State Department Briefing by Jen Psaki, Oct. 24, 2014

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–October 24, 2014.



1:24 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Hi. Happy Friday.

MS. PSAKI: Happy Friday. I have a couple of items for the top. The United States strongly condemns the terrorist attack that targeted a military checkpoint in the Sinai near al-Arish and killed tens of Egyptian soldiers and injured dozens. We extend our condolences to the families of the victims and hope for the quick and full recovery of the wounded. A prosperous and dynamic Egypt requires an environment of security and stability, and the United States continues to support the Egyptian Government’s efforts to counter the threat of terrorism in Egypt as part of our commitment to the strategic partnership between our two countries.

A little update on General Allen and Ambassador McGurk: They are in Paris today where they met with Foreign Minister Fabius, General Benoit Puga, and other senior French Government officials to discuss our cooperation through coalition efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL. General Allen and Ambassador McGurk welcomed the French airstrikes yesterday in Iraq that struck an ISIL training camp near Baiji and hit ISIL targets near the Mosul dam. The success of these strikes reaffirms France’s important role in the military fight against ISIL. They also welcomed continued French support for the Iraqi forces and moderate Syrian opposition forces that will be the ground forces fighting against ISIL. They are – also praised the ongoing French humanitarian assistance to both the Iraqi and Syrian people and thanked officials for their diplomatic support of coalition efforts, including hosting the September 15th Paris meeting at which 30 international delegations met to build up coalition efforts and affirm their support for an inclusive, united, and sovereign Iraq.

And finally, this week, as many of you know, has been a week at Foggy Bottom to say goodbye to Deputy Secretary Bill Burns. Even though he will be staying on on the Iran negotiations, I just want to talk about him briefly. He has been in the Foreign Service for 33 years. He originally planned to retire in 2013, but Secretary Kerry and actually President Obama as well asked him to stay through the first week of November. He’s been Deputy Secretary of State since July 2011.

He holds the highest rank in the Foreign Service, a career ambassador, and is only the second serving career diplomat in history to become Deputy Secretary. He, as many of you know, has served in a range of incredible roles, obviously his current role. He was also the ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs from 2001 to 2005, Ambassador to Jordan prior to that. And I think what most people take away from him is that he’s somebody who has really been a model to many young men and women who have not only grown up in the Foreign Service, but other people who have had the pleasure of serving in this building, other political appointees or career servants to – about how a diplomat should be and behave and lead, and he will be greatly missed in this building.

I will tell you a brief anecdote that yesterday at the last ever weekly large staff meeting he would be at, Secretary Kerry gave him a basketball autographed by the – Coach K of Duke. He’s a big Duke basketball fan.

QUESTION: We won’t hold that against him.

MS. PSAKI: You – okay, you won’t hold that against him. And the handwritten inscription said, “To Bill, in the world of diplomacy you have never missed a shot.” So that was yesterday.

But anyway, we are all going to be sad to see him leave. With that, I will – yes.

QUESTION: Can I just ask about something that you just said that President Obama asked him to serve through the first week of November? So he said, no, I’m leaving a week early? I’m going to leave on –

MS. PSAKI: He asked him to extend his stay when he was going to leave earlier, so yes. I realize he’s – we’re – it’s not quite November. It’s late October, so he’s staying through late October, Matt.

QUESTION: So today isn’t his last day? Or it is?

MS. PSAKI: Today is his last day. I did not mean to be confusing.

QUESTION: Why till then, the first week of November?

MS. PSAKI: Today is his last day. I did not mean to be confusing. It should have been written in a different way.


MS. PSAKI: The point was to emphasize his incredible career.


MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Sorry, just what role will he continue to play with the Iran negotiations?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s already been previously announced, but I just wanted to reiterate that he’ll continue to serve on the negotiating team.

QUESTION: Right. I have a very –

QUESTION: Excuse me. On this –

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Till November 24th or –

MS. PSAKI: I think obviously, that’s our focus. We’re not having a discussion about an extension. So beyond that, I don’t have any updates for you.

QUESTION: I just have a brief logistical –

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: — thing and then something that I don’t think you’ll have too much information about.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: But earlier today when you met with Elton John, the Secretary talked about this $7 million partnership. Is there any additional information that either – that you guys are planning?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, there’s a media note that should be going out.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. I haven’t seen it yet.

MS. PSAKI: If you haven’t seen it, we’ll check on that.

QUESTION: And then the other thing is: Are you aware of or do you know anything about this – reports of a bombing in Kabul, explosions in Kabul near the Embassy? They’re very recent.

MS. PSAKI: I had not seen those reports. We can check on those, Matt, for you —

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: — and get you a comment after the briefing.

