Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–November 22, 2013.
- Philippines Humanitarian Aid
- Condolences to Latvia
- IRAN / P5+1 NEGOTIATIONS
- Ongoing Negotiations in Geneva
- Secretary Kerry’s Calls Today
- Reports of Detention of U.S. Citizen / Privacy Act Waiver
- MIDDLE EAST PEACE
- U.S. Close Engagement with Both Sides
- Additions to U.S. Middle East Peace Team
- Need for Conclusion of Bilateral Security Agreement according to Existing Timeline
- Post-2014 Troop Presence
- U.S. Assistance to Afghanistan
- OSCE / Assistant Secretary Nuland
- Secretary Kerry’s Remarks
- Bilateral Relationship / Aid
- Concerns about Safety and Wellbeing of Journalists in Syria
- OPCW / Destruction of Materials
- Planning for Geneva II
- Potential Arrest by U.S. Authorities
- Internal Politics / Encourage Cooperation
1:29 p.m. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. So I have two updates for all of you at the top. I know we’ve been providing regular updates on our aid to the Philippines as they recover from the typhoon. We have now provided – the United States has now provided nearly $50 million in humanitarian assistance for those affected by the typhoon.
One other piece, just at the top: The U.S. – the United States extends its deepest condolences to the people of Latvia for the tragedy at a shopping complex in Zolitude. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. At this time, there’s no information that indicates any U.S. citizens were present at the time of the collapse. And we continue – our Embassy on the ground, of course, continues to monitor the situation in coordination with the Latvian authorities.
I’m sure that’s what you were going to ask about.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, good. Then I’ve answered it.
Go ahead, Deb.
QUESTION: So, I understand you can’t say anything about whether or not Kerry’s going to be attending the Geneva talks or not.
MS. PSAKI: I do not have any updates on his travel plans.
QUESTION: Okay. And is there – there are rumors that they’ve made some progress on the issue of enrichment rights that the Iranians are pushing for, that there’s an agreement on some kind of language. Is there anything that you could enlighten us about on that front?
MS. PSAKI: I cannot. Obviously, the negotiations, as you all know, are ongoing on the ground. Let me just give you a quick update on what’s happening on the ground.
The day began today with High Representative Ashton and the EU delegation sitting back down at the negotiating table with Foreign Minister Zarif and the Iranian team to keep working to narrow gaps in the text. After that meeting, the delegations went back to have conversations with their capitals and other internal consultations. The Ashton-Zarif meeting reconvened this afternoon. Talks are ongoing right now. At the same time, technical experts are also meeting. So because of that, and because, of course, negotiations are fluid, our sleeves are rolled up, we’re knee-deep in the negotiations, but I can’t give a specific update to all of you on where the text stands.
QUESTION: How are they going? How are they going, though?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously we knew they would be tough, and they’re working to narrow the gaps. I don’t have any other further characterization than that.
QUESTION: We’ve got other foreign ministers coming to the talks. That sort of makes us believe there is some progress that’s being made.
MS. PSAKI: I would defer to other foreign ministers and their teams for describing why they’re joining. Obviously, as the Secretary said the last time, if there is an opportunity for him to help narrow the gaps, then he certainly is happy to attend. He’s been in close contact with the negotiating team and obviously will make a decision soon, I presume.
QUESTION: Any calls or anything today that you can talk to us about? Did he talk to Lavrov?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he’s been in close touch with the team on the ground and he did speak with EU High Representative Ashton earlier today.
QUESTION: What about Lavrov?
MS. PSAKI: He has not spoken with Lavrov as of – with Foreign Minister Lavrov, I should say, as of me coming down to the briefing room.
QUESTION: And the fact that Foreign Minister Lavrov has arrived in Geneva, is it for you a good sign? Is it – I mean, is it a sign that you are moving toward a deal or —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to speculate on what decision was made in their capital about his travel. Even if the Secretary travels, it’s not a prediction of the outcome. These negotiations are ongoing. They still would be. There are tough issues on the table. That’s what the negotiating team is working through. Obviously, it’s a good sign that EU High Representative Ashton and Foreign Minister Zarif are having these talks. That’s something that we have encouraged because it is more efficient and effective to have one-on-one negotiations instead of seven delegations around the table. It’s further indication of how unified the P5+1 is. But again, we haven’t made a decision yet. And I know others have made decisions, and as soon as we have more to say, I hope to tell all of you.
QUESTION: So the talks are going to go – going to last until Saturday, then, from what it sounds – it sounds like, from what you’re saying.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ll let them give updates on the ground. Obviously, it’s six hours ahead there. I’m not sure if they’ve given indication from the EU what the next steps are.
QUESTION: I mean, it’s actually already Saturday. It’s already Saturday in Geneva; it must be. It’s 1:30 here, six hours ahead, so —
QUESTION: No, not quite. Sorry, not quite. 7:30.
MS. PSAKI: I though, wow, are they that far ahead?
