The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.
1:44 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hello, everyone. Thank you for your patience on this lovely Monday. For those of you who I have not yet met, my name is Jen Psaki. I’m the new State Department spokesperson. A number of you I have met and worked with, and I’ll look forward to working with everybody in the days, months, and years ahead.
With that, I don’t have anything at the top.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Who has Secretary Kerry called since last week to try to get the Geneva II meeting together? And we’re getting pings that it is unlikely to happen this month but will slide into June. Is that – or is it still his hope to do it by the end of the month?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me take the first – the second question first, if that’s okay. The Secretary said at the time that he would like to do this as early as is practicable. And that, of course – and he said by the end of May, or ideally by the end of May, possibly. As you know, there are many different players, many different countries involved here. It looks like it will slip past that to possibly early June. I don’t have an exact date at this point.
I can tell you in terms of calls – and it may be more productive if I get you all a list at the end of this so I don’t forget anyone, but he has been in constant contact over the past couple of days, through the course of the weekend, since this announcement last week with the Russians, with stakeholders in the region, with leaders in the region. He’s been – he’s spoken with everybody from Special Envoy Brahimi – he spoke with Foreign Minister Davutoglu both Friday and again this morning. He’s spoken with Prime Minister Cameron.
I’ll get you a more concrete list, but what I can assure you of is that this has been on his mind since that night. After that evening, he actually wanted to talk about his calls for the next day, so he started making those immediately the next morning.
And the first question you asked was --
QUESTION: The question was – no, I think you got both the questions.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: One was whether it might slide, and secondly was who he’s reached out to.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Yes. And I would just reiterate that in terms of the timing of this, what’s most important – and we’re working through the plans for it, working through who the participants will be – we’re not quite there yet, but of course we want the key players there, and he’s looking forward to doing this as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: Can you get us a list of calls today --
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to do that.
QUESTION: And has it been definitively decided yet where it be held?
MS. PSAKI: Not yet. We’re still in the planning stages.
QUESTION: Can you talk about the key players? Who do you foresee coming to this? Who do you not want to see? There’s countries like Iran that have been mulled in the past as participants. Would they be somebody not welcome?
MS. PSAKI: Well, all of those pieces will be discussed through the planning process, and that’s what the Secretary is discussing with everybody from Special Envoy Brahimi to Arab leaders in the region. He said at the time – and I would point you to this – that this is based on the original Geneva meeting back last summer. And of course that’s a pool of participants that will be part of the discussion here. But in terms of the final list of participants, we’re just not quite there yet.
QUESTION: And have you had any success yet talking to the opposition about securing their commitment to coming to these talks?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point you to the statement that was made, I believe it was over the weekend --
QUESTION: So many statements.
MS. PSAKI: -- there are so many, that’s true – by the opposition encouraging – they were encouraged by the – I don’t want to parse their words, so I’d point you to it, but encouraged by these steps. They’re going to vote, as you know, later this month on this. But the Secretary, Ambassador Ford, have both been in touch with the opposition – or I should say Ambassador Ford was in touch with them last week, and the Secretary is very focused on locking in their participation.
QUESTION: Can we anticipate that there might be some elements from the Syrian regime who would also be present at this conference?
MS. PSAKI: Well, if – I would point you back to what the Secretary and what Foreign Minister Lavrov said that evening. The goal here is, of course, to get representatives of both sides to the table. We don’t have yet a list of who those people would be. That’s not something we are predetermining. But that’s part of the conversations that are taking place leading up to this international conference.
QUESTION: In follow-up conversations with Russian counterparts since talks in Moscow last week, has there been any indication from the Russian side yet whether they are being successful in their attempts to try and get the Syrian Government on board with these talks?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Russian Government for that, on their assessment of that from their end. But again, this was an opportunity for the Secretary to work with the Foreign Minister to garner representatives from both sides, other representatives around the world, and I think they’re both focused on that at this stage.
QUESTION: On the flip side of that, do you think that Ambassador Ford made headways in talking with the opposition when he was in Syria last week in terms of attending this conference? Because there is a great deal of resistance on the part of the opposition to participate in such a conference.
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I would point you to the statement that they put out over the weekend to indicate that. Mr. Ford – Ambassador Ford was on a preplanned trip. As you know, he delivered some aid to the region during that and has had several conversations with them, and is certainly working with them on getting their representation to the conference.
QUESTION: But as the U.S. is trying to prop up Mr. Idriss of the Syrian – Free Syrian Army, it is safe to assume that he discussed this issue with him. And what was his feeling? Are they going to participate or will they not participate? Because they keep issuing statement that they will not participate.
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I would point you to the statement I referenced earlier. I’m happy to get you a copy of that at the end if that would be helpful. I don’t want to put words in their mouth, but it was a statement that they were encouraged.
QUESTION: And finally, Jennifer, will they use, like, a formula for said conference like, let’s say, what we had in 1995 in Dayton with the Bosnia deal? Are they using such examples from history to reach some sort of an agreement?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I know you’re a historian of sorts in this room, but there are a number of factors that are playing into the planning of this conference. As we have more details, I’m happy to share them with all of you.
Go ahead, in the front.
QUESTION: Jen, can you rule out the Iranians participating? Were they invited?
MS. PSAKI: In terms of the participants, that’s being discussed now. I can’t tell you who is – who will be and who won’t be participating at this stage.
QUESTION: Do you have any problem if the Iranians attend the meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to parse that. We’re discussing this with the possible participants, with a number of people as we lead up to the planning for the conference.
QUESTION: Is there any way that you can give us some more information on the phone call with the Turkish Foreign Minister this morning?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to. I’m happy to. Thank you for your question. Well, we put out a statement this weekend you may have seen from the Secretary on the – condemning the car bombings that took place in Turkey. He spoke with the Foreign Minister this morning, expressed his deep condolences to him and to the people of Turkey for this tragedy. They also discussed broadly looking ahead to the conference and plans for that as well.
QUESTION: So you have talked to Turkish authorities about this bombing killed about 50 people. The Turkish Government already made some claims that they captured the suspects. What’s your understanding?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve seen those reports. And again as you know the – Mr. Erdogan will be here later this week meeting with the President. I expect they’ll be discussing that and their findings during those meetings. From our end, it is too early at this point to make an assessment.
QUESTION: Two questions on Syria. Both Secretary Kerry and President Obama have been talking about putting pressure on the Assad regime. Is there any way you can elaborate? What kind of pressure right now on the table?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s a multilateral approach that we’ve talked about – or I should say my colleagues have talked about, since this is my first foray into this adventure with all of you – from here that includes nonlethal aid – we doubled that recently – humanitarian assistance. It includes considering keeping all options on the table, which the President is certainly doing. And it includes working with our allies and partners in the region to determine how we can best help the opposition at this stage.
