Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–February 9, 2015.
1:21 p.m. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone, thank you. I just have one item for all of you at the top.
General Allen and Ambassador McGurk met with His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan today in Amman, where they conveyed our deepest condolences for the murder of their soldier. General Allen and Ambassador McGurk affirmed the vital importance of the U.S.-Jordan partnership and praised the role Jordan is playing in coalition efforts to defeat ISIL, including the successful airstrikes by the Royal Jordanian Air Force against ISIL targets in Syria.
General Allen and Ambassador McGurk confirmed our solidarity with the people of Jordan and praised the King’s leadership in strengthening the coalition against ISIL, including in support for the new – support of the new Government of Iraq. They also welcomed the decision by the UAE to base its F-16s in Jordan for future strike missions against ISIL targets. General Allen and Ambassador McGurk finally discussed a variety of ways the U.S. and Jordan can further develop our cooperation across multiple lines of effort, including Jordan’s role in exposing ISIL’s false ideology and supporting Jordan’s – Jordan in its generous hosting of over 600,000 refugees. General Allen also met with Foreign Minister Judeh to discuss counter-ISIL coalition efforts.
Go ahead, Brad.
QUESTION: I’m sure we’ll get back into that later. Can we start on Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Without repeating the long – the details of the long press conference with the President and Chancellor Merkel, can you just clear up one thing for me regarding the Minsk talks? The U.S. will not be taking part in any role? It won’t even —
MS. PSAKI: You mean the meeting that’s scheduled for later this week?
QUESTION: For Wednesday, yes.
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct. We have remained in close coordination and close contact. As all of you or many of you know, the Secretary had participated in meetings this weekend with Chancellor Merkel and with President Poroshenko. The Secretary also was in Ukraine last Thursday. As you also know, there have been times in the last couple of months where there have been talks that the United States has been engaged in. There have been times where we haven’t been in the room. But either way, we share the same objective.
QUESTION: Why are you not at least sending an observer or at least going to monitor firsthand what’s going on there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we feel completely comfortable with the level of coordination we have with our European partners as well as the Ukrainians. And as you know, there have been – the Trilateral Contact Group, which has been ongoing and has not included official representation by the United States, but this is one of those topics we discuss nearly on a daily basis with our partners.
QUESTION: So this was a purely U.S. decision not to show up in any capacity?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think – I wouldn’t look at it about showing up or not. I think there was comfort with how this was being approached, and we’ve been closely coordinating with our partners.
QUESTION: But so just to —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: So the U.S. made this decision; it wasn’t that any one party at the talks asked that the U.S. not be invited or not come?
MS. PSAKI: I think there was agreement and support for the way that they were going about the talks, which, as you know, from the beginning was that French President Hollande, Chancellor Merkel were – they came to Ukraine after the Secretary came to Ukraine and they were planning to go to Moscow. The Secretary had spoken with his counterparts about that last Wednesday.
QUESTION: Can I just quickly follow up?
MS. PSAKI: On Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Now the German chancellor said that the Russians violated every aspect of the Minsk agreement. Such as? Can you share with us what were those violations?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think some of the key components of the Minsk agreements included a ceasefire that would allow Ukraine to control its own international border; the movement of heavy machinery, the heavy weapons of war out to the opposite side of the border; the release of political prisoners. There are several components of it; and what we have seen is that while Ukraine has taken steps to abide by and implement these steps, we have not seen the same from Russia.
So obviously, the Minsk agreement, which was signed by all the parties last September, those principles remain the basis of what we’re talking about. Because those are important principles to the Ukrainians, those are important principles that would help abide by the sovereignty – and protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. The question is where we go from here.
QUESTION: So just to follow up on Brad’s question: The meeting that is going to take place at the end of this week, will it sort of talk about – would it talk or discuss mechanisms to implement the former Minsk agreement, or is it going to come up with something new?
MS. PSAKI: That’s part of it, and there’s broad agreement that any agreement would need to abide by those principles. And that’s certainly – I think both the French and Germans have spoken to this. Obviously, they’ll be participating in the meetings, so I would certainly refer you to them.
QUESTION: And one last —
QUESTION: And so —
QUESTION: Yeah, one last question on Putin. He’s visiting – President – Russian President Putin is visiting Cairo.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is the fact that he is making a visit to Cairo while all this is going on, does it show or indicate that he’s basically not concerned about the Ukrainian crisis?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our focus is more on what he’s willing to implement in terms of the principles that I’ve just outlined. Obviously, countries have different relationships with other countries, and that certainly is true in this case. We don’t have details about what will happen on this trip, and I’m sure we can speak to that once we do.
Go ahead, Arshad.
QUESTION: Is a diplomatic solution in which the pro-Russian separatists are able to keep such territory as they have occupied since the previous Minsk agreement acceptable to you, to the United States of America?
MS. PSAKI: Well, can you spell that out a little more clearly?
QUESTION: Well, I mean, the basic question is whether any gains they have been able to make in terms of territory can be consolidated and kept by them.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there certainly is a discussion, as you know, about the international border and how that will be monitored. As you know, we also continue to believe that Ukraine not only includes all of these areas in eastern Ukraine that have been debated but Crimea as well. I can’t speak to what a final agreement or outcome will be at this point.
