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State Department Briefing by Jen Psaki, November 12, 2013

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–November 12, 2013.

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • U.S. Government Response to Typhoon Haiyan
  • IRAN
    • Progress Made in Geneva/ Next Steps
    • Agreement with IAEA
    • Secretary on Capitol Hill Tomorrow
    • Concerns from Israel
    • Consultations with Congress While on the Road
    • Release of Kidnapped American Citizens
    • Israel Expanding Settlements
    • Ongoing Negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians
    • SOC Announcement to Attend Geneva Conference
    • Lifting of the State of Emergency
    • Egyptian-Russian Relations
    • Keystone Update/Visit by Premier of Alberta
    • Swearing-in Ceremony for Ambassador Kennedy
  • D.P.R.K.
    • Public Execution of Prisoners
  • CUBA
    • Seat on U.N. Human Rights Committee
    • NSA Disclosures
    • Consular Assistance to American Citizens



1:20 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Just have one item for all of you at the top, and then we can get started. I know there’s obviously been a lot of focus on the tragic events in the Philippines, and I just wanted to give a short recounting of some events of this weekend – what we’ve done from here I should say.

This weekend, you should have all seen the statement from Secretary Kerry extending our deepest condolences to the victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan. Super Typhoon Haiyan was one of the strangest storms to ever hit land – strongest storms to ever hit land, and we continue to gather information to assess the extent of this devastation. The United States is playing a significant role in the rescue operation currently underway in the Philippines. Officials from USAID, DOD, and the Department of State are actively assisting in rescue and relief efforts on the ground.

Yesterday, we announced $20 million in humanitarian assistance, including emergency food aid and critical relief supplies for disaster-affected areas. These supplies will not only provide lifesaving care in the immediate aftermath of the storm, but will also help prevent illness and death from waterborne and communicable disease. This will be a long-term effort, and the United States stands by the people of the Philippines during this very difficult time.

With that, Deb.

QUESTION: Can we start with Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: The tweet fest apparently is continuing between Iran and the U.S. The Foreign Minister is now saying – today he said: Mr. Secretary, was it Iran that gutted over half of the U.S. draft Thursday night and then publicly commented against it on Friday morning?

So what kind of reaction do you have to this? I thought everybody was on the same page, and from what Kerry said, I mean, they just needed to go back and check it out. But that doesn’t seem to be what’s going on here.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know some of this was a reaction to what the Secretary said yesterday, and I just wanted to reiterate what he did say, which was the P5 is united, there’s a gap – still a gap between what language may be appropriate that the Iranians – that they are prepared to accept. But we’re all – he believes we’re all negotiating in good faith, something he said many times over the weekend. And he said Iran couldn’t take it at that particular moment. They weren’t able to accept that particular agreement.

Obviously, we made significant progress in Geneva. That’s something the Secretary said coming out. A few gaps remain. The P5+1 is united, came out of the weekend of negotiations united, and there’s still an ongoing discussion, as there was a discussion in the days leading up to Saturday evening. That’s the purpose of a negotiation. As you know, they’re going to be returning – the political directors will be returning late next week to continue this process, and that’s where we’re going from here.

QUESTION: Why do you think that this blame game is going back and forth? Is this a translation issue, or they just didn’t understand what he said, or didn’t —

QUESTION: They think this is him blaming them, saying that they couldn’t accept what was on the table. I mean, they clearly regard that as blaming him. Was the Secretary trying to blame the Iranians?

MS. PSAKI: I think I just stated exactly what he said, and that certainly wasn’t blame. At this point, fault is immaterial. They didn’t agree to an agreement. They’re going to come back next week and continue the discussions and continue the negotiations. We narrowed the gaps. There are still issues that remain, and that’s where things stand. We know diplomacy is hard. It takes time, and the Secretary was conveying that it certainly is only natural that many countries will go back, convene, discuss, and they’ll reconvene next week.

QUESTION: But that’s not what he —

QUESTION: Is the Secretary upset by this? Is the Secretary upset by the tweeting that’s going on, or does he think it’s just for Iranian domestic audiences?

MS. PSAKI: The Secretary doesn’t have any particular analysis of the tweeting. He feels that this is an issue where we came very close to – as you heard him say – to making a deal. He – and I spoke with him about this this morning. Diplomacy is hard, that this is an issue where it’s very complicated. There are a lot of details to discuss. And he feels it’s only natural that they would have to go back and discuss, and that’s why we’re reconvening —

QUESTION: He’s not bothered by these then?

MS. PSAKI: He’s focused on the path ahead. We know where the path ahead is. We are focused on continuing to narrow the gaps and on the negotiations continuing next week.

QUESTION: Does he wish he had not said what he said about their having to go back?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that was a statement of fact that, on Saturday evening, the P5+1 was united. It wasn’t an agreement that could be made between the P5+1 and the Iranians, but I think some of the analysis of what he said, as is evidenced by me just reading what he stated, is not necessarily accurate.

QUESTION: Jen, just to understand you clearly, no blame was assigned to Iran, correct? The Secretary of State does not blame Iran in any way, shape, or form?

MS. PSAKI: It’s not about blame. This is a challenging, difficult, complicated issue. We’ve been working through it. We made – we came out of Geneva having made more progress and closer to an agreement than when we came in. Negotiations are about discussing tough issues. That’s exactly what they did.

QUESTION: What the Secretary said was —

QUESTION: He wasn’t trying to blame him – them?

MS. PSAKI: I think I just stated that, Arshad. I stated he was stating the facts of why we didn’t come to an agreement on Saturday evening.

