Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–January 7, 2014.
- Chemical Weapons Removal
- Geneva II Planning / Iran
- Secretary Kerry to Meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov
- Influx of Foreign Fighters
- Dennis Rodman / Kenneth Bae
- SOUTH SUDAN
- Readout of Secretary Kerry’s Call with President Kiir
- Talks in Ethiopia / Role of Sudan / Detainees
- Readout of Vice President Biden Calls with Prime Minister Maliki and Speaker Nujaifi
- U.S. Support
- Status of Negotiations
1:12 p.m. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Well, welcome everybody visiting in the back, great to have you here in the briefing room. I don’t have anything at the top. So Matt and your lovely scarf, let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: Thank you. And the people of New Zealand appreciate it as well.
MS. PSAKI: He is giving a shout-out to the people of New Zealand, it should be noted.
QUESTION: Or at least their rugby team.
MS. PSAKI: Their rugby team at least. Okay.
QUESTION: Can we just start very briefly on Syria? You will have seen and probably know about the removal of at least some of the chemical weapons today —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — or some of the chemical weapons components. Do you have anything at all to say about that? Is this a positive first step —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — even though it’s a couple days or maybe even a week beyond when it was supposed to happen?
MS. PSAKI: We do. One moment.
Well, we, of course, welcome the announcement by the OPCW that an initial amount of priority chemical materials were removed from Syria today. This represents continued progress toward the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons program. Much more needs to be done. As the international community has made clear, it is the Assad regime’s responsibility to transport the chemicals to Latakia safely to facilitate their removal. We expect them to meet their obligations to do so. And of course, for further details, we’d refer to the OPCW mission.
QUESTION: Right. But are you satisfied with what happened today, in terms of the regime’s securing the route and the port?
MS. PSAKI: We have no reason to believe that the regime has gone back on any aspect of their promise.
QUESTION: All right. And then also related to Syria, but not specifically this, is – has the thinking about possible Iranian involvement in Geneva II evolved at all since where it was over the weekend or yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed since the Secretary spoke to it, since senior Administration officials spoke to it, since my colleague Marie spoke to it yesterday.
QUESTION: To follow up real quick —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The Syrian Government is saying that the public would like to see President Bashar Assad run again in 2015. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: The Syrian regime is saying that?
QUESTION: Well, a government spokesman. They’re saying that the Syrian public would like to see Bashar al-Assad run again for the presidency.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I haven’t seen those comments before I came down here, Said, but our position hasn’t changed that a brutal dictator who has killed tens of thousands of his people is not someone that we see a future for in the country of Syria.
QUESTION: They also say that priority number one is to fight terrorism, which obviously they are the opponents of the regime. So you have any comment on that? You would like to fight terrorism, correct, anywhere?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, I think you’re familiar with our —
MS. PSAKI: — commitment and views about fighting terrorism. I’m not sure I understand what your question is.
QUESTION: The question is he’s saying that the priority should be to fight terrorism. He’s actually drawing similarities between what is happening in Iraq, what is happening in Russia. And in many ways these people that do what they – their deeds, and Russia and Iraq and in Syria basically espouse the same ideology.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would caution anyone to be spun by the comments of the Syrian regime, comparing their brutality to – or trying to distract from their brutality. You know what our focus is, which is bringing an end to the civil war, bringing an end to the suffering and bloodshed of the Syrian people. That remains the case and hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: And finally he – they’re saying – the government is saying that any agreement concluded in Geneva should be subject to a public referendum. Would you agree with that kind of approach?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I haven’t seen those comments, but I think you’re pretty familiar with what our view is of a – the goal of a Geneva conference, which is, of course, putting in place to make – putting in place a process to make progress on implementation of a Geneva communique.
QUESTION: But —
MS. PSAKI: There are many components of that, including putting a transitional government in place. That’s what our focus is. Again, we’re not dealing with an actor here who has treated and represented the interests of his people. So I will leave it at that.
QUESTION: And you wouldn’t be opposed to having a referendum that is done in accordance with international standards?
MS. PSAKI: I think what our focus is, Said, right now is on bringing both sides to the table. It’s important to note that a Geneva conference on January 22nd would be the first time in this three-year conflict that both sides would be at the table to work to end the conflict.
Go ahead, Nadia.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — the Syrian Government is saying now it’s conditional, that their participation in Geneva II is based on making the focus of the conference is fighting terrorism. So they’re not talking about Geneva I. So my question to you is: How would you reconcile this position of having the conference on time if the Syrian Government, which is the main participant, are already saying to you that it’s not going to be Geneva I but actually the focus will be fighting terrorism?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there have been a range of comments from both sides over the past several months, as we all know. The focus of the conference has not changed. The goal of the conference has not changed. It is to implement the Geneva communique. It is to put a process in place to make progress in that. That has not changed. As we have said from the beginning, the Russians have played a pivotal role in bringing the regime to the table. They’ve said they would go. They have brought them to the table with those same conditions I just laid out in mind.