QUESTION: My question isn’t so much about the international border as the practical question of whether they get to remain in practical control, regardless of whether they can claim or you recognize their sovereignty over such areas as they’ve gotten over the last, whatever, five months it is. And the question is really: Do they get to consolidate their gains under a peace agreement, or do they have to roll back under an agreement on Wednesday or whenever?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly I think there’s debate about, as you know, what actually they “control,” quote/unquote. And so that certainly is part of the discussion. I understand why you’re asking. I think we’re discussing and consulting about where this is going and what it looks like, so I don’t have an answer for you at this point in time.
QUESTION: Could they freeze their positions right now? Would that be an acceptable outcome for the implementation —
MS. PSAKI: Again, we’re closely consulting, but I’m not – there are ongoing discussions and negotiations between all of the parties, so I’m not going to get ahead of where those things are.
QUESTION: I have a couple more ins and outs on Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: One, there was a chemical explosion today in the east that the rebels blamed on a military/government-ordered strike. Do you have any knowledge of what happened there? Are you in discussions?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe I have anything on that, Brad. I’m happy to talk to our team and see if we have any specifics. Is your question about the blaming of the —
MS. PSAKI: — Ukrainians and what we think the situation is, or what we know, I suppose?
QUESTION: Yeah, given that hitting a chemical plant in theory – not that I’m substantiating this – could have serious implications for local civilian populations.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I will check with our team on that. I had not talked to them about that this morning.
QUESTION: And the second thing: There’s been reports about cluster munitions used by the Ukrainian military. Is this something you’re in discussions with, and would that have implications for U.S. support, military or non-military?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have confirmation of what military equipment or military resources they have or haven’t used. I would remind you that we have encouraged both sides to take every step and every precaution to prevent civilian casualties, and that includes, of course, what kind of systems are being used and how they impact civilian populations. But also, Ukraine is defending their own territory and their own country, and I think there is an equating – I’m not saying you’re doing this, but there is an equating out there of how each side is operating, when really they’re defending their own country.
QUESTION: Given that, cluster munitions are a special case because they are banned by the majority of the world’s countries —
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t – I was conveying I don’t have any confirmation of those reports, but I know there have been questions about what equipment is being used and accusations, many of which are inaccurate.
QUESTION: Is the United States asking Ukraine about allegations of cluster munitions use?
MS. PSAKI: I have not even seen those allegations, so I’d have to check and see.
QUESTION: Human Rights Watch is among – I mean, they’re not completely spurious.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, I’m happy to check on them. Sure.
QUESTION: Can we go to ISIS?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let’s finish Ukraine.
QUESTION: Yeah, can —
MS. PSAKI: Let’s finish Ukraine before we go, and then I’m happy to go to ISIL. Any more on Ukraine before we continue? Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: I just wanted to start where you began at the top —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: — about General Allen.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: He gave statements yesterday basically suggesting that an assault, a ground assault maybe, is imminent. Could you clarify that?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not actually what he said, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. Well —
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to – I believe I have his quote in here somewhere, so let me check on that. One, I think any military action that would be taken in Iraq to address the threat of ISIL would be led by the Iraqi Security Forces. Obviously, they’re – continue to be in the training phase, and it remains our belief that they need to be ready.
Let me just pull up, I believe I have it in here, what exactly General Allen said. He said, “And in the weeks ahead when the Iraqi forces begin the ground campaign to take back Iraq, the coalition will provide major firepower associated with that.” So the Arab component will be in action supporting Iraqi Security Forces. We support their efforts. They would be in the lead. We want them to be prepared. I don’t have any other predictions beyond that.
QUESTION: But the message there is that second attack is imminent, correct?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t – I did not hear it or read it that way, and that is not what he was conveying.
QUESTION: Okay. The reason I’m asking this, because there has been talk about a spring offensive to liberate Mosul, and this has been going on for a long time. But then exactly 10 days ago or so, General Lloyd Austin, commander of the central command, said that that was not the case. He was – basically described that there is no coordination between the Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi forces, all of the different forces that need to be involved in any kind of ground assault to liberate Mosul, hence the confusion. So would you say now this confusion has been cleared?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there has been coordination. I don’t know what quote you’re referencing, but that’s inaccurate and not reflective of all of the coordination that’s happening. Obviously, the Department of Defense and the Government of Iraq would be the most appropriate entities to talk about operational planning; they don’t typically outline that publicly. So again, we’re working with them, we want them to be ready. Beyond that, I don’t have any predictions of additional next steps.
QUESTION: And finally from my side, also General Allen said – put the blame squarely on the former government of Nouri al-Maliki for the collapse of the Iraqi army back in June of last year, and then when Mosul fell to ISIS fighter. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, as we know, Said, and we’ve talked about a bit in here, there were – there was a lack of preparedness, certainly, by the security forces; many were taken by surprise. We talked about that quite extensively last winter. And there’s no question that we have encouraged, many countries in the region have encouraged Prime Minister Abadi to operate in a different way and to be more inclusive of the Sunni tribes, be more inclusive about how he is overseeing the building of the military. So I don’t think anything should come as a surprise in that regard.
