Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–November 4, 2014.
1:27 p.m. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. I just have a couple of items at the top.
In recent days, Russia-supported separatists have publicly stated their intention to expand the territory under their control. We strongly condemn ongoing separatist attacks in Mariupol and Debaltseve and around the Donetsk airport. Any attempt to push further into Ukraine would be another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and a gross violation of the Minsk agreements signed by Russia, Ukraine, and the separatists.
There is a path back to the peace process, but only if Russia and its proxies fully implement their commitments under the Minsk agreements, including by immediately implementing the ceasefire; removing all foreign troops, weapons, and equipment from Ukraine; returning control of the Ukrainian border back to Kyiv; and allowing for meaningful monitoring of the ceasefire zone and the international border.
We welcome to the United States some 40 OSCE parliamentarians who are in Washington this week as part of an OSCE parliamentary assembly election observation mission. Part of their time today will be spent observing elections here in D.C. as well as in Northern Virginia and Maryland. We are proud to have these participants in the United States to observe midterm elections.
With that, Matt, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, I didn’t want to – the OSCE – these are members of Congress from – I mean, members of parliament from OSCE countries?
MS. PSAKI: Parliamentarians – this includes parliamentarians from more than 20 OSCE participating states, including Portugal, Russia, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, Italy, and Serbia, among others.
QUESTION: So there are Russian members of parliament among others that are here observing the U.S. elections?
MS. PSAKI: Well, parliamentarians, so I guess members of the parliamentary assembly of the OSCE. Yes.
QUESTION: All right. Well, I mean, because parliamentarian – actually, the definition of it does not necessarily mean a member of parliament. It could be someone —
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: — who studies the – but anyway. So they’re in D.C. —
MS. PSAKI: Virginia and Maryland.
QUESTION: And do they understand that voters in D.C. do not elect a voting – voting representatives to either the Senate or the House of Representatives? Are they aware —
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure if they did not before their arrival, they do now.
QUESTION: — of the fundamental idea of taxation without representation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as a resident of D.C., Matt, I’m sure you’re aware there’s also a mayoral election today. So —
QUESTION: Right. And they’re observing all of them or just the —
MS. PSAKI: Not all of the – not every election in every state, no. It’s a limited mission with representatives from those countries.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. I wanted to ask about – unless anyone else has questions about this. I wanted to ask about this report that appeared last night that says that the State Department is cutting its entire $500,000 a year funding to this group, CIJA, which is collecting evidence of war crimes, alleged war crimes committed by the Assad regime. Why is the Administration doing this? It seems to be awfully short-sighted and, putting a fine point on it, kind of idiotic because it would work against your stated goal.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I look for all of my details on this, of which I have many, let me just say that the report is inaccurate. Our funding level remains at the same level. We don’t provide funding directly to CIJA. We provide it directly to a range of other organizations. As I understand the specifics on this grant that was referred to in the article, about $500,000, as is true of many grants, that was for a specific set of – a specific project. And as is often true with many grants, once that’s concluded the grant is concluded. Obviously, they can apply for additional grants, as any organization does. But we remain committed to funding organizations that do take steps to track and hold accountable Assad and others for war crimes and other things they’re guilty of, and the report is simply inaccurate.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, before – I want to address – ask you to address on the implication of the story, but I’m not – it sounds a little bit confusing.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: They were getting money from the State Department but now they’re no longer getting money or they won’t get money in the future from the State Department?
MS. PSAKI: That group has not applied for grants directly to the State – from the —
MS. PSAKI: — State Department. Not in recent memory, and certainly this did not, as you may know – but I think the article was a little confusing – did not come from the State Department – the funding.
QUESTION: Right. Well, the article says that the funding – and from what I understand, the funding that CIJA got came from another group called SJAC —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: — which you guys do fund directly, and then they use some of the money that they get from you to make sub-grants. So —
MS. PSAKI: Which is a decision that SJAC makes. And SJAC is an organization —
MS. PSAKI: — that the United States helped start, a Syrian-led organization.
QUESTION: Right. But the spokeswoman for CIJA says that that is basically a canard, that in fact their grant, the money that they – the 500,000 that they were getting from SJAC was being – basically, SJAC was just kind of a funnel, it didn’t – and that they dealt directly with DRL, with the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor here at the State Department. Is that – that’s incorrect?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say the Bureau of Human Rights works with a range of organizations. I’m certain that they are in touch with these organizations and a range of them. But in terms of the specific funding – and all of you know this – there are often sub-grants that go out from different organizations that the State Department funds. Obviously, ultimately, they decide how they’re going to fund other groups.
QUESTION: So if this group CIJA, the group that says that it’s losing the money, applied for a grant from the State Department, you would consider it?
MS. PSAKI: Of course we would.
QUESTION: But they – but they haven’t?
MS. PSAKI: They have not.
QUESTION: You are not aware of?
MS. PSAKI: And they may apply for other grants from CJAC as well.
QUESTION: The implication of – in the story is that as you are stepping up the fight against ISIL/ISIS, the Assad regime’s alleged war crimes have become pushed to the back burner.
MS. PSAKI: That’s absolutely inaccurate. We remain as committed as we were six months ago, a year ago, two weeks ago, to funding organizations that work on those exact issues.
QUESTION: And so the amount of money that you give to SJAC —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: — is remaining the same?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: And that’s 1.25 million; is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: That’s my understanding, yes.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Could I just follow up on this?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Did the group submit its report? Are you aware of any report that they have submitted that documented war crimes and so on?
MS. PSAKI: Did the —
QUESTION: The group that was funded —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — with the $500,000 and which you cut off, right – would the —
MS. PSAKI: No, I think I just outlined exactly —
QUESTION: I understand. I understand.
MS. PSAKI: No, no, no, Said. This is very important. I just outlined —
QUESTION: No, you said this group did not reapply.
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. I just outlined why that report is inaccurate, so let’s —
MS. PSAKI: — go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay, that’s fine.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: The report is inaccurate. But did they submit – while they were being funded to the tune of $500,000, did they submit any report that documents and outlines and details war crimes by the Syrian regime?
MS. PSAKI: That’s one of the objectives of their group. I would certainly point you to them. I’m sure they’ve produced a range of documents. But I would point you to them for a specific outline of that.
QUESTION: But since they were funded by —
MS. PSAKI: SJAC.
QUESTION: — ultimately, the State Department, basically —
MS. PSAKI: They were funded by SJAC.
QUESTION: — by SJAC, which is —
MS. PSAKI: Is not the State Department, but keep going.
QUESTION: Right. So you are not aware of any reports that may have been —
MS. PSAKI: I would point —
QUESTION: — published or stated?
MS. PSAKI: Said, I would point you to the group. I would encourage you to read the story —
QUESTION: I did, I did, yes.
MS. PSAKI: — and I would encourage you to just look back at what I just conveyed about what’s accurate about funding.
QUESTION: I know. I read the story. My interest is: Did they submit any reports while they were being funded?