QUESTION: So President ruled out the boots on the ground. But you are saying all options on the table?
MS. PSAKI: The President did say that. The Secretary has said that, too, but there are a number of broad options under consideration. I’m not going to outline those from here.
QUESTION: All options on the table or all options minus boots? What’s that --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to parse the President’s words. I’ve worked in this town long enough not to do that. But again, he’s repeatedly said there are a number of options that will be under consideration – the Secretary has said – that I’m not going to outline those from here.
QUESTION: So some options on the table then, obviously.
MS. PSAKI: There are a number of broad options that are being considered. Not going to outline those from here.
QUESTION: According to some credible reports, including Washington Post, on the ground the Assad regime has been gaining some momentum. First question is: Are you agree with this assessment?
MS. PSAKI: We have seen those reports and have seen continuing progress by the regime in some of those cases. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important for us to continue to aid the opposition and provide them with the assistance they need, why it’s so important, why the Secretary is so focused on bringing many parties together for this international conference early next month. And again, we – the most important point here is that Mr. Assad has lost his legitimacy, he can no longer serve this government, he can no longer serve the Syrian people. We remain steadfast in our belief that he has to go, and we’re working with the opposition and our allies to make that the case.
QUESTION: So what I understand --
MS. PSAKI: You have a lot of questions today. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yeah. And there’s not – I didn’t know you are coming today. So that means that Secretary Kerry, when he first started his job, he said that he is going to find solutions to change the equation on the ground. But now we are seeing that there are credible reports that the Assad regime is gaining ground.
MS. PSAKI: That’s not at all what I said. We’ve seen reports – we’ve seen those reports this weekend as well. We remain focused on bringing an end to Assad’s rule in the country. That’s why we have escalated our aid in the past couple of months, in fact, since the Secretary has come into his position, and why he’s focused – virtually every week he has a new trip or he has a new conference where he’s meeting with allies and determining what we can do next.
QUESTION: Yeah, but his question is: How did it get from changing the calculus of Assad by helping the opposition advance on the ground to begging them to come to peace talks or something? It’s changed a lot in a few months.
MS. PSAKI: Not at all. I would dispute that. There’s a multilateral approach here. We’ve always thought that a political solution is the best process. We have been in agreement with that with many of our counterparts. The – what happened last week was there was a development in standing with the Russians and agreeing that we needed to work together on that. At the same time, and not delayed, not – simultaneously we are working with the opposition to determine what the needs they have on the ground. And we’ve escalated and increased our aid over the past couple of months. We still are focused on changing Assad’s calculation on the ground.
QUESTION: But you haven’t done it yet.
MS. PSAKI: Well, when --
QUESTION: I mean, he’s gaining on the ground. So if anything’s changing in his calculus, it’s that, “My counter offensive is working and I should continue with it,” no?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Brad, we’re not ready to throw our hat in here. We’re very focused every single day on changing the calculation on the ground, increasing our aid, helping the opposition, and doing that at the same time as bringing our partners together.
QUESTION: Will these gains force the Administration to arm the opposition?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to give you a kind of internal – or give you a preview of any internal discussion. As I’ve long said, and as I – as we’ve long said, and as I said from here today, all options do remain on the table. That’s the President’s choice to make. We have increased our aid over the past couple of months in order to help the opposition and help equip them on the ground.
QUESTION: Jen, who absolutely has to be at this conference? I mean, you cannot go ahead if – can go ahead without the opposition being there? Who absolutely has to be for an outcome that you want?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point you back to what the Secretary and what the Foreign Minister said last week. Obviously, the goal of this is to be – to bring both sides to the table. And clearly, representatives from both sides is a key part of the process.
QUESTION: Jen, those of us who unavoidably missed the top, could you tell us – so you don’t know exactly when this will be, but it will be the beginning of next month. And you don’t know precisely who will be there?
MS. PSAKI: Again, what I said at the top – and let me just repeat this briefly for you – is that we are still in the planning stages of the conference, not a surprise given it was just announced or just decided last week. The Secretary has been in constant contact with our allies and partners around the world in the planning process for this.
I did, in response to Arshad’s question, say that it is likely this will move past the end of May, giving all the players here – I didn’t say a specific date, but we’re looking to do it as soon as is possible.
QUESTION: But in other words – so you’re holding it, but you’re not quite sure exactly who will show up?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s not at all what I said. What I conveyed is that we’re working through the process with several of our partners around the world to determine the right group of participants in this. We’re just not there in terms of announcing who will be a part of the conference yet.
QUESTION: But you do feel that you have some legitimate representatives from not only the government – I should say the opposition – but the actual government of Assad?
MS. PSAKI: Again, that is the goal of this conference. That’s what we’re working with our Russian counterparts on. And as we have more to share on the planning and the participation, we will share that with all of you.
QUESTION: But is it premature, I guess I’d have to ask? Is it premature to announce this if you’re not at this point ready to say at least generally who is coming or that you have some legitimate representatives from both sides?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I said a little bit at the beginning, so let just repeat this quickly for you, that obviously, this is based on or building off of the first Geneva meeting last summer. There are a number of participants who were part of that meeting then. They stated as the goal having the representatives from the opposition and representatives from the regime participate and come back to the table in some capacity. That certainly is the goal of this. I think the Secretary felt it was important to announce it to move the ball forward in getting the planning going and getting people to the conference.
QUESTION: Could it be from this building’s point of view to wait after President Putin and President Obama have met in Ireland on the 17th and 18th of June to hold this conference?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you heard the Secretary say this last week, so let me just point to it again. The stakes are so high. We’re moving in a direction where the alternative is horrific – continuing bloodshed, continuing suffering from the people of Syria – and he felt we needed to act and put this conference together while also taking multilateral approaches as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: And one last thing. I mean, we know the address of the regime. We know who’s going to represent them. But on the opposition, you have like hundreds of these groups and especially the extremist groups. Who’s going to be doing the vetting on who’s going to attend or not attend?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have anything to announce for you today on who will be attending representing the opposition.
QUESTION: Well --
MS. PSAKI: Let me just go to Jill one more time here.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Just again on the goal, I mean, we know what the Secretary was saying last week about the goal. But realistically, what do you hope can be accomplished at that conference?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of the conference actually happening, but obviously, the goal here is to bring representatives from both sides, leaders from the region, together, given the stakes, given the trajectory that things are moving in, given what the alternative is, and see if we can move toward a political transition. You heard the President say and you’ve heard the Secretary too say that we’re not underestimating the challenge here and the difficulties but felt it was worth pulling – making every effort to pull representatives from the international community together to do just that.