QUESTION: But you haven’t actually said how he didn’t mean to blame.

MS. PSAKI: I just said it’s – fault is immaterial. It’s not about blame. So I think I addressed your question.


QUESTION: If I may —

QUESTION: You haven’t said he didn’t intend to blame them. It’s sort of odd that you can’t just say that. It’s a simple sentence.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think anything’s odd about it, and I’m not going to let you put words into my mouth.

QUESTION: I’m not putting words in your mouth. I’m —

MS. PSAKI: Said.

QUESTION: — pointing out the absence of words.

MS. PSAKI: Said.

QUESTION: So the Secretary was saying that we came very close – that close. What was it that really scuttled the talks at the end, if they were scuttled?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think broadly speaking – look, there’s been – let me try to give you a few of the principles of what we were going into it with to broaden this a bit, and then, of course, we can go back to your question. As the Secretary said, we’re not going to go into, of course, all the specific details of our negotiating position, but to be clear, the purposes of these negotiations are to prevent – they continue to be to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. To achieve that goal, we’re focused on a phased approach. In the first phase, which is, of course, what we were discussing intensively, was halting – is halting the – the goal of the first phase is to halt the progress of Iran’s nuclear program and roll back key aspects of the program.

So as we look to what our principles were and what we were going into this with the goal of – what our most serious concerns were I guess is the best way to say it, they included the possibility of Iran – and they still include – of Iran producing a sufficient quantity of highly enriched uranium for one nuclear weapon, the possibility of Iran stockpiling centrifuges or increasing the efficiency of their centrifuges, Iran’s ability to produce plutonium, using the Arak reactor, and bringing unprecedented transparency in monitoring of Arak’s program. The initial step would also provide additional time to negotiate a longer-term, comprehensive solution, which is, of course, an important component of this, that addresses all of the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.

So I’m not going to get into details, but I think the broad point here is that diplomacy is hard. We were not surprised by the fact that we had to go back and there was a need to go back and consult, do some consultations. That’s exactly what’s happening, and they’re reconvening just next week.

QUESTION: Okay. Just a quick follow-up. Today Ali Salehi said that in an expression of goodwill they will open up the facility, the Arak facility, for the IAEA. So do you have any comment on that? Is that really an expression of goodwill?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have seen, of course, the announcement by Iran and the IAEA, that they’ve agreed to a new framework of cooperation. Our goal remains that Iran address the international community’s concerns over its nuclear program in a transparent and verifiable way. The agreement with the IAEA is another step towards reaching that goal. While the IAEA-Iran framework addresses the heavy-water production plant at Arak, it does not address the IR-40 reactor. We remain concerned about Iran’s ongoing refusal to provide the IAEA with updated design information for the IR-40, which, as the IAEA has stated, is having an increasingly adverse impact on the agency’s ability to effectively verify the design of the facility and to implement on effective safeguards approach.

We, of course – the P5+1, as I stated in my overview of what our most serious concerns were, we’re discussing these issues as part of the negotiations, and that’s one that they’ll be discussing next week again.

QUESTION: What kind of role play – did Israel play at the last moment – the last – the Iranian talk?

MS. PSAKI: Can you say that one more time?

QUESTION: Israel. What kind of —



MS. PSAKI: Israel.

QUESTION: Israel. What kind of role Israel play the last moment with France – something?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to France on what their concerns were and what they expressed. But we are in close negotiations or close consultations I should say with the Israelis. Under Secretary Sherman was there just yesterday. The Secretary was there in advance of his trip to Geneva. But I don’t want to – we’re aware of their concerns. We understand their concerns. We’re going to continue to consult with them in the days and weeks ahead.

QUESTION: Is that true that Netanyahu reject to shake hand with Secretary Kerry before the last Iranian talk?

MS. PSAKI: No. I’m not aware of that. I was there, and they spent a good couple of hours together, so that wasn’t something that I witnessed while I was there.

QUESTION: Jen, just a quick a follow-up. Is the Secretary appearing before the Banking Committee anytime soon to —

MS. PSAKI: He is. And let me —

QUESTION: And will he call for not to impose more sanctions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just give you all an overview of kind of some of the briefings that we’ve done and that, to the degree I know, what we’re going to do. So prior to his trip, Secretary Kerry had two briefings with Senate leadership on the P5+1 negotiations. He will be briefing the Senate Banking Committee tomorrow in a closed session. He has been updating members of Congress by phone while he traveled. This includes – but is certainly not limited to because these calls are ongoing, and as you all know, he spent 29 years in the Senate and believes that consultation with Congress is a vitally important aspect of policymaking. But he spoke with Senators Graham, Levin, Menendez, Schumer, and Reid over the last week. So many of these calls he was making over the course of the weekend.

Under Secretary Wendy Sherman has also given three briefings on the Hill to House and Senate leadership as well as with the chairs and ranking members of the committees. And later this week, she will give another update to committee leadership as well. So we are very closely engaged with Congress. This consultations will consider – will continue.

In terms of the question on sanctions, the Secretary will be clear that putting new sanctions in place would be a mistake. We are still determining if there’s a diplomatic path forward. What we are asking for right now is a pause, a temporary pause, in sanctions. We are not taking away sanctions. We are not rolling them back. This is about ensuring that our legislative strategy and our negotiating strategy are running hand in hand.

QUESTION: So is he working well with the Chairman Tim Johnson, who said that they would like to see new sanctions imposed?

MS. PSAKI: He will be consulting and briefing a range of members, and that will continue as part of the briefing tomorrow, but also in phone calls throughout the week.