MS. PSAKI: This is a group that – of many groups that we have a great deal of respect for what they do and what their objectives are, Said. But in terms of the outline of what reports any group provides or produces, I would point you to that group, which is only natural.
Do we have any more on this?
QUESTION: No, I want to change the subject.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: No, on Syria. Can we stay in Syria?
MS. PSAKI: On Syria?
QUESTION: I want to go to Russia.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Do you want —
QUESTION: Can we go – we’ll come back to Syria.
MS. PSAKI: — rock, paper, scissors? (Laughter.) Just kidding. Do you want to start, Lesley?
QUESTION: Let me just get on Russia —
MS. PSAKI: Then, Michel, we’ll go to you. Russia?
QUESTION: — because there’s two issues here.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: The one is that the – I know you’ve just made comments on – strongly condemning what’s been going on in Ukraine. But any reaction to NATO’s secretary-general’s comments today about Russian troops moving closer to the border of Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I spoke to this a little bit yesterday, but let me just reiterate that we remain concerned about reports, though I don’t have independent confirmation of those. Certainly, we often work closely with NATO, as you know, on these types of issues and tracking. But we are concerned about any reports that Russia is taking escalatory actions, of which troop movements would certainly be one of them. And that would certainly be a violation of the Minsk protocols, of which we continue to press all parties to abide by.
QUESTION: And you think that the peace is still holding given all these different movements that have been going on over the last week or more?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s no question that these type of actions, including the fact that Russia hasn’t implemented and the separatists have not implemented other components of the Minsk protocols, including the release of political prisoners, et cetera, certainly put a strain on the ceasefire. But we believe that the ceasefire is – and the Minsk protocols that have been put in – or have been agreed to is the best mechanism for a path forward. So we will continue to work with both sides. I will note, of course, that the Ukrainian Government has gone to great lengths to hold up its part of the Minsk agreements while Russia and Russia-backed separatists have continually disregarded their own commitments.
QUESTION: And then there’s reports today the White House just said that they regretted Russia’s decision not to attend initial meetings last week for a 2016 nuclear summit. But have there been any indications that Russia is saying it’s not going to attend the actual meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I saw some reports right before I came out here, but I have not been able to confirm those internally, in terms of any communication on that specific front. I can reiterate – I think you have some of the comments that the White House issued —
MS. PSAKI: — but for others who may be interested in this – we regret Russia’s decision not to participate in last week’s preparatory meeting for the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit. As far as the U.S. is concerned, the door is opened – remains open to their joining future such meetings. I would remind everyone that, of course, the summit is in 2016, as I just noted. That’s a bit of time away. The Nuclear Security Summit brings together over 50 countries and four international institutions to take concrete action to secure nuclear materials, and the group has made significant progress in the past four and a half years. We hope that Russia still shares the view that securing loose nuclear materials and combating the threat of nuclear terrorism is a priority well worth the personal attention of world leaders and of which this summit provides an opportunity to discuss and coordinate on.
QUESTION: So you say that you hope that Russia still shares the view that it’s important to control loose nukes or to not allow them to —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But does that hope extend to you hoping that they don’t boycott the summit?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. Yes.
QUESTION: So you would like to see them – it’s not just that the door remains open to them; you want them to participate and you think it would be worthwhile for them to participate?
MS. PSAKI: We do. Now, there are over 50 countries that would be participating and four international institutions. But, certainly, Russia is a country with an important role to play and, certainly, the door remains open. We are hopeful that they would participate.
QUESTION: And just – but just – and just to make sure, even though they – had you been informed that they were intentionally going to skip or snub the preparatory meetings last week?
MS. PSAKI: Had we been informed in advance or —
QUESTION: Or did they just not show up?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on that level of specificity, Matt.
QUESTION: All right. Because – the reason I ask is that it is – seems to be key to whether they just didn’t show up to this meeting for whatever reason, whether they were boycotting it or whether it was some other reason, or if they have actually – they gave you some indication in advance that they weren’t going to show up and it was because they were unhappy over X, Y, or Z, and also if, in fact, they have said or if you have reason to believe from any communication that you have gotten from the Russians that they are, in fact, intending to boycott the 2016 summit.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: So if you could take that, find out if this – whatever communication you’ve had with the Russians on this has led you to believe that they will – that they intend to boycott the 2016 meeting, that would be —
MS. PSAKI: I think – sure. The question I can check on there is certainly whether we were given a heads-up in advance and see what we can provide. In terms of their reasoning, I would certainly point you to them on that specific question.
QUESTION: But are you in touch with your Russian counterparts to try and clarify the situation, as regards to the summit in 2016?
MS. PSAKI: We, the Administration?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, absolutely.
QUESTION: Okay. And then I just want to ask, what level was the meeting, the preparatory meetings held at?
MS. PSAKI: Let me check on that for you, Jo. I can check and see who attended from here, just to give you a better sense.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Any more on Russia? Syria. Okay.
QUESTION: Any update on the fight between al-Nusrah and the FSA groups in the north, and the information that said that al-Nusrah obtained American arms from some groups?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have an update really from what I conveyed yesterday, which is that we are working with our opposition partners to determine what, if any, materials were taken. I don’t have a new assessment on that. Obviously, in any fight such as this, a chaotic conflict happening in a war-torn country, there are major concerns that we always have about weapons or materials getting into the wrong hands. That’s one of the reasons, as all of you know, that this has been a challenging decision over the past couple of years. It’s no different in this case. But I don’t have a new assessment for you.
QUESTION: And do you have any assessment of the situation in Kobani these days or not?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a new battleground assessment. I think my colleague over at Department of Defense is briefing today and may have a better assessment of that.
Syria? Scott, go ahead.
QUESTION: Can you bring us up to date on the status of the U.S. humanitarian assistance?
MS. PSAKI: In terms of how much humanitarian assistance we’ve provided?
QUESTION: And to whom, in Syria and Iraq.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. We have quite a bit and a great number of fact sheets on these specific points. We remain the largest humanitarian donor. I’d have to get around to you all the specific numbers. But just to make sure I know what you’re looking for, what the United States has given to organizations through the UN as well as to countries in the region?
QUESTION: Yes. It’s one of the five parts of the anti —
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Yes, yes. I will get you an update.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Just to follow up to yesterday’s meeting chaired by General Allen for the coalition – I know that you issued a statement late yesterday, but – and so on. So that focuses on maybe like five areas.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: One of them is – puts emphasis, or that’s what I heard – puts the emphasis on Iraq first. What does that do to, let’s say, your effort in Syria, in terms of training, equipping, and perhaps sending ground forces at one point or another?
MS. PSAKI: Well, one, the five lines of effort – I wouldn’t describe Iraq first as one of the five lines of effort. The five lines of effort have been what they’ve always been, so – or they’ve been for some time, so military assistance, foreign fighters, counter-financing, anti-ISIL – delegitimizing ISIL, and humanitarian assistance.
