The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.
1:15 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hello, everyone. Happy Friday.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: You’re welcome. I have nothing at the top, so let’s get to what’s on all of your minds. Matt.
MS. PSAKI: I can. I can share with you what I know. We are aware of reports – of the reports of the death of a U.S. citizen in Syria. We are in touch with the citizen’s family here in the United States. We are not able to confirm the death at this time in light of the security situation in Syria and given that we do not have consular offices on the ground – officers on the ground.
As we do in all such cases, we are working through our Czech protecting power in Syria to obtain more information, and we appreciate the efforts of the Czech mission on behalf of our citizens.
Out of respect for the privacy of the U.S. citizen and her family, we won’t have further details, I expect, at this time.
QUESTION: Well, you expect at this time?
MS. PSAKI: I won’t – we won’t have further --
QUESTION: You don’t have --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have further.
QUESTION: There you go. Can you explain then why – presumably you’ve been in touch with the FBI about this. Why are they able to confirm this and you’re not?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would send you to the FBI for that.
QUESTION: Well, what is it that you need in order to confirm?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as a standard, generally speaking, consular officials must positively verify the identity of the U.S. citizen before we can confirm a death. Obviously, that’s challenging in this case.
QUESTION: Right, okay. So that’s the – I don’t want to be flip about this. That’s the reason that you can’t confirm it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s the standard process, which is what, obviously, we’re working through our Czech protecting power to do.
QUESTION: So in the absence of there being a U.S. consular officer on the ground, the protecting power could do it?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. We will work through them to do that.
QUESTION: And that has not – they haven’t been able to get --
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: -- to see the body?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: That is correct?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: They haven’t seen the body?
MS. PSAKI: They have not confirmed the identity.
QUESTION: They haven’t confirmed to you --
QUESTION: All right. So then --
QUESTION: I’m sorry.
QUESTION: In a situation like this, though, does the FBI have equal or greater standing or ability to make such a positive identification?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not familiar with the FBI’s --
QUESTION: Well, they don’t have an office there either, do they?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: So forgive me, but I don’t understand how – do they have an agreement with the Czechs or some other government?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure how they work through their process. I’d send you to that. I can tell you what our process is. That’s where we are right now.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: Still on Syria?
QUESTION: On Syria. Could you explain to us, because I’m a little bit confused, on what the message that Secretary Kerry was conveying this morning? Now, on the one hand he says we want people to go to the table that are acceptable to both sides; on the other hand, the opposition keeps insisting that no one from the regime could be represented. So who is going to be represented at this table?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s still being determined. Let me just take this opportunity, though, to touch on what’s happened since we last spoke yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: We view the Syrian Coalition’s announcement that it has expanded by 51 new members to a total of 114 people as a positive step. Of those 51 new seats, we understand 15 will be reserved for the Supreme Military Council and 14 will be reserved for additional grassroots activists from inside Syria. Just so everybody understands where we are in the process, some of these are reserve slots so there aren’t names yet assigned to the slots. That’s part of the process that they will be going – undergoing in the days ahead. And then, of course, they’ll be electing their leadership.
So the reason I told you all of that is that there is a process that the opposition is undergoing right now. Obviously, what happened yesterday is a positive step forward. There’s more that needs to be done. We’re working with them on that, and then we’ll continue to discuss their participation in the conference.
QUESTION: Okay. Just to follow up, in the past the name of al-Shara was floated, the Vice President of Syria was floated as a possible candidate. But yesterday’s interview with Assad himself basically just blew out of the water all the conditions that were placed by the opposition, so could you tell us where we stand on the – I mean, certainly not 114 people will be at the table, so who will be there?
MS. PSAKI: That’s right. A representation from that group would be there, that we’re not at that stage yet, so that’s what I’m conveying to you.
In terms of who comes from the regime, what’s important is not just the names but more important is whether they come empowered to negotiate on behalf of the regime. We’re not there yet.
QUESTION: Okay. And finally, you concur that it has to be the regime versus the opposition that must sit together and resolve these issues, correct?
MS. PSAKI: They’re – certainly, they are key components of this, absolutely. And there are a number of other countries in the region and international leaders who have been very engaged in this – the U.S., Russia, the London 11 – and we’ll work through with the UN the participation as we get closer.
QUESTION: Sorry. Just to follow up on Matt’s question, so you were saying that the Czech protectorate, they haven’t identified the body or they haven’t seen the body?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of specificity. I just wanted to explain to you what the process is for how we confirm, in general, the status of an individual American overseas.
QUESTION: And then also, I just wanted to follow up on a question that I asked Secretary Kerry earlier today. When he was in Ethiopia and he did the HARDtalk taping, he actually said that in Syria there are 2,000-plus foreign fighters and they come from Europe, a couple of them come from America, and they come from the Middle East. Do you have any kind of even estimation – because since he did say that – of how many Americans the U.S. thinks might be in Syria fighting?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t.