QUESTION: So Assad is stepping down is not a precondition, right? Is this – is end of result, end of process?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me point you – and we’ve addressed this quite a bit. So again, it’s up to the Syrian people to decide who is – the timing of that. They have made clear – the Syrian opposition has made clear they won’t sit at a table with people who have blood on their hands, but we’re not going to predetermine that for them. We remain steadfast in our belief and our commitment that Assad must go.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on the chemical weapon investigation?
MS. PSAKI: I do not. I do not.
Any more on Syria?
QUESTION: Yeah, please. And forgive me if I missed something. I was out.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: But you’re not committing, however, that a conference will actually be held? I mean, when the Secretary announced it in Moscow, he was very clear that – and Lavrov – were clear that you would seek to arrange such a conference. You’re not committing it will happen, are you?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to parse it too much, because I will say the Secretary is committed enough that we are planning to do a conference. We are not naive about the difficulties of pulling all sides together, and we’re focused on that every single day. It shouldn’t be a surprise that given we just announced this – I believe it was last Wednesday – that five days later we’re still in the planning stages.
QUESTION: And then secondly, can you – the United States Government made abundantly clear in the past that it was not interested in Iran participating in such a conference. Can you rule out the possibility that Iran might attend?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t rule in or out participants at this stage just five days out from announcing the conference.
QUESTION: So it’s conceivable to you, then, that the Iranians could be --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to parse it too much. I just don’t have a list of participants or who will or won’t participate at this stage.
QUESTION: Do you think it would be helpful to have the Iranians there, given the role that they have played in arming the Syrian Government?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly remain concerned about the role that Iran has played in aiding and helping the Syrian Government. In terms of their participation in the conference, I just don’t have anything further for you on it today.
QUESTION: How about Iraq? Would you like to see Iraq there, particularly given that when the Secretary was last in Iraq one of the main features of his meetings was his requests, which I think have largely fallen on deaf ears, that the Iraqi Government not permit Iranian overflights of weaponry or other materiel to support the Syrian Government? So is Iraq somebody you’d like to see there?
MS. PSAKI: Again, we could go through every country in the world here, and that would be fun, but I’m not going to parse today. I can assure you that as time continues we’ll have more to say about the participants.
QUESTION: Madam, new subject? One more on Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Iranian officials made it clear and said that they are ready to attend this conference. Do you welcome their statement?
MS. PSAKI: I appreciate that announcement or you sharing that information with me. I don’t have anything new to tell you about who will or won’t be participating. This is part of the discussions and part of the planning.
Do we have any more on Syria or the conference? Syria and the conference?
QUESTION: Yes. The Secretary said last week we are going to forge ahead very, very directly with all the parties to bring that conference together. Do you consider Iran a party to the conflict in Syria?
MS. PSAKI: It’s so creative in here. I’m absolutely impressed. Maybe you practiced beforehand. I don’t have – I appreciate all the ways of asking the questions. I don’t have anything new on the participants. Obviously, Iran has been an active supporter of the Syrian regime. We’ve expressed our concerns about that many, many times in the past. That’s no different today. But in terms of participants, I don’t have anything new.
QUESTION: You’ve expressed your concerns with Russia many times in the past too, and that’s turned to effusive praise in the last few days. So do you see a chance for Iran to rehabilitate itself in your eyes in the Syria conflict?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Brad, I think we’ve been pretty – Russia, of course, was a participant, supported the Geneva communique, supported the efforts there.
QUESTION: But they’re invited.
MS. PSAKI: They supported those efforts. We feel they have a role to play, a significant role to play here, given their relationship with the regime. That’s why we’re working closely with them. I don’t want to compare the two.
Is this – any more on Syria?
QUESTION: Can I do one more, chemical weapons, please?
MS. PSAKI: Of course. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. UN chemical weapons chief said time is running out. This is last week. He said that his team needs to get in Syria to gather the evidence because the chemical agents captured in soil and blood and hair will be increasingly difficult to obtain as each day passes. So don’t you see any kind of urgency on this chemical issue, on the one hand, regime still refuses this team?
MS. PSAKI: We absolutely see urgency. We couldn’t agree more that if the regime has nothing to hide, there’s no reason for them to keep the UN inspection team out of Syria. At the same time, we’re working with our allies and partners in the region to gather and share information. But unfortunately, I don’t have anything new for you on that.
QUESTION: Jen, one more on Syria.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What’s the latest that you’re hearing from the Russians about the sale of the S-300 system?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t really have anything new to add for you on that today. I mean, I would refer you to them. The Secretary last week expressed our concerns broadly about the Russians selling missiles or any arms to Syria at any point in time, now or two years ago. That remains the same, but our focus is on seeing if we can get both sides back to the table.
QUESTION: Did he specifically cite that weapon system, S-300?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe he has cited that specifically. He was asked this question last week.
QUESTION: No, no. In his private meetings with the Russians, did he specifically cite that weapon system, which has been a subject of U.S.-Russian conversation in the past?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of. We’ve consistently expressed our concerns about them aiding the regime.
QUESTION: Sorry to interrupt. The Russians did issue a statement saying that they’re not selling these weapons to Syria.
MS. PSAKI: I would refer you to the Russians, again, on this. I was making the broad point that we have been concerned and we would be concerned about the Russians providing arms to Syria.
Are we moving on beyond Syria here?
QUESTION: Change of subject?
QUESTION: Changing the subject?
QUESTION: Madam, first of all, congratulations and --
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Goyal.
QUESTION: -- all the best.
QUESTION: Awfully rude of all the rest of us.
MS. PSAKI: It is, very rude.
QUESTION: My question is on the elections in Pakistan. And this is really a congratulations to the people of Pakistan. For the first time, they have rejected the Taliban’s call. Even under attack, they came more than 65 percent that voted in Pakistan. My question is: Now, again, Mr. Nawaz Sharif who was the Pakistan Prime Minister twice, and he got toppled by the General Musharraf who is now under house arrest in Pakistan. How you are going to deal now for the third time with the Prime Minister – to-be-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif? And do you see any changes in the U.S.-Pakistan relations under his regime? And now we have a new Secretary of State, of course, Mr. John Kerry. He knows the area in Pakistan and the region. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Goyal, I hope you don’t mind if I just start off by saying that we respect the choice of the Pakistani people, and the United States looks forward to engaging with the next democratically-elected government when it is formed in the coming weeks. And as you know, they have a process of forming the government.
And just to touch on one of the points you raised, it is worth noting as well that we are encouraged to see so many Pakistani citizens get involved in the democratic process. Preliminary reports suggest that these elections had the highest voter turnout in 35 years, with close to 60 percent voter turnout as compared to 44 percent in 2008. Last point I’ll just add here is that the Secretary called Mr. Sharif yesterday afternoon to congratulate him on his strong showing in Saturday’s elections and told him that he looks forward to working with the government as the government is formed in Pakistan.
