The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.
1:25 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Hi, Brad. Welcome back.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything at the top, so why don’t we get to what’s on your minds?
QUESTION: Can we start with --
QUESTION: -- Qusayr. Yeah.
MS. PSAKI: With Syria.
QUESTION: Yeah. What do you think about the apparent fall of Qusayr to government forces?
MS. PSAKI: Thank you for your question, Arshad. We continue to receive conflicting reports about what is happening on the ground in Qusayr. We remain concerned, of course, about the influx of foreign fighters, as we’ve talked about quite a bit here and we know that has lifted up the regime and their efforts there. We, of course, are following it very, very closely.
It is clear – so let me just reiterate this – that the regime is unable to contest the opposition’s control of Qusayr on its own and is therefore dependent on Hezbollah and Iran to do the work for them. But as I mentioned, we are receiving conflicting reports from what is happening on the ground
QUESTION: What are the reports you’re getting? I mean, are you getting some that it has fallen and some that suggest it has not?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to outline all of them, but yes, clearly we’re getting reports of different directions for the final outcome there.
QUESTION: Do you think the U.S. Government should have tried to do more to help the rebels in their effort to retain control of Qusayr?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first point out – and we’ve talked about this a little bit, but it’s worth reiterating – that the regime has blocked access for humanitarian assistance on the ground. They’ve blocked – they’ve been blockading the entrance. So you are very familiar, of course, with all the assistance we have provided to the opposition and our efforts to continue to do that. But one of our many concerns we have about what’s going on the ground there is the humanitarian issues, which we’ve not been able to break through.
QUESTION: That wasn’t my question though. My question was: Should the Administration have done more to help the rebels retain control of Qusayr?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, I think the reason I mention that is because it’s been very difficult to even get humanitarian aid through, given it has been blockaded. So as you know, our assistance from the United States, at this point, has been focused on a range of nonlethal assistance, humanitarian aid, et cetera. We’re continuing to – that is continuing to flow in, as we’ve talked about over the past couple of days. Beyond that, we, of course, are in close contact with the opposition. We are concerned, as I’ve expressed, about what’s going on on the ground and the influx of Hezbollah. But beyond that, I’m not sure I have much more to add.
QUESTION: Well, it’s not clear to me that the flows of humanitarian aid in any way address the question that I posed, which was whether the Administration thinks it should have done more to try to retain – help the rebels retain control.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we’ve been broadly opposed to any influx of foreign fighters. And that’s something we’re greatly concerned about and that has helped the regime. Beyond what we have already talked about and what we’re already doing to help the opposition and help them on the ground and remain supportive of them, I’m not actually quite sure what you’re suggesting. Of course, we are concerned about the humanitarian aid on the ground. We remain – we keep all options on the table, and that’s where our focus is.
QUESTION: I’m not suggesting anything. I’m asking whether the Administration thinks it should have done or do more, no suggestion; it’s a question. I mean, the answer could be yes, the answer could be no, the answer could be we’re not going to try to help the rebels protect territory, and that’s been the President’s position so far. Is that the answer?
MS. PSAKI: Our position so far has not actually been that. Our position so far has been – we have obviously increased our trajectory of aid over the past couple of months. You know we’re now at 250 million in nonlethal assistance, 127 that has gone out, 123 that will soon be notified, and we look forward to moving forward with that.
As you also know, as part of our discussions with our international partners, we’ve continued to encourage them and continue to say that we will increase our aid and continue to increase our aid over time. Part of that is working with the SMC, working with General Idris, working with commanders on the ground through that process to determine what their needs are. So that’s where our focus us.
QUESTION: So part of your effort is indeed to help the rebels retain ground that they have already acquired or take more?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, and I think – or the process and how it works is of course that we work through the SMC, we work with a number of partners on the ground. As you know, General Idris is the head of the SMC. I’ve spoken before about how impressed the Secretary has been with him. He was one of the advocates for driving aid to the opposition in part through the SMC, which we expect will be part of the next tranche of aid. He is consulting with commanders on the ground on their needs and working with them. And of course, given our stakes here and given how often we talk about this, of course we want the opposition to succeed on the ground and that’s what we’re working closely with them to do.