As you have seen reported, but I can of course confirm now, that the Secretary will be meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov on the 13th, this weekend. Part of that – a big part of their meeting will be focused on preparations and implementation – or preparations for the Geneva conference, bringing both sides to the table, and how they want to proceed from there.
QUESTION: So you’re still hoping that the Russians will deliver the Syrian Government, regardless of the rhetoric that they saying in public?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. And one last follow-up.
QUESTION: Sorry. Just on the Lavrov meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
MS. PSAKI: It’s in Paris. It will be on Paris on the 13th.
QUESTION: Okay. And I’m sorry, but the 13th I believe is Monday, not over the weekend.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sorry.
QUESTION: Is it —
MS. PSAKI: Sorry to be —
QUESTION: Just – no, I just want to make sure I’m looking at the right calendar.
MS. PSAKI: Maybe it’s actually over the weekend here. I was thinking time zones. Maybe not. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I mean —
MS. PSAKI: It is on the 13th, which is Monday.
QUESTION: It’s okay. I just —
MS. PSAKI: And we’ll have more details – one more thing.
MS. PSAKI: We’ll have more details on upcoming travel, I would expect, in the next 24 hours.
QUESTION: And just to follow up as well, the opposition are saying now they wanted a written agreement that you guys will make sure that Assad is not going to be a part of any solution. I know they keep changing their mind often and probably will show up, but do you think that this also will complicate things that they really have demands before attending Geneva II?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve been very clear that the only precondition to Geneva participation is support for implementation of a Geneva communique. We’ve also been clear about what our goal is here. We don’t want to see a future with Assad as a part of it, given his brutality, given what he’s done to his people. We have stated that countless times. The opposition should have no doubt about where the United States stands. But the goal of the conference, which has many players, including countries around the world, including the UN, has not changed either.
QUESTION: Jen —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — do you view that the differences between the opposition groups in Istanbul will affect the conference?
MS. PSAKI: The differences between the groups? Well, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are disagreements about the opposition strategy, given the horrible events on the ground. Those meetings are ongoing in Istanbul. We understand they’re not finished yet, so we’re not going to prejudge the outcome of them and where things stand at the outcome before it happens.
QUESTION: And do you expect them to take a decision favoring the participation in Geneva?
MS. PSAKI: That is certainly what we’re hopeful of and what we’ve been working toward.
QUESTION: Well, let’s put it this way: You said that the Russians have basically followed through or come through on their pledge to deliver the Syrian Government.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you believe that you will be able to come through on your pledge to deliver a credible and representative delegation from the opposition?
MS. PSAKI: We do, and that’s what we’re working with them on the ground to do.
QUESTION: Despite the fact that they keep issuing statements that they will not attend provided certain conditions are met like a preordained commitment that Assad will step aside?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, there have been, as I mentioned, a range of statements. We’re not going to read into those until the meetings are concluded and they’ve made an announcement about their decision.
QUESTION: Let me ask you something. How do you envision this conference? You have a big plenary session where everybody meets and they give speeches and so on, then you have the opposition and the regime with Lakhdar Brahimi or the UN team? Is that how you see it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of the UN announcement about the exact agenda, which is a good question that you’re asking. As you know, yesterday – and Marie mentioned, the UN officially issued their invitations. So there are more than two dozen countries that are invited, and we’re working through and the UN is working through exactly how the agenda and the process will take place. But the focus of these discussions and negotiations will be having the two parties at the table and discussing these tough issues.
QUESTION: Just one more on Syria.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Ban Ki-moon said today that they have not sent an official invitation to Iran.
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Is this something that you think it will – in the next few days that they will still extend that invitation, or you’re happy that there’s no invitation was sent to them, or —
MS. PSAKI: Our position on this hasn’t changed. And he indicated in December – the UN did – which countries they would be inviting. Yesterday was the official formal issuing of those invitations, so that was the process that took place. Our view has been that – and the Secretary reiterated this not once, not twice, but three times over the weekend – that unless Iran endorses, supports, embraces the Geneva communique, we wouldn’t support their attendance. Of course, it’s a decision for the UN to make, and I would point you to them for any more specifics on it.
QUESTION: If Iran —
QUESTION: Well, it does seem that you’re lowering the bar now a little bit. I mean, we discussed quite at length yesterday and we saw the briefing by the senior State Department official that if they – they may not have to actually endorse Geneva I, but if they could make some gesture to show that they’re willing to be helpful, that maybe there is some way, shape, or form that, even if they’re not a full participant at the foreign ministry level, that they could participate in some symbolic way without having to sign on to the whole communique itself.
MS. PSAKI: Well, first let me be absolutely clear here. I’m very familiar with these senior officials who were speaking. And one, nothing has changed about full participation by Iran in a Geneva conference. That has been, has always been, continues to be, unless they were to endorse, embrace, support the Geneva communique, that’s not something we feel should be considered.