QUESTION: And one more, Madam, quickly. Today President mentioned something to do with the Pakistan-Afghanistan dialogue. What kind of dialogue? Is there something to do – recently there was a border clash between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and President Karzai accused Pakistan on that border clashes.
MS. PSAKI: We’ve long said on this – I’m not familiar with the remarks you’re referring to – that it is up to both parties to work together, so I would point you to that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: On Pakistan?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Last week --
MS. PSAKI: The audio?
STAFF: Yeah, yeah, I know.
MS. PSAKI: Have we lost (inaudible)?
STAFF: There we go.
MS. PSAKI: There we go.
QUESTION: Last week the Pakistan high court ruled that drone strikes are illegal and the lawyer who won that judgment said that that could force the new Prime Minister to stop the strikes or face prosecution for breaking the country’s own law. In the conversation that Secretary Kerry had, did they discuss this? And is there – does this building have a view on that judgment?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything for you on that. The purpose of the call was to congratulate him on his strong showing and to indicate he looks forward to working with him moving forward.
QUESTION: And just to follow on that: From this building, former Legal Adviser here Harold Koh made some public remarks last week about saying that there’s a changing view that drone strikes are illegal. Is this part of a conversation he began here? Do you have any comment or response on that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t.
QUESTION: Move on to Pakistan?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What are the key priorities areas for Secretary Kerry with the new government in Pakistan?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think he looks forward to continuing a broad relationship of working together on a number of issues, including continuing to work on counterterrorism. I know that the – Mr. Sharif has indicated that economic development and growth is one of his focuses, but their focus right now is of course on forming the government. And once they do that, I’m sure they’ll have more substantive conversations with them.
QUESTION: And how long this call lasted? And secondly, Pakistan is facing a deep economic crisis. They need help from IMF. Will the U.S. support Pakistan getting those aids from IMF?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve been very supportive in the past of much-needed aid to Pakistan. I don’t have anything new for you on that today.
QUESTION: Could – it’s no secret that the relationship between Pakistan and Washington over the past few years has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Going back to what Goyal asked earlier, do you think the new government will actually institute a new era of relationships with – between Pakistan and the United States?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we do look forward to working with the new government of Pakistan. I note that Mr. Sharif has indicated in his public remarks the importance he places on the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. We’re going to let them form the government first. That will happen, as you know, in due time, and then we’ll look forward to working with them on a range of issues.
QUESTION: Do you think you’ll get the support you need on the areas such as reining in Taliban extremists, which is obviously one of the key things that the United States is looking for?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve had close cooperation with the government in the past on some of these issues. We hope that will continue. But our focus is, of course, on letting them form their government.
QUESTION: So you would want the counterterrorism partnership that you’ve had up to now maintained, enhanced, pulled back a bit – how would you like to see it go forward?
MS. PSAKI: We always like to enhance our cooperation on important issues like that, Brad.
QUESTION: Do you see that as realistic, given the comments that Mr. Sharif has made concerning drone strikes and other elements of the U.S.-Pakistani counterterror relationship?
MS. PSAKI: We’re not going to get ahead of where we are now. He’s indicated he wants to work closely with the U.S. We would like to have a positive, productive relationship as well on a number of these issues, so we’ll – we won’t get ahead of their process of forming the government.
QUESTION: So if the counterterrorism relationship is not enhanced, you would find that disappointment – disappointing down the road?
MS. PSAKI: I think that’s a hypothetical down the road. But we can talk about it in some time.
QUESTION: But does Secretary shares the concerns of new incoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on drone strikes?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have anything for you on that. Do we have any more on Pakistan?
QUESTION: One more on Pakistan.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Does the Secretary plan to go to Pakistan in the coming weeks?
MS. PSAKI: He has indicated that he would like to go. I don’t have any trip announcements or dates for you on that. He – of course, it would have been a little precarious to go while they were going through the transition as they’ve been going through in the last couple of weeks.
QUESTION: One more on India and Pakistan. I imagine you noticed the comments from Prime Minister Sharif about extending an invitation to the Indian Prime Minister and vice versa. Is that a good sign? Are you pleased by that, that at least in his first comments he seems to be reaching out to the Indians?
MS. PSAKI: That is – we have seen those comments. I don’t want to analyze it too much, just but to say that it is a positive step and we look forward to working with the new government as it’s formed.
QUESTION: One more on Pakistan. Just regarding the various claims and counterclaims of fraud, do you take these to be credible? I notice you didn’t mention them earlier. Do you see this as in any way invalidating or somehow putting into question the results and the apparent winner?
MS. PSAKI: Well, thank you for your question, Brad. We are aware of some of these reports of procedural irregularities during polling. We urge all parties and their supporters to peacefully address any election disputes in accordance with Pakistan’s constitutional and legal processes. I will note, though, that these irregularities were limited to a very small region that was represented by a very small part of the elected body.
QUESTION: So you don’t see it as somehow casting a pallor over this election result?
MS. PSAKI: We encourage them to resolve these issues, but again, we respect and congratulate the people of Pakistan in their election.
QUESTION: Madam, what kind of help Mr. Sharif asked the Secretary of State, economic help, and also if he asked any other help, immediate help, to help his new government?
MS. PSAKI: You’d have to ask Mr. Sharif that question. I’m sure you will. But the purpose of the call, as I stated at the beginning, was for the Secretary to congratulate him on his strong showing.
More on Pakistan? Pakistan? Okay.
QUESTION: I had raised a question last week, and I’m still waiting for the answer. So I’ll repeat: State Department hosted a group of human rights activists from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, et cetera, and I wondered what was discussed or any kind of update on it. I have talked to some of them. Your side of the story, please.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. I apologize. I don’t have anything new for you on that today. I will – I’m happy to check on it, and we’ll make sure the appropriate person is fired. Just kidding. (Laughter.) That’s a joke.
MS. PSAKI: Just one moment. Is there any more on Pakistan or are we – okay.
QUESTION: Because we were told that the Taiwanese Government already contacted the U.S. Government regarding their ultimatum to the Philippine Government. I wonder, is there any comments from this state.
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely, and thank you for your question. We regret the tragic death of a Taiwan fishing boat master during a May 9th confrontation at sea with a Philippine patrol vessel. To answer your question, the United States has been in touch with both the Philippine Government and the Taiwan authorities regarding this incident and we welcome the Philippine Government’s pledge to conduct a full and transparent investigation into the incident.
QUESTION: And so far the Philippine Government hasn’t apologized, as we understand it. The Taiwanese Government become very tough on this issue and send the coast guard and even a military ship. So what’s U.S. position on this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I’ve just stated it. We’ve been in touch with both the Taiwan authorities as well as the Philippine Government. We note that the Philippine Government has pledged to conduct a full and transparent investigation and to work with the Taiwan authorities to establish what has transpired.