Iraq first means that we knew that the presence and the threat of ISIL posed a direct threat and a strong threat to Iraq. And over the course of the last several months, if we just take a quick step back, we had to proceed with a strategy to help the Iraqi leaders form a new government. That was going to be needed in order to bring other Arab countries and Arab leaders into the fold. And we needed to work with the Iraqi Security Forces to assess what their capabilities were to take on this fight. Those are processes that have been ongoing, as you well know. And we needed to help equip different forces within Iraq – I mean, through the Iraqi Security Forces – to push back on the fight.
That doesn’t change the fact that with Syria we’ve obviously taken a range of steps. We’ve done dozens of airstrikes to take on the threat of ISIL there and go after the safe haven that ISIL has had over the last couple of years.
QUESTION: But the Iraq first formula seems to assign a great deal for Iraq in terms of – everybody talks about the spring offensive or putting the emphasis there. We don’t know what the American role is going to be, other than, let’s say, advisors and – that will accompany the Peshmerga, the Iraqi Security Forces, and so on. But in Syria, what is going on in terms of on the field, so to speak? What is going on in Syria? Is that left out to, let’s say, the Syrian army, regime forces fighting it out, perhaps some elements from the FSA and so on? So what is going on in terms of your effort in sort of emboldening or in making the FSA robust enough to fight?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think you’re very familiar with the steps that we’ve continued to take. Obviously, we’ve increased the scale and scope of our assistance to the moderate opposition. We passed a train-and-equip program that we’ll begin to implement. We’re working with partners in the region to continue to support and boost up the opposition. And, of course, we’re also taking airstrikes in Syria, and we’ve welcomed other countries who’ve done the same. So we’re continuing to build on all of those components.
QUESTION: The reason I ask this is because spokesmen – or alleged spokesmen for the Free Syrian Army are saying they’re not receiving anything from you, that what they hear is a great deal of talk and nothing really tangible that they can say they point to.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s hard to speak to the anecdote of one or a couple of individuals. I know what types of assistance we have provided and other countries have and what we will continue to provide.
QUESTION: Okay. Is there – and this is my last question on this – is the Syrian moderate opposition training in which you are involved – is that taking place in Jordan, in Saudi Arabia, in other places, in Syria itself, in Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: You’re familiar with which countries have indicated their willingness to host it. I would point you to them on more specifics on their role.
Samir, go ahead.
QUESTION: Is General Allen going to attend the London 11 Friends of Syria meeting in London next Monday?
MS. PSAKI: I’ll check with General Allen. I think it’s more likely that Daniel Rubinstein would attend that meeting, but let me check with them and see if there’s a plan for him to also attend.
QUESTION: One more question.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The UN Envoy for Syria, Mr. – Ambassador de Mistura met today with Under Secretary Crocker and they’re meeting with other officials. Do you have any readout of this?
MS. PSAKI: My understanding, Samir, is that the meeting was delayed. So I will check back and see when it’s happening, and I know you’re interested – and others may be – in a readout of that.
QUESTION: Speaking of meetings —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — the Secretary saw Mr. Erekat yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Can we finish Syria? Is that okay? And then we’ll go back to it.
QUESTION: Oh, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: On Syria, one issue people take issue with, that you define U.S. as a largest humanitarian donor, whereas countries like —
MS. PSAKI: Who are people? Who’s taking issue with that?
QUESTION: Well, let me explain my question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: The countries like Turkey and Lebanon or Jordan take over million people. And today, deputy prime minister in Turkey stated that Turks spend about $5 billion, humanitarian assistance. I’m not sure if you succeed this number, $5 billion, or how do you define this —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say, when it comes to humanitarian assistance, we’re happy to be beaten, if other countries want to give more than they’ve given, and that’s completely fine. What we’re talking about is financial assistance, of which we’ve provided to not just the UN and different NGOs, but also surrounding countries in the region – I think there’s no question – that have been impacted and taken in, as you mentioned, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of refugees. There’s no question that the contribution of Turkey, the contribution of Lebanon, other countries in the region to take in refugees is one of the biggest contributions, in terms of the humanitarian category, of this conflict. And we applaud them at every opportunity we have. So I don’t think we – if more people want to give and more people want to claim they are the largest donor, then we welcome that race.
QUESTION: Make sure you mention Jordan; otherwise they’ll be upset.
MS. PSAKI: Jordan, of course, of course.
QUESTION: Speaking of refugees, last time we check about couple months ago, U.S. has admitted about 63 Syrians.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is there an update on that number? You have more Syrians?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. It’s an ongoing process. I can – I’m happy to check with our team and see if there’s an update to the number.
QUESTION: Today, French Foreign Minister Fabius wrote an article, and he’s talking about Aleppo, that the fate of Aleppo is unclear, the regime forces entirely encircled Aleppo. And he’s arguing that Aleppo should not be abandoned. Do you have any plan to start any kind of campaign in – specific to Aleppo?
MS. PSAKI: Our strategy has not changed. I will say that if the French want to take military action in Syria, which they have not to date, we would certainly welcome having the conversation with them about what contributions they’d like to make.
QUESTION: Can I stay in Syria?
MS. PSAKI: Syria?
QUESTION: Staying —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, Syria. Let’s go Scott, Syria.
QUESTION: Okay. Related, there are some Yezidi leaders in town who are looking for more help in tracking down women and girls who were kidnapped as sex slaves during the fight over the mountain. Do you – have they had meetings here at State, and/or do you have anything to say about —
MS. PSAKI: I know that they – many of these representatives – I think it’s the same group – had some meetings at the White House at the end of last week. Let me check and see if there were any corresponding meetings with the same group at the State Department. But did you have another question beyond what —
QUESTION: Well, just about that issue, is that something that the – is that part of your anti-ISIS strategy? Is that something that you are continuing to address?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly I think – obviously, as you all know, the first military action that we took in Iraq was in response to the humanitarian crisis that was – and the pre-genocidal situation that was the facing the Yezidis on the mountains. And we continue to closely track what their situation is, what challenges they’re facing, what humanitarian assistance they need. And we would, of course, be happy to have a conversation with them about what additional needs they have, whether it’s missing loved ones, and determining if there’s a role we could play.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Aside from the effort you mentioned to ascertain which U.S. materiel was taken by al-Nusrah in the – in their most recent advances, is the U.S. planning any effort to push back against them militarily?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve laid out clearly – and did from the beginning – our focus on ISIL and the Khorasan Group, given the unique threats they pose to Western interests. I’m obviously not going to talk about or speculate about future operations, other than to remind you of what I just conveyed. We’re also concerned – and there’s no question about this – about – that the moderate opposition is being pressed on multiple fronts in northern Syria, including in Idlib and around Aleppo. And so there are a lot of possibilities that are always being discussed in terms of supporting the moderate opposition, but I’m not going to outline that further from here.
QUESTION: For now, would you say that, for example, direct airstrikes – more direct airstrikes on al-Nusrah would not be on the table?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think I’m not going to preview or outline any potential future operations. Obviously, we keep options on the table, but you’re familiar with what our strategy has been to date and who our targets have been to date.
