Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–October 23, 2014.
1:42 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
MS. PSAKI: I just have a couple of items for all of you at the top. Just a reminder that tonight at 5:00 pm at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here in Washington, Under Secretary Sherman will deliver a keynote address on the EU-coordinated P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran. The under secretary’s remarks are part of a two-day symposium on Iranian strategy and State decision making organized by Syracuse University’s Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs and the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. The remarks will be streamed live at State.gov starting at 5:00 pm.
On Sunday, the people of Ukraine will go to the polls to select their new legislative representatives in Parliament. This is another milestone for a nation that is again demonstrating its commitment to an enduring democratic process, despite the political upheaval of the past year and considerable security challenges that remain in some parts of the country. We commend the Ukrainian Government on its continuing preparations for free, fair, and inclusive elections, and look to authorities in all political parties to ensure the vote is in line with the international democratic norms.
We hope to see wide participation in the elections by all Ukrainians, including in Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk, and strongly condemn any interference in this legitimate democratic process and the ability of the people of Ukraine to peacefully choose their own leaders. The only legitimate elections in Ukraine are the Rada elections on October 26th and the December 7th elections of local leaders in the Donbas special status zone. The United States stands ready to work with Ukraine’s new parliament to fight corruption, promote reforms, and pursue a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the east of the country.
Just two more items. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Rick Stengel will travel to Kuwait to lead the U.S. delegation for the October 27th conference of coalition partners focused on countering ISIL messaging and combating violent extremism in the region. The Government of Kuwait is hosting the conference, and senior officials from Bahrain, Egypt, France, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom and the UAE have been invited to participate. The conference will present an opportunity for an in-depth exchange of ideas for increasing cooperation among coalition partners. Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL General John Allen will open the conference. While in Kuwait, Under Secretary Stengel will also meet with U.S. exchange program alumni and young entrepreneurs.
And finally, I’d like to welcome our visitors in the back. Hello, everyone. These are Afghans who are here as part of a diplomat training program, so welcome to all of you.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’d like to start back today with North Korea.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: This came up yesterday. I’m wondering if you all have another answer, and then I have a follow. The North Korean state media said that leader Kim Jong-un had said that the reason why Jeffrey Fowle was released was because of, quote, “repeated requests from President Barack Obama.” I’m wondering what he means, if you know what those requests were. Were they – how – were they from a U.S. official directly, how they were carried?
And then, also, I’d like to know if you could talk a little bit about this idea that’s coming out of Pyongyang today that the U.S. Government needs to formally apologize to the Government of North Korea in order to secure the releases of Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller.
MS. PSAKI: Well, on the first, Lara, I really don’t have much more new insight to offer for you. As you know, President Obama, Secretary Kerry, many officials have spoken about the work that we do to bring our American citizens who are detained home, have made many calls publicly. I’d certainly let the North Koreans speak for themselves, as – I will just take this as an opportunity to remind everyone there are two – still two American citizens who are there, and we’re working and doing everything we can to secure their release.
On the second question, I’m not – I’m unclear – I have not seen the ask for an apology, I will say. I have not talked to our team about it, but I can assure anyone that I don’t believe there’s an apology forthcoming, so I don’t think anyone needs to wait on that.
QUESTION: You said you’ll let the North Koreans speak for themselves, but actually, they’re speaking about an – a request that they say that President Obama made. So I think the question is: Did an official request come from the President of the United States via the State Department to the North Koreans, or do you think that they’re just talking about numerous public statements and efforts by the United States?
MS. PSAKI: I certainly – I understand the question. I don’t have any analysis for you on what exactly they mean by that. It’s been no secret that we want to see our American citizens returned home. But I don’t have any additional details to share.
QUESTION: By saying that this is something – that they’re fulfilling a request by the President of the United States, do you see this as an overture by North Korea to get back in the good graces of the U.S. and start up some kind of dialogue again? Do you see the release of Jeffrey Fowle as a predicated on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Elise, I think we’re certainly very pleased that Jeffery Fowle has been returned to his family, and you all saw that he’s been returned to Ohio and he’s with his family, has asked certainly for privacy from the public, I should say. But we’re not going to allow North Korea to change the conversation or change the topic of discussion as it relates to their nuclear program. We have concerns about their nuclear efforts and aspirations. We – those have not changed. They’ve not shown a willingness or an indication that they’re going to abide by their international obligations or the 2005 Joint Statement. And those remain the criteria for reconvening any sort of discussion.