QUESTION: Sorry, my math was never a strong point. So – (laughter).
MS. PSAKI: I will let – that’s okay. Probably for none of us. Yeah, I will let the EU give updates. Obviously, this is very fluid and we’re in constant touch with the team on the ground.
QUESTION: But at some point, if the Secretary’s going to travel, a decision will have to be made, presumably today, because otherwise it’s going to become moot, isn’t it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as we always said, the talks could be extended. Obviously, that’s not something I’m aware of at this time being speculated, but clearly, we’ll have to make a decision if we’re traveling today soon.
QUESTION: Does he want to go?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to read out for you his personal thoughts. He wants to go if he could be helpful in narrowing the gaps and working with the P5+1 team to do that.
QUESTION: But just to follow up on Nicolas’ and Jo’s questions, I mean, isn’t it an incentive, the fact that Lavrov is there and then the fact that Brahimi is there? In fact, you could get two birds in one stone, correct? I mean, you could do the P5+1 and then you could talk a little bit about Geneva II.
MS. PSAKI: Well, you would be an excellent scheduler, Said.
QUESTION: Oh, yeah. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: I can’t predict for you what meetings he may or may not have —
QUESTION: I mean, that’s how I juggle things. Yeah.
MS. PSAKI: — if we go to Geneva. Obviously, he speaks – he’s met many, many times with Foreign Minister Lavrov and with Special Representative Brahimi. And – but I don’t have a prediction of what would be included in his schedule.
QUESTION: Okay, going back to the P5+1 talks —
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do one —
QUESTION: Just one more question, real quick.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: I’ll ask you a question that I asked you on Tuesday —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: — regarding the enrichment.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Now, everybody agrees that there is a level of enrichment that Iran can have that will disallow her from ever obtaining a nuclear bomb. Why is that so objectionable to you? Why couldn’t Iran have a level of enrichment, of uranium enrichment, that would allow it to use it for peaceful means, for peaceful purposes, and not ever weaponize?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, we have said we’re open to Iran having a peaceful program. Obviously, this is part of what’s being discussed in the negotiations. We don’t recognize that any country has a right to enrich. We have – that’s been our policy for decades. Iran has been saying, I believe for decades, that they believe they have the right to enrich. So what we’re working through is whether those two positions can be reconciled through the negotiations and through an agreement, and that’s what we’re hopeful of.
QUESTION: And I’m sorry, on the issue of loosening or bringing down the sanctions a little bit, it seems like the Iranians want two things: want to release their money and want to be able to export oil. Would that be something that you would do in terms if you were to loosen the sanctions —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to give a —
QUESTION: — right away as a priority?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, to be very clear, what we’re working on right now is a first step. So on the enrichment front, the first step, six-month step, would include significant limits on Iran’s enrichment capabilities and existing stockpiles of uranium in order to halt the progress of Iran’s nuclear program and roll it back in key aspects.
On sanctions, the core sanctions regime, as we’ve said many times, is not what we’re talking about here. That includes oil, but there would be – but what we are considering is some reversible sanctions relief. So that’s part of the discussion, but I’m not going to predict for you what the outcome will be.
QUESTION: Jen, on that?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: In the briefings that – in the rundown you gave of the briefings, there has been no one-on-one meeting between the American side and the Iranian side.
MS. PSAKI: They did have a one-on-one meeting two nights ago.
QUESTION: Two nights ago, but since then nothing. It’s all been —
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of. I’m happy to double-check. I think it’s important for contextual purposes here to remind you that EU High Representative Ashton is speaking on behalf of the P5+1. So this is a signal of where we are in these talks and negotiations that we’re unified. It’s efficient and effective to have them negotiating one-on-one. And of course, we’re very engaged in the conversations and the content and the dialogue, and there are many meetings that happen outside of those meetings.
QUESTION: Then is Cathy Ashton coming back and briefing the delegations separately after she’s talked with Foreign Minister Zarif? Is that the structure of it?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, yes, there’s been many meetings with EU High Representative Ashton outside of the meetings with Foreign Minister Zarif.
QUESTION: But it’s not a sign of any problems between the American and the Iranian delegations that you’ve decided —
MS. PSAKI: No, it’s —
QUESTION: — to focus it on —
MS. PSAKI: We’ve, in fact, encouraged – we’ve encouraged, as have the other P5+1 countries, this process.
QUESTION: Did Kerry call Ashton, or did Ashton call Kerry?
MS. PSAKI: It doesn’t usually work that way. Typically, it’s a scheduled call and the staffs talk about when they can —
QUESTION: Which one initiated —
MS. PSAKI: — touch base.
QUESTION: Oh, it’s a touching-base thing, not – it wasn’t initiated by either side necessarily?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you schedule the calls, so you know they’re happening quite some time in advance. And it’s only natural that they would be touching base given the ongoing negotiations.