QUESTION: Okay. And then there are reports in Israel and elsewhere that Israeli Defense Minister Ya’alon was denied meetings or the Administration rejected requests from the Israelis for him to meet with, among other people, Secretary Kerry but also Susan Rice at the White House and Vice President Biden. And I’m just wondering, realizing you don’t speak for the White House, can you say if a meeting was sought with Secretary Kerry, who I believe was out of the country until – I know was out of the country until Wednesday night. Was there a meeting sought and denied?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything in terms of internal discussions about meetings to parlay to you, but he did meet with Defense Secretary Hagel, which – who is his counterpart, which is a natural standard procedure.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say that the Administration and particularly this building and then particularly Secretary Kerry are still a bit peeved with Defense Minister Ya’alon’s criticisms?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, as you know, Secretary Kerry has spoken to this himself shortly after the comments made by Defense Minister Ya’alon and made clear that he’d been the target of much worse than words. And I think obviously, he works closely with a range of Israeli officials and he didn’t meet with him this time. He’s met with him in the past and he met with Secretary Hagel, who is his counterpart.

QUESTION: He didn’t meet with any U.S. officials other than the defense secretary?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a list of his – the rest of his agenda. But he’s his natural counterpart and he’s a high-ranking official, as you know, and he did meet with him while he was here.

Should we go to a new topic?


MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, before that, I mean just the first thing related to what you said at the beginning of this briefing. Was there any kind of contact with the Egyptians or officials regarding this – what happened this morning? Any phone call from the Secretary to —

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we’re in very close touch on the ground. I don’t have any additional calls from here to read out for you. As you know, the Secretary was – spent the morning with the South Koreans. He is in regular touch with officials in Egypt. He speaks with Foreign Minister Shoukry quite frequently but hasn’t spoken with him this morning.

QUESTION: And regarding Under Secretary – Deputy Secretary Burns, is there a transition period, somebody is going to fill his shoes, or it’s like empty till somebody is appointed?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, there hasn’t been a personnel announcement about who will fill his shoes at this point in time.


QUESTION: I think he’s asking if there’s someone going to be serving in an acting —

MS. PSAKI: An acting deputy? I will —

QUESTION: I think.

MS. PSAKI: I will check and see if that is the plan.

QUESTION: Why the National Security Council meeting will be held at the State Department today?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you saw – as you may have seen a couple of weeks ago, the NSC meeting was held at the Department of Defense about two weeks ago. I think this is an opportunity for the President to come visit the key national security agencies and the agencies that are running point on this important strategy to degrade and defeat ISIL. So he is hosting the meeting here today. It’s nothing more complicated than that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Not because of Deputy Burns’s leaving, is it?

MS. PSAKI: Not because of Deputy Burns’s leaving?

QUESTION: Yeah, I mean to just —

MS. PSAKI: Well, he was at the Defense Department just about two weeks ago, so there was a decision made that it would make a great deal of sense to have – host these meetings at a couple of different agencies.

QUESTION: I think Samir’s question is: Is the President, who’s going to be in the building this afternoon, going to attend deputy secretary’s – something for deputy secretary —

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details about the President’s schedule to outline for all of you.

QUESTION: No, no, I meant if the President is coming here to participate in the farewell to Deputy Burns.

MS. PSAKI: He’s coming here for the NSC meeting. I don’t have anything more to preview for you.

QUESTION: Thanks. Okay.

QUESTION: What kind of readout are you going to have on this meeting? Will you be able to explain, for example, who exactly is attending? Will the —

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I expect that would come from the White House. They typically put out a list of attendees, so I would expect that will come from them.


MS. PSAKI: And any other details they want to read out, of course. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Kobani, Turkish President Erdogan said today that PYD has agreed to the passage of 1,300 fighters from Free Syrian Army to Kobani. Are you aware of this statement, and what do you think about it?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen the statement. We don’t have any confirmation of plans for that number of FSA fighters to travel there. We’re certainly looking for more details but don’t have any confirmation from here at this point.

QUESTION: And do you support such a move from the —

MS. PSAKI: Would we support the FSA helping to —

QUESTION: From the FSA, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: — on the – with the fight in Kobani? Is that what you’re asking?


MS. PSAKI: Yes, we would.

QUESTION: Uh-huh. And do – will you play any facilitating role to let them go to Kobani, or you leave it to the Turks?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think it’s for the United States to play a role there. I think it’s – and I’m not quite clear on what Turkey’s role would be either, given we’re talking about movement within Syria, but certainly that’s a question you should ask the Turkish authorities.