QUESTION: Is the current pause that he’s asking for go to like next week or further on down, as long as the diplomacy is being pursued?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, again, in the overarching goal of having our negotiating strategy and our legislative strategy run hand in hand, it would be for that length of time. Of course, we are hopeful to continue to narrow the gaps. I don’t have any prediction of the negotiations and the meetings next week. But certainly it will be a temporary pause with that goal in mind.

QUESTION: Jen, are you still optimistic that a deal with Iran is still possible next week?

MS. PSAKI: We are still, of course – as I mentioned, we narrowed the gaps. We are – the political directors are reconvening next week. And we remain hopeful that we can continue to close the gaps.

QUESTION: Would there be like a percentage that you would agree to, I mean, in terms of enriched uranium? Like, 5 percent, 4 percent, 3 percent? I mean, what kind of percentages would be acceptable to the United States?

MS. PSAKI: I appreciate your question, Said. I’m not going to get into the details. There have been a range of reports. Given that many of them are conflicting, that is the first sign to all of you that they can’t all possibly be correct. I think I outlined what our primary concerns are, and they include the possibility of Iran producing a sufficient quantity of highly enriched uranium for one nuclear weapon. So that, of course, is part of our principles as we continue the negotiations.

QUESTION: Is there a possibility that Secretary Kerry is going to join the next round next week?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Under Secretary Sherman is leading the delegation, as has always been the case. If there’s a benefit to him being there or if there is a purpose, that’s certainly something we would consider, but that’s not a decision we’ve made at this point.

QUESTION: Does she have a good rapport with the Iranians, considering that she said deception was part of their DNA?

MS. PSAKI: I think she is – I think the Secretary himself described on Saturday evening how the negotiations had been productive, they had been cordial, people had been negotiating in good faith. As a primary member of the negotiating team, I think that tells you what you need to know.

QUESTION: On Sunday —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — Netanyahu made a speech, and he said that Iran is constructing intercontinental ballistic missiles. And he said why they are making all these missiles if it’s not really to put inside of them nuclear weapons and send it to all around the world. And also he mentioned that be prepared because they – those missiles are not only for Israel; they are for you, for the U.S., and things like that. Is this – was this part of the negotiation also on the table, or – they were talking about these warnings or things that are going on with Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly the goal that we have, the United States has, that we share with Israel, that we share with the other P5+1 countries, is that we are not going to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. That is a fundamental point going into these negotiations. One of the reasons the Secretary and other officials, of course, are so focused on these is because we do care deeply about the security of Israel. But we have a responsibility to pursue the diplomatic path, to see if that is – if we can resolve this through diplomacy. Diplomacy should be the first option. That is the view of the Secretary and certainly the way that he is pursuing these negotiations.

We haven’t taken any options off the table. The Secretary reiterated that this weekend. And we are continuing to consult with and work closely with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israelis to keep them up to date on the negotiations and the discussions and reiterate our commitment to those same goals.

QUESTION: Do you think —

MS. PSAKI: Jill. Let’s go to Jill.

QUESTION: Just a quick one on this.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: The Senate Banking Committee, it’s a closed hearing, right?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So is it because there are a lot of classified security things that will be discussed, can you just – number one? And then can you tell us basically what the gist you think will – of the discussion will be? Is it all sanctions or —

MS. PSAKI: Well, that is typically why they are closed. Obviously, the Secretary will lay out where we are in the negotiations. He’ll lay out what our principles are and what our greatest concerns are, which is something that I just laid out for all of you. And certainly, they’ll discuss specific details that it’s important that we work with and we consult with Congress on but may not be appropriate for the public forum at this stage. We anticipate and expect that there will be questions raised about sanctions, given those are public comments that have been made by some members of Congress. And he is more than happy to address that and lay out the reasons why he does not think they should put new sanctions in place at this time.

QUESTION: Jen, staying on the congressional side of things, Senator Menendez has an op-ed in USA Today —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — today that says that tougher sanctions will actually be an incentive for Iran to verifiably dismantle its program, and that will actually be in concert with diplomatic efforts. So I know that that’s – that contradicts the stance that you’ve laid out, but obviously, the Iranians read these kinds of statements as well. Have you gotten any signals from them as to what their reaction would be to sanctions moving forward in Congress?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly, obviously, sanctions is a big point of discussion, as would come as no surprise, in the discussions with the Iranians. They also know that we’re not going to touch the core sanctions, that there needs to be a longer comprehensive agreement. In terms of what their reaction would be to Senator Menendez’s op-ed, I would point you to them.

It’s important to note – and this is, I think, what the Secretary will certainly convey tomorrow and what he’s conveyed on the phone – we put sanctions in place to hold the regime accountable, of course, but to also get to a point where we almost are now, which is to have these negotiations and determine if we can bring an end to the production of nuclear material. So we don’t know that this path will be successful, but diplomacy is – we have a responsibility to pursue diplomacy, and that’s exactly what we’re doing now.

And so that’s why he, Under Secretary Sherman, a range of officials in the Administration, feel that the right step is to put a temporary pause on sanctions. It doesn’t mean we can’t put them in place in the future. They’re not eliminating that. This is simply a pause to see if this negotiating process can work its way through.

QUESTION: Just real quick. Their temporary pause on Congress enacting additional sanctions?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So everything that is there stays in place?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Jen, just to follow up on that – I’m sorry —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — is it fair to say, without getting into too much of the private conversations, that the concerns that Secretary Kerry has that further sanctions would damage prospects for a successful negotiation – is it fair to say that those are based on concerns that he’s heard directly from the Iranians?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak for how the Iranians did or didn’t express concerns. They’ve made many comments publicly, so I’d point you to them. It is fair to say that we – while we appreciate the leverage sanctions has given us – the Secretary has voted for them countless times in the past; we are here because of them – that at this point in the negotiations, it’s not a vote for or against sanctions; it’s a vote for or against diplomacy. And we feel in order to let diplomacy – see if diplomacy can work its way through, that putting a pause on sanctions is the right step, and that not doing so could hurt the negotiations.