QUESTION: What did your aid accomplish in this latest battle? You said you’re working with them to change the situation on the ground. What were you able to accomplish with the nonlethal aid you’ve provided so far?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Brad, we’ve talked about this a lot over the last couple of days while you’ve been gone. Obviously this is a challenging situation on the ground. We are working with international partners. We’re not the only ones who are providing aid. Everybody is providing different kinds of aid. In terms of what we have done and what we encourage to do, there’s a broad range of benefits that have come from our aid. Of course, this is a case --
QUESTION: In Qusayr there’s a broad range of benefits?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Brad --
QUESTION: I don’t think people have seen the benefits.
MS. PSAKI: -- part of the challenge here – and I know that humanitarian aid is something that you often all scoff at, but it’s a very important component to this. There are thousands of civilians --
QUESTION: No, we don’t scoff at it, but the Secretary of State came in saying he was going to change Assad’s calculations, and that doesn’t mean band-aids. Providing people with medical kits isn’t going to change Assad’s calculations, and he acknowledged that himself.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s several tranches of aid.
QUESTION: He didn’t say, “I’m going to change his calculations with humanitarian aid.”
MS. PSAKI: There are several components of changing the calculation. There’s --
QUESTION: How have you changed his calculations?
MS. PSAKI: We’re working with our partners to do just that. There are several tracks to that, as you know. There’s a political transition that I have an update for all of you on in terms of the meetings and what has happened there. That’s part of it. Part of it is also working with our international partners to continue to aid the opposition, continue to encourage them to unite and work together to strengthen their own front.
QUESTION: And then on the military, that’s just a loss? You’ve got politics to talk about --
MS. PSAKI: Well, Brad, as I just mentioned --
QUESTION: -- so on a military ground (inaudible) --
MS. PSAKI: -- so let me just reiterate, the next tranche, which the Secretary talked about in Istanbul, part of that will be directed through the SMC. In terms of what that will be composed of, that will still be worked through the congressional process, and that’s something that we’re encouraging our international partners to do as well. There are a range of materials that will be included and are possibilities for that. We’re consulting with the SMC about what’s best going to help them on the ground.
QUESTION: But it’s still going to be non-lethal, right, this next tranche?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, that is – it is non-lethal aid, mm-hmm. That was announced in Istanbul.
QUESTION: On the chemical weapon issue, yesterday, French Foreign Minister said that now, French Government has no doubt that the Syrian regime used sarin gas. Do you have trust and confidence in French authorities?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we talked about this a little bit yesterday. I don’t know that I have much more new to say, but let me just reiterate what I said. As we’ve said, we have been providing relevant information to the United Nations. We’ve been cooperating with our partners, including, of course, the French and other allies, about information that we all have. This is a report that we’re not going to evaluate in public, but certainly we continue to focus on nailing down the facts, just as the President said just a few weeks ago.
QUESTION: And you also made a parallel yesterday between Iraq and Syria. Do you recall in any time during the Iraq War this kind of high official from your allies came out and said that they have no doubt there was a WMD in Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to go through a historical context here.
QUESTION: You brought it up yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: Let me just reiterate what I said yesterday. I did, and I said it has impacted our own commitment to determining the facts before we take further steps. It was certainly a lesson for us. It is something that we have been reflective on. And we’re doing everything possible to work with our allies, contribute to the UN investigation, and finalize the facts on the ground.
QUESTION: One question – one final question: You talk about Qusayr, about foreign fighters in Qusayr. But according to firsthand witnesses, the same thing is going on in eastern Gota, which is the eastern part of Damascus, from Afghanis to Iraqis to Hezbollah to Irans are all flocking there, and the situation on the ground militarily are worsening by day, and they are predicting same thing is happening in eastern Gota what happened in Qusayr. Are you going to take any kind of – anything different than – you obviously failed in Qusayr preventing falling into the regime hands.
MS. PSAKI: This is a fight between the Syrian people. Obviously, we are committed to helping the opposition. We have taken steps over the past couple of months to increase aid, to help the opposition, to work – help them move towards a political transition. And we’ve continued to encourage our allies to also help the opposition succeed here.
This is a challenging situation on the ground, there’s no question. Let me reiterate that we’re concerned about the influx of all foreign fighters regardless of what side they’re fighting on, whether – and the influx of – and the overflow of this fight into neighboring countries. That’s something we’re greatly concerned about. We have expressed that to the opposition as well.