QUESTION: Jen, have you got more information about the alliance that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Kuwait are building now?
MS. PSAKI: I did speak with a number of people about this, just because there have been lots of reporting on it and not a great deal of information. We – as you know, we have a close relationship with all of these countries, and we will continue to work with them and all of our partners in the region in the fight against ISIL. But we don’t have anything to substantiate this report that they’re building a military coalition and therefore no specifics on what the objective would be. But certainly our objective remains on fighting ISIL, and so we’d be happy to talk to them about what role they would want to play as it relates to that.
QUESTION: Did you know if this alliance will be part of the international coalition to fight ISIL or not?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as I just conveyed, we don’t have anything to substantiate the reports that they’re planning a specific, unique military coalition. We’d be happy to discuss with them the role and how they could participate more in a coordinated fashion in the anti-ISIL effort.
QUESTION: When you say that you don’t have anything to substantiate the reports, does that mean that you’ve asked and they’ve said no, it’s not correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously we’re in touch with all of these countries about the role they can play, but we don’t have anything beyond that in terms of a confirmation of these reports. And I think there are some who have actually denied it in the story, so —
QUESTION: Okay. So – yeah. But forget about the news report. Let’s talk about what the Egyptians and the Saudis and the Emiratis and the – whoever —
QUESTION: — Kuwaitis have told you. Have they said that they’re thinking about starting some kind of a military alliance or forming a —
MS. PSAKI: Matt, we have a range of conversations with these countries, as you know, but in terms of a specific plan with details to form a coordinated military coalition between the countries, no.
QUESTION: Right. Well, I think that if you go back and read the story, it doesn’t say – it says that they’re in discussion about that element of it, but that they’re forming this – their own potentially non-military alliance already, or that that’s what’s most advanced. So —
MS. PSAKI: Well, but it’s —
QUESTION: — quite apart from the military part – the military – forming as a strike force or something like that, have they told you that they are interested – those four countries – in banding together in their own mini-bloc?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to have anything more. Just to convey, we have a range of conversations with them, but in terms of the specifics of the planning of a military coalition, there’s not specifics to offer at this point, nor have they provided them publicly.
QUESTION: Would it be kind of strange for these countries, and especially Saudi Arabia that is part of the coalition and conducted air raids against ISIL already – wouldn’t it be strange for them to form a rapid deployment force, in essence, that is for them to pursue ISIS almost on their own, like a new coalition?
MS. PSAKI: Would it be —
QUESTION: Is it – do you —
MS. PSAKI: Would it be —
QUESTION: Would you find that strange if they were to form this?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t categorize it that way, Said, but there aren’t details here, so I’m not going to speculate on a hypothetical.
QUESTION: (Off-mike) conflict with the current —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on a hypothetical.
QUESTION: Jen, are you – just to be clear, you don’t know about the meeting, though?
MS. PSAKI: Which meeting?
QUESTION: The one that they’re referring to.
MS. PSAKI: In the story —
MS. PSAKI: — about a meeting between the countries?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details on that.
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the countries on that.
QUESTION: But in general, do you support such alliance, Jen?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t have more details, and we don’t have any substantiation of the reports. We do support their role in the coalition, and we certainly would be happy to discuss with them how they could continue to do that.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yesterday Vice President stated in an interview that actually he did not apologize to President Erdogan. Do you have any – so the statement came out from White House, then it clearly indicated that Vice President apologized, and last night he says he didn’t; there’s a confusion. Is there any way you can clarify this?
MS. PSAKI: I would suspect my colleagues at the White House may be addressing this question. I would point you to them.
QUESTION: So is this non-apology – would cause any kind of diplomatic problems with Turkey at this moment?
MS. PSAKI: No. I don’t expect that it will.
QUESTION: Has the Turkish Government reached out to you and asked about this (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I would again point you to the White House. We’re talking about the Vice President.
QUESTION: Yesterday you were asked about recent trials of the Turkish military officers. Do you have any update on that?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. As we have previously noted, many observers expressed concerns about the length of previous – the previous trial process, and the manner in which the previous verdicts and sentences were reached. We continue to call on Turkey to meet the highest standards of transparency, timeliness, and fairness in its judicial system. As you know, this new trial is just starting, so we will see and time will tell if those standards are met.
QUESTION: Last question. There is new survey just released, I believe yesterday by Pew, and it says that U.S. favorability in Turkey is like all-time low. Do you have any comment on that, and why do you think U.S. is not perceived —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I saw the article. I don’t have any specific comment on it, although I don’t believe it said that it was at its all-time low. I think there were some graphs and charts in there.
QUESTION: Or one of the lowest.
MS. PSAKI: Hmm?
QUESTION: One of the lowest in recent years, going —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specific comment on it.
QUESTION: Jen —
QUESTION: How about U.S. approval rating for Turkey? Do you have anything on it?
MS. PSAKI: I would just say that, polls aside, Turkey remains an important partner of the United States, an important partner in our efforts to defeat ISIL, and a country we work together closely on on a range of issues.
QUESTION: Do you think you need to more to reach out to Turkish people to explain yourself better?
MS. PSAKI: I would say we have a strong and broad mission in Turkey —
MS. PSAKI: — and one that we continue to put energy, resources, and some of our best people in.
QUESTION: Can I go to the Erekat meeting —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — with the Secretary? Can you – well, first, can you just tell us what it is that they talked about?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, and then I will go to some in the back.
QUESTION: Be as specific as possible.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Well, no – more specific than possible.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: It was a long meeting.
MS. PSAKI: It was a long meeting. They met for several hours.
QUESTION: I know, I waited.
MS. PSAKI: You waited? Said. Sorry, I just want to get all the details here.
Well, they met last night. Faraj was also – Majid Faraj was also in the meeting, just so you’re all aware. They discussed the tensions in Jerusalem and the importance of maintaining calm, the fact that both sides need to do more on that front. The Secretary reiterated the United States opposition to unilateral steps by either party that attempt to prejudge the outcome of final status negotiations. They also discussed the latest developments in Gaza, next steps in reconstruction, and the possibilities on the way ahead for Middle East peace.
QUESTION: One – I asked you yesterday about the whole calm and incitement issue, and you said that Prime Minister Netanyahu had shown great leadership in having the site reopened and also calling for calm. There are some in Israel – actually many in Israel and their supporters here who are quite upset about this letter that President Abbas sent to the family of the man who was allegedly behind the shooting of the American citizen last week. In this letter, President Abbas says that the – this – the alleged shooter who was killed by the IDF is – was a martyr, assassinated by the terrorists of the Israeli occupation army, and he will go to heaven as a martyr defending the right of our people and our holy places. Is – do you have any reaction to that letter, that language? Is that – I mean, that does not appear to be non-inciteful?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you remember from last week, we obviously condemned the shooting of the U.S. citizen outside – in Jerusalem. We continue, as I just noted, to believe that both sides can do more to exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and make clear that violence is unacceptable. That’s the standard we believe both sides should meet, and that is not – was not met at all by this letter.
