they believe is going to come out on top as a victor in these negotiations.

One, Prime Minister Netanyahu says that Israel will not accept any deal that allows Iran to stay on the pathway. Does – do you believe that Israel has a vote?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Since it’s not part of the negotiations, does the – do the Israeli concerns have merit, one; and two, do they get to veto it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, technically, Israel is not a part of the P5+1. However, because we feel their view and their voice is important, we have continued to brief them as much or more than any other country outside of the P5+1. And those discussions are ongoing. And what we convey to them privately is that this is a deal that’s still in the discussion process --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- and obviously you haven’t seen the final product yet.

QUESTION: Right. But given the fact that you – well, the – if you say that you’ve been briefing them more than any country outside of the P5+1 and their concerns are getting higher rather than lower, like, is there still something problematic?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t know if that’s an accurate – they’ve been expressing similar concerns from the beginning. But our view continues to be that Israel – there’s no question Israel will be safer if Iran does not – is not able to acquire a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Okay, all right. So – and then just apropos of what you just said but also the letter, non-letter – the “Dear Supreme Leader” letter – have you seen the plan that Khamenei put out or people close to him put out for the destruction – eventual destruction of the state of Israel?

QUESTION: Which he tweeted about today, by the way.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, I saw that. I saw it.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: We did see it. We strongly condemn the hateful remarks made about Israel on Twitter from an account linked to the supreme leader. The remarks are offensive and reprehensible, and the entire international community should condemn such rhetoric. This rhetoric is, unfortunately, not new, but it’s not conducive to regional security either.

QUESTION: Would you – would any kind of communication with the Iranians, whether it be in email or paper or conversations between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif, include a – expressions of concern about things like this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I – there isn’t one I have to read out for you, Matt, from their last two days of meetings.

QUESTION: All right. So can you see how from the Israeli point of view – I’ll stop and you can go – from the Israeli point of view, if you’re not bringing these things up, this – which pose, I mean, literally an existential threat to Israel, that that’s a problem for them?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I just publicly conveyed it strongly.

QUESTION: I understand that. But if leader to leader, Kerry to Zarif, or president to supreme leader or whatever – I mean, can you say that you’re bringing this kind of thing to their attention and condemning it to them personally, rather than just to us here?

MS. PSAKI: We’re condemning it publicly. I don’t have any more condemning to read out for you.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to pick up on that – I mean, this is coming at a time where you’re working towards a nuclear deal. The President is making overtures to the supreme leader. I mean, what kind of – yes, vitriolic comments by Iran are nothing new, but they come amid this kind of sensitive time right now where the nuclear deadline is approaching, you are looking for their cooperation in the region. And what does that say about their intentions to have some kind of broader positive role in the region?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think this is about their broader positive role in the region or trusting with them. This is about their – them agreeing to take steps to change their nuclear weapons capability.

QUESTION: I understand. But even if you have a nuclear weapon, they’re still looking to wipe – annihilate, in the quote – in the words of the supreme leader, to annihilate Israel, and are explaining how they feel that that could be done.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Elise, if we prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, which is the purpose of the entire negotiation, we certainly make that much more challenging to even pursue.

QUESTION: Well, he seems to have a whole other bunch of ways that you can annihilate Israel, though.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think their ability or their path toward acquiring a nuclear weapon is the biggest threat to the international community.

QUESTION: So even – so let’s say that you get a nuclear deal and it does, obviously, eliminate a big threat to Israel. Is it okay that they’re continuing the – on this --

MS. PSAKI: I think I just clearly conveyed it wasn’t okay.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you – you said that you share with Israel more than any other country. Does that mean that the Gulf countries or Saudi Arabia are less of a --

MS. PSAKI: I appreciate your question, Said. I did not intend to do a ranking. I just intended --

QUESTION: No, no, I – no, I’m – it’s a serious question. I want --

MS. PSAKI: I just intended to convey there are a number of countries, included the ones you just referenced, that we have regular conversations and briefings and discussions with.

QUESTION: Right, okay.

MS. PSAKI: But there are – Israel is one of the countries that we have stayed in very, very close contact with about the process of these nuclear negotiations.

QUESTION: Well, to be fair – I mean, Iran does not threaten Saudia Arabia with annihilation, unlike what it does Israel. So we understand that.

And the other point is: Do you that Mr. Zarif or even President Rouhani has some sort of influence on the supreme leader that they can tell him, actually, that you are complicating our negotiations?

MS. PSAKI: In terms of Iranian politics, Said, I would certainly point you to them.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

QUESTION: Oh, can we just stay on --

MS. PSAKI: Finish Iran?

QUESTION: On Israel.

MS. PSAKI: Israel. Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just the latest developments in Jerusalem --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and the stabbing in the West Bank.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, sure, sure.