QUESTION: But can I clarify? Was there – because I don’t know the answer to this. Was there any kind of direct request from President Obama to the North Korean Government to release Fowle or the other two?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the White House, Lara. I have no additional information on that.
Do we have any more on North Korea?
QUESTION: Sorry. You don’t know, or you just can’t talk about that because it’s a White House thing?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more additional information on that, Arshad.
QUESTION: But does that mean —
MS. PSAKI: You’re welcome to talk to the White House, of course.
QUESTION: But you don’t know, in other – I don’t understand. When you say – so you don’t have any additional information? It’s you just don’t know?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional information about the circumstances to share with all of you.
QUESTION: To share, that’s different. So you know —
QUESTION: Well, wait a minute. To share, that’s different than not having additional information.
MS. PSAKI: There are many details I’m aware of that we’re not talking about publicly. I don’t have anything more to comment or speak to on that particular question. I’d point you to the White House about anything related to the President.
Do we have anything more on North Korea? Okay. Should we go to a new topic? Go ahead, Elise.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: There have been some reports that – by several news organizations that the shooter was found to be dealing in radical Islamist, jihadist websites. Is there anything you can talk about that, any connections to any type of jihadists here in the United States?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Canada is, naturally, leading any investigation or process. I will say that at this time there’s no specific reporting to indicate ongoing events in Canada pose a threat to the United States. I will just – if you don’t mind, Elise – take this as an opportunity to update you that the Embassy is open today. As you know, it was on lockdown for most of yesterday, but it’s open. All Embassy personnel are certainly accounted for.
QUESTION: On that note, I understand that in recent weeks, not in any way – or maybe it – you’ll find out someday that it is, but it doesn’t seem to be related to the events yesterday or on Monday – that there was some concern, some chatter out there about potential attacks to the U.S. Embassy or another consulate in the country by jihadists and security was heightened as a result at the Embassy and one of the consulates. Can you speak to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our Embassy issued an emergency message to U.S. citizens registered with the Embassy in Canada, given the events on the ground yesterday. I’m not aware of any other changes to our status in Canada —
QUESTION: No, I’m talking pre-dating the attacks this week, that there was a concern, some possible threats out there to the U.S. Embassy in Canada – again, unrelated to this, but some type of threats from jihadist groups.
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check with our team. Obviously, if a threat warranted a need to change our status or change information that we provide, we would have done that. We didn’t do that.
QUESTION: I understand. But I also understand that you heightened security at the facilities —
MS. PSAKI: I’ll check and see if there’s more to share on that particular question.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Hey, Jen —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: — post yesterday’s incident in Ottawa, is there – are there any – and post the lockdown at the U.S. Embassy yesterday, are there – without asking what specifically they are – have you taken additional security precautions since the problem and incident for the Embassy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we obviously don’t typically speak to those, Arshad. I can check and see if there’s anything that changed that we can make publicly available for all of you.
QUESTION: Okay. I’m just wondering if it’s been increased —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — at all, not specifically what may have been done.
MS. PSAKI: Understand, understand. Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: Border controls or anything like that?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I will check and see if there’s more on that particular front. Some of it’s DHS, but I’ll check with our team and see.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. Government aware of – the individuals who traveled between the United States and Canada, was there any coordination between the United States and Canada in tracking this person? He reportedly visited the United States in the past.
MS. PSAKI: Ali, of course we work closely with Canada, as we do with a number of our partners. I don’t think I have anything on that particular question to read out for you. I can check and see if there’s more we can convey.
QUESTION: And given the fact that Canada is our neighbor to the north and people travel between the two countries all the time, is there any concern in this building that the – what seems to be a problem in Canada when it comes to homegrown terrorism might, in fact, exacerbate the problem that we experience within our borders with lone wolf attacks and other forms of homegrown terrorism?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I noted a few minutes ago, at this time, we don’t see that recent reporting indicates a threat here. Obviously, we are all concerned about the threat of homegrown terrorism, about individuals who have sought to travel overseas. Obviously, there are still a lot of details we don’t quite know yet. I know there’s been a lot of reporting, but the Canadian authorities are working on that and I don’t want to get ahead of that. But this is one of the issues, certainly, that we’ve been discussing with our partners around the world. Canada is certainly one of them, but I’m not going to jump to conclusions about what it means at this point in time given it just happened yesterday.
