State Department Briefing by Jen Psaki, Dec. 18, 2014

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 18, 2014.

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.)

Source: state.gov