QUESTION: Jen, regardless of how Qusayr ends up, whether the fighters for Assad take it back or not, it’s being perceived that they are winning, or at least they are in the ascendance in the fight. And some are interpreting that as having Assad emboldened not to go ahead with what your diplomats are dealing with right now, which is this Geneva 2 meeting. What indications are you getting on the ground from Wendy Sherman and others that – the prospect of this? And do you see any type of diminution of energy or weakening of any progress toward that precisely because Assad thinks that he can win this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that obviously, the situation on the ground, which is just further killing, further deaths of innocent men and women and civilians across the board, continues to raise the stakes, as it has for months on what’s at – on the issue here. So let me give you an update on where we are with the conference.
Today in Geneva, Under Secretary Sherman and Ambassadors Jones and Ford, actually, who was there, concluded substantive and useful conversations with Russian and UN officials on planning for the Geneva conference on Syria, which will be sponsored and led by the UN. Their discussion today was focused on efforts to advance a negotiated political solution as well as the devastating humanitarian crisis in Syria, particularly in Qusayr, and the urgent need to allow humanitarian access for aid to reach those in need.
They agreed that the objectives of this conference are focused on trying to form a transitional government, governing body, and all government institutions will transfer authority to this new governing body, and that no executive party – power will remain with the regime. In terms of participants, they did, of course, discuss this as well as other agenda items that you often all ask about. The Secretary General will issue conference invitations to participants, the – which will begin with a plenary session at the ministerial level, and then the proceedings would be turned over to Special Representative Brahimi, who is the negotiator. Let me just finish this and then we’ll take some questions on it.
He expects to negotiate with the parties and to have the substantive support from all of those parties involved to be focused on the hard work of negotiating names for the transitional governing body. Participation in the negotiations will include two delegations of Syrians, the opposition and the regime. And the – in addition to the opposition and the regime, we expect the Secretary General would also include those who participated in Geneva 1 and the group known as the London 11. There was additional discussion of other participants. That will continue. No conclusion was made.
And finally, let me just add that given all the arrangements and organization required for the Geneva conference on Syria and the continued need of the opposition to elect leadership, which we’ve talked about a bit, they are now aiming for July, we are aiming for July. And the same delegation of officials that met today will meet – will return to Geneva on June 25th to take stock of preparations for this conference.
We’ll go to Jill.
QUESTION: Can I ask you, when you went through the top of it with Wendy Sherman and Jones, Ford, et cetera, you said that they agreed that there would be – no executive power will remain with the regime. Now, who agreed on that?
MS. PSAKI: That is something – and I would point you to Special Representative Brahimi, who has spoken to this, actually, on the ground. That’s something that was agreed by the group who was negotiating there.
QUESTION: And so that would be – in other words, the regime would agree?
MS. PSAKI: The regime was not negotiating there. This was the Russians, the UN, and the United States.
QUESTION: Jen, you’ve covered all the ground on the timeline. But I wanted to ask you – there were reports that actually they failed to find common ground, the Russians and the Americans, and that in fact, Gennady Gatilov expressed that quite vocally, that you don’t really have common ground. Do you have any response to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me reiterate where there is common ground, and that is that there is a need for a political transition. That is the best path forward for the Syrian people. That is for the Syrian people to decide who will be a part of the transitional government, that they will continue to discuss the agenda and participation at the next meeting in June 25th, and that this is the best path forward. That seems a great deal that they do agree on.
QUESTION: And a quick follow-up on Qusayr: There were reports that it is virtually a ghost town. Do you have anything that you can confirm or deny or refute, that it is not a ghost town, that there is – there are people there? It seems that --
MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have anything for you beyond --
QUESTION: -- that lived in --
MS. PSAKI: -- what I --
QUESTION: Could you find out?
MS. PSAKI: -- highlighted at the top about conflicting reports about what is happening on the ground. As that develops, as we know more, we’re of course happy to provide that to all of you.
QUESTION: Because this is big news. I mean, they say that the whole population actually went to the surrounding villages and so on. Could you find out for us, please?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: And let me just reiterate that this is a place where there are thousands of civilians, innocent civilians, who have been blocked. I don’t have any update on the status of that or if there’s been humanitarian aid let in for them, but that remains a great concern of ours.
QUESTION: Okay. It’s also an area that has been --
QUESTION: Was this the --
QUESTION: -- subject to ebb and flow. I mean, fighters go in and they go out, and so on. So do you expect that there will be, like, another attack or a counter-attack by the opposition on --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to speculate on that.