Any more on Canada?
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: The Canadians are monitoring a bunch of high-risk individuals. What happens when they get to the border? Do you think there’s enough information-sharing between the U.S. and Canada to —
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, Canada is one of our closest partners. They’re not just our neighbor. They’re a close friend and ally and partner. Some of this obviously is done through DHS, but I don’t think we have any concerns about the level of coordination or cooperation with Canada.
QUESTION: Can I go to Jerusalem?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I just wondered if you could clear up from yesterday the car ramming, the incident that happened in Jerusalem yesterday. I saw the statement you put out last night. You said that the child was reportedly an American citizen. Are you able to confirm or definitively say that the baby wasn’t American or that anybody in the attack was —
MS. PSAKI: The baby was an American citizen, yes.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Was, okay.
QUESTION: And the parents?
MS. PSAKI: Let me check and see. One moment here. I just want to make sure I have all the information in front of me. Let me see, Lara. We just don’t have Privacy Act waivers, so let me just check and see what more we can provide publicly.
Do we have any more on the – on Israel or —
QUESTION: Do you have any more – well, do you have any more information about the circumstances of what happened and —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t, other than to say that our officials in Jerusalem and our consulate there are in close touch with the family. They’re providing consular assistance. Out of respect for and privacy certainly for those who are affected, we’re not going to be sharing much more publicly.
QUESTION: Are you involved at all in the investigation?
MS. PSAKI: That would certainly be an investigation led on the ground, not by the United States.
QUESTION: I’m not making any relation, but there’s been some concern over the last week or two about comments by President Abbas that believe to have incurred incitement. And are you concerned about that? You haven’t really spoken out about that. Do you in any way feel that this is inciting Palestinians to take actions into their own hands?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Elise, one, I mean, we obviously believe that the act last night warrants condemnation evidence by the statement we released last night. I’m not going to characterize the comments made or not made by President – Prime Minister Netanyahu or the response from President Abbas.
QUESTION: Well, if you haven’t really received a condemnation from President Abbas, then don’t you think you should offer one?
MS. PSAKI: I think our view of it is clear by – evidenced by our statement last night. I would point you to him on any comments that they would like to make.
QUESTION: But what about his comments, like, over the past – I mean, there has just been several comments that people have remarked about that seem to be incurring incitement. Is that not concerning?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s – as you know, President Abbas has renounced violence and consistently sought a diplomatic and peaceful solution that allows for two states. I don’t have any other analysis for you to offer.
Any on this topic, or should we – any more on this topic? Okay. Go ahead, Scott.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: A Georgian court sentenced former senior government officials, including those in the interior and defense ministers – ministries, for murder, torture, obstructing justice. Do you have any views on those sentences?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re closely following the investigations, and have long been, of current and former officials. We continue to stress to the Georgian Government the importance of due process and rule of law and of conducting investigations with transparency to avoid even the perception that the judicial system is being used for political retribution.
We continue to support Georgia’s democratic development, which must include respect for political pluralism and open debate. As you know, because we’ve expressed it in the past there – we have expressed some concerns about the way some cases have been handled, and those concerns remain.
QUESTION: So these gentlemen have been convicted and sentenced. In their cases, do you express those concerns?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to get into specific cases. Obviously, as you know, each incident is different. But broadly speaking, as you know, there have been a range of convictions, and as we look over the course of time we’ve had concern which we’ve expressed.
QUESTION: The action follows a decision by the European Court of Human Rights that has concluded that the former government obstructed justice in these cases. Is that an opinion shared by the United States?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think when I reference the need to abide by the rule of law and allow the judicial system to work its way through an acceptable manner by international norms and standards, that’s a reference to the fact that we believe in some cases that hasn’t been followed.