QUESTION: You don’t. But he – so but he said, like, a couple. Does that mean, like, two or --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specificity on that.
QUESTION: Could you just – are you aware of any Americans to this point since the beginning of the conflict having been killed in fighting in Syria?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not. I’m not.
QUESTION: On Syria, yesterday I asked about Hezbollah and whether – it has been now 48 hours that you called on Hezbollah to withdraw immediately. What’s your understanding? Are they leaving the country?
MS. PSAKI: We have not seen that unfortunately. I think there were a number of reasons why we wanted to strongly condemn their actions and encourage them to leave. And that is our broad concern, which we share with a number of international allies, about the presence of foreign fighters and specifically Hezbollah. There is on the ground – we remain concerned. Of course, it’s a fluid situation on the ground there in Syria. I will tell you that in – I don’t know if you asked this question yesterday, but somebody did in terms of the situation on the ground. In Qusayr, there’s a dire humanitarian situation, and it – organizations are having trouble getting aid in to people there, and that is, of course, very concerning to us. We have great faith in the opposition, and we believe in the will of the opposition, but I don’t have a further update on Hezbollah’s activities.
QUESTION: So you have confidence in the will of the opposition, but at the same time, the head of the opposition, Salim Idris, has been giving these interviews every single channel he finds, and he is saying that he needs help. There are about 30,000 people or 40,000 people in Qusayr, and he is also claiming that if the town falls to the regime, these people could be in immediate danger. And you are saying what? What are you doing to help?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you’re very familiar with the steps that we have taken to --
QUESTION: On Qusayr.
MS. PSAKI: -- help the opposition.
QUESTION: On Qusayr.
MS. PSAKI: We’re also – well, in this particular case, we’ve been working, as have our allies around the world, to provide aid directly to the SMC. There have been recent activities --
QUESTION: Nonlethal aid.
MS. PSAKI: There have – but there have been recent steps taken in the past couple of days, including the EU embargo. We’re including – we’re continuing, I should say, to increase and step up our aid. In terms of the specifics on the ground, I don’t have any additional updates for you on that.
QUESTION: Here is one question I asked this morning on the conference call, but I didn’t get the answer, so I’m going to repeat that.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: It is that this common theme in the Middle East now – it’s on the newspapers, on the social media, on the conferences, everywhere – that Russia is taking care of its allies in the Middle East, whether Assad regime, whether another regime it’s in contact with, but on the other hand, U.S. is not helping or taking care of – just basic example is Syrian opposition. For years they have been asking for help, and you are saying that you are helping somehow. So my question is: How valid do you think this question, that U.S. is abandoning its allies in the Middle East, including Syrian opposition?
MS. PSAKI: I would refute that absolutely. The Secretary is on the phone nearly every day with international allies --
QUESTION: It doesn’t help.
MS. PSAKI: -- working – let me just continue – working together on a political path forward, on working towards a political transition, gathering support for the opposition. There have been numerous conferences, including in Istanbul and Amman, encouraging all of our international allies, the London 11 to work to provide aid directly to the moderate opposition. This isn’t easy. That’s why we’re working on multiple tracks, and the U.S. has done quite a bit. We’re continuing to deliver aid. We’ve doubled our nonlethal assistance in just the past couple of weeks, and that trajectory will continue.
QUESTION: Syria. You mentioned, like, the vision of the number of the seats for the opposition. Is there any expectation of the other side, how many seats there are going to be?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, just to be clear, that was what was happening in Istanbul to expand the Syrian Opposition Coalition’s leadership. It wasn’t a determination of who would represent them at the conference.
QUESTION: Okay. The other question – I mean, most of the time from this podium is what’s mentioned, that nobody from the regime is going to participate, has blood on his hands or her hands. Is still this valid, this criteria of --
MS. PSAKI: Well, what you’re referring to is who would participate in a transitional government, which is what the --
QUESTION: Yes, but not the negotiations.
MS. PSAKI: -- what the opposition has said in terms of who they would – who would be participating in a transitional government. In terms of who will participate in this conference and what that composition will be, that’s still being determined.
Go ahead, Samir.
QUESTION: Do you have any assessment about the military fighting – military situation in al-Qusayr?
MS. PSAKI: Just what I just went – just what I just described.
QUESTION: I mean, is Assad taking over the city or do you know?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you’ve heard the Secretary say there are going to be ups and downs in this fight. This is a case where we remain very concerned about the humanitarian – the availability of humanitarian aid on the ground and the ability to get through. And again, I’ll just reiterate that we believe in the will of the opposition, but I don’t have a further update on the ground game at this time.