QUESTION: Jen, could you tell us, in terms of trying to understand what the Secretary is doing, thinking, you said, “if he can be helpful.”
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Which is kind of broad. Is there anything, more specificity, that you can give us? Is there – would there have to be a deal, like they reached the principal, big picture and he will come and help? Does he – do you envision or does he envision actually getting in there and taking a piece of paper and saying, “Here, here’s how you can do it”?
MS. PSAKI: If needed, he certainly would. So given we haven’t —
QUESTION: Participate in the negotiations in that way?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely, absolutely. So any decision is not a prediction of the outcome. It is a decision made in consultation with the negotiating team, with the P5+1, certainly, of course, with our colleagues at the White House, that this is the – that it is – would be helpful, despite the fact that there may be tough issues remaining on the table, for the Secretary to travel and help narrow the differences.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I’m wondering – is it – I mean, you’ve been talking about this as a first step and not a final deal.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So is there a danger of going there and making – and over-emphasizing this, having the Secretary be there? And the other – the flip side of that question is: Does he need to be there to sign anything, or is this more of a low-level agreement since it is just a first step?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. On the second question, I’d have to check if there would actually be a physical signing of something. I’m happy to do that.
On the first question, this is a decision that’s not black and white. It’s a strategic decision that would be made about what would be helpful to move the ball forward. If he needs to help negotiate, he will do that. If that involves going through paper line by line, I think you’ve all seen that he’s more than happy to do that overnight if that’s needed.
So those are all steps that he is open to partaking in. But of course, there are many countries involved in this, and we’re trying to make a decision about what is most useful.
QUESTION: Isn’t there also the risk of cheapening the U.S. posture on these talks by having the Secretary seemingly travel every time there’s a development, and we don’t know until we actually get to the moment whether it’s a completed deal, a possible deal, or something has fallen apart? I’m thinking now of if I’m an Israeli or I’m a Saudi, I’m wondering – I’m already nervous about all this, and then every time they go, it seems as if the U.S. isn’t really handling the situation appropriately. But how do you manage that perception that could be out there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would disagree with the premise of that. These are tough and challenging negotiations. It’s not easy to get to the finish line. And as the Secretary has said many times, he is the last person who’s going to accept a bad deal. Obviously, that’s not something anyone wants to accept in the P5+1. But at the same time, we’re closer than we’ve ever been in a decade to achieving a diplomatic agreement for a first step with the Iranians.
Now, yes, to Michelle’s point, there would – over the first six months, there would be a discussion of a comprehensive agreement. But without a first step, you certainly don’t have a viable path to a comprehensive agreement, so that’s why this is such an important decision. But also, the Secretary, as you know, believes personally in – believes in personal diplomacy, believes that face-to-face negotiations are effective. Obviously, he has a top-of-the-line negotiating team on the ground, and we’ve been working closely with Ashton, who’s leading this delegation and leading the process. But certainly, I don’t think he would mind hopping on the plane – on a plane to fly to Geneva if that’s a step that makes sense and that determination is made.
QUESTION: Let me put it a little more baldly. There could be the perception from those quarters that perhaps the U.S. is a bit too eager if every time there’s a convening of the P5+1 the Secretary finds his way there, especially if something doesn’t come out of his having gone there. It seems as if the expectations are raised and then there’s nothing to deliver.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, by my count, there have now – this is now the sixth round, I believe, of P5+1 negotiations this year. Math is not my strength either, but I think I’m right.
MS. PSAKI: He has been to one. Obviously, we were very close to an agreement last time. He would be going to continue to narrow those differences. So these decisions – this decision would be made with that in mind.
QUESTION: Let me just – a quick follow-up. If he does go, would that be an indication that, indeed, a deal is at hand?
MS. PSAKI: I think I just answered that. I’m happy to answer it again for you.
QUESTION: Answer it again, yes.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. (Laughter.) It would not be a prediction of the outcome. As to Jill’s question, which was a good one, it is certainly possible that he would arrive in Geneva and need to roll up his sleeves and negotiate or go through a document. I don’t have a prediction of that yet, but that certainly is something he’s open to if that’s a necessary step in the process.
QUESTION: Just —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I’m all about logistics today.
MS. PSAKI: I know. It’s okay.
QUESTION: Do you have a final cutoff point at which you’re going to make a decision that you can tell us about, a final hour by which everybody will be able to go to sleep and think he’s either going or not going?
MS. PSAKI: I do not, Jo, so drink some coffee and we’ll all work through this together. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You’ll let us know, (inaudible) —
MS. PSAKI: Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: — question. Let me make sure that I heard you right. You said we’re working now on the first step, and that would include some enrichment. Did I hear you right?
MS. PSAKI: Significant limits —
MS. PSAKI: — on Iran’s enrichment capabilities and existing stockpiles of uranium.