QUESTION: Over the past two days, we’ve heard two different statements from Secretary Kerry – one in Germany. He said: If – like I want to quote him – if we don’t take these steps – he outlines the steps in the beginning in his remark – then you can absolutely bet that at this conference or another one, like in five years or ten years from now, our successors will be on this same stage talking about this same very topic. The terror groups may have different acronyms by then, and he goes on. And then also on the – a U.S. television station, he said we are on the road to defeat ISIS. What does he mean by that, by “on the road to defeat ISIS”? Also like the previous paragraph that I —
MS. PSAKI: Well, the previous paragraph, let me take that first. He was asked a question by an attendee at the Munich Security Conference about fears for our grandchildren and whether we could address the threats that we’re facing broadly about terrorism. It wasn’t specific to ISIL necessarily. Obviously, we’re talking about ISIL quite a bit for good reason given the threat that they pose. And his point was we have the ability to address these challenges. We need to work together. We need to invest to do that. But we don’t want to see a future generation or in 10 years from now having the same discussion. And terrorism is certainly one of the biggest threats we face.
I think that’s pretty self-explanatory, so I don’t think there should be any confusion.
QUESTION: And what about – like, doesn’t the two statements seem contradictory? One says we’re on the road to defeat, and the other one says defeating ISIS is almost impossible, unless you take so many steps, multi-dimensional strategy that includes culture, politics, blah, blah, blah – a lot of things that he outlines in his remark, and then we’re on the road to defeat ISIS.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I just said in my answer, he wasn’t talking just about ISIL. But there’s no question that we need to remain vigilant, and he said this in his remarks, which I’d certainly encourage you to take a look at. He talked about how we need to remain vigilant about all of the areas, the five lines of effort, which is part military but it’s also de-legitimization, it’s also going after foreign fighters, it’s also going after a range of financing, and those are steps – our work is not done. Yes, we have absolutely seen, and I can certainly give you some examples, which he did in the same interview that you’re quoting from, of what he meant by that.
We have – as you know, we have more than 60 partners contributing to this coalition. It’s a multipronged strategy. To date, the coalition has conducted more than 2,300 airstrikes against ISIL terrorists, over 1,200 in Iraq and over a thousand in Syria. We’re taking ISIL’s fighters, their commanders, over a thousand – we’ve taken out ISIL’s fighters, their commanders, and over a thousands vehicles and tanks, over 200 oil and gas facilities, the infrastructure – a great deal of the infrastructure, as well as over 20 training camps.
So we’ve seen a blunting of some of the momentum. Do we need to remain focused and vigilant and keep our partners committed, which we’ve seen that they are over the last week to this effort? Absolutely. So his point is we’ve seen some progress being made, and there’s specific evidence of that, but we need to continue this fight, and we need to remain focused on it, and that’s what he talked about quite a bit at the conference.
QUESTION: One more question, sorry. There also seems to be a difference between Germany’s position on the United States on supporting the Kurds. German foreign minister, sitting next to Secretary Kerry, said despite public criticism, I’m in favor of supporting the Peshmerga in northern Iraq by way of military equipment and weapons, and we’re going to continue doing that. But the as Senator Ted Cruz criticized the Obama Administration hasn’t been willing to directly arm the Kurds.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me be clear on the facts here and what we have provided. As you know, we provide assistance in coordination with the central Government of Iraq. Our policy remains that all arms transfers must be coordinated via the sovereign central Government of Iraq. This is a legal requirement under U.S. law.
But we also have a significant part of over – of the over 1,100 airstrikes that have been conducted in Iraq have been in support of Peshmerga operations. As for military equipment and response to Kurdish requests and with the coordination of the Government of Iraq, we have coordination – we have coordinated a coalition effort, including the Germans, to provide weapons. This includes heavy weapons and other equipment, including mortars, T-62 tank rounds for their over 100 existing tanks, vehicles, and counter-IED equipment.
To date, as a part of this effort, more than 3 million pounds of equipment in over 60 cargo flights have been delivered to Erbil – over 15,000 hand grenades, nearly 40 million rounds of light and heavy machine gun ammo, 18,000 assault rifles, 45,000 mortar rounds – I could keep going on and on. We’re also – we’ve also begun training the Peshmerga. So the fact is it just isn’t accurate to say we aren’t supporting. We’re supporting with a range of assistance, we’re coordinating the efforts of the coalition, and we’re doing that through the central Government of Iraq.
Go ahead, Arshad. Or did you have —
QUESTION: Were you specifically asked about the reported atrocities in Barwana in Diyala province in Iraq, and whether you have an opinion – whether the U.S. Government has an opinion as to whether – or an assessment as to whether it was indeed Shiite militias under the Badr Organization that carried these out? Those accounts have been given by local officials and by local residents. Whereas the head of the Badr Organization, who’s a member of parliament, today told us that his people had no involvement in this. Do you have an assessment of that?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t have an assessment from here. I will say that, one, these are of course serious allegations. The Government of Iraq is investigating them. U.S. officials from Washington and Baghdad have raised our concerns in the past with senior officials from the Government of Iraq regarding abusive tactics that have been reported and seen by the – some of the Shia militia. That’s been a concern that we’ve had.
