Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–November 20, 2014.
1:29 p.m. EST
MR. RATHKE: Good afternoon, everybody.
QUESTION: Good 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?
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.
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.
MR. RATHKE: No. Okay. Change the topic?
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.
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.
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 —
MR. RATHKE: We’ve spoken to numbers in the past —
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.)