Beyond that, the point that was being made – it was not an issuing of an invitation or an offer. It was making what should be a fairly obvious point, which is that at this point Iran has done nothing but help the regime, help bring foreign fighters in, help the regime’s efforts to brutalize the Syrian people. And if they wanted to send a message to the world about their seriousness of having a positive outcome, there are steps they could take. There’s no indication that they have any desire or interest in taking any of these steps.
QUESTION: Well, short of taking their fight – short of taking their fighters out of Syria that are battling the rebels, what – they’re a party to the fighting, so I don’t see how they could really be helpful if they’re a party to the fighting.
MS. PSAKI: I think you may have hit the nose on the – hit the – I’m going to mess up the analogy here.
QUESTION: Whatever. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Hit the nail on the head. Hit the nose.
QUESTION: I don’t get those either.
MS. PSAKI: I skipped a word there.
QUESTION: But it does sound like at the same time you acknowledge that Iran does have influence in this situation and that their participation in some way would be important, and so it does seem as if the goal —
MS. PSAKI: We did not say that their participation would be important. We’ve never said that. That’s not what the United States believes.
QUESTION: I’m not saying that you’re – it does seem, though, that there is an effort being made to kind of lower the goal post from accepting the full communique in order to have the price of admission so that they’ll be there in some way, whether it’s at a observer level or whether it’s at an ambassador level. I mean, there is an effort underway, can’t you acknowledge, to get Iran to the conference?
MS. PSAKI: I would not acknowledge that from the view of the United States. I think what the effort was was to state what should be, again, pretty obvious, which is there are steps that Iran could take to indicate to the international community that they want to see a positive outcome. There’s no indication that they’re going to do that or plan to do that. The United States position hasn’t changed on this. It’s less likely than likely that any of this would be worked through.
Obviously, this will be discussed this weekend with the London 11, with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and we’ll proceed from there.
QUESTION: So just —
QUESTION: But I’d point out that —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — first you said hit the nose on the head, and then Elise said lower the goal posts. Let’s try to get our —
QUESTION: Lower the bar, move the goal post.
MS. PSAKI: Elise and I —
QUESTION: The malaprops – the malaprops are going crazy here on Tuesday.
MS. PSAKI: — we need a cheat sheet on analogies. Yes, I was reaching for that.
QUESTION: Jen, you’re saying that – to understand you clearly, that Iran’s participation is not important. Is that what you’re saying?
MS. PSAKI: What I said, what I’m saying clearly here, Said, is that our position has been, continues to be, that unless Iran were to support the communique —
QUESTION: I understand —
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. Communique in order to be – then we would not – do not think they should be considered for participation. Iran has been supporting the regime. Everybody knows that. They have not indicated that they want to play a positive role in an outcome. That is different than other players who have been invited and are participating in the Geneva conference or planning to participate.
QUESTION: Okay. If Iran is excluded, it should be excluded on the basis that it is a party to the conflict?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Is that what you’re saying? It should be excluded on the basis that it is a party to the conflict or aids the regime? That’s the only reason?
MS. PSAKI: Iran has not —
QUESTION: Or is it because perhaps there are some other regional powers that have a veto on Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Iran has not – you are right that there are many in the international community that have strong feelings about whether or not Iran should participate. That certainly is a factor I’m certain the UN is factoring in. However, Iran has still not taken the step that we’ve been saying for months they should take. They’ve not indicated they plan to take the step. So our position remains the same.
Do we have any more on Syria?
QUESTION: Some more of the – some of the more conservative members of the Iranian political climate have suggested that having a lower level or a symbolic representation at Geneva II is, frankly, insulting to Iran, given how much influence they say they have on the regime. Was it that senior official’s intent to be in any way insulting or cast aspersions on Iranians’ usefulness at these talks?
MS. PSAKI: I think Iran is not currently participating in the talks so they don’t have a role at the talks. There wasn’t an offer or an invitation made. There hasn’t been one made by the United States, which wouldn’t even be our place to make, or the United Nations. So we’ll leave it at that.
Do we have any more on Syria? Go ahead, Elise.
QUESTION: Would you like to see Iran participate if it agrees to the terms of Geneva I?
MS. PSAKI: If they agree to the terms of Geneva I, then we would think —
QUESTION: You will find it to be useful?
MS. PSAKI: — then we would consider it. But obviously, that hasn’t happened. We – there’s no indication it will happen. We’re talking about a conference in two weeks.
QUESTION: But even though they are participating as fighters alongside the Assad regime, if they accept Geneva I, they can come right in?
MS. PSAKI: We will consider it at that point, if that were to happen, with all the factors. But again, there’s no indication that that’s the direction things are going in.