We’ve seen, though, Prime Minister Abadi forcefully condemn those who perpetrated these attacks and take efforts to be more inclusive. So the prime minister has said he wants to conclude this investigation quickly. We’re certainly supportive of that. We have been concerned about past reports of these type of actions.
QUESTION: So the U.S. Government has decided, post the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, to try to assist the Government of Iraq in fighting ISIL. And you’ve ramped up your presence, as you suggested, and also airstrikes and so on. What makes the U.S. Government think that it will be better able to promote a nonsectarian state now with a smaller investment of U.S. forces, U.S. bombing, than it was when the United States had much greater leverage in the country because of the tens of thousands of troops and the much more heavy engagement in terms of money and so on that it had in the past?
MS. PSAKI: Well, one of the reasons, Arshad, is that there’s different leadership at the helm in Iraq. And we have seen efforts by the prime minister to be more inclusive, to bring in the Sunni tribes to implement a national guard, to crack down and condemn these type of actions, as have been reported. Is there more work to be done? Yes. But we know that leadership needs to come from within, and obviously that’s something we’ve been supportive of and advising them on, in terms of how to approach this. But the lack of inclusivity in the last government we see as a big problem as well.
QUESTION: But these are – I mean, in this case the issue is allegations of mass executions, burnings of homes by Shia militiamen —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: — who are – I mean, the prime minister is a Shia.
MS. PSAKI: Shia.
QUESTION: We’re not talking about not including the Sunnis here; we’re talking about reining in the Shia militias.
MS. PSAKI: I understand, but you also asked me a broad question about how we’re going to address the division and the sectarian division, which is also a question I just tried to address.
QUESTION: Right, that it depends on the leadership of Prime Minister al-Abadi, who you say has tried to take a more inclusive stance. But the point is however more inclusive his stance may have been vis-a-vis the Sunnis, if he is unable to rein in Shia militias from conducting mass executions of Sunnis and torching their homes after driving out or allegedly driving out ISIL forces, how is he going to be able to promote a nonsectarian society?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I also answered in my answer to you that he has also condemned these reports by the Shia militia. Yes, I’m well aware he’s a Shia, but the fact is he is also working to address what he has seen and perhaps was more allowed under past leadership, these abuses by unregulated militias, and recognizes that this is a problem. That’s why he has put in place major reforms of the Iraqi Security Forces. So that is an effort that is ongoing. Do we think that there needs to be more work done and he needs to continue to work on this effort and make clear to the entire population that he’s committed to it? Yes, absolutely. But we have seen him approach this in a more productive way than in the past.
QUESTION: Do you know, Jen – it’s not only that he’s a Shia, but the al-Badr Brigade that allegedly committed these massacres is very close to the prime minister. They come from the supreme council – Islamic council in Iraq, ISCI, which is a major party that did support all along al-Abadi and his predecessors and so on. So he does have a connection between this group and himself and his background, as a matter of fact.
MS. PSAKI: Well, and the point I was making, Said, is that as the leader of the country, he has taken steps to not only condemn these atrocities, but also take steps to crack down on the unregulated militias – excuse me.
Any more ISIL, or —
QUESTION: Yeah, related – on a question related to ISIL.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: There are six Bosnians – Bosnian Americans came here and were taken in for shipping material to fighters in Syria and Iraq. That apparently went through Turkey and Saudi Arabia. I was wondering, has there been any coordination with Turkey and Saudi Arabia on these investigations?
MS. PSAKI: Well, given this is happening, I believe, in the United States, I would refer you to the Department of Justice. It’s also an ongoing case. I don’t have anything else from here.
QUESTION: Do you know – a quick follow-up to this question. I mean, Turkey’s border remains really porous. I mean, despite all, we have figures that are really astounding – 20,000 that have basically gone through that border: a few thousand from Tunisia, 2,500 that came through Saudi Arabia; even France, 1,200. They all went through this border. So despite this fight that you are leading against ISIS, one of your major allies – certainly a major ally within NATO – is keeping the border open, basically complicated your effort to stamp it out or to defeat it, as the President said today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, one, Said, I’m not sure where – when your numbers are from or where they’re from, so I don’t have any validation of that. But obviously, as I mentioned —
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. Part of what I mentioned earlier in response to one of the questions is that our effort to degrade and defeat, destroy ISIL is – has five lines of effort. One of them is combatting foreign fighters. Part of that is working with countries to crack down on the ability to move as freely. We’ve seen actions taken in a range of countries, but that is one of the areas we’ve been working with Turkey and other countries to address.
QUESTION: Sorry. Just going back to Secretary Kerry’s statement that if there is not – if you don’t take the right strategy, we might still face the problem of terrorism 10 years from now. Does that also mean that so far – I mean, al-Qaida has been there at least – let’s say since 9/11. Can you say so far the United States has had the wrong approach, that’s why we have ISIS now?
MS. PSAKI: No, I wouldn’t say that. We’ve talked about this question extensively, and the reasons and the root causes of the growth of ISIL. There are – and the Secretary spoke about this as well this weekend. One is Bashar al-Assad allowed ISIL to grow and prosper in his own country. He allowed terrorist safe havens. He was the biggest magnet for terrorism that we’ve seen. We also saw that the Iraqi Security Forces needed to build up their capabilities – that’s been a process that has been ongoing – to push back. We’ve seen that there haven’t been economic opportunities, an alternative presented to young people who are recruited. So we’re going after every single component in order to address this threat.