QUESTION: But it’s not about humanitarian aid; it’s about the people needing --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not saying it is. I was just conveying --
QUESTION: -- weapons.
MS. PSAKI: -- that that’s one of our concerns about what’s going on on the ground there, that there’s a challenge and an inability to get humanitarian aid through.
QUESTION: Can I just make sure I understand this right? In terms of the negotiating teams that go to this conference, if it ever, in fact, happens, is it correct that anyone who each side picks can go and that there’s no – so if Assad himself said, “All right, I want to go to Geneva, and I want to be on the team that negotiates,” the opposition is not in any position to be able to say, “No, then we won’t go,” or they could say, “We’re not going to go,” but that that’s not part of the deal? Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, broadly speaking, this is why the UN is playing a significant role here as well as the U.S. and Russia in the planning process. We’re not quite there yet in terms of who the participants will be.
QUESTION: All right. And do you expect that this meeting next week on the 5th that Wendy Sherman is going to is going to address that?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure it will be discussed. I don’t know if an outcome will be determined from it.
QUESTION: Just a --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- follow-up on al-Qusayr. In al-Qusayr you have, on the one hand, Hezbollah and the Syrian forces fighting, and on the other hand, all reports indicate that many fighters, hundreds, perhaps thousands of Jabhat al-Nusrah, which you have listed as a terrorist organization. So you have two groups that you have listed as terrorist groups fighting each other. Which is more dangerous than the other? I mean, which is --
MS. PSAKI: Nice try.
QUESTION: Do you see them – I mean, it’s – (laughter) – look, I mean, not to sound cynical. I mean, maybe you ought to let them have it out at one another.
MS. PSAKI: I think we have been very clear about both our concern about Hezbollah – we’ve talked about that nearly every day here – and the treacherous role they are playing on the ground. We have also been consistently clear about our concerns about al-Nusrah and about extremist fighters and their role, which is one of the reasons why we worked closely with our allies to guide aid through the SMC and the moderate components of the opposition.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up. These two groups, Jabhat al-Nusrah and Hezbollah, both of them terrorist organizations. Is there any of your calculations that these two groups are terrorist organizations, between Syria or Qusayr, let them fight?
MS. PSAKI: Let them fight each other?
MS. PSAKI: I think that the reality of the situation on the ground is that there are regime fighters, there are many, many, many, many members of the moderate opposition who are involved in this. We are greatly concerned about both extremist components like al-Nusrah as well as Hezbollah and the influence of foreign fighters. So I think that doesn’t apply to the actual situation on the ground.
QUESTION: Yeah. Just to move on what Matt was saying, do you expect the issue of Iran’s involvement to be discussed and clarified at next week’s meeting in Geneva?
MS. PSAKI: It is a topic that is often discussed as a part of these planning processes. In terms of when the determination will be made about participation, I don’t want to prejudge the timing on that.
QUESTION: And can I change – just something on Turkey. Today there have been --
MS. PSAKI: Can we just see if anyone – I’ll go right back to you, but if anyone has any more on Syria.
QUESTION: On the same issue, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister was quoted that Secretary Kerry accepted the participation of Iran in the Geneva II. Can you deny or confirm this?
MS. PSAKI: I have seen those reports. It’s unclear to me who would have extended the invitation given that will be extended by the UN. So at this time, I would venture to guess that’s inaccurate.
QUESTION: Yeah. But he means that Secretary Kerry approves; that if the UN invites, he approves.
MS. PSAKI: That’s not accurate.
QUESTION: Not accurate? Okay.
QUESTION: Why? Is it accurate that the United States still does not believe that Iran deserves a place at the table?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t believe they have played a constructive role.
QUESTION: Right, but is it today the U.S. position that Iran does not deserve a place at the table at this conference?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have not yet determined that. We think it’s important to work with our partners to determine who should participate, and our expectation is not that we’ll agree with everybody who is going to participate in the conference.
QUESTION: So you think that there will be countries that are represented at the conference that you don’t think should be there?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to go down this rabbit hole with you. There are --
QUESTION: Well, I don’t think it’s a rabbit hole, but I think it’s interesting because just yesterday, you said that you didn’t think that Iran had played a constructive role --
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct. We don’t.
QUESTION: -- and that they shouldn’t be allowed to participate, even though we got into a long thing about this --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think – we did. I remember well.
QUESTION: -- because the Russians and the Iranians are doing this type – the same thing kind of.
MS. PSAKI: I remember well. Of course. Of course.
QUESTION: So in response to this question, I mean, is it still the U.S. position that Iran should not be a participant?
MS. PSAKI: The U.S. position, which is what I stated yesterday, is that Iran has not played a constructive role given all the reasons I discussed yesterday about funding of Hezbollah fighters, the role they’ve played on --
QUESTION: Right. But does that mean that it shouldn’t be part of the conference in the opinion of the United States?