QUESTION: Jen, for next week meeting, are you expecting an answer from Iran, or Iran is expecting an answer from the P5+1?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to make – I think we put a – we’ve put a – there was a discussion about a proposal put on the table. There needed to be additional consultations. Those conversations will continue. I don’t want to put a prediction or a label on who has to get back to who. Obviously, the negotiations are about all parties discussing and working with each other to address concerns.

QUESTION: But the Secretary yesterday said that you five – you six, excuse me, were united and it was the Iranians who had to – who couldn’t take the deal that was on the table. I mean, isn’t it fair to expect that you’re expecting a response from the Iranians to what the six have agreed to?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, but what I also was conveying was that over the course of the last couple of days, when the foreign ministers came in, it was natural that they were discussing issues, and that discussion will continue, so I wouldn’t make it as hard as that.

QUESTION: In other words, it’s not just the Iranians getting back to you, it’s possible that the discussion could evolve or the proposal could evolve.

MS. PSAKI: Could continue. And I don’t want to give a label on what the expectation is because, obviously, there’ll be discussions among the political directors between now and then.

QUESTION: And is there any possibility of Secretary Kerry or other – of the six ministers from other of the six nations attending next week’s talks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this isn’t a decision – Under Secretary Sherman will be leading the delegation, as you know. We haven’t made a decision for Secretary Kerry to go. He’s always open to that if that helps move diplomacy forward, but that isn’t a decision we’ve made at this point.

QUESTION: Jen, there is a high-level Israeli delegation in town. Apparently, they want to make the rounds to make a case for tougher sanctions headed by Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett. There’s also an Arab delegation coming to town to do the same thing from the Saudis. Could you confirm that – from Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to them. I’m sure there are many delegations here, but I’m not aware of their visits.

QUESTION: Okay. So their visits or these delegations will not meet with you?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check, Said. It’s possible that they are. I don’t have any list of those delegation meetings at this point.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So the – I think you listed five senators whom the Secretary had conversations with while he was on the road.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Senator Graham, by which you mean Senator Lindsey Graham?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And then Senators Levin, Menendez, Schumer, and Reid.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So that would be Harry Reid?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So how come only one Republican among that group?

MS. PSAKI: I would caution you in doing an analysis of just the list because he’s making calls today as well, so —

QUESTION: So he’s reaching out to Republican senators as well?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Reaching out to both parties and certainly he’s happy to talk to members from both parties and brief them on the details.

QUESTION: And then one other one on Under Secretary Sherman’s plans to brief. Are those going to be tomorrow or after tomorrow?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on that. I know it’s sometime this week, but we can check and give you more specificity if that’s available.

QUESTION: Thank you. And then will they be – those will be closed briefings or open briefings?

MS. PSAKI: Believe closed; just with members of the leadership, so —

QUESTION: And then lastly, in addition to leadership, will it also include members of – I presume it won’t include the Senate Banking Committee because Secretary Kerry will have done that himself. Will it include members of the Foreign Relations Committees?

MS. PSAKI: The truth is, we are open to many forms of consultations. Some of this is still coming together because we just got back last night, so we can provide you daily updates as more things —

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: — are set.

QUESTION: Another subject?

MS. PSAKI: One more on Iran?


MS. PSAKI: And then we’ll go to Jill.

Oh, did you have another on Iran?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Iran, Iran.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, okay.

QUESTION: Yeah, just wanted to ask about – yeah, I know you’re not going into detail, but I just – one thing – I just, like, want to know a little bit more about the heavy water reactor in Arak. As Secretary Kerry told before, this is also a very important issue. In general, how – this isn’t a – it’s going to be completed as early the next year, so it can be produced – plutonium next year. So how important this issue toward this next round? Is it – do you think it’s going to be a key issue in next round in general?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, Iran’s ability to produce plutonium using the Arak reactor is a key issue. That’s why I said it was one of our strong concerns, and one that certainly is an important part of the discussions.

On to a new topic? Oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: One small one on this. Just so we’re clear, the Secretary’s closed-door briefing tomorrow —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — to the Senate Banking Committee, is that to the Committee in its entirety or just to a certain number of members?

MS. PSAKI: I believe it’s to the Committee in its entirety, but we can double check that for you as well.

QUESTION: Great. Do you know the time?

MS. PSAKI: It’s in the afternoon. I don’t know the exact time, but —

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: — we can check that too.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: I think so, but Jill was first on the change. Okay.

QUESTION: Nigeria, the two American sailors who were kidnapped by pirates.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There’s a report that they were released over the weekend – on their way home. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: It is correct. We welcome the release of the two U.S. citizens who were kidnapped from the Retriever. For privacy reasons, we will not provide any additional information on the two individuals or the circumstances of their release. But I can confirm their release.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Said.

QUESTION: Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Israelis announced plans to expand E1 with 20,000 new homes. Could you comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, we were – we are deeply concerned by these latest reports that over 20,000 additional units are in the early planning stages. We were surprised by these announcements and are currently seeking further explanation from the Government of Israel. Our position on settlements is quite clear: We do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity. We’ve called on both sides to take steps to create a positive atmosphere for the negotiations. As you know, the Secretary was there for a couple of days just last week to discuss the path forward.