QUESTION: Okay. So you – your – do you know if this came up with Mr. Erekat yesterday —
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check.
QUESTION: — this specific issue?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check, Matt, on that specific question.
QUESTION: And when you say that the standard was not met by this letter, that means that while you’re praising Prime Minister Netanyahu for his leadership in this, does that mean that you’re – that you find Abu Mazen – President Abbas – to be lacking in leadership on this issue?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t convey it as broadly as that. I’m speaking —
QUESTION: I mean, he signed the letter.
MS. PSAKI: I’m speaking specifically to the letter. I was speaking specifically to some comments that Prime Minister Netanyahu made this weekend. But there are actions both sides have taken that have been increasing the rhetoric and increasing the tensions on the ground. And so that’s why both need to do more.
QUESTION: All right, well, let me just get – the overall – you’re disappointed by the letter in general. But specifically, do you believe that the Israeli – the IDF is made up of terrorists?
MS. PSAKI: No, we don’t.
QUESTION: No? And then, do you believe that someone who was accused – I don’t know if this – if it’s beyond – he was never convicted, obviously, but the Israelis certainly believed that he was responsible for the shooting of this American citizen. Do you believe that shooting someone, an Israeli – a rabbi at the Temple Mount – is defending the right of our – meaning Palestinian people – in holy places?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve spoken to this. We condemned the action, and I think that speaks to how we view this – the incident.
QUESTION: All right. The brother of Mr. Glick has complained that the embassy and – or the consulate in Tel Aviv/Jerusalem has not been particularly helpful to them. Do you have any kind of response to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I reference this, but it’s important to note that as – when these events happened, we put out – the Secretary himself spoke to this and condemned the actions. As you know, we have no higher priority than the protection of United States citizens living overseas, and we take our obligation very seriously. The U.S. consulate-general in Jerusalem made several attempts to contact Mr. Glick’s family, and only today, Tuesday, were able to make contact with one family member. Obviously, the Privacy Act prevents us from discussing too many details, but those are the facts, and certainly we will continue to provide all consular services that are available.
QUESTION: Has a consular officer visited Mr. Glick in the hospital?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other details beyond —
QUESTION: Has he been given —
MS. PSAKI: — we have reached out for several days now.
QUESTION: Has he been given the opportunity to sign a Privacy Act waiver? Do you know?
MS. PSAKI: I think I’d have to check on that, Matt.
QUESTION: Are you aware of the circumstances in which, Hijazi, the alleged shooter of Mr. Glick was killed? Are you aware of the circumstances?
MS. PSAKI: There’s obviously, as you know, an investigation into that specifically, Said, but —
QUESTION: Are you aware that he was actually taken to the roof and shot 20 times?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details, and I would caution you from making conclusions before the investigation is concluded.
QUESTION: Okay. Are you aware that Mr. Glick is one of the most intense provocateurs that keeps leading people into the Haram al-Sharif day after day? Are you aware of that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, we’re aware of his background, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is a U.S. citizen who was killed, in this case, and we certainly condemn the action.
QUESTION: I want to ask about the meeting last night. I saw negotiator Erekat outside, and very briefly —
MS. PSAKI: Good last name. Get it?
QUESTION: — and he briefly told me that they are intent on pursuing the UN effort. So he apparently told that to Secretary Kerry and Mr. Frank Lowenstein, who was with him out there for a minute. So can you confirm that, that the Palestinians will go forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think he conveyed that to you. I have nothing to contradict that. I would just convey that, as I mentioned earlier, the Secretary reiterated the position of the United States, which is opposition to unilateral steps by either party that attempt to prejudge the outcome of final status negotiations. Also, they didn’t get into a highly detailed discussion, just so you know, on the specifics, and as you know, nothing has been tabled at the UN. So this is a preliminary discussion, and obviously, having a back and forth and hearing from them is part of the reason to have a meeting.
QUESTION: Okay. So the Palestinians are claiming today that they have an eighth country ready from the Security Council to support their effort. So they need one more country. Are you aware of that? Do you think they will be able to get nine members to support their effort?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make a prediction of that, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you about the settlements. Obviously, an issue was – the issue was discussed and you addressed it yesterday in the briefing. Has there been any development since yesterday for this almost feverish settlement efforts in the last few days?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe there’s been new developments since yesterday, no.
QUESTION: All right. And let me ask you just one final – are you aware of a letter that a number of generals, Israeli generals and officers and so on, signed calling on Prime Minister Netanyahu to show flexibility in this effort?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that’s an issue to ask the Israeli Government about, not the United States.
QUESTION: Sorry, the – your answer to the penultimate question on – have there been any developments on the construction or settlements, does that mean that the Administration is still contemplating what consequence Israel’s decision to go ahead with this will bring?
MS. PSAKI: It means our – the statements I made yesterday stand today and there’s nothing new to add to that.
QUESTION: Does that mean, Jen, that the Administration has decided that there will not be any consequence for doing what you said flies in the face of their commitment to —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to add for you, Matt.
QUESTION: All right. And then I just I have one more. And this is kind of – I don’t know – it’s raised some attention, but it seems to be – it’s a wording issue. There are some people who had noted that you refer to the contested holy site in Jerusalem as Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, whereas in the past it has been referred to by your predecessors as Temple Mount, Haram al-Sharif. Is there any reason for the placement order of what you call this bifurcated —
MS. PSAKI: There is not any reason and there is —
QUESTION: Okay, so it’s interchangeable in your —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: — even though – the argument that the Israelis make is that they say the Temple Mount was there first. So it should go first.
MS. PSAKI: We use both names for a reason.
QUESTION: That’s their argument. But you were saying that there is no implication in terms of policy of this —
MS. PSAKI: There’s not implication. No.
QUESTION: — and you can flip them around —
MS. PSAKI: On the policy – no.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Sorry, Jen. Were there any meetings today between Mr. Lowenstein and Saeb Erekat that you’re —
MS. PSAKI: I can check with Mr. Lowenstein and see.
QUESTION: Okay. And my last question, I promise. He also said that the UN effort does not conflict in any way with any other efforts, just – such as direct negotiations. Do you agree with him?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, again, our view remains that we would oppose any unilateral steps that attempt to prejudge the outcome of final status negotiations. And as I just noted as well, obviously the discussion of – the discussion last night was not highly detailed and there isn’t currently a proposal tabled at the UN. So there aren’t a lot of specifics out there.
QUESTION: It wasn’t highly detailed? It went on for —
MS. PSAKI: About this particular issue.
QUESTION: Oh, on this —
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, it was a multi-hour meeting. So certainly there was —
QUESTION: Hopefully they talked about something other than the weather.
MS. PSAKI: — a great deal of details about a range of issues.
QUESTION: So what was the main thrust of the discussions then, for — it was more than three hours?
MS. PSAKI: It was. It covered all of the issues that I just mentioned.