QUESTION: So it’s fair to say that the major opponent of this agreement to that moment is this – how much enrichment they are insisting on and how much you are. Is that the —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve said this a couple times before. But enrichment capability is obviously a big factor. The plutonium track is obviously a big factor. Transparency and accountability is obviously a big factor. No one is going to agree to a deal – not the United States, not the P5+1 – unless we are satisfied about the first step.
Should we move on to a new topic? Or Jill, go ahead.
QUESTION: North Korea?
MS. PSAKI: North Korea? Okay, yes.
QUESTION: Just a quick question: Is there any indication –
MS. PSAKI: (Off-mike.)
QUESTION: — I know you can’t say that much, but is there any indication about the identity of Mr. Newman, that there might be another Mr. Newman?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any speculation on that. I know what we have all seen, comments of his family members. I do have a couple of updates. I still can’t say very much, given the Privacy Act waiver issue, so I don’t have an update on the specific reports of the recent detention of a U.S. citizen.
But for everybody’s knowledge, without a written waiver of a U.S. citizen’s privacy, we cannot comment or confirm details of specific cases involving U.S. citizens. That’s the policy. I can confirm that our Swedish protecting power has been informed by North Korea of the detention of a U.S. citizen. We are working in close coordination with representatives of the Embassy of Sweden to resolve this issue, and they also have requested, actually on a daily basis, consular access.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Is there any concern about this particular citizen’s health issues, given the many reports about his advanced age, for example?
MS. PSAKI: Well, given I can’t confirm the identity of a detained individual, it’s hard for me to speculate on other specific details from the podium.
QUESTION: But would that go to the Swedish Embassy’s request for daily visits, because I don’t – I’m not aware that that’s been the case of others.
MS. PSAKI: It’s not daily visits – they’ve requested on a daily basis. And obviously, they haven’t been granted that access.
QUESTION: Jen, does Ambassador Robert King have any reschedule to visit North Korea?
MS. PSAKI: No, and he is in Washington. I can’t confirm he’s physically at his desk, but I know he’s in the building today.
QUESTION: Did North Korea recently they invite him again? Because they canceled the previous, his trip.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of any other invitation. I don’t have any other updates on his plans.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
QUESTION: Has the Swedish Embassy – sorry, excuse me – has the Swedish Embassy been given any reason why they’re not being granted access? I.e., have the North Korean authorities told them why they’re not getting access?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of detail – not that I’m aware of. I’m happy to check if there’s more specifics we can share on that front.
QUESTION: May I change topics?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Any – or do you – one more on North Korea?
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just a quick one. Can you tell us when the Swedes were given that information by North Korea?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have the specific date. I’m happy to check if that’s information we can provide.
QUESTION: And just one more on North Korea. Have they given any reason why he’s being held? Have they told the Swedes anything?
MS. PSAKI: I think that’s just what was asked. I don’t have – by Jo – I don’t have any update on that. I will check if there’s anything we can provide on that front.
QUESTION: Have they been given any details about when this citizen was taken into North Korean custody? Anything about —
MS. PSAKI: I know there have been lots of reports on that. I don’t have any specific details, and I don’t think that’s something we would be able to share publicly anyway.
QUESTION: Palestinian-Israeli talks?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Yes. Avigdor Lieberman, who was sitting in for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, actually said the following: that he does not see any kind of peace in the foreseeable future, that these talks are a waste of time, that you’re basically wasting your time – those who are sponsoring the talks – and that he does not who Mahmoud Abbas represents. I just wanted your comment on this.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know he made a range of comments. Let me first say that our bond with Israel is unshakable. Israel is our closest partner in the region. We share many historic ties. There are a number of officials who have been very closely engaged in the negotiations on both sides. You’ve heard them speak publicly in recent days about how they are ongoing. So I would point you to those comments on the status of the negotiations.
QUESTION: Okay. Okay, let me just very quickly follow up on the appointments that – on the additions to the —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — the American team. Now we are told that Mr. – first of all, did you make an announcement? You have not made an official announcement of the addition of Mr. Makovsky, have you?
MS. PSAKI: I confirmed it. We don’t —
QUESTION: Okay. So there —
MS. PSAKI: — make announcements about every person who joins every team —
QUESTION: Okay. All right.
MS. PSAKI: — in the State Department.
QUESTION: So that’s a good enough statement that he has joined the team.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Okay, that’s one. Second, he’s been brought in because apparently he’s worked for two years on a set of maps that will keep most of the Israeli settlement blocs under Israeli control. Do you – could you confirm or deny —
MS. PSAKI: You asked me the same question, Said, a couple of days ago, and what I said to you —
MS. PSAKI: — at the time was that he obviously has an extensive background —
MS. PSAKI: — on these issues. It is not related to anything specific. Obviously, he’s an excellent addition to the team. And beyond that, of course, borders, along with security and many of other of these important issues, are part of the ongoing discussions.
QUESTION: Okay, but these maps contradict your position, because you are opposed to settlements and you call them illegitimate. Correct?
MS. PSAKI: Our position remains that.