QUESTION: Why were you – when you say you were surprised, did you expect to get a heads-up on this from the Israelis and you didn’t get one?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we were not – it was not an issue discussed in advance. That’s what I’m conveying, yeah.

QUESTION: And would it have been any better if they had discussed it in advance or telegraphed their intention to do this to you in advance?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not saying it would have been better, but just conveying that it wasn’t an announcement we knew in advance.

QUESTION: And do you see any – there are some people, not perforce me, but who look at such things as potentially reactions to the Iran diplomacy, that the Israeli Government has made no secret of its unhappiness at the deal that it believed was on the verge of being realized with the Iranians. Do you see – and therefore, who might suggest that it is reacting in ways that the U.S. Government doesn’t like on the Israeli-Palestinian front – do you draw or do you see any such potential link?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t be appropriate, nor do I have – do we have the information to suggest that, so I would point you to them to see if there’s more information they want to provide on that front. But what’s important to remind everyone of, and this is something that we’ve been conveying to the Israelis, is that the reason we want to pursue a diplomatic path forward with Iran is because we want to prevent them from acquiring a nuclear weapon, because we are concerned about Israel’s security. The reason we want to pursue Middle East peace talks and a final – resolution of final status issues is because in part we’re concerned about and care deeply about Israel’s security. So we don’t feel the two should be linked, but there is an overarching goal of addressing threats posed to Israel and that’s part of our thinking as well.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. When you say that you were surprised, but why would you be surprised? Because this is an issue that is a major obstacle during the negotiations. It is an issue that you have spoken about last week and the week —

MS. PSAKI: What I was —

QUESTION: — (inaudible), why wouldn’t you raise —

MS. PSAKI: What I was conveying, Said, to be totally clear, is that we didn’t know about the announcement in advance.


MS. PSAKI: So that’s what I was conveying.

QUESTION: But that does not mean that you did not tell them that the expansion of settlements is an obstacle toward peace?

MS. PSAKI: That is the message that we have continued to convey.

QUESTION: Do you expect that – sorry. Do you expect this announcement to affect the negotiations between Palestinians and the Israelis?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly, while we’ve continued to encourage both sides to take steps that are conducive to peace, the reason – and this is the message we’ve been conveying both privately and publicly – that we need to continue to pursue these and why it’s important that both sides reaffirmed their commitment to the nine-month timeframe, is that these are issues that we would resolve through an agreement – through an agreement on final status issues.

So actually, it highlights the need for an agreement on these issues and for continuing the negotiations.


QUESTION: Go ahead.

Well, has the U.S. Government reached out to the Israeli Government to convey its deep concern and surprise?

MS. PSAKI: About this specific announcement?


MS. PSAKI: I’m not – they may have on the – locally. That’s certainly possible. They speak frequently. We always raise concerns about these announcements, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we have on this specific case.

QUESTION: But no calls by the Secretary, for example, or Beth Jones, or —

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of new calls, as of this morning, on this specifically, from Secretary —

QUESTION: It sounds like you’re saying that it – you do think it could affect the negotiations. Because obviously this is one thing that the Palestinians say, that how can they expect the Israelis are negotiating in good faith if they continue to build settlements?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m certainly not making a prediction of that, and our hope is quite the opposite. But we have expressed concerns about steps that are not conducive to the negotiations and to movement toward a peaceful – toward peace, and certainly settlements is one of them.

QUESTION: Do you feel that the Palestinians are so weak that they really have no alternative to negotiating?

MS. PSAKI: I feel that last week the Secretary met with President Abbas twice. He reaffirmed both times his commitment to the nine-month timeframe, to working through difficult issues despite the challenges, and we knew that this would not be easy in every step of the process. So that was important and we’re continuing to move forward.


QUESTION: I guess I’m asking you to get into the Israelis’ head and I don’t want you to, because Israel may feel that no matter what you do, no matter how many announcements we make, no matter how many settlements the – the Palestinians will still have to come to the negotiations because simply they depend on donor money and on U.S. leverage in this case.

MS. PSAKI: So you have a question in there?

QUESTION: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yes, I do. I mean, do you feel that the Palestinians have no other alternative except to negotiate throughout the nine months, despite what happens on the ground?

MS. PSAKI: We feel that both sides – there’s a reason for both sides to come to the table and pursue the negotiations, which is to resolve many of these outstanding issues that have been challenging for decades. So both sides have reasons to come to the table.

QUESTION: I understand. But where is the reciprocity? Because the Palestinians stopped their efforts at the United Nations and other agencies and so on. But there seems to be no reciprocity from Israel. So what is your position on that?

MS. PSAKI: As you know, the Israelis released – they’ve released two tranches of prisoners. There have been steps by both —

QUESTION: Prisoner that should have been released 20 years ago.

MS. PSAKI: — there have been steps, Said, by both sides. But obviously there’s more steps that need to take place. The issues are challenging. They’re difficult. And – but we remain committed to them because we feel a resolution is so important to stability in the region and to the prosperity of both the Israeli and the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: Jen, just – sorry.

QUESTION: Jen, just one brief thing.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I know you’re trying to tamp this down because of course it’s bad. But the timing is particularly bad because you have the Secretary on the line. This is very high stakes diplomacy. It’s very – it’s not public, because we of course don’t know any details, but it is – it’s significant. And to have this happen at this particular time seems to beg a stronger reaction from the United States. Is it that you don’t want to jeopardize so you want to kind of keep your comments brief and not get into something? Or don’t you care?

MS. PSAKI: Are you talking about settlements or what are you referring to?

QUESTION: Settlements. Settlements.