QUESTION: A Syria-Iraq question?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The Iraqi justice minister told —
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me – did you have one on Syria, Elise, or did you —
QUESTION: No, I have another —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: It’s Syria.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, Syria. Okay. Sorry. I thought you were going to Iraq. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. The Iraqi justice minister said yesterday in an interview with the Iraqi TV that Iraqi security forces allowed al-Qaida terrorists to flee from Iraqi prisons to go to Syria as part of a plot to help Assad regime to scare the U.S. against the removal of Assad.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I haven’t actually read those comments. I think we’ve said many times in here that there’s no question that the longstanding tensions in Iraq have been exploited – sectarian tensions have been exploited by the situation in Syria. And we have expressed a concern about the influx of fighters, about what’s been happening on the borders. So that’s not something that is new. But I don’t have – and I haven’t seen those specific comments that you’re mentioning.
QUESTION: Can you take the question?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, I’m happy to look into it.
QUESTION: Yeah, I want to ask about Dennis Rodman.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: He gave an interview to CNN. I’m sure maybe you saw it.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I won’t go into the whole outburst of it but —
QUESTION: 12 minutes.
QUESTION: Exactly. But he did speak about Kenneth Bae in a way that was kind of concerning to some people, in terms of making an indictment on his guilt, saying, well, you don’t know what he did and seeming that he had some facts in the case. And I’m wondering – I know that you’ve dismissed his trip as a private trip and have kind of separated him from Kenneth Bae because there’s not – you didn’t feel that there was anything he could do to seek his release.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But now the fact that he’s speaking on Kenneth Bae’s guilt in the country where you’re trying to get this man released. I’m wondering: Does that raise concerns about you that while this trip may not have been helpful in any sense, now it’s being harmful?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t have any specific comments on his comments. I did see the interview that he did. As you know, but it’s worth reiterating, we remain very committed to securing Kenneth Bae’s release and we remain gravely concerned about his health, and that is the focus of the United States Government. As we’ve said before, Mr. Rodman is not there representing the United States. People should remember that when they look at his comments and hear his comments. Our view has not changed on this, and we’re working through our own diplomatic channels and making every effort to secure his release.
QUESTION: You’re working through your own channels to get him released, but when someone who, for whatever reason – the leader of this country feels – respects him and respects his opinion is making an indictment on the man’s guilt – never mind what any of us think – I mean, do you think that that puts Mr. Bae in any jeopardy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we already are concerned about the situation he’s in, to be fair.
QUESTION: Further jeopardy.
MS. PSAKI: I’m just reiterating. I don’t have any further comments or analysis of the impact but other than to say that his comments are not representative of the views of the United States Government, because obviously he’s not speaking on our behalf and he’s not there on our behalf. So we’re working through our own channels. I’m not going to do more analysis of his comments and what they may or may not mean.
Do we have any more on that topic?
QUESTION: The NBA issued a statement —
MS. PSAKI: I saw that.
QUESTION: — distancing itself from Rodman and his intent to sort of entertain the supreme leader, whatever they call him there. Do you have a position on that? Do you discourage the players from playing for Kim Jong-un?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think – I know we’ve talked about this quite a bit – I’m not sure I have more analysis for you today. I did see the statement that was issued by the NBA, which is appropriate for them to issue it, on that particular topic. But beyond that, I’m not sure I have much more.
QUESTION: Well, one of the things that Commissioner Stern said in the statement was that there is a time and place for sports diplomacy —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — and this is not one of them, those times. Do you agree with that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, given he is not there as part of a government program or United States Government program – obviously, we don’t have a program right now with North Korea that’s sports diplomacy. So it’s not obviously something we’re actively supporting.
QUESTION: No, I understand that.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But I mean, the question is: Do you think that a private effort like this is worthwhile at all, or does it just complicate not only the situation with Mr. Bae, but your efforts to get the North back to the negotiating table on the nuclear issue?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are steps that, as we all know and we talk about quite a bit in here, the North Koreans can take if they want to return back to the negotiating table. I’m not going to do analysis of what his visit means for that or doesn’t mean for that. They could take steps if they wanted to take those steps. As we’ve talked about, the ball is in their court.
QUESTION: All right. Well, let’s —
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any more analysis of his visit and the impact.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, let me put it this way: If you did believe it was the time for sports diplomacy, would you have some kind of program in place, do you think?
MS. PSAKI: I think that’s a probably safe assumption, Matt.
QUESTION: Yes? All right. So you do not believe it is the time – you agree with the NBA – with Commissioner Stern —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to endorse or have any commentary on his comments. I’ll leave their statement as it is.
QUESTION: But on the flip side —
QUESTION: Sorry to belabor it, but do you think – I’m sorry. Do you think that this should be – should not be interpreted as a ping-pong diplomacy, let’s say, of decades past in time?
MS. PSAKI: Uh-oh, we’re introducing a new sport in here: ping-pong.
QUESTION: Okay. I understand. That should not be related in any way to what happened in China so many decades ago.
MS. PSAKI: Tell me what you mean by doing sports diplomacy in a country.
QUESTION: There were teams and players going – playing ping-pong and all this thing. It was a prelude for the opening to China.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) officially sanctioned.