QUESTION: So does U.S. worry about escalation when the military present or you support this kind of action?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we continue to urge all parties in any scenario to ensure maritime safety and to refrain from provocative actions. In this case, again, the Philippine Government is going to be conducting an investigation and they will be working with the Taiwan authorities to establish what happened in this case.
QUESTION: Follow up here?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) who take the provocative action first. The result is Philippine firing at the boat. So do you think – you think the bullet or firing on the boat is a right way here to solve the problem?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we, again, regret the tragic death of this Taiwan fishing boat, of this fishing boat master. We’re going to let – there is an investigation that will be underway, and we’ll let that proceed.
MS. PSAKI: We encourage both sides to refrain from provocative actions. I don’t think I have anything further to parse in this case.
QUESTION: What is the alleged provocation on the Taiwanese side in this case? I don’t – one side shot the other side, right? So if I shoot you, would you want the government to warn both of us not to shoot each other?
MS. PSAKI: I hope you don’t. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: When you are warning both sides, you’re giving equivalency. What is the Taiwanese action that you’re concerned about?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, the government – the Philippine Government is looking into this case. I don’t want to get ahead of their process of investigating what happened.
QUESTION: The Taiwanese fisherman was unarmed. It’s a fishing boat, small compared to the government vessel that the Filipinos had. When you say confrontation, only one side was shooting the other, using machine gun. And as a matter of fact, 59 bullet holes were found on that small boat. So when you – your statement sounds like you were condoning the use of force by one side --
MS. PSAKI: I think I said we regret the tragic death of this individual. That’s how I started.
QUESTION: Well, I know. I want you to comment on the fact that someone opened fire, okay, in the South China Sea. I think the – as far as I can remember, the standard U.S. policy would call for peaceful resolution of any dispute. But in this particular incident, one side was using machine gun to speak. Would you say something to that effect, please?
MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve touched on everything I can touch on in this case at this stage. We, of course, do encourage peaceful negotiation. We encourage both sides – I wasn’t trying to attribute it to one side or the other, just making a broad point – to refrain from provocative actions. There’ll be an investigation into this case, and we’ll follow that closely.
QUESTION: Do you condone at all firing of firearms against unarmed civilians in the South China Sea?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to speculate on this specific case. I appreciate all of the questions on it.
QUESTION: Just one more. Regarding the water, last Friday I asked about this. This incident took place in the water both sides claim as their EEZ. What is the U.S. stance on this? Is this water Philippine water or Taiwanese water or disputed waters?
MS. PSAKI: Hi, sir.
SECRETARY KERRY: What a great job.
QUESTION: I know.
SECRETARY KERRY: I just wanted to come down and congratulate Jen on her first, what do we call it, barrage with all of you?
MS. PSAKI: Briefing. Adventure.
SECRETARY KERRY: I think --
SECRETARY KERRY: Grilling. I think she’s been absolutely spectacular. I don’t want to interrupt the flow, because I know you have a lot more creative questions to ask. But anyway, congratulations.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, sir.
SECRETARY KERRY: Welcome to the --
MS. PSAKI: Notice our height is very close here. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY KERRY: I want to thank Patrick Ventrell for doing a great job as an interim. Anyway, where is he? Over here. Thank you --
MR. VENTRELL: Thank you, sir.
SECRETARY KERRY: -- very, very much. Anyway, back to your work. Goodbye.
QUESTION: Is the Geneva conference sliding away?
SECRETARY KERRY: Goodbye, goodbye. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Can you –
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary --
MS. PSAKI: All right. Are we – okay.
QUESTION: For the record, he shook his head and said no in response to that question.
MS. PSAKI: Yes, we can – let’s stay in the region. Let’s stay in the region.
QUESTION: Another maritime dispute.
MS. PSAKI: We’ll come back to you.
QUESTION: Another maritime dispute.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: So it seems there was another provocative action today with three Chinese Government ships remaining in waters off the Senkakus or Diaoyus, as they’re called in two different – by two different countries. What is the U.S. position on this? It seems to have been yet another incident, and it obviously is not going away.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, we did see those reports. The United States position on this issue – or broadly on this issue, I should say – is longstanding. We don’t take a position on the question of ultimate sovereignty over the islands. We do urge all parties to avoid actions that could raise tensions or result in miscalculations that would undermine peace, security, and economic growth in this vital part of the world.
QUESTION: So in this case, the Chinese Government was taking an action which could undermine peace?
MS. PSAKI: Again, we urge both sides – I’m not going to make an evaluation from here, but we urge both sides not to take provocative actions. I’m not going to define what those are. I think they’re pretty clear.
QUESTION: Have you been in touch with the authorities in Beijing about this latest incident?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Jo.
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
QUESTION: What is your stance on the water? Back to the question that your boss just --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, yes. I apologize. I was getting to a really good point there. To answer your question, which, just to reiterate, was about where this took place, the precise location of the incident is not yet clear. Although it appears the incident took place in or near disputed waters that both claim fishing rights, it’s unclear at this stage, in our knowledge, where exactly it took place.
QUESTION: Can I just ask --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- what motivation are you trying to give to one side when you urge both parties in all instances to refrain from action? You don’t – I mean, if I knew that I was in a dispute with someone and no matter what I did, you would equally urge me and the other person to do whatever we shouldn’t be doing, that doesn’t lead me to curtail my behavior in any way.
MS. PSAKI: Well, our goal here is for peaceful resolution of some of these disputes that happen. There are a broad range of them, so I’m speaking broadly here. I did condemn, of course, the tragic death of this fisherman. There is an investigation --
QUESTION: No, no, no.
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry – regret the tragic death. There is an investigation that is going to be underway by the Philippine Government, so I’m just pointing you to that. But broadly speaking, to answer your question, we do encourage peaceful negotiation, peaceful resolution of these disputes, and that’s the case in many scenarios – Jo’s question, many questions in the back as well.
QUESTION: But isn’t the point of your effort to – and I’ve heard Secretary Clinton, I think Secretary Kerry, about speaking truth to power. And when you see people standing up or doing things that run directly counter to behavior that would lead to stability, you are going to stand up and point that out and hold these governments to account. And in this case, you’re holding the victimizer and the victim to equal account, so it doesn’t seem to match.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there will be an investigation run by the Philippine Government into what happened here, so I don’t think that is holding both sides to same account. I think broadly speaking, we’re never afraid here to speak our minds and speak truth to power, whether that was Secretary Clinton or Secretary Kerry, but that’s a larger point.
QUESTION: New topic – Benghazi?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, no surprise. Okay.
QUESTION: One over here.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
MS. PSAKI: I think --
QUESTION: Or would you condone that?