MS. PSAKI: I can assure you that these issues have been raised between the Secretary and Prime Minister Netanyahu on several occasions and will continue to be as needed. However, coming to a conclusion, continuing to move the negotiations forward is a huge priority because it’s the – in the best interests of both the Israeli and the Palestinian people. So I don’t think we’ve been shy about our disapproval of settlements, so we’ve called them illegitimate. We haven’t conveyed that – and at no point in any aspect of the negotiations have we or the Palestinians condoned them. But we want to move forward, we want to continue to work towards a resolution, because that’s the only way to resolve these issues.

QUESTION: But you know —

QUESTION: Back at the very beginning, it was my understanding that Netanyahu told Kerry, “Look, we’ve got these settlement announcements in the pipeline, these are going to happen. I’m sorry, but this is going forward.”

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So you weren’t really surprised about those, okay? And I remember you all said these were already announced long ago or whatever, even though they were coming at a time when the negotiations were just getting going. You said, “No, no, no. We knew about these, they were coming and everything was fine. Is this the first time that a new one has come along that was not part of that initial forewarning?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t recall us specifying which ones we were surprised and not surprised about. The Secretary did say last week, to your point, that it wasn’t a surprise that we knew there would be more announcements. So I don’t recall us specifying that with the different announcements.

QUESTION: But this one you said you didn’t even know about.

MS. PSAKI: In advance. I’m not saying we knew about every other one, we just didn’t know about this one in advance.

QUESTION: Do you think that this is something that – the Secretary has said in the past that some of the announcements the Prime Minister didn’t have any control of.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you think that this is a case where there are people that are trying to torpedo the peace negotiations and that Prime Minister Netanyahu really has no leverage here on that? Do you think that the Prime Minister knew in advance and didn’t tell the Secretary? I mean, where – where do you think in terms of —

MS. PSAKI: It’s a good question, and you’re right that, as you know, there are many stages in the process that are announced regarding settlements, and there are some that certainly he doesn’t control. On this specific case, I’d have to talk to our team and see if there’s more of a backstory to it.

QUESTION: Do you think that the Prime Minister in particular is committed to a kind of unofficial freezing of settlements in terms of trying to give some flexibility in the negotiations, or do you think that —

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think he ever stated that, nor did we ever state that. So I wouldn’t venture to guess that he is committed to that.

QUESTION: Jen, do you believe that there is a high level of tension between Israel and the U.S. Administration, and specifically, between Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Netanyahu?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I think they have a long relationship. They have a strong relationship. They work through and discuss issues where they agree and disagree when needed. Certainly Prime Minister Netanyahu has expressed concerns and questions about our diplomatic path and our pursuit of that on Iran, and the Secretary is happy to address those. They discussed that last week while they also discussed the status of negotiations. And Under Secretary Sherman was just there yesterday or two days ago briefing Israeli officials. So those conversations will continue. But a definition of the strength of a relationship is not about agreeing on everything; it’s about having – also having discussions where you may disagree, and that may be the case right now.

QUESTION: Can we move to another topic? Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any comments on the statements by the Syrian Opposition Coalition that they will attend the conference provided that it’s – there is a mechanism to move Assad from power at the end of the process?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we do welcome the Syrian coalition’s decision to participate in the Geneva conference. This is a significant step forward in the process to convene the Geneva conference, whose goal is the full implementation of the Geneva communique, and most importantly, establishing by mutual consent of the two negotiating delegations a transitional governing body. We also represent – we also welcome the inclusion of representatives of the Kurdish national coalition within the Syrian coalition, ensuring the coalition is more inclusive of Syria’s diversity.

We agree with Joint Special Representative Brahimi that there should not be preconditions on Geneva 2. However, we would note, as Secretary Kerry said following the London 11 meeting ministerial, that the implementation of Geneva 1, through that process, which is the creation of a transitional governing body by mutual consent – that’s not a process through which there is a way to see how Assad would be a part of a transitional governing body. So the implementation, the intent of the process is – if their intent is for Assad to go, that actually would be a part of the process of implementing Geneva 1.

QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t require as a precondition that when they begin the negotiations, at the end of that negotiation, Assad should be gone, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the purpose of the negotiations is to implement Geneva 1. As part of that is the creation of the transitional governing body by mutual consent. Since the opposition is not going to agree for Assad to be part of the transitional governing body, implementing Geneva 1 accomplishes that.

QUESTION: Okay. Finally – from my end here – do you expect this opposition to be able to represent the militants on the ground, the rebels on the ground with guns?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think you’re familiar with our view on the extremist members of the opposition and that we want the moderate opposition underneath the umbrella of the SOC to be representative there. Right now, the next step is for them to appoint a delegation that’s strong and inclusive. That’s a step they’re working on as we speak. The next step, in terms of the planning, is for a trilateral discussion – the next trilateral discussion, which will also take place in Geneva on November 25th, where Under Secretary Sherman will be leading the delegation.

QUESTION: So this appointed delegation should include, like, the Free Syrian Army or people on the ground that are considered moderate rebels and so on?

MS. PSAKI: They are – we believe it should be inclusive. We believe it should be strong, it should be underneath the umbrella of the SOC. They’re working through that now.

QUESTION: Jen, after the opposition’s statement yesterday —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — do you have a clearer idea now when the Geneva 2 conference will be held?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re still – deliberations are ongoing about the optimum date for the Geneva conference. I just mentioned the trilateral meeting which will take place in about two weeks, again, with the same representatives who were there last week. So I’m certain they will be discussing that there, and we’re continuing to consult on the optimum time to have a conference.