QUESTION: It remains the same. So in other words, these maps will not be incorporated in any kind of, let’s say, a predicted Oslo III kind of a deal.
MS. PSAKI: Said, I’m not going to go into any more specific detail of discussions other than to say that he’s a welcome member of the team.
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, the team, it’s natural they’re continuing to expand, given the importance of this issue —
MS. PSAKI: — and how challenging it is, but beyond that, he’s brought in for his extensive background.
QUESTION: Okay, and finally – so would you comment on the speculation that you are in the process preparing an Oslo III-like solution that will be put in place and put into action, maybe in January?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not even aware of those reports, Said, so I’m happy to look into them. But as you know, our position hasn’t changed on the nine-month timeframe. That’s what we’re focused on.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can we go to (inaudible)?
QUESTION: Jen, Syria?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
MS. PSAKI: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: So the Afghans have rejected the Administration’s insistence that the BSA be signed by December 31st, and just a short time ago, your colleague Jay Carney essentially said, that’s just not workable. This – basically we need to have this signed. We can’t have things going back and being renegotiated.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Can you expand on what Jay said? Why is it important —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — from the negotiation standpoint? What is this Administration afraid of if this deal isn’t signed in the next six weeks?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we have been clear – and let me reiterate today that it’s imperative that we conclude the bilateral security agreement as soon as possible. As a reminder, a year ago when we agreed on the SPA, this was a mutually agreed upon timeline – a year, which is this month – between the United States and the Afghans. So further delay is not practical, nor is it tenable.
There’s a couple of reasons as to why. I’ve talked a little bit about the importance of the need for adequate time for planning a potential military mission with our NATO allies, and that, of course, is vitally important to the United States as well as many partners around the world. The Afghans also have an election coming up and have said they certainly – they want certainty about whether the United States will be there to support them post-2014.
So the bottom line is failure to conclude the BSA by the designated time, which is the coming weeks, which is the same timeline we agreed to a year ago, would be seen as a signal to the world that Afghanistan is not committed to a partnership with its supporters and that it is willing to jeopardize all of the financial and practical help that has been offered. And we believe that not only is this in the interests of the United States in terms of planning and clarity, but we believe the Afghans also want clarity now about the future of our relationship.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. concerned that if this agreement isn’t signed, that someone – be it Karzai, be it whoever replaces him after the rounds of elections, be it a member of the Loya Jirga – could come back and say, as an example, “Well, perhaps we don’t want to grant immunity to U.S. troops that are in country,” just as the Iraqis stood against that provision? Do you run the risk of having this deal unravel if it isn’t signed and made – essentially, this is it, no more changes?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, there was an agreement, as you know, this week on the text of the agreement. I’m not going to go down that many rabbit holes to speculate. I think we’ve been very clear – as Jay was, as I have been – that it is unacceptable to delay this for a variety of reasons. It would make it impossible for the United States and allies to plan for a post-2014 presence. That is a significant reason as well as the need of the Afghan people on Afghans to have certainty and understand what our partnership will be moving forward. This has been heavily negotiated. It’s been a tough negotiation. We respect the Afghan process, which, as you know, is underway as we speak. But it is imperative that it’s signed as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: Has that been communicated either through Ambassador Cunningham or from the Special Envoy here – Special Representative, excuse me – that basically, this all seems to be now being negotiated in public?
MS. PSAKI: It has certainly been communicated, and I can also confirm for you that the Secretary communicated it to President Karzai this morning on a phone call as well.
QUESTION: So, Jen, did Karzai break his promise to the United States? He said this is agreed upon.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Lucas, I’ll let you characterize it, but obviously, it’s not done yet, and we are – we certainly have been conveying all of the reasons I outlined as to why it’s important to sign it in the coming weeks. That still is a step that is possible. But yes, there was an agreement a year ago to conclude it within a year.
QUESTION: Tell us more about the phone call between the Secretary and the President.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more to read out for you other than to confirm that the message I just outlined was conveyed.
QUESTION: Who called whom this morning?
MS. PSAKI: It’s always a popular question, but I’d have to check on that.
QUESTION: It’s important.
QUESTION: Well, it’s important who made the first move.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I’ll check and see if there’s anything more I can discuss with —
QUESTION: Does the – if there is no signing of the agreement, does this mean that the zero option becomes more likely post-2014?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, as you know, the President will make that decision, but we’ve been very clear, as has the White House, that it makes it very difficult to have a presence if there’s not a BSA agreement.
QUESTION: So you think it would be more likely? If there’s no BSA agreement, it’s more likely that there’ll be a zero-troop option?
MS. PSAKI: Makes it challenging to have a post-2014 presence, yes.
QUESTION: So you don’t really see a situation similar to what happened in Iraq? To follow up on Roz’s question, they failed to sign an agreement on immunities and so on and all these things.
MS. PSAKI: Well, that language has been agreed to.