QUESTION: But did you mean that the Secretary didn’t ask Mr. Erekat for not going to the UN Security Council?
MS. PSAKI: He conveyed our well-known view on this particular issue.
QUESTION: But didn’t say do not do it?
MS. PSAKI: I think you are familiar with how we feel about this. Nothing has changed on that front. And obviously, we consider this a unilateral step.
QUESTION: He didn’t say it directly?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to give you quotes from the meeting, but I can —
QUESTION: Why not? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: — just convey that our view, which you’re all familiar with, is something the Secretary reiterated during the meeting.
QUESTION: When you say to the Palestinians that they should stop this effort, do you tell them either/or – if you go forward, we’re going to cut off aid?
MS. PSAKI: We conveyed that —
QUESTION: I mean, let me just ask you straight-out.
MS. PSAKI: — it contradicts their stated goal of a two-state solution and having their own state, an aspiration we support.
QUESTION: So you believe that the UN effort does conflict with any other efforts, such as direct negotiations?
MS. PSAKI: You need two parties to negotiate. It makes it more difficult.
QUESTION: Do you know, Jen, if the Secretary raised the issue with Mr. Erekat about today’s mid-term election and the potential for major change in Congress, that would not be particularly – if predictions hold true – not be particularly amenable to the Palestinian point of view? Do you know if that came up at all, whether or not it was – was it even noted?
MS. PSAKI: I will see if there is more we can read out from the meeting.
QUESTION: On this point, Jen, will the elections’ outcomes affect the U.S. foreign policy?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to do political analysis from here.
QUESTION: No —
MS. PSAKI: But as you know, the State Department is a non-partisan building and one where we work with Democrats and Republicans, so we will continue to move forward with that in mind.
Now obviously, there are a number of efforts that we’ll continue to work on, and we hope we’ll work with whomever the elected officials are after the election.
QUESTION: Can I stay —
QUESTION: Actually, just on that, when you say that the State Department is a non-partisan building, there have been a couple of reports recently. I know you’ve responded to one of them about the number of political appointees that are over here. Is it really still the case that this building is a non-partisan building, when you have so many partisan – people who are in – occupying senior positions who have been partisan political either politicians or political supporters in the past?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think that, one, I have a range of statistics I’m happy to go through, but the meaning of that, of what I was conveying, is that there is not a agenda that is one party over the other. It is, we are representing the United States overseas. We have thousands of diplomats who work overseas. People may vote, of course, even if they’re a career Foreign – member of the Foreign Service. But political appointees has a different meaning than whether it’s a political building.
QUESTION: Well, but I mean the politicization of – if someone comes from a world of highly partisan politics and then into a building like this, one would – there is some osmosis factor going on, or is that no at all the case? I mean, Madeleine Albright used to say that she’d had her political instincts surgically removed when she got to this building. Would you say the same?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary says something similar, that he’s retired from partisan politics. Let me give you a couple of statistics. The ratio of political to career nominees, approximately 30-70, has been in line with previous administrations. Right now, let me see if there’s some more interesting – we have nearly 25,000 Foreign Service and Civil Service employees serving domestically and overseas. We have just 127 Schedule C employees. The number is capped and has actually gone down under Secretary Kerry. That’s about a half of one percent, by comparison, and we have even fewer Schedule Bs.
Obviously, I’m not suggesting you’re suggesting this, but some are, that anyone should be disqualified because they are a political appointee. Obviously, there are a range of people who come from a range of backgrounds. Also, Secretary Kerry has built his senior team with more Foreign Service officers in leading assistant secretary positions than at any time in recent memory, with regional assistant secretaries for Asia, Africa, Europe, and Near East all being Foreign Service officers. And so I would say statistically and mathematically I’m not sure the criticism stacks up to the facts.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, but you’re talking about the Secretary. I was under the impression that these people who were nominated were nominated by the White House. At least that’s the line we get from the podium every time we ask about personnel decisions.
MS. PSAKI: You’re right. Well, I just touched on that a little bit earlier though, in terms of the 30/70 balance in terms of ambassadors. I was speaking separately about employees and the statistics with employees.
QUESTION: Right. But this is not so much – I mean, I think people who are – the people who are criticizing this, if they’re criticizing Secretary Kerry, are perhaps – their criticism is misplaced because it is, in fact, the White House and the President who chooses these people; is it not?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. But in terms of nominated ambassadors.
MS. PSAKI: What I was —
QUESTION: No, and assistant secretaries.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. There’s —
QUESTION: And under secretaries.
MS. PSAKI: There’s obviously an effort though —
QUESTION: And deputy secretaries —
MS. PSAKI: — and the Secretary plays a role in helping select people who are his closest advisors, which includes the regional assistant secretaries. So I just wanted to give you as many stats and numbers as I possibly could.
QUESTION: A very quick follow-up on this. In the event there is a change in the Senate, the likely sort of difficulties that you might face in confirmation, do you have any contingency plan in this case that you’re trying to do right now, perhaps to make sure that the Senate may be more (inaudible) this issue?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me convey to you, Said, since you gave me the opportunity, right now we have 39 career Foreign Service officer nominees stuck in the Senate. They’re languishing, waiting to get a chance to do their job and serve their country. As you may know, it works with the military where there is a voice vote for a group of nominees. This is something we’ve been calling for for career Foreign Service officers and something that we think could happen. And we’re hopeful that that’s something that can move forward when Congress returns after the election.
QUESTION: Would —
QUESTION: How many politicals are waiting, stuck?
MS. PSAKI: Let me check on that, Matt. I know I have it here somewhere. One moment. There are 60 waiting; 39 of the 60 are career diplomats.
QUESTION: So —
MS. PSAKI: 21. I know math is not the —
QUESTION: Yeah, I know. But I mean, that – that’s a significant number, no?
MS. PSAKI: It certainly is. And many of them have been waiting —
QUESTION: Twenty-one and thirty-nine? And I don’t think that that – does that meet your 70/30, or is that just for ambassadors?
MS. PSAKI: That’s just for ambassadors, and those are just people sitting right now, not overall representing the United States around the world. The 70/30 is the around the world.
QUESTION: Right. But this is the microcosm of the problem that you have identified.
MS. PSAKI: It is a microcosm of the problem in that there’s no reason why 39 career Foreign Service officers can’t have a voice vote to move them forward.
QUESTION: But – so you’re not calling for that for the politicals, though?
MS. PSAKI: No, we’re calling for it for the – for those who are career Foreign Service officers.
QUESTION: Right. But not for the —
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: — bundler – or whoever, ambassador nominees, you’re not saying that you would like to have a voice vote?
MS. PSAKI: No, but let me give you an example of a political appointee or a political nominee. Frank Rose, who many of you know, who works on issues that are especially relevant to today, has been waiting for 465 days.
QUESTION: Right. No, I’m not necessarily questioning the qualifications of these people. I’m just —
MS. PSAKI: To be clear, we’re calling for it for the career Foreign Service officers.