QUESTION: Or Tel Aviv and – Tel Aviv and the West Bank.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, there are, unfortunately, a couple of events.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: So let me just speak to all of them. We strongly condemn the stabbings – the stabbing today in the West Bank and we deeply regret the loss of life. Our condolences go out to the victim’s family. It is absolutely critical that parties take every possible measure to protect civilians and de-escalate tensions.

We are also seeking additional information surrounding the incident of the Israeli Arab who was shot with – who was shot as well with a live bullet. We’re looking for information surrounding this incident. We’re in touch – close touch with the ministry of justice. And of course, we urge all parties to exercise restraint. Obviously, these events happened over the course of the last 12 to 24 hours, so I don’t have more details than what’s been out there at this point.

QUESTION: All right. I’m just going to assume – but correct me if I’m wrong – that when you say all parties’ restraint, you’re talking about the – who are you talking about?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re talking about the Israelis, the Palestinians – any who are involved in these tension-raising, rhetoric-raising incidents.

QUESTION: Okay. But, I mean, if you’re standing at a bus stop or something and someone runs a car into you or comes up and stabs you, I don't know how – I mean, those people aren’t – don’t need to exercise restraint, do they?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think I’m referring to the fact that we know that there have been – there’s been rising tensions in the region --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- that has led to some of these incidents. I think we all are aware of that, so --

QUESTION: All right. In terms of the restraint and the rhetoric, are you seeing any – I mean, last week, you were pretty down on both sides, or you were up on – you were pleased with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s calls and the stuff that he did with the Jordanians about getting the tensions around the Temple Mount down, but you weren’t particularly happy with President Abbas. Has that changed?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, as I also said last week, I was speaking to one incident --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- of Prime Minister Netanyahu.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, there have been a range of issues and events that have led to the rising tensions in the region that both sides need to do more to fix.

QUESTION: Still?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Still. And can you point to anything significant along those lines over the course of the – over the weekend?

MS. PSAKI: Positive steps?

QUESTION: Positive or negative.

MS. PSAKI: There aren’t any positive steps I have to --

QUESTION: There are no positive steps, correct?

MS. PSAKI: No additional, no.

QUESTION: Let me ask you, though – this area, like, in Hebron is not under the authority of the Palestinian Authority. So basically, it’s – it is the Israeli occupation forces that are responsible for that area. Would you call for the Palestinians perhaps to exercise more authority and perhaps they can stop these incidents from happening, to make sure they look after the bus stops and other places where Israeli settlers may be exposed to danger or to attacks?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Would you call for a more --

MS. PSAKI: Said, I think we don’t have a lot of details at this point in terms of why these events happened, who’s responsible. So it’s hard to assess what the solution should be without having more details.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Could you talk about the case of Stacey Addison?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There was a meeting on Friday between the East Timorese ambassador and U.S. officials.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. There was a meeting, as you referenced, on Friday. We aren’t going to go into too many details about our diplomatic discussions, but obviously, we expressed concern about – that Dr. Addison receive due process, and our hope for a prompt and transparent resolution to the case. We were assured that our concerns would be raised at the highest levels in East Timor by the ambassador as well.

QUESTION: Could you say who from this building went?

MS. PSAKI: A senior official from our EAP bureau.

QUESTION: Where are you on what – you say – are you saying that you’re concerned that she was not afforded due process by the kind of re-arrest, her re-arrest?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the fact that we didn’t have any information leading – that I spoke about this a bit on Friday --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: -- about which – what the specific charges were. Obviously, she was rearrested without indication in advance as to why or what that was about, and obviously, those do raise concerns, and we’ve raised those as well with them.

QUESTION: Now --

QUESTION: Did you get clarification on the charges?

MS. PSAKI: This was simply a meeting to discuss the issue and to raise it at higher levels.

QUESTION: Now, apparently, this cab driver or whatever and also the person that was arrested said that she had no connection to any of this. I mean, do you think she should be released?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this is a case, obviously, where we’re working closely with the government officials. We are in close contact with her. There’s a process that’s playing out there. But beyond that, I don’t have any updates from her.

QUESTION: But do you see any – that she broke any East Timorese laws, or do you think that she should --

MS. PSAKI: Well, there haven’t been charges issued at this point in time --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- that we’re aware of.

QUESTION: Right. And are you saying that you don’t think that there’s enough to warrant charges and she should be released? When you call for a prompt and transparent resolution to this case, does – are you suggesting that you think that she should be released as soon as possible?