QUESTION: I have a question on the Khorasan Group. Can you provide us with the assessment of the level of threat posed by the organization and think – I’m asking this question because it seems the conversational statements about the group ended as – in a sudden way, similar to when these statements surfaced when it was targeted by the U.S. in Syria.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know but it’s worth repeating, the Khorasan Group is a term that refers to a network of Nusrah Front and AQ core extremists and their associates who share a history of training operatives, facilitating fighters, and money and planning attacks against U.S. and Western targets. The reason why they were a target and have continued to be of our efforts and our military action is because of the threat that this group posed to the United States. As we said in the beginning, we didn’t believe that one strike or one week would address all of the threats. We know this will be an ongoing effort. We remain relentlessly – well, we’re committed to relentless pursuing this group, as we are any threat to the United States. But I don’t have a day-by-day evaluation. But – go ahead.
QUESTION: So – but the group remains a threat?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Yes, please. I mean —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, do you have on this question or —
QUESTION: All Syria, generally. Yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Is yours on Syria? Okay, why don’t you go ahead and then we’ll go to you, Jo.
QUESTION: Yes, please, regarding General Allen trip. I mean, do you have any update today? Yesterday he was in London, I think.
MS. PSAKI: He was. He’s traveling to Paris today, and he’ll have meetings with some officials on the ground there.
QUESTION: The same topic. I mean, regarding this Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs visit to Kuwait and the meeting, what level of participation is the other sides – I mean, the other countries are from foreign affairs ministry or foreign ministry or other levels?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, it’s organized differently in every country where officials work and sit every day, but we – of course, we’ve been working with the Government of Kuwait and other countries that I mentioned on participation, and certainly we expect that to be at a high level, but I would point you to —
QUESTION: The reason I am asking —
MS. PSAKI: — the Government of Kuwait for a list of attendees.
QUESTION: The reason I’m asking is because the issue is somehow mixed between preaching and security measures, right?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the way that we view it is that one of the five lines of effort of the anti-ISIL coalition that General Allen and Ambassador McGurk is overseeing is delegitimizing ISIL. And for us, Under Secretary Stengel is running point on that effort. Obviously, it’s different country to country, but this is all a part of the same effort. And for many countries, that is the most important component and contribution that they can play is speaking out against and voicing concerns about the actions of ISIL.
QUESTION: The other —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) I mean but —
QUESTION: Sorry. I mean, it’s – there is a (inaudible) question because I noticed that some countries are not participating in this meeting. Are this – I mean, this participation – is their own will or it – they were asked to join it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve mentioned the list of countries that were invited and that doesn’t mean – as you know, there are about 60 countries and entities involved in the coalition —
QUESTION: Yeah. That’s why —
MS. PSAKI: — and we’re in touch with those countries as well and many of them will play and continue to play a role. But this is the first meeting of this kind, so I wouldn’t draw too many conclusions by that.
QUESTION: What evidence do you have that this campaign to delegitimize is working? Because, I mean, since – I’d say a – when we spoke with Under Secretary Stengel a few weeks ago, he said that there was evidence that it was working, but since then there have been several Americans that have tried to go over to Syria to fight with ISIS. You have a lot of groups being inspired around the world. We don’t know if what’s going on in Canada is a direct relation to ISIS, but certainly it’s inspired by the jihadist mentality out there. So what evidence do you have that you’re really getting people to rebel against ISIS?
MS. PSAKI: Well, at least no one expected, nor would it be realistic to think that this was a three-week undertaking. This is an effort that is just in the beginning stages. Obviously, this conference is an opportunity to coordinate and work together. We believe this is going to be a long-term effort.
QUESTION: But he said that there was evidence, though. So what evidence is there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I think what he’s referring to is the fact that we’re increasing our coordination. There are efforts on the ground in countries to put new laws in place, to speak out more vocally. We think that is having an impact. That doesn’t mean that we’re eliminating the threat everywhere in the world in three weeks. It’s an ongoing effort that will take some time to implement.
QUESTION: What —
QUESTION: Is this mostly about making sure that everybody is on the same message, kind of an anti-propaganda forum, if you will? Or is this mostly about tubes and trying to get other governments to ramp up on the internet or social media or something with putting the message out – or imams, as was noted?
MS. PSAKI: I would say it’s about a range of agenda items, including the ones you mentioned. Obviously, there’s a role that religious leaders can play, speaking out against how – the fact that ISIL is not Islam. There is a role that governments can play, making clear to their people what ISIL is and what it is not. There’s a role that they can play to outline the alternative and what young people should look to and what other aspirations they can have. We know that the United States is not the most effective voice on these issues, and that’s why it’s so important to coordinate with all these countries. But – and we’re open to the ideas that they have as well about the best way to communicate with the public.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any nations who could be doing more to put this message, this anti-ISIL message out? Or are you – are any nations coming that will be asked to do more, or in fact that are not coming that need to do more?