QUESTION: And one more on Syria. The Syrian opposition is saying that the lack of support from the U.S. to the opposition benefits the Assad regime, especially this appeared in Hama today after the Syrian forces captured a strategic village there. What do you think about that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, the facts are that the United States has continued to increase the scale and scope of our assistance over the course of the last year. We are not only the largest contributor of humanitarian assistance, we have passed a train and equip program that obviously the Department of Defense is implementing; we are not only strong supporters of the Syrian opposition, we are, I would say, leading the effort in the international community to help get them the training and equipment that they need. So we work very closely with them. Obviously, we know that this is a challenging fight on the ground, but we continue to believe that taking on the threat of ISIL and weakening ISIL will help the opposition and also, of course the decision was made in part because of the threat that it poses to Western interest.

QUESTION: And they are asking why the United States doesn’t take any – or doesn’t attack the regime’s jets who are firing the opposition lands in Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve spoken about this pretty extensively, about our strategy and our focus on ISIL. That remains what our military components are focused on. Beyond that, I don’t think I have anything new to add.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Germany will be hosting a conference to help Syrian refugees at the ministerial level on the 28th this month. Will anybody from the U.S. attend this?

MS. PSAKI: Let me check. I would be surprised if we didn’t have someone attend. The Secretary spoke with the foreign minister about this when he met with him earlier this week, and spoke with him actually previously about the conference. It’s certainly something we support. But let me check and see if we have someone attending.

Any more on Syria or Turkey?

QUESTION: Different topic? I have a different topic.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Palestinian sources said today that the – President Abbas reach an agreement with the U.S. for postponing their going to the Security Council to ask for a resolution to end the Israeli occupation. Is this true?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our position has been well known. I mean, we’ve conveyed it certainly to the Palestinians, to other partners in the region, and publicly as well, and – that we’ve long made clear that negotiations are the means by which the conflict will be resolved and that a resolution to it cannot be imposed on the parties. And we think that’s the appropriate way for it to take place. In terms of what actions the Palestinians may or may not take, that’s certainly for them to decide and them to announce. But our position has been fairly clear on this.

QUESTION: But will – you don’t know if they reach an agreement with you about this?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure quite what that means, because our position has been very clear publicly about our view on what the best way to pursue a two-state solution would be. We think that’s through direct negotiations, not through a third party. And we’ve been clear about that publicly and privately, so I think the question is more about what decisions they’re making about what they’ll do moving forward.

Do we have any more on this topic, or since we just touched on Iraq, Turkey, and Syria, any more on those before we go to something else?

QUESTION: I know that the —

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Roz.

QUESTION: — Secretary was asked about the reported chlorine attack against Iraqi forces in the past month. Is there any thinking in this building or in consultation with the Pentagon about how this affects the way that the coalition tries to deal with ISIL fighters? Does this change the strategy? Does this change the training of Iraqi forces to deal with any sort of NBC attack – nuclear, biological, chemical?

MS. PSAKI: That’s a good question, Roz. I think the most appropriate place to pose it is probably to the Pentagon. Not that I have been briefed on. As you – the Secretary noted this morning, we’re certainly aware of the alleged attacks. We take them very seriously, as we do any allegations. We can’t confirm the details. We’re seeking additional information. Obviously, the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon is an abhorrent act. In terms of what it would in term – of training, I would point you to my colleagues at the Pentagon.


MS. PSAKI: All right. Did you have another, Nicole, (inaudible)?

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Just curious as to whether this building has a response to comments he made this morning about the U.S. acting like a Big Brother and —

MS. PSAKI: President Putin?

QUESTION: — President Putin, yeah – dismantling international law and blackmailing world leaders. He was saying that U.S. leadership is leading to greater world anarchy. I’m just curious about your thoughts on that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have certainly seen the comments. The United States does not seek confrontation with Russia, but we cannot and will not compromise on the principles on which security in Europe and North America rest. We’ve said repeatedly we would be firm about principles at stake. There may be a disagreement on them, but we remain committed to upholding Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We’ve consistently pointed out from here that the United States and Russia have been able to work together on a range of issues, whether that’s destroying nuclear stockpiles to cooperating to remove and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. So our focus is on continuing to engage with Russia on areas of mutual concern, and we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to continue to do that, while we still certainly have disagreements on some issues, and we’re going to stand by our principles.

QUESTION: Okay, there’s – in the Russian press there was a short readout about a call between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov. Can you give us your readout?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. I actually don’t have a readout quite yet, but we will get you one. I saw that right before I came out to do the briefing.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: But let us do that after the briefing.

QUESTION: Can you run through any other calls that the Secretary has had?