MS. PSAKI: No one should lose sight of what our focus is with North Korea, which is, obviously, we’re focused on a denuclearized peninsula, North Korea to take steps, including abiding by the 2005 joint statement, abiding by their international obligations. They could – our focus right now should be on what the North Korean people are going through, the plight of the North Korean people, their lack of access to – of humanitarian access, of – to the resources they need. So that’s where we’re going to direct our focus on.
QUESTION: Well, to put it on the flip side, given that Rodman says that he’s doing whatever he’s doing as a private citizen, and given that even though the U.S. Government tells American citizens, “We don’t have relations with this country, we discourage you from going there,” but there is no penalty for his going, does the U.S. Government simply have to just abide by the fact that people such as Rodman are going to go off and freelance —
MS. PSAKI: Well —
QUESTION: — even if there is a complicating factor, which is the wellbeing of a citizen who has been in North Korean custody for however long he’s been in there now, and we don’t really know how he’s doing? Is this just part of the cost of doing business?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there were a couple of things that you mentioned in there that I would refute. I mean, one, we don’t vet private citizens’ travel, as you know, to North Korea or anywhere else. We don’t track it. We —
QUESTION: Except Cuba.
MS. PSAKI: We don’t – well, I’m talking about North Korea. We don’t – we have not been contacted by Mr. Rodman about his trip to North Korea or about any other trip that he’s taken. Our focus is certainly on securing Kenneth Bae’s release. We’ve – we’re prepared to send Ambassador King to North Korea if North Korea reinstates the invitation, which they, as you know, withdrew last August. And that’s – we’re working through our own channels to pursue that, and that’s where our focus will remain.
QUESTION: So there – if we could, that – just on that line about the invitation to Ambassador King —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you regard this trip by Mr. Rodman as hurting the chances to get a real diplomat instead of what you might call a basketball court jester into North Korea to actually do something about Mr. Bae and the other human rights concerns that you have?
MS. PSAKI: Well —
QUESTION: And create the impression that because there is no restriction on any U.S. citizen’s ability to get on a plane and turn up in Pyongyang, that there’s not any retribution from the U.S. Government for doing so, and so if there is no retribution, it could be perceived as tacit approval of his going? Does that complicate this building’s efforts to get Kenneth Bae’s release?
MS. PSAKI: We’re pursuing our own efforts. I’m not going to do an analysis of what his visit means or doesn’t mean. I don’t know how I would be in a position to do that at this point even if we wanted to. He is not representing the United States Government. Obviously, it’s up to North Korea to reinstate the invitation. It would be impossible for me to analyze whether or not or predict whether or not they will do that.
QUESTION: But to put it simply, it’s not helpful to put Rodman —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more, I think, on this topic.
QUESTION: Do you know if you are still trying to arrange – actively trying to arrange a visit by Ambassador King?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have – if they were to reinstate their invitation, we’d certainly be open to sending him, yes.
QUESTION: Right, but I mean, are there any efforts that you’re aware of that are underway right now to kind of, I don’t know, arrange for the North Koreans to reinstate the invitation —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any —
QUESTION: — or to ask them to re-invite him?
MS. PSAKI: — specifics on that, Matt. I’m happy to check if there’s anything we could speak to on that.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: Catherine.
QUESTION: Jen, you said that Mr. Rodman hasn’t reached out to the State Department regarding his trip. Have you all thought about reaching out to him – maybe not – as you’ve said, he’s not going on behalf of the U.S. Government – but to explain how his comments may be complicating the situation for Mr. Bae?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of. Any more on North Korea?
QUESTION: Mr. Rodman, isn’t he a special envoy for the United State, Mr. Rodman?
MS. PSAKI: No, he does not have any official role in the United States Government.
QUESTION: Why not, then?
MS. PSAKI: Nicolas.
QUESTION: Can we move to South Sudan?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely.
QUESTION: Do you have a readout of the conversation Secretary Kerry had —
MS. PSAKI: I do.
QUESTION: — yesterday with President Kiir? And are you optimistic about the outcome of the talks which have started in Ethiopia? Because the fighting seems to continue on the ground.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, let me do the readout of the call first. Secretary Kerry spoke yesterday with South Sudanese President Kiir to discuss ways to advance the talks taking place in Ethiopia between the parties to the conflict in South Sudan. He also – Secretary Kerry also reiterated his support for the democratically elected Government of South Sudan. He urged President Kiir to use the talks to find a peaceful, democratic way forward and reiterated the need for senior SPLM members currently detained by the Government of Sudan to be present for political discussions to be meaningful and productive. He asked President Kiir to make good on his commitment to release all political detainees immediately.
The two also discussed the urgent need for both sides to immediately halt fighting on the ground and protect civilians even as talks continue. The Secretary reiterated that the United States will deny support and work to apply international pressure to any elements that use force to seize power from the Government of South Sudan.