QUESTION: Was this readout from Geneva, was this the political progress that you were mentioning?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think they did make progress, Brad, moving forward in terms of next steps. This is challenging. We’re trying to --
QUESTION: Hold on. Just – hold. What’s the – I mean, we knew that the whole point of this was to have a discussion between the opposition and the --
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: -- regime. So, agreeing that the opposition would meet the regime, how’s that progress?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s progress because they continued – we continue to be on the same page about the path forward, the importance of a political transition, getting all sides to the table --
QUESTION: Repetition, repetition, repetition. I just don’t see what is new. Is the new thing that Ban Ki-moon will hold a plenary session? Is that the progress?
MS. PSAKI: Brad, that’s part of the process that will happen as part of the Geneva conference. Obviously, the agenda was part of the conversation, so --
MS. PSAKI: -- I wanted to provide you all with that update.
QUESTION: I’ve got a couple of questions.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: When you say that the executive – no executive power will remain with the regime, is that something that both sides of the Syrian conflict will have to agree to before coming to the talks? In other words, will the representatives of the regime have already agreed to that before they sit down, hopefully, with the Syrian opposition?
MS. PSAKI: Well, part of the process here is coming to the table to discuss all of these issues not with preconditions, because the stalemate, in part, has been about demands from both sides. And so we expect that that will be part of the discussion. But again, the same group will be meeting on June 25th to continue the discussion of the agenda and participants and all of the other issues around the conference.
QUESTION: So this is just an agreement between the United States and Russia. It has nothing to do with the Syrians. I mean, they can – they could decide not to accept that.
MS. PSAKI: Not to accept – well --
QUESTION: That executive authority will remain with the regime.
MS. PSAKI: Remember that the purpose of this conference is to discuss these exact issues, right? So the focus is getting everybody there, creating an environment that will be most conducive and most productive to that. It’s not determining everything in advance.
QUESTION: So was the success of that statement the fact that the Russians came onboard with the United States position on it?
MS. PSAKI: It’s just a broad agreement about moving forward, and these are obviously the key players in planning this conference with the Syrian regime, with the opposition. Clearly, the Russians, as they’ve said many times publicly, have been closely working, in close contact with the regime. As you know, the U.S. has been in contact with the opposition, as have a number of our allies and partners. The UN is playing a pivotal role here.
So, this was an agreement about how to move forward. We think it’s important because the political transition and the path to that, the conference is a key component of getting there.
QUESTION: And then you mentioned that Ban Ki-moon will be issuing invitations to the guests.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And you mentioned the Geneva – the people who were present for Geneva 1, the London 11, obviously the Syrian side, and that some of them have yet to be discussed. Presumably, that means Iran. Any other countries?
MS. PSAKI: They were discussed, but no conclusion was made.
QUESTION: So when are the invitations likely to be – start to be issued?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a timeline on that yet.
QUESTION: And there’s no discussion, or you didn’t agree on a date yet for this even though --
MS. PSAKI: Not yet.
QUESTION: Sometime in July?
MS. PSAKI: And a component of that is not just with the people who were participating in these discussions. It’s also with the Syrian opposition and the fact that, as we’ve talked about a bit in here, they are going to be electing leadership. That’s a key component of that. They’re obviously an important participant. And so that will have an impact on that as well.
QUESTION: And do you have clarity on who the Syrian regime would like to send to these talks?
MS. PSAKI: Not yet.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Do you have --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, Jill, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, just – because it’s exactly this question: So, just to make sure, at this particular point, is there any indication that the regime will show up, that representatives will show up?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Russians have stated publicly they would. I would point you to that. The focus of this meeting was not about reaching out to both sides. That’s obviously something that’s ongoing every single day. This was about putting together a plan of action, an agenda, moving forward on that, a group of participants that would make sense to, of course, consult with the regime and the opposition on.
QUESTION: Just to clarify to – if you will. Do you have a criteria that they must meet, like conditions countries or participants must meet? Do you have any kind of criteria?
MS. PSAKI: In order to participate?
QUESTION: Right, to participate, in order to participate.
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, the UN will be issuing the invitations to this. They’re a key component in the --
QUESTION: And so you don’t have a criteria? You don’t have, say, that a country must not have participated in aiding the rebels or the regime or anything like this?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t put it in those terms. There are obviously a number of participants who will be invited, as I just mentioned, to have a – had a stake in Geneva 1 who attended, members of the London 11, others who have been very involved in this across the board. And discussion of other participants will continue.