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we learn lessons from the past always, and if the agreement is signed, there is language in there regarding – related to jurisdiction, which, as you know, was a very important issue for us that we agreed to.
QUESTION: Okay. So the – currently, the status of this agreement is pending. Correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the status is that it’s working its way through the Afghan political process, which we have always known would be the case. And what we’re continuing to do is encourage President Karzai to sign this as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: Okay. What kind of actions by the Afghanis could – that could really scuttle the agreement or obfuscate the process that is ongoing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to speculate on that. Obviously, moving through the Loya Jirga and being signed are important steps in the future.
QUESTION: I guess my question is: If there are a number of attacks, as we have seen in – four or five days ago, would that scuttle the agreement, do you think, in your opinion?
MS. PSAKI: Said, I’m not going to speculate on that. Obviously, part of our effort here and part of the objective of a post-2014 presence would be both to ensure that Afghanistan doesn’t become a safe haven for al-Qaida, but also to train, advise, and assist the Afghan forces so that we can provide – help them provide the security they need moving forward.
QUESTION: And if I’m not mistaken, the Loya Jirga was never legally mandated, but Karzai felt that for broad political buy-in, it was necessary —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — to convene this body, but —
MS. PSAKI: It’s working and so we respect the political process. It’s a consultative process.
QUESTION: Yeah, consultation and —
MS. PSAKI: It’s not a policy process.
QUESTION: Is it this building’s view that he is somehow using that in order to delay this process?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve always known for months now that that would be part of the process, and the Secretary spoke to his support for that when he was in Kabul just a few weeks ago.
QUESTION: All right. Let me rephrase: Is there concern in this building that Karzai is using the Loya Jirga as a delaying tactic on signing this measure? Because obviously, without his signature, it can’t go before the Afghan parliament and then come back to him.
MS. PSAKI: Well, no, Roz. I mean, we’ve always known that he would – he planned to bring it to the Loya Jirga. We have been clear we respected the Afghan political process. It would have to go through parliament as well. There are a couple of steps that the Afghans and not me are experts on. So we knew that would be the case. The concern was about delaying the signing past this year.
QUESTION: You mentioned that not signing it in a timely manner would jeopardize financial help that not only the U.S. but other nations have pledged to Afghanistan. Can you elaborate a little bit more on that? Are we talking about money that’s being pledged for the Afghan security forces or humanitarian aid, or what are we talking about there?
MS. PSAKI: We’re talking – I don’t have much more to add than what I said, but obviously, as part of an agreement, we’d be working through continued funding of the operations with Congress. I’m sure other countries would be doing their own. I don’t have anything specifically on humanitarian access, as you – or assistance. As you know, that’s something we broadly provide around the world. So I’m more talking about components of this specific agreement.
QUESTION: So the BSA would be more military?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I mean, you know, because I’m sure you’ve read the text, what the key components of it are. I don’t have anything more specific on what it would mean for funding at this point. I can check if there’s more to detail.
QUESTION: Because there’s been pledges – the Tokyo pledge and then the Chicago pledge.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, of course.
QUESTION: Are we talking about that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details —
MS. PSAKI: — on the specific funding and what the impact would be. I’m happy to check if there’s more to outline on that.
MS. PSAKI: Afghanistan still? No? Afghanistan? Okay. Scott.
QUESTION: On Ukraine, Matt’s follow-up yesterday about whether these events would affect the OSCE meeting —
MS. PSAKI: Well —
QUESTION: — is Secretary Kerry reconsidering attending that meeting given events in Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: I do have an update on that. One moment, I’m sorry. So Secretary Kerry, due to scheduling issues, will not be attending the OSCE in the Ukraine. We will be represented by Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland, who I think you all know well.
QUESTION: It’s only a question of scheduling, though? There’s not a question that he doesn’t want to be going to a country where they’re not able at the moment to meet the conditions for an agreement with the EU?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I expressed our clear disappointment of that yesterday, but I don’t have any other reasons to outline for you on the decision not to attend.
QUESTION: But – so Secretary Kerry’s decision not to attend is not an expression of the United States disappointment with what – with the events that happened in the Ukraine yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any more for you to convey, other than to reconfirm that we will – he will not be attending.
QUESTION: And this has been relayed to the authorities in Kiev?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Can you say that it has nothing to do with the circumstances surrounding Ms. Tymoshenko as well?
MS. PSAKI: I cannot rule out circumstances, and I don’t have – just don’t have any more details to share with all of you.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Go ahead. Egypt?
QUESTION: Yeah. The Secretary, Kerry, two days ago, I mean with the time difference, because it’s – was resonating yesterday what he was said the other day about that the Egyptian revolution got stolen by the Brotherhood. And it’s resonated positively and negatively. What does – what did the Secretary mean by this expression, stolen by Brotherhood?