As you know, Special Envoy – the President’s Special Envoy Booth is in Ethiopia, has been for the last couple days in support of the talks between the parties which are ongoing. He’s pressing them to reach a ceasefire and ensure humanitarian access. We still believe, of course, and continue to reiterate the fact that we believe these negotiations need to be serious, both sides need to listen to the region and the international community. They’re ongoing, so Nicolas, it’s hard for me to give an analysis of how things are going day to day. We can talk to our team and see if there’s more we can provide to you either later today or tomorrow when we meet again on how we view the talks and how they’re going.
QUESTION: Given how much energy both the Bush and the Obama administrations have put into the creation of this new country, how did the world get to this point where they are on the verge of civil war, and the leader of this new country is looking to someone who was, up until, I guess, three days ago considered a mortal enemy, President Bashir of Sudan, as someone to help him maintain political power? This is not what people were anticipating when there was the ceremony for independence three years ago now.
MS. PSAKI: Well, you touched on the fact that it was three years ago now, and as we know, there can be challenges and ups and downs in any transition. Obviously, the Secretary, as part of his conversation, reiterated his support for the democratically elected Government of South Sudan. He is urging dialogue. That’s where our focus is now. And that is what we feel is in the best interests of the people of South Sudan.
We don’t – also don’t have any indication that Sudan is playing a negative role in the current political crisis in South Sudan. I understand there have been reports that President Bashir is on the ground. I don’t have more details on that, but from our reports from the ground, we don’t have an indication they’re playing a negative role as they work toward peace talks.
QUESTION: But two weeks ago, he was supporting the other guy. I mean, he was supporting (inaudible) – so is he playing maybe a double role here? Is he sort of playing both sides of this fight?
MS. PSAKI: I think I said we don’t have any indication that he’s playing a negative role in resolving these difficult —
QUESTION: Is his role being – I mean, do you approve of his role?
MS. PSAKI: Do I – do we approve of his role?
QUESTION: Do you approve of his role, his involvement?
MS. PSAKI: I think we have spoken out when we’ve had concerns about a variety of things he’s done —
MS. PSAKI: — and I’m not going to go into all of those. But in terms of this specific case, we don’t believe – we have no indication that Sudan is playing a negative role in the current political crisis in South Sudan.
QUESTION: Jen —
QUESTION: Can you say whether you think that he can play a positive role?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on what specifically he’s doing, Matt, so —
QUESTION: Okay. Because – well, all right. Well, I think the reason that there are – a lot of these questions are being asked is —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — the U.S. has taken a dim view when other independent sovereign countries have allowed President Bashir, who is under indictment by the ICC for war crimes, to visit. Now if you’re saying that you think that it’s possible he could play a positive role in helping to avert a civil war in South Sudan and that his visit there could possibly be productive, it would seem that you’re taking a slightly – you’re —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe that’s what I said. I think the question was —
QUESTION: No, I know, but that’s why – but I’m – you’re saying – your answer is: We don’t think that he – that Sudan proper is playing a negative role.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The question is whether you think President Bashir can play a positive role in helping to resolve the situation in South Sudan. And if you do think that, are you no longer concerned about a sovereign country welcoming in an indictee of the ICC?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any details on exactly what he was doing there or is still doing there, so let me talk to our team and see if there’s more to say about what role he is or isn’t playing there.
QUESTION: Well, especially too, because —
QUESTION: Well, and also about what role you would like him to play.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, sure.
QUESTION: Well, especially too because there’s still unresolved boundary issues, there’s still unresolved questions about the status of Abyei, they still haven’t made any progress on the sharing of petroleum revenues.
MS. PSAKI: I understand all of that. I think the original question was about whether he was playing an unhelpful role by being there, so that was the question I was answering, and I will check with our Africa team and see if there’s more we can convey or report from our end about what role he is or isn’t playing. I’m not even sure if there is a role that he’s playing, so —
QUESTION: But do you see this conflict —
QUESTION: On the issue of his indictment, could this be a path for redemption for Mr. Bashir to get rid of that indictment?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to do any more analysis until I have more details on what he is or isn’t doing there.
Go ahead, Nadia.
QUESTION: Jen, do you see this conflict as a tribal conflict between the Dinka and Nuer, or more than a power struggle between two men? And if this is the case, does it worry you more because it is – it’s open for an open conflict, actually, not just settling political scores between Riek Machar and President Kiir?
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, the talks are ongoing on the ground. As you know, there are a number of countries that are engaged in this and who want to see regional stability. I don’t want to do too much more analysis from here on the causes and the reasons to jeopardize anything that’s happening on the ground.
Go ahead, Scott.
QUESTION: The would-be members of the Machar delegation who are detained in Juba —
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
QUESTION: — are detained, as you know, under suspicion of plotting a coup against the Kiir government.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: In calling for those people to be released, are you asserting, then, that it is not your belief that they were involved in an effort to overthrow the Kiir government?