QUESTION: So it’s just Ban Ki-moon (inaudible)?
QUESTION: I just have one --
MS. PSAKI: No, it will be discussed, again, in an ongoing conversations over the next couple of weeks and when they meet again on June 25th.
QUESTION: General Idris has raised his concern that women and children, particularly living in areas bordering Alawites’ villages, have been targeted. He’s used the term “ethnic cleansing.” Secretary – and concerns about it. Secretary Kerry has said he is concerned about ethnic cleansing in Syria. Today, the Syrian army said that the town of Qusayr was cleansed. That was the word that they used. At this point, in the reports that this building is looking at, some of them conflicting, is this building looking into the question of ethnic cleansing? Is there a belief or a concern that it is indeed taking place?
MS. PSAKI: We are – I mean, I think I would just reiterate what I said and what the Secretary has said. I don’t know that I need to add much to that. And you know we are concerned about sectarian violence, we’re concerned about the influx of foreign fighters, we’re greatly concerned about the deaths of innocent civilians. Beyond that, I don’t have anything to report out to you on what we’re focused on there.
QUESTION: Well, when the Secretary used that phrase, it has a specific meaning; it’s not just sectarian violence.
MS. PSAKI: Of course. I understand that.
QUESTION: It’s targeted. It’s focused. Is this building in any belief or question that that is taking place?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have anything for you on that.
QUESTION: Just one last clarification. So you said that the parties – to come together without any preconditions, but this no executive authority to remain with the regime, that’s a precondition, and why would the regime agree to that if they’ve just had a significant strategic victory in Qusayr?
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: I mean, is that a precondition or --
MS. PSAKI: I would not qualify it that way. What I was conveying is that this is an agreement between the UN, the Russians, and the U.S. on what they think the path forward should be and in their efforts to plan and organize this conference. There will, of course, be significant consultations. Both the regime and the opposition are key components of this process. Again, this is a conference to discuss putting together a transitional government. There isn’t a transitional government that will be in place before this conference, so this is the stage we’re at. Obviously, there will be consultations on both sides moving forward.
QUESTION: So this is a nonbinding recommendation not backed by teeth, essentially, this full transfer of executive authority?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Brad, it’s an important group of partners --
MS. PSAKI: -- who’ve agreed on the path forward. That’s the significance of it.
QUESTION: It’s kind of like when the President said almost two years ago that Assad should step down. It was a recommendation but not a prescriptive for what U.S. is going to force to happen, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Syria?
QUESTION: Change topics?
QUESTION: You wouldn’t put it in that category?
MS. PSAKI: I would not.
QUESTION: Change topics?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Any more – do you have more on Syria?
QUESTION: On Turkey.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, okay.
MS. PSAKI: They did.
QUESTION: And can you confirm the – apparently, according to Turkish media – no, according to the foreign ministry talking to AFP, actually, Davutoglu told Kerry – and he was pretty angry about some of the comments that the Secretary’s made about excessive use of force during the demonstration – apparently, he told the Secretary that Turkey is not a second-class democracy.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to confirm the comments of the Foreign Minister. What I can do is confirm they did speak and that the Secretary – they spoke quite a bit, of course, about Syria and moving forward. But they also talked about the Secretary’s concerns, ongoing concerns about the situation on the ground, and he also welcomed the update on efforts to calm the situation on the ground that some officials have called for.
And let me just reiterate the Secretary and Foreign Minister have had a very positive working relationship. They’ve worked together very closely on a number of issues, most specifically on Syria and the crisis ongoing there. That will continue. We have no doubt about that.
There – we – at the same time, the Secretary and others in this building don’t hold back when there are concerns that we have as well. And we have had concerns over the past couple of days about instances of police brutality, and we continue to call for, of course, the acceptance of peaceful protest. And that’s something we do around the world. So certainly, he was making no effort to quantify or qualify Turkey in any way other than to express support for calls for calm that have happened on the ground, express his belief that that needs to continue to happen, and to continue his very positive working relationship with the Foreign Minister.
QUESTION: But you don’t consider Turkey as a second-rate or second-class democracy, do you?
MS. PSAKI: No.
QUESTION: First-rate? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to do rankings in here, Brad. I appreciate the opportunity, though.