MS. PSAKI: He spoke with Foreign Minister Judeh this morning as well. Let me see if there are any others here, Arshad. I think that was the only other one today.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: What did they discuss?

MS. PSAKI: With Foreign Minister Judeh? I think he’s discussed, of course, the ongoing effort to degrade and defeat ISIL. They discussed the ongoing – of course, the situation in Syria – recent violence there. I’ll see if there’s more to read out for all of you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Any more discussion on humanitarian assistance to Jordan because of, first, the Syrian refugees who were fleeing the civil war, and now those who may be escaping ISIL’s advances?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Roz, and the Secretary reiterates this almost every time he’s there, if not every time, we remain a stalwart supporter of Jordan and their efforts and their openness to welcoming in refugees. It’s certainly an incredibly important contribution. We’ve contributed tens of millions of dollars to this effort. I can check and see if there’s any more on that specific topic.

QUESTION: Okay. Can we talk about Ebola?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: The little girl from Guinea who is now in Mali being treated for Ebola, is there a – has there been any discussion between the U.S. and the Malian Government on how it’s responding to this little girl’s illness?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of detail. I can check and see with our African team if we have been in touch. Is that what you’re asking? If we’ve been in touch?


MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. Because I’m not —

MS. PSAKI: With the Government of Mali?

QUESTION: Yeah. Correct. Because I’m not sure whether they’re capable of dealing with an Ebola outbreak, whether they have the facilities. It’s just country number six – well, what does that mean? And —

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I will check on our contacts, and I’m sure you’re also inquiring probably with the CDC —

QUESTION: Right. Right.

MS. PSAKI: — about contacts along that line as well.

QUESTION: And if that means that it’s going to affect how the U.S. is responding to the crisis, that would be good to know as well.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I don’t think – I don’t – not – I don’t think that is an impact. But I will check and see if —

QUESTION: All right. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: — we’ve been in touch with the government.


QUESTION: On the Ebola, did you see that North Korea apparently yesterday has closed its borders, citing fears of Ebola. I just wondered – the Secretary was asked this at the press conference this morning, but I just wondered if there was any confirmation in this building that those borders have been closed to foreign tourists. Is that something that you would monitor?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a confirmation of that from here. I can check with our team and see if that’s something we have independently confirmed.

QUESTION: Regarding Ebola, I mean – this building, are you planning to make a kind of travel warning, because already a lot of people are canceling trips to African countries in general, not — I mean, South Africa even, because of the fear and the hysteria of what’s going on about Ebola. Is there any kind of travel warning taking place, or are you planning to have a – this kind of travel warning for Americans to go to Africa or not?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve put out travel warnings for the countries that have been most impacted, and we did that several weeks ago. And certainly, as information becomes available we update that. I don’t have any predictions of changes to that, but certainly that’s something that we have an entire team that evaluates and takes a close look at. We’re also in close touch with these countries about steps they’re taking as well.

QUESTION: But if let’s say usually America sometimes be in touch with the embassies or whatever, and they are trying to figure out if it’s safe to go there – there is not any kind of precautions measures to go there or not?

MS. PSAKI: There have been travel warnings that we’ve put out for these specific countries —

QUESTION: Those three countries?

MS. PSAKI: — in Western Africa that have been impacted. Yes.

QUESTION: That’s it.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Jen, were the U.S. embassy or consulates in Turkey affected today by the yellow powder that they found in some embassies?

MS. PSAKI: I do have something on that. One moment.

So the facts are that the U.S. consulate general in Istanbul received an envelope containing a suspicious powder. The envelope was handled in accordance with established protocols, and appropriate U.S. and Turkish authorities are investigating. The consulate is otherwise operating normally.

QUESTION: And that’s it? There is – nobody got affected by this powder, or —

MS. PSAKI: It’s operating normally. I’m not aware of any specific impact.

QUESTION: You don’t have any kind of – let’s say any people claim that they are sending this or whatever? No?

MS. PSAKI: I think this just happened, and as I mentioned, we’re working with Turkish authorities to investigate. But I don’t have any new information on what the outcome would be.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: All right. Thank – oh, do you want to do one more?

QUESTION: Yeah, Jen.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Okay.

QUESTION: Just – Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Linda Thomas-Greenfield is in Africa at the moment.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is any of her itinerary focused on anything new regarding U.S. policy with respect to assisting and dealing with the Ebola outbreak?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, this is one of the topics that we’re not only discussing in Africa, but globally, so I would expect that the response and the needs of countries impacted would be a part of her travel discussion. But let me talk to our team and see if there’s more specifics that we can provide to you about her itinerary, the countries, and what she’ll be discussing in each of them.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:47 p.m.)