On al-Qaida, you know we’ve gone after and had a great deal of success in going after core al-Qaida. There are still remnants of al-Qaida in different countries around the world which we have been concerned about and we said at the time was where our concern sat.
I think there’s no question that, in the world, terrorism is one of the biggest threats that we face. It remains a topic of discussion with our global partners because we want to do everything we can to coordinate to address it.
Okay, let’s – go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have an update on Kayla Mueller, her whereabouts? And what has your communication been like with her family over the weekend?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional information to provide. We remain in close touch with her family – and obviously, our thoughts and prayers remain with her family and with her parents, as well as her brother and his family. Out of respect, certainly, for them, there’s just not much more that I’m going to have to offer on it.
QUESTION: Can we change subject?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: On Syria, please. After the failure of Moscow talks between the regime and the opposition, is there any new approach to solve the problem or to – where are you moving to after Moscow?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we continue to believe that a diplomatic approach, a diplomatic – a political solution is the only way to bring an end to the suffering for the Syrian people. We’re open to a discussion about a range of mechanisms that that can happen through. I don’t have a next step for you. Obviously, Syria was a topic of discussion in the Secretary’s meetings over the course of the weekend, and we’re working with a range of partners to determine how we can approach this moving forward.
As you know, at the same, we are beginning our train and equip program next month. We’re continuing to provide a range of nonlethal and humanitarian assistance from here as well. As you know, we’re going after ISIL, and I just referenced the numbers in terms of more than 1,000 strikes in Syria. So there are a number of steps we’re taking at the same time.
QUESTION: Meanwhile, Jen, the Syrian regime has been bombing the civilians, and especially in some neighborhoods in Damascus. What can you do at this time to protect the civilians?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think this remains one of the primary topics, again, of discussion, of – with our global partners and what we’re trying to address through diplomatic channels. It also remains a focus of what our Department of Defense is doing leading up to next month with the train and equip program that they’re beginning next month. So there are a number of steps we’re taking. We have a special envoy, as you know – Daniel Rubinstein – who remains in close touch with the opposition, and this is a topic that we continue to look for a diplomatic path forward on.
QUESTION: Did you mean to imply that he had – he discussed Syria with the Iranian foreign minister in Munich?
MS. PSAKI: No. I said with his – with Foreign Minister Lavrov he discussed it with; I believe also with – briefly with Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry, if I remember correctly, but I’d have to double check on that one, because it was one-on-one.
QUESTION: Yeah. One technical question.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you pronounce Daniel Rubinstein or Rubinsteen?
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s Rubinstein, but we’ll check on that for you, Samir, so you can talk about him a lot on the air.
QUESTION: Thank you. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Brad.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about Iran. The supreme leader made some comments to air force officers over the weekend, and he seemed to reject the entire process right now that’s going on, saying that he’s opposed to any agreement of principles that would be followed up with an agreement on details. And he also raised a demand that all sanctions have to be lifted at once, which is against the entire U.S. approach to how it wants to use its leverage of sanctions. Where does that leave negotiations with Iran and how do you hope to convince Ayatollah Khamenei in the weeks that remain that a framework is worth pursuing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to have much analysis of the supreme leader’s comments. We all know from past history and past comments that there’s certainly a political audience in Iran as well that often is the intended audience of comments. I will say that doesn’t reflect the negotiations and what’s ongoing. I think there’s an understanding that while these issues are very difficult, and we’ve been very clear we have – we’re pretty firm about our sanctions regime and what would be required in order to make changes to that. And as you know, these negotiations and discussions are ongoing and they continue.
QUESTION: So you’re not considering lifting the sanctions at once, which in the past, at least, you’ve always been opposed to.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Nothing has change don our position on that, no.
QUESTION: And then just on the process, it’s all well and good to say that the negotiators agree on a process forward since the last extension, but if the supreme leader of the country is expressly ruling out a framework approach, where does that leave you? I mean, that’s the head of the country.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any analysis of what that means in terms of the reality of the impact on the Iranian side of the negotiations. They are negotiating, people know they’re negotiating. So I don’t have any analysis of the meaning of his comments.
QUESTION: But you’re not negotiating with negotiators. You’re negotiating with a government and a country that you want to deliver on an agreement, not negotiators who sign paper and you don’t know what that’s going to mean in that country.
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, Brad, but I don’t have any additional insight for you into the meaning or the reasoning behind his comments.
QUESTION: Are you asking the Iranians for clarification given that this is coming up so late in the game?
MS. PSAKI: We’re not. We’re continuing our negotiations and discussions. There has been a long history of comments that are similar.
QUESTION: And you’ve heard nothing from the Iranian party in the talks that suggest they’re wavering on what they agreed to just two months ago?
MS. PSAKI: Well, these talks are ongoing. I’m not sure what you mean in terms of two months ago.