QUESTION: Well, presume – obviously, the Foreign Minister has done a ranking and felt that the criticism that was coming from this building and from the Secretary himself was overly – was unduly harsh. Would you accept that?
MS. PSAKI: We would not. Obviously, the protests and the incidents that we’ve talked about a little bit over the past couple of days that have happened on the ground, reports of police brutality and injuries and even a couple of deaths, that’s concerning. And we continue to call for acceptance and support for peaceful protest not just in Turkey, but around the world. That’s our consistent belief and our consistent feeling. At the same time, we still have a very good, positive working relationship with the country of Turkey. The Secretary and the Foreign Minister have struck up quite a friendship and they’ve worked together closely on Syria and other global crises we’re facing, and we expect that will continue.
QUESTION: That doesn’t address the issue of democracy. You have good relationships with completely undemocratic countries, correct? So what does saying that you have a good relationship regarding Syria have to do regarding your concerns about its democratic trajectory?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Brad, I think it’s relevant because the point is that we work closely with Turkey as a NATO ally on a number of issues, including Syria, which is one of the most devastating global crises happening right now, and they are a very close partner on that. At the same time, we have had concerns about some of the reports from the protests, and that’s natural we would express that given our support for peaceful expression and human rights around the world.
QUESTION: Do you feel Turkey’s democracy is mature enough to be able to handle this current crisis and get back on track?
MS. PSAKI: We feel – and the Secretary said this the other day – that he feels confident that they can continue to move forward. He was pleased to see the calls for calm, hopes that continues. And we look forward to working with them on a number of issues.
QUESTION: So there’s no fear in this building that the Secretary’s comments will in any way undermine or harm the relationship that you have with Turkey?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly – certainly not.
QUESTION: But it seems that it’s obvious a reason of tension between the two, because I mean, Foreign Minister Davutoglu’s comment on your remarks actually is very harsh because he’s blaming U.S. side to see those protests as extraordinary while you are interpreting other protests all around the world ordinary.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would refute the notion that we – that they are extraordinary in that any time there are incidents of police – potential police brutality or opposition to what we see as opposition to the freedom of expression, that’s something we often talk about in this room, the Secretary talks about, that’s something we regularly bring up and highlight.
What I was stating was that we have a very important partnership with Turkey on a number of issues, and we feel confident that will continue.
QUESTION: In fact, the Foreign Minister reportedly also compared the protests in Ankara and other Turkish cities to the protests that we saw a couple of years ago with the Occupy Wall Street movement, in which we also did see a lot of arrests and court cases and things like that. Is that a fair comparison?
MS. PSAKI: Again, there’s going to be an investigation into what happened on the ground here. We support peaceful protests, whether that’s in the United States or in other countries, so I would just reiterate that.
QUESTION: Jen, but let me ask you, on the words and the things that Mr. Erdogan has said in the last few days, I mean, do you consider that to be draconian or calling for draconian measures? For instance, he’s really insulting basically people that drink beer, telling them to drink yogurt instead, telling them not to do this and so on. Very, sort of, very aggressive Islamist kind of agenda. Do you consider that to be not helpful towards a vibrant democracy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we think what would be helpful is for all officials to encourage calm in the country and support peaceful protests. So that’s what we’re encouraging everybody to do.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) a Prime Minister who is, a prime minister of all Turks, of all political orientations, should back away from that kind of rhetoric?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to go further on that than I’ve just gone.
QUESTION: But he’s promising – I mean, it’s a very reasonable question, actually. He’s promising this rhetoric for you to calm down all the protests. Because even yesterday, Vice Prime Minister Babacan was here, and he was the most reasonable ministers in the cabinet, he even used the word of terrorists in his speech defining this protest. I mean, is this rhetoric promising to solve this question?
MS. PSAKI: I think I answered it. It’s – what is most helpful is for all the officials, as some have, to encourage calm and encourage peaceful – and accept peaceful protest. And language and verbiage that’s not doing that is not helpful toward moving forward.
QUESTION: You will keep to raise this issue – I mean, after that, even if the protest will be going on after giving this – after the speech that the Secretary Kerry took with Foreign Minister Davutoglu? You will keeping to raise this issue?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our ambassador and other officials on the ground have been in close contact. Obviously, the Secretary was in contact with his counterpart just yesterday. We’re hopeful that there will be a peaceful resolution here of course, but where we see issues that need to be raised, we will certainly continue to raise them.