MS. PSAKI: Well, she was conditionally released earlier in September and then she was rearrested. Obviously, we have significant concerns about this case which we have expressed.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Can I go to Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: First off, I wonder if you could answer some queries from the – over the weekend.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There were suggestions that ISIL had laid some bombs or planned to attack the embassy in Sana’a. Obviously, that attack didn’t go ahead, I guess, because we would have heard of it by now. But is that something that you’re aware of? Do you know the details of that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have specific details on that. I will say – and we put this out earlier today – that in response to changing security – the changing security situation in Yemen, we have further reduced our American personnel working in Yemen. And this ordered departure refers solely to the reduction in staff numbers due to unstable conditions in the host country. Obviously, we’ve all been watching what’s been happening on the ground there, but I don’t believe it was related to a specific threat.

QUESTION: If you’re reducing the staffing, you’d already reduced it once. Who was left to reduce? Who does it – who does this order cover?

MS. PSAKI: Well, for – let me be clear on one thing we – before I get to that point. We are operating on – we reduced it and then we returned staff.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So we’re operating with reduced staffing until conditions warrant a return, but we still – our consular services are continuing to run, the embassy’s continuing to operate normally, and even consular services have not been affected by implementation of ordered departure.

QUESTION: So it remains open?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: It is open?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Today --

QUESTION: And I wondered if I could ask also about – the U.S. Treasury unveiled some kind of sanctions against former President Saleh and two commanders from the Houthi.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is that in response to the UN resolution or the UN move that was brought in on Friday? Or is it something that’s separate?

MS. PSAKI: It was, as you know, as a member country of the UN Security Council when they put in place sanctions. And obviously, as a member country, we would do that as well. So the Treasury release, which outlines the specifics of it, of course, makes clear that the action was taken in conjunction with the unanimous UN Security Council action that happened on Friday.

QUESTION: What practical effect will it have on --

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: I mean, do they have assets in the United States?

MS. PSAKI: As you know, we don’t typically assess that in a public manner. I can go back to Treasury and see if there’s more. But it means that all assets of those designated that are located in the United States or in control of U.S. persons are frozen and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them. But the fact that this was a UN Security Council resolution and these were names, of course, that were approved, means other member countries would likely be implementing this as well. So it’s not just the United States.

QUESTION: What was it that prompted this action particularly?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’d long, I think, in the UN Security Council resolution – or I should say information they put out, they made clear that this was about individuals who were undermining the political process in Yemen, obstructing the implementation of its political transition as outlined by agreements from November of 2011. So there had been the UN Security Council Resolution 2140 that had been passed to allow for this, and this was just that names were added to that list.

QUESTION: But that – that information that came out on Friday from the – at the UN was pretty specific and quite damning in suggesting that ex-President Saleh conspired with AQAP. Is that – I’m presuming, but I want to make sure, that that is the view of the entire Administration that this guy who Secretary Clinton went and met in Sana’a is actually actively conspiring with one of your – one of the top al-Qaida affiliates.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think if we look at the last couple of months in Yemen, we’re talking about specific actions that were taken by those who were designated over the course of that time that have prohibited the implementation of some of these transitions that had been approved some time ago. So we’re talking about recent actions, not actions from a couple of years ago.

QUESTION: Any reaction to the formation of the new government?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, sure. We welcome the formation of a new cabinet in Yemen and commend the efforts of President Hadi, Prime Minister Baha, the country’s political leadership, and Yemen’s diverse communities to come together to form an inclusive government that can better meet the aspirations of the Yemeni people. We remain fully committed – firmly committed to supporting all Yemenis as they work to implement the September 21st Peace and National Partnership Agreement, the National Dialogue outcomes, and the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative, which collectively form the foundation for a peaceful and prosperous Yemen.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on Yemen --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- I think the Treasury also calls Saleh one of the bigger advocates of violence and so on. But let me ask you, since this – the agreement that saw the transition way back then was brokered by the GC – yeah, the Gulf Cooperation Council, GCC – do you expect them also to impose the same kind of sanctions on Saleh?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, individual countries make their decisions, but typically member countries of the UN will follow the UN Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: Because he has – I mean, he has investments and so on in all of these countries and personal loss of money and so on. So this – it’s an area where it can actually have a real bite.

MS. PSAKI: Well, that is the impact of sanctions and why they’re serious when they come from the Security Council.

Go ahead. On Yemen or a new topic?

QUESTION: A new topic, please.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Yesterday Catalonia held a referendum to decide its independence or not from Spain. The Spanish Government has deemed that referendum is illegal and doesn’t recognize it. Does the U.S. Administration have any view regarding (a) the referendum, (b) the possible independent Catalonia?

MS. PSAKI: This is an internal matter for Spain.

QUESTION: Is it binding? I mean, I thought the referendum --

MS. PSAKI: It’s not – no, it’s not binding, actually.