QUESTION: And do you expect any announcement after this meeting about the date?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to make a prediction, but obviously, that’s the step we’re moving closer to.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: You always talk about Geneva 2 implementing Geneva 1 —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — which means establishing this governing body. Is it an end by itself to establish this governing body, or there is steps that would – I mean, why would this governing body we established – to do what? Is there agreement on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – I would point you to the London 11 communique, which talked about a bit of this, but it certainly is not the end step. There is a long way to go for Syria, but the concern is the alternative to not pursuing a political transition – which would be done through a transitional governing body, to have representatives from both sides, to manage the path forward – would be the continued destruction of Syria and the bloodshed of the people. So that is a step that would begin the process to moving the political transition forward.

QUESTION: But there is no roadmap for this governing body. I mean, like, having elections or anything of the sort.

MS. PSAKI: Certainly part of that, which are all important steps, would be part of an ongoing discussion that would take place, but our focus now is on getting all parties to the table to create a transitional governing body.

QUESTION: And this, in turn, will put the roadmap.

MS. PSAKI: Well, of course, there are many steps that would need to take place. You’re absolutely correct that a transitional governing body in itself does not resolve the crisis in Syria. But it is an important step toward doing that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Different topic?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.


MS. PSAKI: One moment. Do we have any more on Syria? Okay. Go ahead. Egypt.

QUESTION: Egypt. There are reports coming out of Egypt or Cairo today that talking about the end of the emergency state —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And the curfews system that was applied for the last few weeks or few months, let’s say. You have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: We do. We welcome the formal lifting of the state of emergency, including the curfew. However, we would also note that the government is considering other legislation regarding security. We urge the government to respect the rights of all Egyptians. This includes ensuring that Egyptians on all sides can peacefully exercise their right to freedom of assembly and expression as well as ensuring due process and that all civilians arrested are referred only to civilian courts. So we welcome it, but there are other steps of concern.

QUESTION: The concerns that you are talking about, I assume that you had the chance to raise it with the Egyptian Government when you were there, right?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly all of those issues were discussed when the Secretary was there.

QUESTION: There is another question related to the – before the – your being there, I mean, the Secretary being there and after that, there is a lot of talk about the – what we call it, the Russians are coming, or —

MS. PSAKI: Is that what we’re calling it? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Or at least in different way. The rapprochement with Russians, it’s (inaudible) coming together anyway. So it’s – is that an issue that – how do you see it? Is there any concern about that, especially when there is a talk about possibility of having arms or purchasing arms?

MS. PSAKI: Are you talking about the upcoming visit of the Russian Foreign Affairs —


MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: And in that line, the whole tone of the – talk of the town, let’s say, it’s about the possibility of taking arms from Russia or visits and more investment in Russia, whether diplomatically or politically.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can only speak to our relationship. Obviously, the Secretary was just there. He discussed our commitment to the long-term success of Egypt. That was a message he delivered. It was important for him to go visit. He also discussed steps that they need to continue to take to implement the roadmap, to put in place greater protections for the people of Egypt. We remain committed to that. His trip there is evidence of our commitment to Egypt. We’re aware that, of course, the Russians have a delegation visiting. I would point you to Russian and Egyptian officials for any more details on what they hope to accomplish.

QUESTION: Generally do – you don’t have any concern regarding because this is an issue – it was raised before with other countries when there is kind of rapprochement with certain elements or certain other countries. Is – was there – this issue was raised or this concern was discussed or touched even?

MS. PSAKI: Which issue?

QUESTION: The issue of Egyptian-Russian approach or let’s say coming close to each other.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of that being a part of the discussion. As you know, we were there for a short period of time. There were a range of issues to discuss. The Secretary had quite a few meetings while he was there, but it was more about the Egypt-U.S. relationship.

QUESTION: Yes, my final question is related. Secretary, when he is meeting in Abu Dhabi —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and in U.A.E. in general, talk about the necessity or the importance of the agreement, or let’s say there is a necessity to support Egyptian economy —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and all these things. Can you a little bit elaborate about details or that was discussed in detail, or it’s just like a – like a talk?

MS. PSAKI: Well, are you talking about what the Secretary said in the U.A.E. or —

QUESTION: Yes, U.A.E. I mean, now I’ve moved little bit east.

MS. PSAKI: Well, of course there are detailed talks as it relates to that, because long before the events of July 3rd the Secretary had had meetings previously with government officials, concerns about the Egyptian economy and the need to grow that has – they continue. They continue to exist. So certainly there are discussions about that. That’s a key pillar of Egypt’s success moving forward. We want Egypt to be successful. We want the people to flourish. So part of that is economic reforms and ensuring that the economy is thriving and growing.

QUESTION: Just to clarify more about —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Not the topic itself, but what was discussed with the UAE officials regarding this topic? I mean —

MS. PSAKI: Regarding Egypt?

QUESTION: Egypt, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: The Secretary provided an update on his visit, which happened just a couple of days before, conveyed that we want the transition in Egypt to succeed, that there are steps that we believe the interim government needs to take. But overall, the purpose of our visit was to convey that and to have a conversation about our relationship, which is one we’re deeply committed to.

QUESTION: One small one on –

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: When I came out, I had not seen that the state of emergency had formally been lifted.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Had you seen that?


QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I have a question about the Keystone XL Pipeline.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: It’s been five years since the approval process was initiated, and I think the Premier of Alberta is in Washington. I think she even had meetings with State Department officials. Could you just comment on the status of the approval process and —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: — how those meetings are going, if there’s anything to be said on that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an update on the process or prediction of the timing of its conclusion. I know you’re well aware that we’ve been reviewing comments and working towards the final report. You are right that Assistant Secretary Jones and other State Department officials – that she is meeting, I should say, with Alberta Premier Alison Redford today. She meets regularly, as do other State Department officials, with interested parties at their request. Premier Redford requested the meeting. It’s a routine meeting. They’ve met before, but beyond that, I don’t have any update on timing or status.