MS. PSAKI: We have not made an evaluation of that. We want to work through the proper process with Russia, with the United Nations, to determine the participants.
QUESTION: All right. Well, it sounds like you’re no longer ruling out Iran. I mean, the --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I ruled out participation yesterday. I’ve always said that we should work with our partners to determine who should be participating in the conference.
QUESTION: But wouldn’t it be prudent to have a country – such a major power like Iran, a major regional player – in a conference that actually – that can put its stamp on whatever deal there is and will not spoil it afterwards?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think the actions of Iran speak to the concerns I expressed yesterday. Nothing has changed since then. We don’t yet have an update on who will participate in the conference.
Do we have any more on Syria?
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: In recent weeks, most of the dissidents and the voice of opposition from Syria, they are complaining about how their communication with the world is like, to the internet or social media, is blocked or, like, traced where they are working and what they are doing. And simply because there is – it seems that there is – according to reports, there is a contract between the Syrian Government and a U.S. company in the West that have this machinery or system which is able to block or to locate the person who is trying to communicate. Is this an issue that can be handled by U.S. Government? Or it’s hard to handle it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not aware of all the specifics you just outlined there. Of course, we always want people to have ability to communicate. That’s why we took the steps we did regarding Iran – a different case yesterday, especially the Syrian people. I’ll have to look into that and the U.S. company you’re referencing a little more specifically.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I have just one basic question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: You said there is a fundamental agreement on the importance of a political transition, between the U.S. and Russia. But is there any fundamental disagreement between the U.S. and Russia how to interpret the meaning of the transition? So I just would like to know what your definition of the political transition.
MS. PSAKI: Well, a political transition means putting together a body with representatives that can lead to the next stage of this process. In terms of the analysis of what that means, that’s part of the discussion. You are right, there isn’t agreement on every component of it, and that’s what will be discussed as part of the conference and what the Secretary continues to discuss with the Foreign Minister in their conversations that they have frequently.
QUESTION: Just following on this earlier question. In the past, from this podium it has been emphasized that the communications of the opposition in Syria were protected from intrusion by the Syrian Government. Are you now saying that that protection could be in jeopardy or that – is there some discussion of --
MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t at all suggesting that. I think the question was suggesting that. So what I said was that I’ll have to look into the specifics of the scenario on the ground more closely.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Syria? Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: This one question was asked, that there is a major disagreement between the U.S. and Russia regarding Geneva right now.
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry, what’s your question?
QUESTION: Is there a major disagreement between U.S. and Russia on the Geneva II?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s an agreement, and this has been well publicized and well discussed by both sides. We believe Assad must go and that must be a part of the conversation, that must be the end result, and the Russians feel differently. I would send you to them to get more specificity on their position. But either way you cut it, the agreement between us is that in order to break the violent stalemate that is happening in Syria right now, we have to bring both sides to the table. And that’s why we are discussing and working with the Russians.
Let me just add here, and take the opportunity, to say that we are still and remain deeply concerned about reports of the – of weapons and of continued assistance by the Russians to the Syrian regime. I don’t have anything new for you or any new updates on what has or has not happened or the timing of that, but it is something that we view is a provocative action and something that we don’t think is helping increase confidence in the process.
QUESTION: Sorry. Are you comfortable saying that this is a stalemate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what I’m --
QUESTION: You don’t think that the regime has gotten the upper hand?
MS. PSAKI: What I’m referring to is – when I say stalemate, what I’m referring to is the fact that this violence is just continuing and it seems to be a never-ending process.
QUESTION: Okay. All right.
MS. PSAKI: So we need to do something different.
QUESTION: All right. And just one other thing. In their press conference this morning, both the Secretary and Foreign Minister Westerwelle talked about the S-300s and how this would be a mistake and – but the Secretary seemed to say not only – well, there are two reasons that this is a mistake according to him, the Secretary. One is that it complicates the conference, but two, it also it’s a threat to Israel. Is one of those more important than the other? Is one of those more of a concern than the other?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to rank one over the other, but they’re both of concern. You’ve seen the comments Israel has made about their desire to defend themselves. We, of course, support that. We certainly don’t want to escalate any further violence, naturally. In terms of how it would impact the process, certainly while we are still working with the Russians, we think actions like this are provocative and unhelpful. And there are a number of parties – not just the United States – that are working on moving this process forward. And it is something, as you heard the German Foreign Minister say this morning, that there is great concern about across the board.
MS. PSAKI: Syria? Any more?
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MS. PSAKI: All right. Syria.
QUESTION: It’s one on Turkey actually.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. I promised I’d go back to Lesley up here.