MS. PSAKI: Let me talk to our team about that. I just – I’m still catching up here, I have to admit, on this particular issue. I mean, we also said that we would deny support and work to apply international pressure to any elements that used force to seize power from the Government of South Sudan, so we are watching and concerned about those reports at the same time. But let me talk to our team and see if we can spell that out a little more clearly.
We only —
QUESTION: Can we go to Iraq real quick?
MS. PSAKI: I have to go up to the bilat in a moment, so —
QUESTION: On Iraq.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, yeah. I mean, yesterday the Vice President, or last night the Vice President spoke with Maliki —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — and Nujaifi and so on, and reassured both of them that of U.S. support and so on. But also Iran said that it is willing to send in help and support to sort of – to bolster Maliki’s government and the fight against terrorists. Do you support such a thing? Would you look sort of negatively at Iran intervening against the terrorists?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me be very clear here. We are not working with, we are not coordinating with Iran on any of these efforts. Obviously, we’ve seen their comments. We have long rejected violent extremism and advocated a stable security environment, an inclusive political process, and a determined focus on economic development for Iraq to achieve its full potential. Our goals have not changed. I don’t think we view them as the same goals that Iran may have. So we’re focused on our own efforts, which, as you mentioned – let me just give you a little more on the call you mentioned.
Vice President Biden spoke with both Prime Minister Maliki and Speaker Nujaifi yesterday. He pressed for a unified effort in combatting the ISIL threat in Anbar. We have made clear and we believe Iraq’s leaders agree the only way to fight ISIL is through strong coordination with local officials and tribes against our common enemy. That was a conversation that he had and we’re continuing to press on our end.
QUESTION: Apart from the political posturing over on the Hill about whether the U.S. should be sending in any troops in addition to the missiles and drones that have already been promised, has there been any indication from Baghdad that any such personnel assistance would be warranted or desired?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d be surprised or interested if you have a particular member of Congress who said that, because I haven’t seen that. I don’t think anyone is arguing for more troops and going back to put more troops in Iraq at this point.
QUESTION: But, I mean, one thing that I think the Iraqis have asked for that Congress has held up —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — were the Apache helicopters and the F-16’s, and that’s something that the Administration wanted to provide but that Congress has held up. It looks like Congress, at least Senator Menendez, has said that he might be willing to lift his objection because of the increased need. Is that something that you would be – now would be willing to revisit? Because it did look as if you wanted to do it when the prime minister —
MS. PSAKI: Sure, at the time. Let me talk to our team and see where we are with that. Obviously, I know Marie outlined a number of resources that we were expediting and putting forward with FMS funds, and obviously that’s underway. I don’t have any update on the Apaches, but I’ll check on that for all of you.
QUESTION: Sorry, Jen, but you’re giving 95 Hellfire missiles. These are air-to-surface missiles, but the Israeli – the – I’m sorry, the Iraqis have no need to deliver those missiles. How will they be delivered? They don’t have the combat aircraft, they don’t have the combat helicopters to fire those missiles.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on it for you. I would have you – suggest you talk to DOD about that.
QUESTION: Change topic?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: I just want to know, on Iraq, do you have confidence in the Iraqi Army? Because you were basically saying that Prime Minister Maliki’s forces is unable to tackle the situation in both Ramadi and in Fallujah, while the Americans tried before in 2004 —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — and they couldn’t even succeed, or succeed with a very high price. So how do you expect Prime Minister Maliki’s government to deal with the insurgency, especially with the existence of ISIL on the border?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there has been an effort – as you know, because we’ve talked about it in this briefing room or my colleague talked about it – underway to work with the local tribes on the ground to fight and confront ISIL fighters. We’ve seen some success with that in Ramadi. Fallujah, is, as you know, more challenging. But it would be accurate to assume that that effort has been underway by the central government for some time. It’s not something that comes up overnight or they’ve just been working on overnight.
So our effort is to – our focus is on continuing to work with them on that. We know the challenges on the ground. We’ve seen some success. We mentioned some efforts we’re undertaking to provide more resources. I don’t have anything new on that right now, but we’re taking this day by day.
QUESTION: But would you consider arming the tribal leaders in Anbar like they did before?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any prediction of that. I don’t have anything new beyond what we announced yesterday.
QUESTION: Or paying them?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Or paying them —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: — which is what happened in the – anyway, can I move to Israel for a second?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Just very quickly, have you guys decided yet whether or not you agree or disagree with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli officials about the issue of what they call – what they say is Palestinian incitement?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know that we have – we’ve spoken about our concerns about incitement consistently over the course of years, Matt, so I don’t know that we have anything new to report or any analysis on the recent comments over the last couple of days.
QUESTION: Well, do you believe that the incitement that Israel is talking about or that Israel claims is, in fact, increasing, as it says?
MS. PSAKI: I know that that’s what they said. I don’t have any particular analysis of that. Obviously, our focus is on reducing incitement, calling for an end to incitement. We think it’s unproductive and unhelpful to the process, as you know.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, okay, so incitement is bad, yes?