QUESTION: Do you – are you aware of the Fraser Institute report? There’s an institute in Canada that did a report on this recently saying it was 37 times safer than transporting it via roadway?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not. I’m sure that our OES team is. I’m happy to check with them and see if we have any specific reaction on it if that’s helpful.

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: This is the swearing-in of Ambassador Caroline Kennedy to Japan.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Why is that swearing-in closed? I mean, the Administration made such a big public deal about nominating her in the first place —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — that I would think it would be something that would be open to the press so that you – there is a precedent for opening such a swearing-in.

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on that, Elise. Some are closed, some are open.

QUESTION: Can you leave it up to the person themselves whether they want it to be open or closed?

MS. PSAKI: Sometimes we do, and I know that there – the Embassy of Japan is hosting an event for her later this evening, which I believe there’s press access to. So people will certainly have the opportunity to see her and to see the Secretary wishing her well. But I’m happy to check if there are more details on it.

QUESTION: Can we go to North Korea?

MS. PSAKI: To – I’m sorry, to where?

QUESTION: North Korea?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have a response to reports of public executions taking place sometimes in response to the purported crime of watching South Korean television shows?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I can predict what our view would be of this, but I do want to talk to our team about it, so – I didn’t have a chance to do that before I came down here, so why don’t we get something specific for you, and of course, anyone who’s interested in this topic.

QUESTION: Cuba won a seat in the Human Rights Committee in the United Nations. Any comment of this?

MS. PSAKI: I did see that. One moment, I have some thoughts on this.

We regret that some countries elected to the Human Rights Council have failed to show their commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. In creating the council, member-states pledged to take human rights records into account when voting for council membership. However, at the same time, we have been able – there are countries that were just elected – including Russia, Cuba, and China – who have previously served on the council before and we have still been able to work together and make progress. So that is what we are hopeful of with the council moving forward.

QUESTION: NSA, just a follow-up.  A couple weeks ago, German delegation and another delegation from Europe —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — visited here and talk about what – yeah, the solution. Could you tell me – can you update these couple weeks and – yeah, the progress?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, there is a review that’s ongoing that’s being led by the White House that the President called for. It’s looking at activities around the world with a special emphasis on examining whether we have the appropriate posture when it comes to heads of state and how we coordinate with our closest allies and partners, and what our further guiding principles should be.

The State Department is, of course, participating in that. Our role here is, of course, as the chief diplomat, Secretary Kerry, of the country, and as many other chief deputy diplomats around him, is to communicate with, hear from, listen to any concerns as they’re expressed, hopefully alleviate those concerns, and strengthen our intel-gathering relationships moving forward. But that review is ongoing, and we still expect it to be completed by the end of the year.

QUESTION: I know it’s very difficult, but how do you think it can make a balance between national security and protecting the private sector?

MS. PSAKI: How can we?


MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s a part of the review and one of the major issues that’s being looked at. And certainly, we want to continue to protect United States citizens and protect those of our allies, but also recognize, as the Secretary has said and as the President has said, that sometimes there’s an inclination to keep up with technology, and we have to take a close look at those principles that I just laid out.

QUESTION: I’ve just got a brief question.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: We’ve got a lot of —

MS. PSAKI: Did you say what topic? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Philippines.

MS. PSAKI: Philippines, yes.

QUESTION: We’ve got a lot of information on U.S. aid being delivered there, but I wanted to ask, are you aware of any evacuation efforts going on of Americans from hardest hit areas, and if so, do you have any details?

MS. PSAKI: Let me give you just a little update – and obviously, there’s a lot of coordination going on between all of the agencies, and a tremendous focus by all the relevant agencies on this, so – but just to give you a brief update, there have been two U.S. citizen deaths in the Philippines. The number may change as we receive additional information. The U.S. Embassy in Manila is providing consular assistance to the families of the deceased. Out of the respect of the families, we’re not, of course, providing details.

Consular officials are also checking on – in on the welfare of U.S. citizens who have enrolled with the Embassy or whose loved ones have contacted us. A team of Embassy officials will travel to the impacted area on November 13th to assist U.S. citizens in what their needs are.

Go ahead, Elise.

QUESTION: Can you – maybe you’re going to do that – but can you quantify how many welfare and whereabouts requests you’ve gotten, and how many have checked in? I mean, how many – if you could provide any numbers on how many Americans —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — not necessarily are in the area, but how many Americans that you know of that you’re either dealing with or looking for or —

MS. PSAKI: I believe that’s not a number we can provide, and it’s obviously – but let me check with our consular team and see if there’s more details we can give you on that.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, usually, it’s an issue of security and —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: — if it’s a dangerous place and you don’t want to for those, but I do believe in previous cases such as the tsunami —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and other – or Haiti and other international disasters, there is a precedent for talking about those numbers in terms of how many Americans you’re looking for.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. We – I will check with them and see where we are and if there’s a number to update you on. In terms of the question of evacuation, I’ll have to check with them on that as well. I mean, the point is we are – the situation is fluid, of course. We’re contacting citizens on the ground. We’re making our Consular Affairs officials available. We have a stateside call center. Individuals are encouraged to contact, email the U.S. Embassy directly if they need assistance. So we are taking every step possible to help on the ground.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:15 p.m.)

Source: state.gov


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