QUESTION: China trip?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: Two questions.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: One, as far as Secretary’s and President’s visit to China is concerned, many groups, including the religious freedoms and Committee to Protect Journalists and democracy and religious freedom and freedom of the press, they’re calling on the President and the Secretary to bring this issue before the Chinese because – and now, of course, there are Hong Kong democracy groups. Are – these issues are going to come up or has come up during those meetings?

MS. PSAKI: Human rights issues are always a part of the discussion we have with the Chinese.

Scott.

QUESTION: Do you have a statement on --

QUESTION: Can I stick with China?

MS. PSAKI: On China?

QUESTION: Sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Is yours on China, Scott, or can we go to China? Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just wondered if there was any reaction from this building on the meeting today between the Chinese president and the Japanese prime minister.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, as we said last week when they put out their four-point statement, obviously, dialogue between the two countries and a positive relationship is something that we feel is important for not only relations between the countries, but peace and prosperity for the region and the world. So we certainly welcome the meeting between the Chinese president and the Japanese prime minister. I know they’ve done a little bit of readouts on their end about the specifics of it, so I’d point you to that.

QUESTION: I mean, obviously, we won’t know, but it did look like the handshake was particularly icy. Does it suggest that perhaps the talks have a long way to go yet?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think any one – and I think they stated this as well, the different leaders, that obviously there is – there are some issues where they agree on and some they don’t. But certainly, sitting down and meeting is still a positive step forward.

QUESTION: Just one more follow-up?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any reactions about the coral poaching in the region?

MS. PSAKI: The coral poaching in the region?

QUESTION: Right. Last week there had been a lot of news reports emerging about the Chinese vessels in Japanese waters poaching coral.

MS. PSAKI: I would have to check on that one for you, so why don’t you make sure we have all of your information and we can get you something right after the briefing.

QUESTION: Red coral.

QUESTION: Sorry --

MS. PSAKI: All right. Thanks for clarification. Go ahead. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: This was about the Abe-Putin meeting, and apparently they agreed that there was going to be preparation for Putin’s visit to Tokyo. And I wondered if you had any reaction to that considering that the United States and the West is trying to isolate Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we continue to convey that we believe that the actions taken by Russia as it relates to Ukraine are illegal and they violate international norms. Certainly, Japan has been a partner in that. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have meetings and dialogue. As you know, we have meetings and dialogue with the Russians as well. So perhaps they’ll bring up and raise issues related to Ukraine during their discussion. We’ll see.

QUESTION: Sorry. Does that mean that if they do have a dialogue, but if they don’t raise Ukraine, that you might find that problematic?

MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t conveying that. I was just more conveying that Japan has been a partner of ours as it relates to our concerns, the international community’s concerns about Russia’s incursions into Ukraine. But obviously, we have a dialogue with Russia about a range of issues, whether it’s the P5+1 talks or a range of chemical weapons or Syria, so we expect other countries will do the same.

QUESTION: So do you think that it’s a good thing that they’re going to have a meeting that is focused solely on the northern territory side?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on their meeting, so let’s see what they talk about. But basically, we understand that countries around the world engage with each other. That’s part of diplomacy, so --

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a question about the nomination of Tony Blinken?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. And what do you expect? When do you expect this to happen, confirmation and all of that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can’t predict that, Said. Obviously --

QUESTION: Okay, and in the interim?

MS. PSAKI: -- as is true of --

QUESTION: In the interim?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as is true of any important nomination, we certainly would like to see it happen as quickly as possible. I would remind you that while he was just nominated on Friday, and obviously to a very important position in the Department, we also have 60 ambassadors, some of whom have been waiting for hundreds of days to be confirmed.

QUESTION: Okay. I mean, that’s exactly the point. Do you expect that he would have to wait until all the 70s are either confirmed or not confirmed?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any analysis of that at this point in time.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Why don’t we go to Scott in the back? Go ahead, Scott.

QUESTION: Nigeria.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts on today’s attack?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. And you’re referring, of course, to the one on the students, I assume.

QUESTION: Correct. Yes.

MS. PSAKI: We condemn in the strongest terms the horrific attack on Nigerian students by a suicide bomber, which has reportedly killed dozens of students and wounded countless others at a school assembly in the northeastern Nigerian town of Potiskum, as well as other attacks on defenseless civilians this past week in Nigeria. Our sympathies and thoughts are with the victims and their families of these latest egregious assault on innocent civilians by those bent on fomenting violent extremism and insecurity in northeastern Nigeria and the region. We urge the Government of Nigeria to investigate these and other attacks to bring the perpetrators to justice.

QUESTION: So it’s evident that this talk of a ceasefire with Boko Haram over the past few weeks is just talk. Do you have any insight into whether there was a deal that fell apart or whether this was never actually ever going to happen and no one was ever going to N’Djamena?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there have been a ra