MS. PSAKI: I certainly didn’t condone it. I said we regret the tragic death of this fisherman. There’s an investigation that will be ongoing, led by the Philippine Government.
QUESTION: Does the State Department believe, in the wake of the Benghazi affair, that the formal process by which ARBs are staffed might benefit from some reworking?
MS. PSAKI: From some --
QUESTION: Reworking, in light of how the ARB came about?
MS. PSAKI: Well, just to remind everybody of who led the ARB investigation, it was two incredibly well-respected individuals, Ambassador Pickering and Mike Mullen, who did a very thorough job. In their own words, they had access to all the information they needed and all the people they needed. And they interviewed over 100 people throughout the process. So it was a thorough process. As you know, there are ARBs that are about a range of issues. There was one in this case, and we are certainly satisfied with the hard work that they did.
QUESTION: Then why were three senior State Department officials testifying last week that the report was incomplete and that senior officials were, quote, “off the hook”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think we – Patrick and my colleague over here spoke pretty extensively about this. Ambassador Pickering spoke about this this weekend, so I would point you to his comments he made this weekend about the thoroughness of the investigation.
QUESTION: And who was Victoria Nuland acting at the behest of when she weighed in on the talking points drafting process? She referenced, quote, “my building’s leadership.” Did she mean Beth Jones or Cheryl Mills, or who exactly?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just take the talking points issue more broadly here. They were developed – and it’s worth repeating; I know we’ve talked about this a lot, but – or my colleagues, have – through an interagency process led by the CIA about how to communicate the best and most current information the Administration had at the time. These talking points were finalized by the CIA. They were CIA talking points. There were a number of consistencies that I think people forget to note, so let me just point out two of those now. The reference to – every single version of the talking points circulated by the CIA had references to the demonstrations and that they were spontaneously inspired – so they were spontaneously inspired. Every single version of the talking points noted that there were indication that extremists had participated in the attack and that the intelligence assessment was based on the best currently available information.
I know that my colleague touched on this a bit last week in terms of the process of reviewing talking points and how that typically works in a public affairs office. It’s worth also noting that we did not review – the State Department, I should say, did not review these talking points until Friday night, after the reference to al-Qaida had actually been removed.
QUESTION: But Victoria Nuland was insistent that references to the previous attacks in Benghazi be stripped from the talking points.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me address that point for you. There’s always a discussion about how much information to present and when. That’s part of the process that Patrick spoke about a little bit here. As you know – and we talked a little bit about the ARB report, but that report didn’t pull any punches on what went well and what didn’t go well in regard to the preparation for this. The issue of intelligence about prior threats and the security situation in Benghazi has also been thoroughly examined and all relevant information has been shared with Congress.
I want to point out on this case – and we talked about this a little bit – or, I should say my colleague talked about this a little bit on Friday – but there were two specific issues that were raised, two primary concerns that were raised: that the points went further in assigning responsibility than the preliminary assessment suggested, and that there were concerns about preserving the integrity of the investigation, that’s one; and that they were inconsistent with the public language the Administration has used to date.
As you know historically from looking at the timeline then – and I’ve referenced this, but let me go back to it – these talking points all consistently said this was caused – these events were caused by these protests and demonstrations. We knew shortly after, and the President just said this at his press conference, that that wasn’t in fact the case. So we can parse the talking points all we want, but I think what’s clear is what was and wasn’t in the talking points, what we learned later about it, and where our focus is moving forward.
QUESTION: Last one: Did you think changing those talking points helped prevent future attacks like Benghazi?
MS. PSAKI: I mean, I’m not even sure what the premise of your question is there.
QUESTION: The ARB said the preference of – the point of the ARB was to prevent future attacks. Was that the idea of changing the talking points, to prevent future attacks?
MS. PSAKI: Our focus – the focus of the previous Secretary, of the current Secretary, of the President of the United States, as you heard him say today, has been finding out what happened, making sure it doesn’t happen again, and holding those responsible accountable. I think I’ve parsed through exactly what happened here with the talking points. That’s what our focus is on. That’s what the ARB was focused on, and that’s what the Secretary asked for regular updates on.
QUESTION: Jen --
QUESTION: Did the ARB focus on the talking points? I thought it just focused on security and --
MS. PSAKI: I’m referring to your question about how to prevent an attack from happening again, which you heard the President say is what we should all be focused on.
QUESTION: Why not –
QUESTION: Just --
QUESTION: No, no, no. Why not just release all of these emails that go – that show the original talking points and the various drafts?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the reason that we’re talking about these or you even have any of this information is because these emails were released to Congress. And I would note they were released to Congress several weeks, if not months, ago during John Brennan’s testimony.
QUESTION: They were shown, I think.
MS. PSAKI: They were shown. That’s fine.
QUESTION: Not (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: There were not issues, if I point you back, that were raised at the time. This is a new outrage by some in Congress about these emails.
QUESTION: Regardless, since there are questions and since your Administration has stumbled over some points – I don’t think even you would contradict that – why not just release all the various drafts if it’s so self-evident that all of this information was in the original draft as provided by the CIA?
MS. PSAKI: I appreciate your ask. That’s not something that’s planned at this time and if that changes we’ll certainly let you know.
QUESTION: Jen, can I ask one quick one on this?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: In the excerpts of the emails that have been reported and attributed to an email from then-Spokesman Nuland, it quotes her as – or, they quote her as saying that the paragraph that made reference to prior CIA warnings about the possibility of attacks could, quote, “could be abused by members (of Congress) to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings. So why would we want to feed that either?” Is the possibility that the State Department might suffer criticism an appropriate basis on which to decide what should be included in an intelligence assessment that is being publicly made available?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just go back to the issues that were raised here and why they were raised, and this does speak to your question. One was that these points went further in assigning responsibility than preliminary assessments suggested, and there was, as you know, still an ongoing FBI investigation and certainly was at the time. These were points that went further than anyone from the State Department or the Administration had gone publicly on these issues, so it was leading to conclude the causes of an event that there still was investigation that was going to take place to determine.
QUESTION: So two things about that, if I may continue with this: One, the mere fact that something goes further than what has previously been disclosed – why is that an appropriate basis for deciding what should be released? There are lots of times – let’s take the example of the letter from the White House to members of Congress three weeks ago about the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that the government likely used chemical weapons in Syria that went beyond what had been publicly stated. So why is that concern, that it goes further than what you said before --
MS. PSAKI: I think you’re taking --
QUESTION: -- a sufficient reason --
MS. PSAKI: -- one piece of what I said, and the important piece of what I said is that there was going to be an investigation that was going to conclude what the events that happened were. That was the piece that raised a concern here.