QUESTION: Thank you. Jen, I wanted to ask about the anti-government protests going on in Turkey today with excessive force. Amnesty condemns the use of excessive force. The opposition is saying that they’re – it’s about Erdogan’s authoritarianism. There have been people seriously hurt. Do you have any comment on this and whether this could be an escalation of something new going on in the region?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are concerned about the number of people who were injured when police dispersed protesters in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. We believe that Turkey’s long-term stability, security, and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, and association, which is what it seems these individuals were doing. These freedoms are crucial to any healthy democracy. At this time, we have seen, of course, the reports of Amnesty. We’re still gathering our own information on the incident, so I don’t have any more conclusive detail for you at this time.
QUESTION: Are you concerned about the security of the American (inaudible) in the area? Because it’s very – I mean the crowded in terms of the tourists.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we constantly, of course, monitor that. And as you know we put out regular updates as needed if we have concerns. That has not happened at this stage, and we’re still looking into the details around this incident.
QUESTION: Have you talked to Turkish authorities about the situation or events?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of any calls that have happened from the building. I would bet there has been some contact on the ground. I’m happy to check on that after the briefing.
QUESTION: Events and protests actually are still going on as of now. People are gathering in Taksim Square. Do you have any advice, apart from you already mentioned, to the Turkish authorities or protesters in Istanbul?
MS. PSAKI: Again, it’s hard for me to offer that, given we’re still gathering details of what’s happening on the ground. We certainly support universally peaceful protests, as we would in this case, but perhaps we’ll have more to say over the next couple of days.
Any more on Turkey?
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
QUESTION: New topic?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: The settlement – today, Lady Catherine Ashton called on the Israeli Government to reverse completely their decision to expand the settlements in Ramot and Gilo. Is the United States going to take a similar step?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I spoke to this yesterday, so let me point you to those comments. Let me just update though on a question Matt asked yesterday. The Secretary did speak with Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday. He did raise this issue as part of a broader conversation about the ongoing desire to move back to the negotiating table. He also spoke with President Abbas this morning about the continuing process, but I don’t think I have anything to add beyond the comments I made yesterday.
QUESTION: Okay. But my question is very specific. Lady Ashton called for the immediate reversal of the Israeli decision. Do you call for the same thing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, this is a case where we feel these activities are counterproductive to the cause of peace. They’re not constructive. We have not made that call or that decision to make that call, so I would point you to what I said yesterday.
QUESTION: And finally, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth today published a report saying that Secretary Kerry submitted a proposal to the Israelis whereby they can keep parts of the Jordan Valley. Do you – can you confirm or deny that such a report was a submitted?
MS. PSAKI: I would warn anyone to believe any report that states that there has been an American or a U.S. proposal put on the table.
QUESTION: You would warn anyone not to believe, right?
MS. PSAKI: Not to – not to. Sorry, Matt. I forgot a few words there. It’s a Friday.
QUESTION: Well, it’s a pretty important word, “not,” you know?
MS. PSAKI: It is. I would warn anyone not to follow – not to report off of those reports that suggest there’s been an American proposal put on the table. From the beginning, this has always been a case where the ball is in the court of the Israeli and the Palestinian people. The Secretary’s obviously very committed to this. He feels it’s important for regional stability. There are many world and global powers who are very committed to this, but it is ultimately up to them to make tough choices.
QUESTION: But certainly you must have ideas on what should happen next. You’re not going to leave the Israelis and the Palestinians to their own devices, are you?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s clearly been a lot of discussions that have taken place, and those have been quiet for a reason, and I’m not going to change that case today.
QUESTION: Sorry, the phone calls, they were both to the same end, right, which was trying to advance the peace process?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: They weren’t – did – do you know if the Secretary spoke with Abbas about the settlement issue?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details on their conversation. I – obviously, that’s a part of what’s being discussed. I don’t know what the President raised, but it was broadly to continue the conversation about moving back to a path of peace.
QUESTION: And make new travel plans, presumably?
QUESTION: Iran? New topic?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
MS. PSAKI: I do. I do.
QUESTION: -- on its mandate?
MS. PSAKI: So this question was asked yesterday, so let me give you all an update from here today. The United States strongly regrets this decision to postpone Lebanon’s electoral process. We have strongly supported elections being held on time in keeping with Lebanon’s legal and constitutional requirements. We believe the Lebanese people deserve the right to exercise their democratic freedoms to elect their leaders and to choose who best represents them and the interests of the Lebanese state. Ambassador Connelly has reiterated this on the ground as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Iran, Mexico. On the Country Reports, you mentioned a concern that there is an increasing number of bilateral efforts between Iran and Latin American nations. There’s a concern that there might be an intention of Iran, Hezbollah or their allied organizations to get operatives through the Mexican border. Is there any on that?
MS. PSAKI: I know – I think you’re referring to the Country Report we released yesterday --
MS. PSAKI: -- which was pretty extensive. I don’t have anything new for you beyond what was detailed in there in that report yesterday.