QUESTION: Just for the career Foreign Service officers.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: So it wouldn’t apply to Mr. Rose.
MS. PSAKI: No. But I just gave that as an example.
QUESTION: Fair enough.
QUESTION: But what about the political appointees then? Don’t you come to – is there not a potential problem that these other 21 people who are awaiting nomination could never be nominated, leaving gaps in your overseas presence?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there’s no question that people who come from political backgrounds – many of them ran companies, they have had extensive experience in their own right out in the private sector or even internationally, and we believe that there’s no reason any of those individuals is waiting tens, sometimes hundreds of days. But the reason we pulled out the career nominees piece is because, obviously, these are individuals who have been working within the building or the system for decades – many of them – and there’s no reason for the delay.
QUESTION: So I guess going back to Said’s question, if there’s a change today in the control of the Senate, is there a contingency plan to perhaps put up different nominees or —
MS. PSAKI: That would be a question for the White House.
QUESTION: So if it becomes really more daunting to get the people through the Senate, will the President – do you expect the President in the next two years to sort of utilize his executive leverage or latitude to get people through?
MS. PSAKI: I think everybody in the Administration wants to see them move through. In terms of other steps, I would point you to the White House on that.
QUESTION: Can I ask one more midterm-related question?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. It’s unlikely I’ll have much to say, but go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, we’ve seen – over the past campaign, we’ve seen a lot of candidates make statements and air ads about threats that the U.S. faces, like Ebola and ISIS and things like that, often making statements that run counter to what Administration officials have said before. But does the State Department have any view as to the propriety of these types of campaign ads, whether it’s appropriate to bring out these kinds of issues?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any comment on campaign ads, no.
QUESTION: Yeah. Change of subject on North Korea. Do you have anything on the – Kenneth Bae’s family sent letter to a North Korean authority for the release of their son. Do you have anything on that?
MS. PSAKI: I would just convey that we continue to use every resource at our disposal to bring Kenneth Bae home to his family. As you know, we have asked for a release on humanitarian grounds. We remain in close contact with the family, and that remains a top priority for us.
QUESTION: Have you reached any contact with the Swedish ambassador recently?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we – they’re, of course, our protecting power, which I know is why you brought them up. So we do maintain a line of contact with them, yes.
QUESTION: Go to Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Iran? Sure.
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry, can we go to the back just – and then we’ll go to Iran. Go ahead.
QUESTION: An Iranian website that is dedicated to the P5+1 talks with Iran —
MS. PSAKI: An Iranian website?
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: It’s not a news agency. It’s totally dedicated to Iran and the nuclear talks and Iran becoming nuclear. It has reported today that the U.S. has announced it’s ready to accept Iran having 6,000 centrifuges. Have you heard of any developments in the technical experts talks?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, the technical experts talks are ongoing. Obviously, there hasn’t been a conclusion. Nothing’s agreed until everything’s agreed. I’m not going to comment on any proposals or reports being discussed out there. Obviously, our view continues to be that we’re not going to accept any arrangement we can’t verify, and we won’t make any promises we can’t keep. So I would just remind everyone that there are a range of audiences, including for Iranian websites or the comments of leaders in Iran, to put out different reports or analysis.
QUESTION: But since this —
QUESTION: It’s still your position that no deal is better than a bad deal, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: But since the —
QUESTION: But is it not the case that the criteria or the standard for a bad deal – or, conversely, a good deal – has changed in the negotiating?
MS. PSAKI: I would disagree with that. What do you mean specifically?
QUESTION: Well, the idea of 6- or 4- or 8,000 centrifuges seems to be a concession on your part, and I’m not sure what the concession from the Iranian side would be. And —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I didn’t have any – I didn’t, obviously, confirm any of those reports, Matt. I would just convey that the goal from the beginning has been to block Iran’s potential paths to a nuclear weapon. Obviously, there are a range of ways of doing that, but that remains our objective and our goal. Certainly, centrifuges and the number is part of the discussion.
QUESTION: So you won’t accept anything less than a deal that blocks Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon? Is that —
MS. PSAKI: Well, this means preventing Iran from producing fuel for a weapon with either uranium or plutonium. Obviously, there are a range of factors that are being discussed, but I don’t think the objective has changed.
QUESTION: Okay. So anything that falls short of that – or has the potential to fall short of that – is unacceptable to the U.S. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not sure what you’re getting at, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, people who have been watching the negotiations – as much as anyone outside of the negotiations can watch or know about them – suggest that you are, in fact, about to – or you could be about to accept a deal that does not meet your own original standard for what a good deal or what a not-bad deal is.
MS. PSAKI: We’re not accepting – no deal remains better than a bad deal. That hasn’t changed. There are a range of issues that are being discussed that we’re certainly not going to outline from the podium.
QUESTION: Jen, can I ask why it was decided to hold the next political directors talks in Muscat, and then go on to meet only a few days later in Vienna? Why – I understand the Secretary’s going to be in Muscat. Was that the only reason, or was it just because Oman’s a kind of out of the way place and you won’t have a lot of world press camping on the doorstep, trying to find out what’s going on?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Oman has been involved in these talks in the past by hosting a variety of meetings. They’ve played a helpful role, which we greatly appreciate. But I don’t think there’s any more – we’re bringing an entire plane of reporters to Oman, so certainly they will ask questions.
QUESTION: But you’ll be leaving before the political directors talks start. They’re on the following day, on the 11th.
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct.
QUESTION: They’re with the political directors from all the countries involved – the P5+1 or the E3+3.
MS. PSAKI: And obviously, it’s a pivotal time in the negotiations. But clearly, as you know, regardless of where they are, there’s little that is briefed out from the negotiations as they’ve been going on because of the decision to keep these as private as possible so that they can be productive.
QUESTION: So is the plan to have one day or two days in Oman and then a break, and then go to Vienna for the 18th?
MS. PSAKI: I think we have to see how the negotiations go. And obviously, the EU and others leading these will make a determination about whether there will be any further days or technical talks or whatever may need to be required. As you know, they’re – they announced that the P5+1 political directors will be meeting in Vienna from the 18th through the 24th. So that remains, but —
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) It just – it still doesn’t make sense why you would have it in Oman. I mean, is there any plan for the directors to go to nearby Iran? I mean, it just makes absolutely – kind of flies in the face of reason, given that you’ve had all of the discussions in Vienna. It just seems —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think any of the participating countries felt that way, and they’re the ones who make the decision, so —
QUESTION: But why was Oman chosen as the – are they party to the talks this time?
MS. PSAKI: They’ve been supportive of the talks and supportive of the effort, and so there was a decision made to have the – this round of talks there.