QUESTION: That they – in November when the talks were extended, you guys agreed on a certain path forward that by the end of March you would have a framework or an agreement on principles and the details would be followed up —
MS. PSAKI: That remains our goal. And Foreign Minister Zarif did an entire panel at the Munich Security Conference where he talked about these negotiations, so I’d point you to that.
QUESTION: So you’re convinced that remains the Iranian goal as well?
MS. PSAKI: It remains – we’ve clearly stated this publicly. Obviously, whether or not this is delivered on will be determined by whether decisions are willing to be made.
QUESTION: Can we go to Bahrain?
MS. PSAKI: Can we finish Iran? Is that okay?
QUESTION: Oh, yeah. Please. Yeah, of course.
MS. PSAKI: Any —
QUESTION: Very quickly, yesterday Secretary Kerry on Meet the Press said that there’s not likely to be an extension if the talks fail.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Could you confirm that?
MS. PSAKI: The President of the United States just said something very similar. He said – the Secretary said, “The only chance I can see of an extension at this point in time would be that you really have the outlines of an agreement.” And the President said something very similar in his press conference.
QUESTION: So what does that mean, “outlines of an agreement”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as we’ve talked about several times, Said, our goal here is to come to an agreement on a political framework by the end of March. The extension is through the end of June. But that remains our goal, what we’re focused on.
Do you want to go to Bahrain?
QUESTION: So just to understand that, the extension that if you had an agreement on some sort of – so essentially, you’re not thinking about potentially extending the March deadline, but if you have something by March and the technical details go on, then the June one could be a softer deadline. Is that the way to read it?
MS. PSAKI: No. I think we see the end of June as the – that’s when technically the JPOA is extended until. Our goal remains coming to a political framework by the end of March. And I think what you heard from the Secretary and the President is that the longer time goes on, it doesn’t become easier. And so that remains our goal and our focus, and there are – is a lot of technical work that would need to be done with annexes, et cetera. So that would be what that time would be spent on.
QUESTION: Right. I just asked – I think the President said you couldn’t do it without a basis for an extension, along the lines of you need a reason for it.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: But that seems to me that the March is a fixed deadline; there can’t be an extension since the framework is supposed to be the basis, right? You can’t have a basis of a basis, right?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s no – but the JPOA is technically extended through the end of June.
MS. PSAKI: That doesn’t change the fact that the Secretary and many other senior officials have been very vocal about our goal of achieving a political framework by the end of March, because we need the time to go through the annexes and the very difficult technical details.
QUESTION: So that – so what you just said seems to imply to me that that’s not a fixed hard deadline, the end of March, because that’s not actually part of the JPOA extension. Is that right?
MS. PSAKI: No. What I was conveying is —
QUESTION: It’s a goal, but —
MS. PSAKI: Yes. It is a goal, it remains a goal. But – and the Secretary has been very vocal about that. So I don’t – we’ve never called it a deadline; we’ve called it a goal of when we want to achieve the political framework.
QUESTION: Okay. So if it’s March 31st – sorry to beat on this point —
MS. PSAKI: It’s okay.
QUESTION: — because there’s a lot of discussion about this in this – outside this building.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: If it’s March 31st and you still think there’s scope to reach a deal by the end of June but you don’t have all of the details of your framework or basis or principles agreed upon, that doesn’t mean the talks are over. You can go into April to get a framework.
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ll have to discuss that and determine at that point in time. We’re not there yet.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I’d asked you I think a week ago about the closure of the new Saudi-funded television channel. And you took the question; somebody got back to me basically saying you had no comment at that time.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So it’s been a week and the Bahraini Government has now confirmed that they have indeed shut down the TV channel. And in their explanation, one of the things that they’re quoted as saying is that the station did not do enough to fight terrorism. What’s your view on the Bahraini Government shutting down a television broadcaster because it was not sufficiently anti-terrorist?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve certainly seen the media reports that the Bahrainis suspended the operations of Alarab television station. As you know, media freedom and the larger issue of freedom of speech are cornerstones of an open society and something that we talk about and raise with governments regularly. I don’t have more details on it. We’ve seen the reports, but I don’t have more specifics on the allegations.
QUESTION: Well, have you raised this with the Bahraini Government?
MS. PSAKI: I’m certainly happy to check and see if our team on the ground has raised —
QUESTION: Can you?
MS. PSAKI: — this particular issue with the television station.
QUESTION: Thank you. Because if you cite the fact that you have in the past raised such issues and you’re all in favor of freedom of the press, but if you haven’t actually raised it in this instance a week after they shut it down, it suggests maybe your devotion to this concern is not so great in the country of Bahrain.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think our past record confirms that. But I’m happy to check on your question.
QUESTION: On this issue. The reason they’re shutting down is because they interviewed an opposition figure. That’s all they did. They shut it down the following day; now it seems to be shut down permanently. So —
MS. PSAKI: I appreciate your speculation. I told Arshad I’d check on it; I’m happy to.
QUESTION: No, no; not speculation.
MS. PSAKI: Let’s move on. Go ahead.
QUESTION: It is not a —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead in the back. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: On North Korea?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: North Korea fires five short-range missiles into East Sea in South Korea. Any comment on this?