MS. PSAKI: I think every country coming will be asked to do more. Some have started to take steps. There are muftis in many of these countries who have spoken out. There are governments that have taken steps. There are media outlets that have done a little bit. But this is a nascent effort and there’s a lot more that needs to happen to effectively communicate with the public in these countries.
QUESTION: Who hasn’t done enough at this point?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to name-check countries. But the fact is that every country in the region can do more, and we’re asking them to do more. But it’s not just about our ask; it’s about doing it in an effective way that will help them communicate with their public using social media, using a range of tools that they have at their disposal, and that’s something hopefully we can help advise on.
QUESTION: Yes, please.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask about some – the casualty figures. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that’s been tracking since the beginning of the civil war in Syria says that in the past month, U.S.-led airstrikes led to the deaths of about 500 members of ISIL. Is that – does that something that tracks with your own accounting of it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Jo, we of course take civilian casualties or reports of them extremely seriously.
QUESTION: No, these were – sorry, this was the 500 —
MS. PSAKI: And there were some civilian casualties listed in there as well.
QUESTION: Yeah, there were some civilian casualties, yes, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: We are evaluating them. To date, we’ve not been able to verify those specific numbers.
QUESTION: But on the other hand, the civilian casualties, although tragic, obviously – I mean, I think it was about 46 or something civilian casualties – 500, though. Is that a figure that you generally also agree with, about 500 Islamic State —
MS. PSAKI: We haven’t verified the specific numbers in this report.
QUESTION: Different topic? Different topic?
MS. PSAKI: Let’s finish Syria and then we can go to – does anyone have anything else on Syria or ISIL or Iraq?
Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about today’s front-page story of Washington Post regarding USAID money and paid for bailing the Americans when they were involved in the NGO’s trial or whatever was it?
MS. PSAKI: I do. Let me provide you with an accurate rundown of the events here. Oh, sorry about that. One moment.
So I know what the story noted and many of you may have seen that. It referenced allegations that USAID paid bail money, but the facts are that with the support of the Department of State, USAID approved the use of grant funds by our implementing partners for legal expenses, including bail money. The U.S. Government’s connection to the bail payments was made clearly public by my predecessor Toria Nuland in the briefing on March 2nd of 2012, and details were also included in both the OIG audit report and a subsequent GAO report dated July 2014.
QUESTION: Can I ask you something? Because how it was described in The Washington Post that it was paid to alter reports to shield the agency. Is this characterization right or wrong?
MS. PSAKI: It is not accurate. Ambassador Patterson, which was referenced, of course, in the report, met with the OIG team in her capacity as the head of the U.S. mission in Cairo at the time, which is standard practice and certainly something we do on a regular basis with OIG reports. The meeting helped clarify inaccuracies in the draft OIG report which inaccurately characterized U.S. policy decisions taken at the highest levels of our government and which could have put Americans at risk. But that is a standard practice to meet with officials when there’s an OIG report (inaudible).
QUESTION: And I’m not sure – I mean, correct me if I’m wrong. It was not a trial already or there was no judge – judgment to say that it is bailed. I mean, it’s – looks like a ransom even somehow paid, but still it’s not clear for me who asked whom to pay this money.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I mentioned just a couple of minutes ago, this was money that was used for legal expenses and it was factored into the funding of the programs.
QUESTION: So the – but when you say that it was, according to what I read in Washington Post – I don’t have the report to 22 pages or 9 pages even. So it was mentioned that it was paid to the Egyptian Government, but it’s not clear paid to whom and how – who was paying whom. You know what I mean?
MS. PSAKI: I believe the details are in the report, but this was money that was paid for legal expenses. So —
QUESTION: Jen, you said that the report – Ambassador Patterson met to get rid of some inaccuracies. The report went from 22 pages to 9. That sounds like – was it just a lot of inaccuracies to make it, I mean, get reduced by more than half?
MS. PSAKI: Ali, I think it’s pretty standard practice for officials who are experts on the issue and who are living in the country to meet with OIG officials. They do the reports; they decide what to include but to provide information about what is accurate and inaccurate. I don’t have any other analysis on the length of the report. Obviously, they often go through many drafts.