QUESTION: Okay. I’m trying to go through all of the issues that you’ve mentioned in turn. One of them was whether criticism of the Department was a sufficient basis. The second one is the one that I just raised, that it went further, which doesn’t strike me as intrinsically a persuasive basis for not disclosing things, since the U.S. Government routinely will release things that go further than what has previously been said publicly. And the third thing is according to the reports – including, I think, a quote from one of the emails – was that the FBI had seen the talking points and had not itself raised concerns that they might prejudice its investigation.
So I’d be interested if you could address on the merits each of those three things, whether the potential for criticism, the fact that they simply went further than what had been said publicly before, and – at least what has been reported – that the FBI did not raise concerns that this release would – and this is a concern that was raised by the State Department, not the FBI – might prejudice their investigation. So why are those persuasive reasons to have argued for changing the talking points?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me start by just reminding you that these were CIA points. They were CIA-edited, they were CIA-finalized. So the ultimate result of this was the best estimate at the time of the intel community. These were issues that were raised, and I would refute the notion that it had anything to do with criticism. I mean, if you point to – I know that this is separate, but obviously even the ARB itself has endless amounts of criticism for how things were handled, and that’s something that we readily embrace and have used in how we implement things moving forward.
There were two issues that were raised. There’s been some confusion about, from this handpick of cherry-picked emails, kind of who was responsible for what. There were issues that were raised. But again, to go back to the bottom-line point here, these were CIA points of an intel assessment at the time. They made the decision about what the final points were going to include. They did include information at the end that we later learned was inaccurate. So they were reviewing just a few days after the attacks what our best assessment was at the time, and it’s not uncommon for an interagency process to take place as it relates to – probably to talking points that go to members of Congress.
QUESTION: I thought the decision – and maybe I’m mistaken here, so please correct me if I am. I thought the decisions about what would finally go into them were made by the Deputies Committee. Is that not correct?
MS. PSAKI: These, again, were CIA talking points.
QUESTION: I know that, but that’s not my question. My question is: Was the decision on what would be included and not included ultimately made by the Deputies Committee, or rather by the CIA at its sole discretion?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t parse that any further. These are decisions that – these were, one, prior to my arrival here, but also that were made out of this building. But I am just pointing you to the fact that these were started and ended as CIA talking points.
QUESTION: But respond – if you’re going to say that it is ultimately the CIA’s responsibility, as you’re suggesting by saying that they finalized it, then I think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask: Did they have the final cut on this, or were they in fact finalizing it based on instructions from the deputies commission? If you’re going to say, hey, this is their fault, then it needs to be fairly understood whether they had sole responsibility for the end product or whether they were just carrying out the instructions that they had gotten as a result of an interagency process.
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not attempting to place blame here; I’m just attempting to trace you through what these points were, where they originated, and how they ended. In terms of other questions about what happened in a meeting that I wasn’t a part of, that’s something you’d have to direct elsewhere.
QUESTION: Last thing. You said that you refuted the notion that you were talking – that there was any issue of criticism or the Department enduring criticism, but the email that is quoted talks about members (of Congress) abusing this to beat up on the Department. Is that not addressing the question of criticism of the Department? Do you have some other interpretation of the phrase “to beat up on”?
MS. PSAKI: I just want to go back, Arshad, to the point I made earlier, which is what the two broad primary concerns were that were raised; that they were inconsistent with public language, that they were inconsistent with the findings of the preliminary assessments and that it was – our focus was on preserving the integrity of the investigation. That was the motivation and thought behind any of this.
But the larger point here, as we’ve continued to talk and talk and talk about talking points, is that these are issues that we have addressed. These are issues that have been reviewed. I want to say broadly reviewed in terms of the causes and the events around this that have happened, which is what – why we’re talking about this right now, as a part of the ARB, as a part of 30 briefings, as a part of eight hearings. I actually spoke with the Secretary about this and the status of things just this morning, and his focus is where the President’s is, which is looking forward: How do we figure out how to implement every aspect of the ARB? Some of have been implemented. There are more to go. What can we do as a State Department to prevent this from happening again? And if we take this larger, that’s where we feel everybody’s focus should be.
QUESTION: So who – no, no, no. Who is responsible for this? What does your talking points say today?
MS. PSAKI: On which piece?
QUESTION: On Benghazi. It’s been eight months. Specifically on al-Qaida and Ansar al-Sharia, do you believe that they were responsible for this incident?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Brad, as you know, there’s still an ongoing FBI investigation --
QUESTION: So that’s looking forward?
MS. PSAKI: There is still – yes, we’re focused on the ongoing – the investigation, finding out who is responsible. You heard the President say that earlier today.
QUESTION: How many people have been brought to justice for this?
MS. PSAKI: Brad, you know the answer to that question, but their focus is on --
QUESTION: Is it zero?
MS. PSAKI: -- getting it right. The focus is on getting to the bottom of who needs to be held accountable. Of course, we know this was a terrorist attack, as was said the day after the event. We know there are a number of active extremist groups. That’s something our friends and colleagues over at the FBI are focused on.
QUESTION: The President said today that this assessment regarding the protest happened in the early days when we didn’t know who these people were or their motivations, and now you’re telling me today you don’t know who these people are or their motivations?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, let me --
QUESTION: Have you changed your --
MS. PSAKI: Not at all. Let me point you back to – even if you look at the talking points and the train of that, the reference to al-Qaida was taken out even before the State Department saw the talking points. They were the best evaluation from the intel community of what was happening at the time. We know --
QUESTION: I can’t know that it was taken out before the State Department saw it because you haven’t released all that information. You’re just telling me that.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Well, you’ll have to take my word for it, or I believe that email may have been public. But the larger point here, Brad, is that this is an ongoing investigation. I know that you’d like to see some results of that, as many people would. The President and the Secretary, their counterparts and partners in the intel community are very focused on that.
QUESTION: Is there a statute of limitations on this investigation, or does it end in January 22nd, 2016 or something?
MS. PSAKI: Brad, I think they’re focused solely on getting to the bottom of this and finding out what happened and who to hold accountable. There’s no other factors.
QUESTION: Can I ask in the State Department, Secretary Kerry in Rome referenced a report that he’s asked for as to whether there should be any disciplinary procedures against staff within State Department. Could you tell us the status of that report and who is actually preparing it for him?
MS. PSAKI: That report was just a reference to an internal summary of the events to date and where things stand. As you know and as I’ve mentioned a bit as we’ve been talking about this, he’s been asked – he asks for regular updates on ARB implementation. When he came back from the trip he asked for an update on what had happened during the week prior since he’d been so busy on the road. But that was more of an internal overview than anything else.
QUESTION: So there’s no separate report that the Secretary is asking --
MS. PSAKI: There is not a separate report, no, or external report or anything along those lines.