QUESTION: And can I just ask, did you see – you presumably have seen the scenes out of Tehran this morning, the – it’s the anniversary of the embassy takeover.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And there was a lot of scenes of people with flags and shouting the usual kind of “Death to America” things. Does this – what’s your general reaction to this? Is there a – do you feel that there is an atmosphere in Iran where they’re willing to accept any deal with the Americans, or not?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I’m not in a position to do analysis of the political situation in Iran other than to convey that obviously, as you know, over a year ago, the people elected a president who promised to change the economic situation and the dire straits they all felt they were in economically. Obviously, as we all look back to what happened 34 years ago – did I do my math correctly – 35 years ago, I’m sorry, and the impact that had on badly rupturing American-Iranian bilateral relations and the severance of diplomatic ties that followed, it puts into focus what we’re trying to do now, which is work out a deal where we can prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, from – a nuclear weapon and seeing how the relationship can move forward.
QUESTION: But it doesn’t disturb you, though, to see that some of those feelings —
MS. PSAKI: Of course —
QUESTION: — are obviously still —
MS. PSAKI: Of course, the memories of what happened and the fact that hostages were held for 444 days, 35 years – disturbs any American who —
QUESTION: No, no, no. It’s not —
QUESTION: But I mean, today —
QUESTION: It’s not the memory —
QUESTION: Yeah, it’s today that —
QUESTION: — that she’s asking about.
QUESTION: I mean – yeah.
MS. PSAKI: I know, but that brings up the memory, yes.
MS. PSAKI: It brings up the memory.
QUESTION: Yeah, but if you see —
QUESTION: But I mean, today, the —
QUESTION: — the thousands of people in the – whether it’s larger or smaller than it has been in the past, thousands of people in the streets burning American flags, burning the Israeli flags, screaming “Death to the U.S.” and reprising the Great Satan in the middle of this nuclear negotiation, does that not give you any kind of pause —
MS. PSAKI: Well —
QUESTION: — about who it is that you’re dealing with? This is – I mean, the Iranian Government is one that can essentially turn off or turn on this kind of a protest.
MS. PSAKI: Matt, I think —
QUESTION: And they have chosen to keep it on.
MS. PSAKI: What I was getting at – and I think I was pretty clear about this – is that obviously, the events that happened 35 years ago that led – that there was – these protests were related to today or these events were related to brings up memories and is disturbing to any American. But our focus remains on seeing if there’s an opportunity to reach an agreement on something that’s been an issue in our relationship for – or lack of a relationship for years now, and that’s what our focus remains on.
QUESTION: Yeah, I get that, but I don’t – but you don’t see a problem with the Iranians – at least some in the Iranian leadership or government condoning or allowing this kind of anti-American protest to mark this anniversary? You don’t think that says anything about their credibility as a negotiating partner?
MS. PSAKI: I think this has never been about trust. This is about what we want to see achieved, what the international community wants to see achieved in terms of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Doesn’t mean we aren’t concerned about protests that are happening there today, it doesn’t mean we’re not concerned about human rights violations. We have other concerns that exist.
QUESTION: Right, I understand that, but the Secretary is on his way to go see the foreign minister of Iran, whose government today allowed this kind of a protest to go on with the burning of the flag and the Great Satan and the “Death to America” chants.
MS. PSAKI: Because we have an opportunity to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, which will make the world safer, and we think that’s a worthwhile endeavor to continue to pursue.
QUESTION: Okay. So you’re willing to kind of overlook – I’m not saying you’re overlooking the human rights abuses or support for terrorism or anything like that.
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say I was over – we were overlooking —
QUESTION: No, but you’re prepared – you don’t believe that the protests that we saw today, even in the context of the ongoing negotiations and the fact that Kerry – Secretary Kerry is going to meet Foreign Minister Zarif next week, you don’t see any, I don’t know, disconnect there? Is that —
MS. PSAKI: That’s not at all what I said, but I – we continue to have this – and this is – falls into the same category. Obviously, as you know, we raise American citizens who are detained when we meet with them. We raise other issues where we have concerns. But it doesn’t change the fact that this is a worthy and important objective to pursue. We’ll continue to pursue it regardless of events today.
QUESTION: But even – wait, can I just follow up on that? But – okay, so it seems like once again, you’re kind of stovepiping the nuclear issue. You don’t think – I mean, given that what you were seeing on the ground doesn’t indicate that there’s a chance for better relations between Iran and the U.S., I mean, even if you were to get a nuclear deal?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we didn’t indicate – we’re far from that point, Elise. So we’re focused on the nuclear issue. We’ll see how that works. We’re not having a discussion about other issues at this point in time beyond the ones you’re familiar with.
QUESTION: So you think that the Iranian Government is behind these protests just to sort of exacerbate the situation? Do you believe that?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on that. I think Matt was conveying that.
QUESTION: Or could it be an indication that there may be a schism within Iran itself where the clerics or Khamenei —
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said —
QUESTION: — is trying to stoke the —
MS. PSAKI: — we’re all familiar with the politics in Iran and the fact that there are some who are more in favor of an agreement on nuclear issues than others. And certainly, there are politics in every country, including Iran.
QUESTION: Can we get back to the – just to the substance of the nuclear talks?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is there anything you can say about this New York Times report that Russia has offered and Iran has tentatively agreed to transfer stockpiles of uranium there to be turned into fuel rods?
MS. PSAKI: Well, one, I think I pointed to the fact that we can’t accept any arrangement we can’t verify. Obviously, the Russians are an important partner in the P5+1 negotiations. They’ve played a helpful role. They’ve worked with all members of the P5+1 to put forward creative and reasonable ideas that advance our objective. But beyond that, I don’t have any other comment on that.
QUESTION: But – so assuming that you can verify it, would you welcome such an offer from the Russians?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on that while negotiations are ongoing.
Do we have any more on Iran? Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, Jacob Vawter with Yomiuri Shimbun.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Jacob.
QUESTION: I have a question about – hi. I have a question about China and South China Sea. This morning, Secretary Kerry stated that the U.S. hopes to effectuate the completion of a code of conduct in the South China Sea. What specifically does the U.S. plan to do to help the relevant parties agree to a code of conduct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s – as you know, it will be a big topic of discussion, certainly, at the APEC meetings. The Secretary will attend the ministerial meetings at his level, then there’ll be meetings at the leader level after that. So he’ll continue to work with countries in the region to see how that can be achieved.
QUESTION: Well, wait, I have one more, and I can’t – since we started so long ago, I can’t —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: — remember if your opening statement on Ukraine, I don’t – on Russia had anything about the swearing-in of the prime minister of – did you have any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: Other than to convey that we don’t – I can reiterate what I conveyed yesterday in terms of —
QUESTION: Okay. You don’t have anything —
MS. PSAKI: — not recognizing the new leaders. I don’t have anything new.
QUESTION: There’s nothing specific.
QUESTION: Jen, on Yemen.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Sure.
QUESTION: Press reports coming from the UN said that the U.S. has provided the sanctions committee with information about the role that former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthi leader have made to destabilize the situation in Yemen, and maybe asking for sanctions. Do you have anything on this?
MS. PSAKI: Nothing to add to what I said yesterday about this specific issue.
QUESTION: Do you expect anything today from this committee?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to USUN on that particular question to see if there’s anything forward-moving.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:33 p.m.)