MS. PSAKI: I think that’s fair to say. Yes.
QUESTION: All right. So can you – so when the chief Palestinian negotiator comes out of an interview and says that Israel killed Yasser Arafat, poisoned him, do you regard that as incitement?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have seen his comments, as you know. There’s decades of mistrust at play here. We’re not going to analyze every comment and what it means. But I would say our focus, as Marie said yesterday, remains on both parties and having them at the table and moving the talks forward.
QUESTION: You were in the room in Jerusalem last week when Prime Minister Netanyahu made these comments about President Abbas – very critical about President Abbas – complaining that – or saying that it was incitement when the Palestinians welcomed these released prisoners home as heroes.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you believe that welcoming them – welcoming these people, these released detainees as heroes is incitement?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to give an analysis of every action and what is incitement and what is not incitement. That’s not helpful from here or helpful from the United States Government or from the podium.
QUESTION: Well, I —
MS. PSAKI: What I will say is that we know this is a tough time. We’re working through the process on the ground. We know that there are political pressures from all sides, and we’re seeing that manifest itself in many ways. The leaders remain engaged and committed, and that’s what our focus is on.
QUESTION: Well, wouldn’t you – what – I don’t understand this argument that it’s not – it wouldn’t be helpful so you’re not just going to do it – so you won’t take a stand on what – you say you believe that incitement is bad, and then when a specific example comes up, you think it’s not helpful to say it?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into a scenario —
QUESTION: Wouldn’t it be —
MS. PSAKI: — of labelling every instance that happens.
QUESTION: Well —
QUESTION: But you think it’s helpful to say that the Israelis killed the Palestinian former leader by one of the negotiators?
MS. PSAKI: We think there are a range of comments that have been made that are unhelpful. I’m not going to do —
QUESTION: Is that one of them?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to do an analysis of it.
QUESTION: All right. Well, can you say – have you expressed the – have you expressed your unhappiness or your anger or whatever, your —
MS. PSAKI: Feelings?
QUESTION: — (laughter) – not feelings – your position to the – to either side when they make these comments —
MS. PSAKI: Of course. It’s fair to say that a great deal of our diplomacy here happens privately. That’s in the best interest of the process.
QUESTION: And do you believe that it is helpful to the public on both sides for you not to take a public position when some – when someone from either side comes out and says something that you believe is just factually and historically incorrect and false?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, what we feel would be helpful to the public would be an agreement on final status negotiations. That would bring peace to the region.
QUESTION: The problem is —
MS. PSAKI: So we’re not going to take steps that would hurt that process.
QUESTION: Wait —
QUESTION: Okay, okay. But Prime Minister Netanyahu argues that the Palestinians, by calling these released prisoners heroes, by accusing Israel of killing Arafat, that they are not preparing the Palestinian people for a potential peace agreement with Israel. Do you agree or disagree with that? And do you find – do you – I’ll leave it at that. Do you agree or disagree with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s criticisms and complaints?
MS. PSAKI: That – can you say it one more time?
QUESTION: That the Palestinians, the leadership, including their president, President Abbas, and their chief negotiator are not helping to prepare the Palestinian people for a possible eventual peace agreement.
MS. PSAKI: Matt, we’re not going to get into – I’m not going to speak to that. We – the Secretary feels that both sides are negotiating in good faith. We know that there are comments that are made from both sides that are received poorly or negatively from the other side. That’s a part of the process that we anticipated. We’re there as an arbiter between them —
MS. PSAKI: — but we’re not going to speak to or analyze or give commentary on every comment made.
QUESTION: But if you’re an arbiter, doesn’t it – isn’t it your responsibility to call people out when they do such things that —
MS. PSAKI: No. An arbiter is working to bring both sides closer together to come to an agreement on a final status negotiation.
QUESTION: Can I get one in? Can I get one in?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Foreign Minister Lieberman – there have been reports that he’s engaged in a kind of parallel discussions with the Palestinians, and I’m wondering if he discussed this with Secretary Kerry in their meeting, and what do you think that this type of kind of side negotiations or side discussions are helpful to the process that you have —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of that, or I’m not even sure if that’s an accurate report. But the Secretary did meet with Foreign Minister Lieberman, as you mentioned. He’s put a range of ideas and proposals out there. Our focus is on working through the negotiating team with both sides.
QUESTION: Have you tried to clarify these reports?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not – I wasn’t even aware of them until this point, so —
QUESTION: Are we —
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry. I have to go up to the bilateral meeting. I’m sorry, Said. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Are we likely to see a meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas?
MS. PSAKI: Hmm?
QUESTION: Are we likely to see a meeting anytime soon between Netanyahu and Abbas?
MS. PSAKI: Our position hasn’t changed. At some point, if that’s useful, we’ll work toward that —
QUESTION: Well, at some point it might be useful if you want a peace deal.
MS. PSAKI: All right. I’ve got to go.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:55 p.m.)