QUESTION: So where is the Department in carrying out any of the disciplinary procedures that may have been mentioned in the ARB?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new update for you on that today. But again, the ARB implementation is something he asks about every day.
QUESTION: There were four people who were cited in the report who have been sidelined within the Department. Are they still working for the State Department or have they actually been dismissed or taken retirement? What is their status?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on their status. It’s been, I believe, the same, on administrative leave, but I’m happy to see if there’s anything further. I don’t think there’s anything new for anyone on that today.
QUESTION: Can you check that one for us, whether that has changed?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: And then early on in this discussion you were asked a question about changes – whether you were satisfied with the ARB process and so on. I think it was Admiral Mullen, although it might have been former Under Secretary Pickering, who said from the podium that one of the questions that they raised at the end of the process was whether the standard within the statutory language setting out how ARBs are to be carried out was adequate with regard to disciplinary matters. And I’m probably going to get the language wrong here, but I think that the standard is something like reckless disregard or reckless something of their responsibilities, reckless disregard of their responsibilities. Don’t hold me to that. And the question was whether that was the right standard and whether maybe a lower standard should be adopted for the possibility of disciplining people found to have not done their jobs properly within the – within the reason of a difficult world under an ARB.
Are you – has the Department got an opinion on that specific question, whether that legal standard it laid out in legislation or in the law should be changed? And has the Department got a view on whether it might be better for there to be a completely independent mechanism for investigating such incidents rather than one which reports directly to the Secretary of State and where four of the five members are chosen by the Secretary of State and the fifth is chosen, I think, by the intelligence community? So do you have a view on those two things?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new for you or further for you on that today, Arshad.
QUESTION: Can you – another topic?
QUESTION: Can I go back, please? Jen, two points of clarification. One of them, on the issue of the emails that were shown to Congress, we’re relying in the media on their accounts or handwritten copies of these things. Is there anything in the transcript of these emails, as reported so far, that is factually inaccurate? Are they accurate copies of the hard copies you have?
MS. PSAKI: I have not reviewed the copies that you – I’ve seen, obviously, reports and excerpts. The larger point here is that these were cherry-picked from a larger batch, and I think I’ve outlined for you today a couple of times on kind of the issues that were raised and why, and also highlighted the starting and ending point of these particular emails.
QUESTION: But what you’ve seen so far, you’ve no reason to dispute the verbiage in the accounts?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, that’s kind of disputing what reports I’ve seen. I’m not even sure what you’re looking at versus what I’m looking at. They’re a sampling of emails that have been out there in the media.
QUESTION: And can I just clarify on the date; I’m sorry, but I just want to clarify. I think you said at the start that the removal of the reference to al-Qaida was made on the 14th. Other agencies have said that the finalized version was after the Deputies Committee on the 15th.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I gave a specific date for it. What I said was that it was removed before the State Department was reviewing the particular emails.
QUESTION: On this very point, I asked --
QUESTION: -- no – on this very point, I asked you how you can prove that, and you said that email is out there. Yet on everything else, you’re saying don’t cherry-pick one email, and now you’re telling me I should cherry-pick the one email out there that you claim backs up this assertion that --
MS. PSAKI: I was making a very specific point about a very specific email.
QUESTION: So cherry-picking’s okay in one case.
MS. PSAKI: These aren’t cherry-picked in terms of the narrative of what’s out there, Brad. It’s two separate points.
QUESTION: No, it’s the exact same point.
QUESTION: But the State Department – the State Department viewed it on the 14th, though. So you’re saying before Toria Nuland viewed the email, al-Qaida reference was removed from that chain of talking points?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Before the 14th.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know the specific date before the State Department reviewed it.
QUESTION: Before the Friday editing process began.
MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Benghazi?
QUESTION: Last one, just one point of clarification. I think you said – if we knew – you just said a few minutes ago you knew it was a terrorist attack, you knew the next day it was a terrorist attack, why all the talk about the video, the spontaneous rally and the video?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think this goes back to the point I made in the beginning about the fact that the video was referenced in every version of these points. It was called – there was reference to extremists in every version of these points – call them extremists, call them terrorists, they were in every version of these points.
As we know historically from looking back, the Administration came out, talked about the video, and talked about the causes after the course of these emails.
QUESTION: We talked about the video a lot though, before you got to that point.
MS. PSAKI: Again, these were CIA talking points. These were the intel assessment at the time. We’ve all talked a lot about, and the ARB reviewed what happened through the course of this.
I have to wrap this up soon. We can do this again later this week. Go ahead, Jill.
MS. PSAKI: He is.
QUESTION: -- I’m sorry we couldn’t ask him – is named Acting Secretary of Commerce when Ms. Blank leaves at the end of this month. Has the Secretary made any comment? Is he excited about this, having another Secretary, maybe temporarily?
MS. PSAKI: This may be the first time two brothers – you’d all have to double check that for me. Obviously, before Cam Kerry was named acting secretary, he was in a senior position at the Commerce Department. I’m not sure if they had the chance to connect this morning. But of course it’s exciting and the Secretary’s excited about the opportunity that his brother has and looks forward to working with him.
QUESTION: Jen, since last week when you guys were in Rome, the Israelis have announced plans for building 300 settlements – 300 housing in a settlement, there’s been increasing attacks against the Palestinians by settlers. There have been plans revealed on – for the Temple Mount and so on and al-Aqsa mosque. I wonder if you have any comments on that and whether the Secretary of State Kerry spoke to the Israeli leadership on this issue.
MS. PSAKI: Well, this will have to be the last one. I apologize. I just have to get going. But let me just say broadly on this point – I’m answering your question – we’ve seen those reports. As the President has said, as the Secretary has said, we’ve all said many times, we believe it’s important for both sides to take action to build the trust and confidence on which a lasting peace must be built, and refrain from activities that would undermine those peace efforts. He speaks very regularly with the Prime Minister and with leaders across the Middle East. I don’t know off the top of my head when the last time they spoke and if it was about this.
QUESTION: But did he speak to them on this particular issue?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything --
QUESTION: Because this came out of the aftermath --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything for you on that.
QUESTION: Last one, please, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Last one.
QUESTION: I almost forgot my question because I waited too long.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: On Korea. These supporters investigating what seems to be a sex crime case involving a former South Korean presidential spokesman. Many people are concerned that this will cause diplomatic problem between South Korea and the United States. So do you share their concerns by any chance?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Government of South Korea on those specific reports. I know that they have spoken to it extensively, so I’m sure you have a lot to work with on that regard. We have an ongoing working relationship of course with South Korea on a number of issues. The Secretary was there just a couple of weeks ago. So no, I would not connect the two.
QUESTION: Are you in consultations with South Korea on the issue?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Are you in consultations with South Korean Government on the issue?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’d refer you to the Government of South Korea.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:52 p.m.)
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