QUESTION: But there are no concerns of terrorist operatives trying to come in through the Mexican border or of links between Mexican cartels and Iranian organizations?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I know this was discussed in the report as it related to analyzing 2012. I don’t have anything new for you on that today.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow up on that? The prosecutor of Argentina who is following the case of AMIA made a document of 500 pages. He says there is a full network of Iranian threat in the region and they are using their consular and embassies to generate and also to train terrorists. What the U.S. is – it is following this? Is there a comment on this?
MS. PSAKI: I have seen those reports. I have not read the 500-page report, I will promise you. But we, of course, are closely following Iran and their activities around the world. I don’t have anything specific for you. I’m happy to look into that and see if there – we have anything more from here.
QUESTION: But if we remember, Secretary Clinton mentioned two years ago that many countries of Latin America are playing or dancing with Iran in a very dangerous way. You say now that Secretary Kerry also worried about this, that there are many countries in South America that are making a strange dance with Iran? What kind of conversation --
MS. PSAKI: A strange dance. Again, I don’t want to speculate further on that. I’m happy to look into it more in depth.
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: In late 2011, Under Secretary Kennedy approved a memo authorizing a continued U.S. presence in Benghazi. Question: Did he consult with senior leadership in the building before signing this memo?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just say on this particular memo, it’s been available to the House of Representatives since October. It was discussed in October in a hearing on the House side and in many, many, many briefings. It was even posted – this sensitive document was posted on the website of – as well on October 19th – not our website, sorry, on the House website. It was also discussed extensively in the unclassified ARB report. I don’t think I have anything more to add. It’s been extensively reviewed and discussed and posted, so it’s not – nothing new today.
QUESTION: Does he have that authorization, to maintain a continued presence just with his signature?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I would point you to the ARB report, which analyzed this, all security decisions that were made in advance of Benghazi and all details of that. Under Secretary Kennedy also spoke to the ARB. He also testified before Congress, so I don’t know that we have a new update today.
QUESTION: But does – he does have authorization?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t think I have anything to add for you on that.
QUESTION: Okay. And lastly, the memo also talked about increased security measures. This memo was written in 2011. What took so long? Or why did those security measures not get implemented?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you – I’m happy to provide you with the portion of the ARB report that analyzes this, discusses all decisions made, looked at many memos, all the information provided to the House. I know you’ve just acquired this memo, but it’s been available for some time.
QUESTION: Okay. And lastly, is there a separate memo that designates Benghazi a U.S. mission or a diplomatic post and not a consulate?
MS. PSAKI: A memo?
QUESTION: A separate memo?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to discuss particular memos. I’m not aware of where that would have been discussed, but I know it’s been publicly talked about.
QUESTION: Do you mind taking that?
MS. PSAKI: Whether there’s a memo? I’m not going to provide information on an internal memo. So are you asking whether --
QUESTION: Those are the terms used by Jacob Sullivan on September 15th, saying let’s not use the term consulate, let’s use U.S. mission or diplomatic post. So is this just semantics? I assume a consulate you need to increase security measures. So if the language was changed from consulate to a U.S. mission --
MS. PSAKI: I will look into that and see if there’s anything more to add.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) said something about how you’re not going to discuss specific memos, but you just spent the previous five minutes talking about a specific memo.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the memo I was discussing has been provided to the House, has been posted publicly, has been available on the great internet for quite some time. So --
QUESTION: Right. Can I --
MS. PSAKI: -- but I’m not going to go through internal memos from the past couple of years.
QUESTION: Well, wasn’t that an internal memo?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a little different, Matt. It’s been posted publicly, so --
QUESTION: All right. Well, so it’s no longer an internal memo?
MS. PSAKI: I suppose it’s not.
QUESTION: Anyway, my question relates to Benghazi, but only in terms of if there’s any update to the questions that I had yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: There are. So we have – I believe one of the questions you asked was about whether we had officially responded to – or why don’t you remind me of your questions, just so I address them?
QUESTION: This – the subpoena from Chairman Issa, one.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. We have – so your question yesterday, if I remember correctly, was whether we had acknowledged the receipt. We have acknowledged the receipt of the subpoena in writing to the committee.
QUESTION: And did that – does that say and yes, we acknowledge it and we’ll be handing over all the stuff that you asked for?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re processing the subpoena, so we’re taking – we’re going through the legal process.
QUESTION: All right. And then the RNC FOIA request. Have you gotten one or is it --
MS. PSAKI: We have seen – we have not received actually the request for that. Once we receive it, we will review it and process it as appropriate, as we do with all FOIA requests.
QUESTION: All right. That was as of what, this morning?
MS. PSAKI: As of this morning. I actually checked right before I came down to the briefing.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the last one was on the Royce letter. Still – we’re still in the same position as before?