QUESTION: So they have a question which was raised when people were discussing this report of – I mean, news report, not the report itself. I didn’t see it. It was paid – it kept – it was the first time that something – a payment like this happened, or it was other payments were similar? I’m not trying to ask the question in a way that – okay, if now is like another American case is there, are you ready to pay for him as a bail?
MS. PSAKI: I think every case is different. In this particular program that was funded by the U.S. Government, the legal expenses were factored into the funding. That was something that was worked through USAID and the State Department.
QUESTION: And there was five or six people, right?
MS. PSAKI: I believe that’s correct, but I don’t have the report in front of me either.
Any more on this topic?
QUESTION: Staying in Egypt?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: What do you know of the health of Mohamed Soltan and the status of discussions between the United States Government and Egyptian authorities regarding his case?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Mr. Soltan’s most recent hearing took place on October 22nd. A consular official attended the hearing, just as Embassy Cairo attempted to hear – attempted to attend, I should say, every court hearing for Mr. Soltan that he has had. The next hearing is November 5th. We’ve continued to ask for – request his release on humanitarian grounds. The – during the President’s meeting with President Sisi, he raised our continuing concerns about the – about Egypt’s political trajectory, including the status of those who have been imprisoned. The Secretary has raised this specific case as well. So we continue to monitor it closely, we continue to call for his release on humanitarian grounds, we remain concerned about his deteriorating health, and we understand he is still on a hunger strike.
QUESTION: How would you gauge the progress of those American calls with Egyptian authorities?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, we won’t be – I think what we want to see is him returned home to his – to the United States, to his family. And obviously, we’ll continue to press from the highest level until we reach that point.
QUESTION: Can I ask –
QUESTION: Is this about Egypt?
QUESTION: Egypt, yes.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I just wondered – you talked about the President’s meeting with President Sisi, but that was at UNGA, right? That was a month ago, or has there been a more recent one that I missed?
MS. PSAKI: Well, my point is, Arshad, that it’s been raised at the highest levels in —
MS. PSAKI: — as recently as there have been meetings. So that was the only reason I mentioned it.
QUESTION: Okay. No, no, I just wanted to —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — make sure there wasn’t some other contact.
MS. PSAKI: No, there wasn’t a more recent one. No.
QUESTION: Can I ask about the Huangs?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Have there been any discussions with Qatari officials about the postponement of the ruling of the hearing of the Huangs? And have you personally or has this building communicated your public urgings for the government to release them as soon as possible?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly – that’s exactly where we stand, and we’ve continued to reiterate that. And obviously, we have a very well-staffed embassy on the ground in Qatar. I don’t have any new conversations to read out. I can check and see with our team if there’s anything new.
QUESTION: I mean, what is the basis that you’re asking them to lift the travel ban and release? Because you have voiced concern about the trial and the evidence presented that perhaps it’s – was not a fair trial, or because you think they should be released on humanitarian grounds? Or what – why are you feeling that the —
MS. PSAKI: Well, one of our concerns is ensuring that U.S. citizens are afforded due process. We’ve been following —
QUESTION: Do you feel that they haven’t been?
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. We’ve been following, as you know, this case closely. We’ve been concerned by indications that not all of the evidence was weighed by the court and that cultural misunderstandings may have led to an unfair trial. So there are a range of reasons, and certainly, we want to see them overturned.
QUESTION: Jen, just to go back to Egypt because I was supposed —
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: I was trying to ask a question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: I thought that she’s asking a question about Egypt. It was reported yesterday in some of the newspaper that the foreign ministry already rejected the idea, I mean, or at least transferred to you the idea that they are rejecting the idea of the – of – to release the Egyptian American prisoned. Is that referred to – I mean, that transferred to you or not? Not yet?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he hasn’t been released yet, as we know.
QUESTION: Yes, I know that.
MS. PSAKI: But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to continue to press for his release.
QUESTION: No, I mean, it’s the principle itself. It was reported that the principle itself to ask for it, it’s rejected. I am just trying to check if this transferred to you or not? I’m not —
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen those specific comments, nor do I have anything to read out in terms of private diplomatic discussions. But obviously, he hasn’t been released at this point, so we’ll continue to press for his release.