MS. PSAKI: We are certainly aware of the reports. I don’t have any confirmation from here that that launch occurred. We’ve seen the reports. We’d certainly – I would reiterate our call on North Korea to immediately cease all threats, reduce tensions, and take the steps toward denuclearization needed to resume credible negotiations, but don’t have confirmation of those reports you referenced.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: After the response to the Taliban Five swap for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, is the Administration planning to swap more detainees in the future?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, that was a specific circumstance with an individual who was detained while he was in a war. And we made a decision that that was an appropriate step at the time. We don’t make predictions, and hopefully we’re not going to be in a circumstance where we have another individual who was serving our country who we have to bring home. So I don’t have anything for you on that.
QUESTION: Is anyone at Gitmo off the table?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, there’s an entire process that we go through to review what level and status individuals are who are at Gitmo and how we address that. We are in touch with a range of countries, but the President and the Secretary and everyone in the Administration wants to shut Gitmo down. So we’re taking steps to address this as best we can.
QUESTION: Are you affected by another case where it looks like a former Gitmo detainee went over to the Islamic State and was recently killed in a drone strike?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, I don’t speak to operational steps or reports, and I don’t have any confirmation of that.
QUESTION: Are you worried about rates of recidivism, given that these seem to be popping up even as you guys always say recidivism goes down?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the statistics on recidivism are pretty clear, Brad. I think detainees – pre-2009, detainees confirmed of re-engaging was 19 percent while detainees suspected of re-engaging was 14.3 percent. Post-2009, detainees confirmed of re-engaging was 6.8 percent while detainees suspected of re-engaging was 1.1 percent. So there is – and I talked about this a little bit, I believe it was a week or so ago, in terms of the precautions and the steps that we put in place to address concerns we have with countries on the ground.
QUESTION: Precautions in theory aren’t supposed to include unmanned aerial vehicles killing them from the sky. That’s a last resort, right?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation of the reports.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, Yemen. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I mean, could you update us on what’s going on in Yemen? We seem to be in the dark a little bit.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Did you have a specific question or —
QUESTION: Especially with all the – well, I have a specific question —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: — because the Houthis now are claiming that you have basically suggested or pressured the former – the president, Hadi, to resign; that they wanted to work with him but he —
MS. PSAKI: That we have?
QUESTION: Yes, the United States. I mean, that’s what they’re claiming, so I wonder if you have any comment on that. I’m not saying that you have. That’s what they’re —
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen that specific claim, Said. I don’t know if anyone else has seen that specific claim he’s referencing.
MS. PSAKI: But we remain deeply concerned about the Houthis’ February 6th declaration dissolving the Yemeni parliament and establishing the presidential council. We support efforts by the UN Special Representative to bring the parties together to resume an inclusive political dialogue. The political situation on the ground is incredibly fluid. We’re assessing the ramifications of the Houthis’ February 6th declaration as well as ongoing talks between Yemen’s factions on the way forward. So it’s an issue that we remain very closely in touch with. We’ve been clear on our readiness to engage with all sides to help move forward Yemen’s political transition. This was obviously a topic of discussion when the Secretary met with the GCC this weekend. But it’s a fluid situation on the ground, so I don’t have more of an evaluation for you.
But go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah – no, I just wanted to follow up on the GCC aspect, because they issued a statement basically blaming Iran for what’s going on in Yemen. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve talked in the past about our concerns about their problematic relationship.
QUESTION: I mean recent. The last couple days.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything specific about their involvement or engagement in recent actions.
QUESTION: Jen, on this, do you still consider President Hadi the president of Yemen?
MS. PSAKI: Well, according to the Yemeni constitution, President Hadi remains president until parliament meets to accept or reject his resignation. But the unilateral declaration – dissolution of parliament by the Houthis – because of that, the constitutional step cannot be taken. So this is what we’re continuing to assess.
QUESTION: Are you still in contact with him?
MS. PSAKI: We are – remain in contact with a range of parties and entities there. I don’t have more specifics to read out for you.
QUESTION: But I mean, that statement on the Yemeni process, I mean, in theory, President Hadi could die and as long as they don’t take that decision, the U.S. would consider Hadi the president of Yemen?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s technically what’s in their constitution, Brad.
QUESTION: Right. But —
MS. PSAKI: So that’s just what I’m speaking to. Obviously, as I mentioned, the situation on the ground and the political dynamics are incredibly fluid. So we’re working with the UN, with many partners. I mentioned it was discussed with the GCC to determine where we are and what the path forward is.
QUESTION: Do you know where President Hadi is now?
MS. PSAKI: He’s been under house arrest. I think you’re aware of that.
Any more on Yemen before we go on?
QUESTION: Yeah, on the —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Previously on the podium there was a discussion that the U.S. is in touch, is working with security forces in Yemen on counterterrorism. Could you perhaps give us a bit more information on who these – what section of the security forces is this and under whose authority do you understand them to fall under currently in Yemen?
MS. PSAKI: Whose authority do the Houthis fall under?
QUESTION: No, the security forces with whom you are coordinating and cooperating on the counterterrorism, which was said from this podium that we, the U.S. —
MS. PSAKI: I understand, and we certainly stand by that, of course. We have had longstanding partnerships with elements of the Yemeni security forces. Those continue. We don’t discuss the specifics of those, for obvious reasons: because they’re counterterrorism efforts and it’s not productive to outline more details publicly.