MS. PSAKI: We are still in the same place, exactly.
QUESTION: The President of Chile is going to be here next week. He’s going to meet with President Obama on Tuesday. I want to know if he’s coming to this building between Monday and Tuesday, if there’s any meetings.
MS. PSAKI: The Secretary has his own trip on Tuesday and Wednesday, so let me check. Actually, I believe he is, so let me get back to you. We’ll get you more details after the briefing.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. We are pleased to see, of course, that Ms. Maldonado has been released from prison in Nogales, Mexico. We appreciate the efforts on the part of the Mexican authorities to ensure that a decision was made in accordance with Mexican law. And I would refer you beyond that to her or her counsel for further questions on the case.
QUESTION: Are you aware of this lawsuit that was filed yesterday, I believe, in Washington – no, in Oregon – or at least it involves a man from Oregon who has named Secretary Kerry, Attorney General Holder – you’re aware of this lawsuit?
MS. PSAKI: I am aware of it. I don’t have any comment on it, but again, I’ll check on that after the briefing.
QUESTION: Can you – you’re aware of what the allegations are in it, that foreign – that this guy was tortured at the behest of the State Department and the FBI while in custody in the U.A.E.? I know that you can’t – it’s a lawsuit so you’re not going to want to talk about it, but can you talk about in general whether people are tortured at the behest of the State Department, the FBI, other agencies in the United States Government?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just be clear for everyone that we would not comment, of course, on an ongoing legal case or something that is being looked into. Broadly speaking, of course, we would not condone that type of behavior.
QUESTION: You would – so you would not? There is no question in your mind or in the mind of – that this kind of – that torture would happen at the behest of the U.S. Government?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re referring to – well, I don’t want to speak to specific details, but of course, that type of behavior, no, we wouldn’t support.
QUESTION: You wouldn’t support, okay. Is it correct that this Administration believes that waterboarding is torture?
MS. PSAKI: Matt, you’re taking me down quite a rabbit hole here.
QUESTION: It’s not a rabbit hole. It has to do with consistency. Is it correct that this Administration believes that waterboarding is torture?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t think I have anything further to add on this particular case.
QUESTION: Okay. Another answer was – might be that you would only speak for this Administration, but you know where I’m going or was going to go with that, so I’ll leave it there.
I have one other follow-up, which is quite – probably easy, Venezuela.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is there any update on these two guys?
MS. PSAKI: Not since yesterday. There’s still – of course, as I mentioned yesterday, we are cooperating – embassy security personnel is cooperating with Venezuelan authorities. We have been in touch with these two individuals. I don’t have another update in terms of the conclusion.
QUESTION: All right. Do you know – if and when there is a – well, presumably there is going to be a conclusion to this – can you – is it possible to let us know within the bounds of what you can say about Chief of Mission personnel, if those two – the two individuals involved in this incident are still in the country and are still – or if they cease to become or they cease to no longer – they cease to be under COM authority?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an update on that.
QUESTION: No, I know, but can you --
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check. I’m happy to check. They are DOD personnel, as you know, but I’m happy to check on that.
QUESTION: A follow-up on the Maldonado question, please.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Are you aware that there are other U.S. citizens that have had similar situations in Mexico and that there is a – sort of a pattern of jailing U.S. citizens under trumped-up charges to try to get money from their families?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not at all what I was suggesting. I think I just thanked the Mexican authorities for participating and cooperating in this case.
QUESTION: No, I was saying are you aware that there are other cases?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to speculate on that and what cases may or may not be out there. This specific case I have the details on.
QUESTION: One more on yesterday’s report on terrorism worldwide. In the report, the Islamist group Boko Haram in Nigeria was ranked, actually, second only to the Taliban in terms of the number of attacks that it carried out in 2012. And yet Boko Haram is not designated as a terrorist organization by this Department. Could you explain why, given that a host of other organizations around the world, including several in Northern Ireland, are designated as terrorist organizations and did not carry out any attacks in the last five years, please?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I don’t want to speculate on particular pieces of the process. As I said yesterday, and just to remind you all, this report was not a vehicle for designating or not designating countries as terrorist or groups. So let me just – I can tell you the legal requirements for a designation, on how that works.
As a matter of law and order for any country to be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, the Secretary of State must determine that the government of that country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. There are two possible paths to rescission of a state sponsor of terrorism designation according to the relevant statutory criteria.
I know this wasn’t what you’re asking, but I just wanted to – a couple of people were asking questions about this yesterday.
QUESTION: Okay. Is there anything there regarding the designation of individual groups and how they can be taken off the list?
MS. PSAKI: There is. I can detail that more specifically for you. The first path requires the President to submit a report to Congress before the rescission would take effect, certifying that, one, there has been a fundamental change in the leadership and policies of the government of the country concerned, two, the government is not supporting acts of international terrorism, and, three, the government has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.