MS. PSAKI: Well, if – many of you have seen the Secretary speak frequently about Egypt and what his view is on the history of the revolution. If you look at the full context of his remarks, he was conveying the longstanding broad U.S. position about revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, that they were driven by young people, that those were the people who sparked it, that it wasn’t driven by extremism of any kind, and that that was the onus of what happened in Egypt. As we know, at the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood is well organized, they were at the time, and that, of course, led them to power. But his full context is something that he talks about often, which is the fact that it was a fruit vendor who started – who self-immolated and started a revolution in Tunisia. There was no religion, nothing, no extremism and ideology behind it. And the will of the people and the drive of the people and many young people was what was driving it.
QUESTION: But the question is, when he said the word “stolen,” is it something – this is something new he realized, or he was realized it – he realized it but he didn’t say it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he didn’t mean literally.
QUESTION: I mean —
MS. PSAKI: It was a figure of speech —
MS. PSAKI: — in a riff that he often gives about the start of the revolution, and the fact, as I outlined, that there was no religion, no extremism or ideology behind it. It was driven by young people and driven – and that’s where it all started.
QUESTION: The reason I am asking because it was somehow even lost in translation was the interpretation. That’s why it’s clear – it’s nice to be represented by the official spokesperson.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. And I would encourage you, of course, or anyone to read the full transcript that’s on our website as well.
QUESTION: Yeah, I read the full text. Anyway, the other thing which is like reacting in what was he said, the political leader of one of the – Amr Darrag, which is the political party of the Freedom and Justice – the political arm of Muslim Brotherhood, he consider Kerry – the Secretary’s remarks reprehensible, fundamentally wrong. And more than that, he said that it seemed that U.S. is trying to abort the Arab Spring with this, his words. So do you have anything to say about that?
MS. PSAKI: I think I just outlined what the meaning of his comments were, and the fact that he’s said them many times before, and certainly that was not his intention.
QUESTION: But let me explain, I mean, because the person who said this is not a commentator or a TV announcer.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: He’s the political person who was in direct contact, in touch with the American Embassy and here in this building with people related to inclusiveness and political —
MS. PSAKI: No, I understand. I think sometimes there are not necessarily translation but sometimes people may understand the meaning of things in a different way, and I would encourage anyone to look at the full context of what he said. Our position on Egypt and our relationship hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) follow-up on Egypt.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The current status in terms of your talks with them, in terms of lifting the emergency law, in terms of loosening up and democratizing and moving as you want them to do?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know we’ve talked about this a bit in here. Obviously, we’ve seen steps that have been taken. There are more that need to be taken to move forward on the roadmap and to increase inclusivity and to respect democratic principles, and so we continue to encourage them to do that. I don’t have any specific updates for you on aid or anything along those lines.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) follow up on yesterday’s question, I’m not sure if you have announcement for this.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I ask about the possibility of sending a team from State Department.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I don’t have any update to provide to you publicly on that either.
QUESTION: Can I go to Syria?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Is that okay?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, do you have an – oh, is it Egypt?
QUESTION: I was – no, I have a Syria question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, sure.
QUESTION: I wanted to – I know there’s lots of Syria questions, but I have a specific question today. Today marks one year since James Foley was kidnapped, journalist who was working for us and other organizations. And I wondered if there was any update yet on his whereabouts. Has there been any call for ransom made? Do you have any more information? And of course just marking also Austin Tice has been held for over a year now.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: And there’s many other journalists who are also held in Syria, too.
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely, and I wish I did have an update for all of you. We of course remain concerned about journalists’ safety and well-being, both of those journalists’ safety and well-being, or any, of course. We’re working through and continue to work through our Czech protecting power in Syria to get information on the – both of their welfare and whereabouts.
We do appreciate the efforts of the Czech mission on behalf of our citizens. We’re in regular contact with both the Foley and the Tice families. We have long expressed, as all of you know, concern about the safety of journalists in Syria, and have strongly urged all sides to ensure their safety. And you’re familiar with our Travel Warning, I’m certain, as well.
QUESTION: And do you have information to suggest that both of them are still alive?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specific information –
QUESTION: Either – neither one way or the other, whether they have perished or —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other specific information on either of them.
QUESTION: The OPCW today said —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — that it was going to look for private companies to get rid of about 800 metric tons of these chemicals from Syria. I’m wondering what the U.S. thinks about that idea. Are you encouraging U.S. companies to put tenders in, and are you getting anywhere on a place to get rid of the more dangerous stuff?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me just take this opportunity to provide you all a little update on CW. Let’s see here. So the international community, of course led by the OPCW and the UN, continue to actively consider a number of options regarding the location of the destruction and the technical means of destruction. So no decision has been made on these. I will, of course, let the OPCW speak for themselves in terms of what they’re seeking help on, but, of course the reports referred to efforts in destruction of the materials.