QUESTION: I’m just not clear under whose authority they currently fall. Are they under the Houthi authority? Are they under the previous government, which no longer exists, authority?
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of officials we’re in touch with. I’m not going to outline those. It’s not productive for the efforts to do that from the podium.
QUESTION: The same security forces that belong, let’s say, to the army in this case – the ones that are – they are giving loyalties to different groups. So how do you coordinate all of this – I mean, they’re taking sides. The security forces are taking sides. Some are with the Houthis and some are against them and so on, so it complicates whatever you are trying to do with them, correct?
MS. PSAKI: There’s no question the situation is complicated, but I’m not going to discuss our CT efforts more publicly.
QUESTION: If they are non-state actors at this point that you are working with, do you need different legal authorities to continue that cooperation?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of different legal authorities that are needed. I’m happy to check with our legal team.
QUESTION: Could you check on that, if you —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Jen, are you trying to help President Hadi to get his freedom back through Qatar, through —
MS. PSAKI: Well, we continue to believe that it’s up to the people of Yemen. Of course, we’re in touch with a range of parties. We believe that there should be discussions between the parties. I don’t have anything more to read out for you other than that.
QUESTION: Because you said there is a – he is under arrest now, and there is no constitution, there is nothing.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Who can help him? The people of Yemen cannot help him.
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything more to outline for you.
QUESTION: Was it a mistake to keep the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Yemen? Because now he seems to be wielding the most power in Yemen, working – coordinating —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re aware that we have supported actions taken by the UN Security Council in terms of sanctions, so I think you’re familiar with what our view is on him.
MS. PSAKI: Are we done with Yemen, or – okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I’m not sure if you’ll have anything on this —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: — but I wanted to ask about a publisher in Japan. They’re releasing a book on depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, and there’s new debate about whether that could lead to further violence or whether that’s harmful. I was just wondering if you had any reaction or thoughts about that topic.
MS. PSAKI: I think I may have something on this.
We believe that freedom of expression is a key element in every healthy democracy. There’s content published around the world every day we might take issue with, but that doesn’t mean we question the right of media outlets to publish that information, and I think that would be our view here as well.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: We spoke a little bit last week about claims or reports of increased ISIS activity in Libya, and you had said that the U.S. is, I guess, examining the difference with some of these groups between being an ISIS sympathizer versus getting operational support from ISIS.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I was wondering whether you’d sort of come to any conclusions on that, because there’s a new ISIS video released by their propaganda arm that highlights activity in Libya. It shows militants in Libya with ISIS flags and banners, and does that sort of change the assessment in this building of whether ISIS is providing tangible operational support to these groups that claim to be part of the Islamic State in Libya?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think anyone questions that ISIL has built up a – effective propaganda machine, and that’s one of the reasons why the de-legitimization of ISIL is one of the five lines of effort of the coalition. I don’t have any new assessment as it relates to the difference between the public statement of support and whether there is operational links between. We continue to monitor; we look very closely at this, but I don’t have any new evaluation today.
QUESTION: Because Libya is not the only place where we’re seeing more and more interest from groups allying themselves with ISIS. And I know this has been asked in this room before, but at what point does the Administration start to consider whether coalition efforts against ISIS need to go outside of Iraq and Syria for them to be effective?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think we evaluate broadly where ISIL poses a threat, but we haven’t seen in a lot of these areas – we haven’t seen the claim of support or the claim of connection be accurate in terms of the operational component. So I don’t have anything for you on internal discussions, but that’s something we watch closely. And obviously, in our strategy to take on a terrorist group like ISIL, we will continue to have discussions about what needs to be done.
QUESTION: Because then, also – I mean, just even tying back to the line of questioning that Brad had earlier about this – reports of this Gitmo detainee who was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan, he was reportedly there recruiting for ISIS in Afghanistan. So we’re seeing all these kind of reports pop up, and I mean – I know you said you weren’t going to comment on that one, but is there any connection between the U.S. decision to suddenly go after this guy a second time, this time with a drone, and the fact that he was now claiming to be a part of ISIS or to want to help ISIS?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything more on that particular report. Obviously, as we talked about a little bit last week, we watch very closely, but it’s not something I have a public analysis on for you.
QUESTION: I had a question last week on a report that suggested the EU was funding illegal Palestinian settlements in Area C. I think your colleague said that she would look into it. If you have something, that would be very, very interesting, since I don’t remember the last time this has come up.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let’s see, Brad. I can follow up with our team on this again. We’ve seen the report, which was produced by an Israeli nongovernmental advocacy organization. We support cooperative efforts by the Government of Israel, the Palestinians, and the international donor community to address the urgent needs of Palestinian communities living in Area C of the West Bank in a way that is consistent with existing agreements. So I’m not aware of a concern. Obviously, as you know, and I’m not sure if this is what it’s inferring, but we provide a range of assistance as well from here. But I can look into it a little more further.
QUESTION: So building dwellings by themselves are not necessarily a concern if they’re on the – if they’re for Palestinians?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me get a little more detail. I realize – I understand you have a little bit more of a question than what I was able to offer there, so —
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. All right.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:11 p.m.)