Any more on Egypt? Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: I have Cyprus again.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Jennifer, the Cyprus Government consider Turkish actions in its exclusive economic zone as an invasion. What is your position on this matter? And I’m not asking your position on Cyprus in general; on this matter, if you have a position.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know you’re not asking for our position in general, but I just want to repeat for the record we recognize the Republic of Cyprus’s right to develop its resources in its exclusive economic zone. We continue to support strongly the negotiation process conducted under UN Good Offices to reunify the island into a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. We continue to believe that the island’s oil and gas resources, like all of its resources, should be equitably shared between communities in the context of an overall settlement. It’s important to avoid actions that may increase tensions in the region, and certainly, we’ve conveyed that as well.
QUESTION: You asked them to avoid action, you asked Turkey? Which one, which – or Cyprus?
MS. PSAKI: We are continuing to convey that broadly, and certainly, we believe that’s how things should proceed from here.
QUESTION: Can I ask you something else? The Government of Cyprus said that the president of Cyprus asked the United States to intervene to Turkey and asked them to stop its provocative actions. Can you tell us if the Secretary of State spoke, for example, with Mr. Davutoglu on this matter?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to read out in terms of Secretary’s conversations. We remain engaged at a senior level with, of course, the government. We also support the UN special advisor’s efforts to bring the parties back to the table and are in close touch with him as well.
QUESTION: Can I ask one question —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Related to Turkey, and I apologize if you addressed this yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: No, no, it’s okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: But the Israeli defense minister was here yesterday, and he accused Turkey at an appearance at the Pentagon of supporting Hamas and being a second headquarters for terrorist organizations trying to destroy Israel. I just wanted to know if the United States has any view on his remarks, given that Turkey is such an important part of the anti-ISIS coalition and other diplomatic efforts. But do you see this as detrimental to any efforts here to get Turkey on board with things the international community is doing?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t – I haven’t – I don’t have any specific comment on his comments, but I will say that our conversations with Turkey are, of course, ongoing. And obviously, they have taken steps and indicated an openness to having the Peshmerga travel through. They have taken steps over the course of the last week or so to increase their participation in the coalition. This is an ongoing effort, but we don’t see an impact from those comments.
QUESTION: Well, what is it – what is Turkey supporting the coalition have to do with its support for Hamas?
MS. PSAKI: Well, she was asking me if we thought that comments by the Israeli defense minister impacted Turkey’s participation.
QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry.
MS. PSAKI: No, no.
QUESTION: But do you think that they should be housing Hamas?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any comments on the comments of the Israeli defense minister.
QUESTION: Can I go to Pakistan, please?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: There was a series of attacks in Pakistan today, including a suicide bombing in which, I believe, about 11 people were killed and I saw 30 people injured or so. I just wondered if there was a reaction from this building.
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen the specifics.
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we can get a comment around to all of you, Jo. Obviously, as in any case, we would – our heartfelt condolences to the families of those impacted. I don’t have details on it. I’m not sure if they’ve been out there yet, but I can check and see if there are details on the cause or what occurred in this case.
MS. PSAKI: Any more on Pakistan?
MS. PSAKI. Okay. Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, go ahead.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Iraq for a second?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Can you confirm reports or do you have any comment on the fact that Yezidis are once again trapped on Mount Sinjar and requesting help, expecting an assault again by ISIS fighters?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, as you know, we had taken recent action, relatively recently I should say, over the course of the summer. I don’t have anything new to predict for you. We remain committed to addressing humanitarian crises as we see them and to continuing to assist those who are impacted by the threat of ISIL. But operationally, I would point you to DOD to see if there’s anything they would want to preview about anything they’re planning.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, the Administration has said repeatedly that, for example, Kobani in a city of itself doesn’t have a lot of strategic import in the overall fight. I’m wondering if you have any idea what ISIS’s – what their aim is in trying to get Sinjar. Why? Do you have any idea why Sinjar is such a prize? They keep going back to it, so —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think – I know this is not what you asked, but even on Kobani I can’t tell you why – we can’t tell you why, aside from their desire to have a propaganda victory, that they are focusing there either. The reason —
QUESTION: Well, the border. They could control the border there.
MS. PSAKI: But in terms of their focus on Sinjar, I don’t know that I have analysis on why strategically ISIL is going after it more.