QUESTION: Yeah, no, I feel that this is --
QUESTION: FTO, not state sponsor, is what you’re --
QUESTION: --a question about why Cuba is still on the list, but I’m specifically asking --
MS. PSAKI: Again --
QUESTION: -- why this group in Nigeria that the Department’s flagship report, annual report on terrorism, clearly states did more attacks than any other group, including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in 2012, is not listed as a terrorist organization? Why is that? Does it have to do with relations with the Nigerian Government?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to point you to our team who focuses on this. I don’t have any more detail for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: On North Korea?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Thank you, Jen. As you know, recently defected from North Korea, North Korean youth in Laos, and the young people were forced repatriation to North Korea. Would you please comment on this? And currently in North Korea, human rights is now in serious conditions. How is United States handling this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are very concerned about the reports we’ve seen that the individuals have been sent back to North Korea. I think you’re referring to the nine individuals who came from Laos who were sent through China. We’re closely monitoring the situation. We urge all countries in the region to cooperate in the protection of North Korean refugees within their territories.
There are, as you probably know, because you asked the question, several related to the status of refugees UN convention requirements that we encourage all countries in the region to abide by. In terms of the U.S. role, the State Department was not involved in this case, the case of these nine individuals, but we do remain very concerned about their well-being, and we’re monitoring it closely.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Did you brush up on the Potsdam Declaration yesterday after the --
MS. PSAKI: 1945, Matt.
QUESTION: There you go. Now I have a question which I know – I’m sure that you didn’t look into, but I’m wondering if it can be taken for the record.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: So I did also went back and looked at the Potsdam Declaration, which I knew was 1945, but I wasn’t exactly sure what was in it, but apparently it was signed --
MS. PSAKI: I thought it was 1949, but I didn’t want to get skewered.
QUESTION: -- it was signed by a number of countries. But the Chinese – it was signed by Chiang Kai-shek, it was signed by what we now refer to as Taiwan. And I’m wondering if you can take the question as to whether the United States believes that the Republic of China, which is now considered Taiwan, is what – is still the legal signatory to this document, or whether that status reverted to the People’s Republic of China once you recognized the Chinese’s question for the legal department.
I’m just curious as to whether – because there are essentially two claimants. Taiwan still thinks of itself as the signatory, and it’s not clear to me – apparently, from the questions yesterday, mainland China, the People’s Republic of China, also considers itself to be the signatory. So I’m – as this is a significant question about the dispute over the island, I’m wondering if the legal department – legal office has an opinion on that. And I don’t expect you to have that answer.
MS. PSAKI: We are happy to look into that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to on a Friday afternoon. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, no, no, no. They don’t even – it doesn’t even have to be today.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: But once you go through the Taiwan Relations Act and the three communiques with Beijing, I’m sure it will be clear as mud, but anyway, that’s my question.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Lalit.
MS. PSAKI: Let me see if I do have anything on that. I know I spoke a little bit about
violence yesterday. I don’t know that I have anything new, but we – I’m happy to look closer into it after the briefing.
QUESTION: And related to this, how do you see the rise of right-wing Buddhist groups which have been instrumental in this large-scale violence after these forums are coming up in Burma? And do you have anything also on this peace agreement which has been reached between the Kachin Independence Organization and the Burmese Government?
MS. PSAKI: I do. We welcome reports that the Government of Burma and the Kachin Independence Organization are making progress toward a ceasefire and have agreed to hold a political dialogue. We encourage both sides to cooperate in order to achieve sustainable peace. And we continue, of course, to monitor the situation closely.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Jen, it’s 2:01.
MS. PSAKI: Well, what does that mean?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to, and this will be the last question since I have to run upstairs. There’ll be a media note that should probably be in your inboxes momentarily, and I know we’ve provided some information on this.
But today, the Administration took action under a variety of authorities against companies helping Iran to evade U.S. sanctions and doing illicit business with Iran. The Administration imposed sanctions under Executive Orders 13622 and 13599 on a series of companies related to Iran’s petrochemical industry. These actions underscore U.S. resolve to cut off funds from the Iranian petrochemical sector as the second largest revenue source for Iran’s illicit nuclear program.
Let me just tick through the specific companies for you. We imposed – the Department of State imposed sanctions on Jam Petrochemical Company and Niksima Food & Beverage JLT because of their knowing engagement and a significant transaction for the purchase or acquisition of petrochemical products from Iran.
Last piece: Also today, the Department of State and the Department of Treasury took actions to impose sanctions, including a visa ban on corporate officers, on Ferland Company, Limited, under both the Iran Sanctions Act, as amended by the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:03 p.m.)
DPB # 89