And there are, as we consider this – as you I’m sure have read, but I haven’t really talked about – the international community is – and as the OPCW has confirmed, one of the destruction options of the chemicals would be on a ship at sea in an environmentally safe manner. So obviously, with them, that’s of great importance, of course, to the United States. We and many other countries have responsibilities under the CWC and the London convention and would only consider destroying chemicals at sea if it can be done in a safe and environmentally sound manner.
There are many ways to do that, such as high temperature incineration and chemical treatment that can be used to destroy Syria’s stockpile of chemical agents and precursors. Obviously, this decision hasn’t been made, but the OPCW is, of course, preparing different options depending on how it’s – what decision is made.
QUESTION: And have you checked with the things like the treaty of the Law of the Seas, where you can actually do that, or do actually need to do this closer in to a port?
MS. PSAKI: That is a good question. I’m certain all of the treaties that are applicable are being consulted through this process. I just wanted to specifically mention those, given reports and concerns that this may, of course, damage the sea or sea animals, which is certainly not our goal.
So it hasn’t been decided yet, but obviously, as the OPCW and the UN prepares, all of these different factors are being looked at.
QUESTION: And just on this – the issue of private companies getting rid of the precursor chemicals, whether you have any problems with that or welcome that.
MS. PSAKI: As I understand it and as we understand it from the reports, they’re looking for specific technical expertise as they prepare for different options. Obviously, they haven’t solicited that help yet, so we’ll see where this goes.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is – the Russians are saying that the removal or Assad stepping down is no longer a priority. Do you agree with that assessment?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen those recent comments. I know they’ve said them before. Obviously, as we look to the other Geneva planning, applying the Geneva I communique is what the basis of that would be. You’re very familiar with what that means.
MS. PSAKI: Mutual consent of both sides. So that is how we would certainly come to an end of the Assad reign.
QUESTION: Okay. So they said it actually in context. They’re saying that the priority now is really to move forward, to hold Geneva, and we want the opposition to coalesce and be brought together and so on. So do you agree with that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that is the goal of Geneva.
MS. PSAKI: That would be what the purpose of Geneva would be, would be to implement the Geneva I communique. I haven’t seen the comments you’re referring to, but the goal hasn’t changed of what – and the focus of Geneva – a Geneva II conference hasn’t changed, and that’s something the United States and Russia have both agreed on.
QUESTION: Okay. And independent of these comments that the Russians made, have you made any progress in terms of bringing the Syrian opposition groups together, and what is Ambassador Ford doing now with all of these different opposition groups?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Ambassador Ford remains in close touch.
MS. PSAKI: They announced just last week their plans to attend. That was a positive sign. Next – early next week, Under Secretary Sherman will be meeting in a trilateral meeting to discuss planning for Geneva II, and so we’ll see what comes out of that.
QUESTION: And it seems that four or five different groups, militant groups, have joined together and announced their readiness, I guess, to work in a – with the political opposition. Is that something that, first of all, you have a comment on or something that you encourage?
MS. PSAKI: Well, four or five – say that one more time, Said?
QUESTION: Four or five militant groups that are fighting on the ground in Syria, they apparently joined together in one unit – one larger unit. But they also said that they would work with the political opposition. Are you aware of that?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen a version of these reports.
MS. PSAKI: We’re of course aware of them. Unity on all fronts is important. We continue to support the SMC and the leadership of General Idris. And in any discussion of splintering of the SMC or alliances with the SMC, we would urge that all forces who oppose the Assad regime remain united on the battlefield so as to not weaken the military opposition, and that they remain focused on the shared goal of moving to an inclusive post-Assad Syria.
QUESTION: Jen, do you have any —
MS. PSAKI: Is that a question on Syria?
QUESTION: No, not Syria.
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just see if there are any more on Syria.
Okay, go ahead. Go ahead, go ahead. Sorry.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you have anything on a North Korea’s drug dealer’s arrest by U.S. authorities recently?
MS. PSAKI: I do not have anything on that.
QUESTION: Can you take a question —
MS. PSAKI: I will see if there’s anything I can tell you, absolutely.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: There’s been a further sign of deteriorating relations between Japan and its neighbors due to the construction of a controversial statue in China. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as we have indicated many times, we encourage Japan and Korea to work together to resolve concerns over history in an amicable way through dialogue. We believe that strong and constructive relationships between countries in the region promote peace and stability and are in their interests and in the interests of the United States. So our role would be to continue to urge our allies and partners in Northeast Asia to concentrate on areas for cooperation.
QUESTION: But the interesting thing about this particular incident is it seems to have drawn China and South Korea closer together as they’ve been cooperating on this. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abe hasn’t made any official visits or meetings with either country’s leader, which is rather anomalous. Wouldn’t you say that the U.S. has, perhaps, some stronger role to play potentially, given that some of the countries involved are all close partners and allies?
MS. PSAKI: We’re obviously watching it closely and our role at this point is to continue to encourage all sides to concentrate on areas of cooperation and dialogue. Beyond that, I don’t have any prediction of an increased role.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:14 p.m.)