QUESTION: But the reason that you undertook the action in the first place is because you thought that ISIS was trying to launch a genocide against the Yezidis.
MS. PSAKI: Right. That’s right.
QUESTION: So aren’t you still concerned about that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly remain concerned about any group that’s threatened by ISIL, and we’ve taken action in the past. I have nothing to preview for you in terms of future operations, as would be typically the case.
QUESTION: You saw, I’m sure, that ISIS took another hill close to Kobani. This was seen as another, even if medium-sized, victory for ISIS in the battle area. Any readout or comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have – I would point you to DOD for any specific, on-the-ground analysis of the battle.
QUESTION: Can I go to North Korea?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Sorry, sorry. South Korea?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I saw that you all announced the 2+2 here tomorrow. What’s the agenda? Can you give us some kind of readout?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, as you know, we have done the Strategic Dialogue, 2+2 dialogues with a range of countries. We did it with Australia over the summer. We’ve done it with Japan as recently as last year. We find it’s a very effective way of talking about issues where there’s a great deal of overlap between our diplomatic efforts and our defense efforts.
In the meetings tomorrow, certainly we’ll talk about issues ranging from the threats and rhetoric of the DPRK to regional issues to economic issues like the TPP. We expect it to be a wide-ranging conversation. And I know that Secretary Hagel is also meeting with his counterpart today, and I believe they’ll have a press conference later this afternoon.
QUESTION: Right. Do you expect the issue about wartime control to come up at tomorrow’s meeting?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly expect it will be part of the discussion this afternoon too, and I would expect they may have more to say about that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: More on South Korea?
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Scott?
QUESTION: Just broadly, in July you and the Secretary spoke out about the backlog of ambassadorial appointments held up in the Senate. Can you give us an update on that and your thoughts about a move to try to get that logjam cleared after the midterm elections?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, just a quick update on the numbers. There are 60 total nominees who are unconfirmed: 39 are on the Senate floor, 21 in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 39 of 60 are career diplomats, 44 of them are bilateral ambassadors, seven are UN or multilateral ambassadors, eight are domestic officials, one is a special envoy. Of those who are on the floor – and as you know, Congress is returning, so our view is when they return next week they have every capability of taking action to voice vote, as happens with the military nominees, career ambassadors, of which there are 27 career diplomats who have been – who are on the Senate floor.
So this is a – I can promise you the Secretary brings this issue up in basically every morning meeting I attend with him. He is committed to doing everything possible to get these officials through. And certainly as we’ve seen with crises like Ebola, ISIL, when you don’t have an ambassador on the ground it is tying the arms of the United States in countries where we need to have that senior leadership. And that’s why we’re pressing so hard to have these officials confirmed.
Any more questions. Oh, go ahead, Arshad.
QUESTION: You mentioned something – not a career Foreign Service officer, but certainly a diplomat, our longtime colleague George Gedda —
QUESTION: You’re stealing my thunder.
QUESTION: But you didn’t say anything.
QUESTION: Because I’m letting everybody else ask questions.
QUESTION: Oh, is there anybody else who has a question?
MS. PSAKI: Okay. We can both say something.
QUESTION: I’ll say something and then you say something.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: He’s going to speak at AFSA on Monday on his new book, which is entitled “The State Department – More than Just Diplomacy: The Personalities, Turf Battles, Danger Zones for Diplomats, Exotic Datelines, Miscast Appointees, the Laughs – And, Sadly, the Occasional Homicide.”
MS. PSAKI: How does that fit on a cover? I’m impressed.
QUESTION: I have no idea, but —
MS. PSAKI: Could be like an interesting book.
QUESTION: But he’s a lovely guy, and to listeners and readers of the briefing, they might want to check out his book.
MS. PSAKI: Great. Do you want to say something else on that?
QUESTION: I was just going to offer to you or to others in the room, since he is a friend and colleague of all of ours, that if anybody wants to order his book I can take that order to him. I will see him on Monday. He’s giving a speech or a talk to his colleagues at AP, and I’m sure he would love to hear from all of you and all of you.
MS. PSAKI: Great. I’m very impressed. He must be a fabulous individual that he gets all this pumping for his book. So —
QUESTION: He’s a lovely, lovely guy.
MS. PSAKI: Good to hear. Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:23 p.m.)