QUESTION: Can I change topics?
MS. PSAKI: Any more on Turkey? Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Today marks the 46th anniversary of the June 5 occupation of the West Bank. The Palestinians have languished under occupation for 46 years. Do you believe that we have been at the point of enough is enough and this occupation must end immediately?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just reiterate what the Secretary has been focused greatly on, spent a lot of time and effort on, and that is moving both parties back to the path to peace. He’s spoken about that in speeches; he gave a speech just on Monday. He believes that is what’s best for future generations of Palestinian people, as well as future generations of Israeli people. And the time is now to act.
QUESTION: But you do recognize that this occupation has gone on for far too long and it’s time for it to end, correct?
MS. PSAKI: It’s time to move back to the table and move back to a peaceful --
QUESTION: But principally, you believe that this occupation must end, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think I’ve addressed where we are with this, and the Secretary speaks frequently about it.
QUESTION: Quick question on this. The Secretary’s next trip to the region, whenever it is, is that kind of the moment he has to have some progress on his, what, two and a half month initiative to restart talks or to get the process moving again? Or can this just languor on and on?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Brad, he’s said pretty clearly the last time he was there that we’re at a point where both sides need to make tough choices. And we continue to be there. He’ll go back to the region if he thinks that the trip would help both sides take even one step forward towards peace, towards moving back to the negotiating table, and he’s hopeful that that’s a step we’ll soon see.
QUESTION: So he’s not going to go back to the region if it’s going to be another listening tour or another step where – or another trip where essentially he doesn’t – he can’t really deliver anything, any movement forward?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think he will go back if he feels there is an opportunity to move things forward. That doesn’t mean that will be the outcome of a trip, but if he feels it would be productive for him to go back.
QUESTION: So that’s not the end of his initiative.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to define when the end of such an important initiative would be. Hopefully it’s with both sides agreeing to a peaceful path forward.
QUESTION: Right. But when he started, and I think it was on the trip he accompanied the President with, it was clear that he had had a few months, I think, to get something going or you would move on to other pressing multilateral concerns. When is – is that basically time running out now?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to give a self-imposed deadline here. The Secretary has been very firm in his belief that now is the time for both sides to make tough choices. In terms of what’s next, he’ll continue to work on this. In terms of where we go from there, I can’t get ahead of what the next step in the process will be.
QUESTION: What are the tough choices that you want the Palestinians to make?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to define that from here. These negotiations have been quiet for good reason.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I wondered if there was a comment or reaction today on the swearing-in of the new Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. We congratulate Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his party’s success in the May 11th elections and look forward to working with him and the newly democratically-elected government of Pakistan. This election marked the first time in Pakistan’s history a civilian government has completed its term and transferred power democratically to another civilian government. And the U.S. – the United States stands with all Pakistanis in welcoming this historic, largely peaceful and transparent transfer of civilian power, which is a significant milestone in Pakistan’s democratic progress.
QUESTION: And in his first speech, he – Prime Minister Sharif also took a moment to call for an end to the campaign of U.S. drone strikes in the country, saying that we respect the sovereignty of others and they should respect our sovereignty and independence. This campaign should come to an end. Was that a helpful remark to be making in his first speech as prime minister?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Jo, we have a very strong ongoing dialogue with Pakistan regarding all aspects of the relationship and our shared interests, including security and counterterrorism cooperation. And we work together to address each other’s concerns. As we move forward with our counterterrorism operations, it is critically important that we continue to work closely with our partners throughout the world, providing them with the support they need, helping build their capacity to carry out counterterrorism operations in their own countries. And that’s what we expect the conversation will be and what it will continue to be with the Pakistanis.
QUESTION: Change topic?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Venezuela. Today, the Secretary is meeting with the Venezuelan Foreign Minister. I wondered if you could say which side called for that meeting.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe in our background briefing we did with the traveling road show, they confirmed that it was the Venezuelans who asked for the meeting. Just to confirm for everybody, the Secretary will meet with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua on June – today, I should say – today, on June 5th. He will talk about the U.S. Government’s interest in building a functional operational relationship with Venezuela. And our interest in establishing a productive and functional relationship with Venezuela based on mutual interests, including counternarcotics, counterterrorism, and commerce. And I believe that meeting is either about to happen or are happening, as we speak.
QUESTION: Staying in Venezuela, the filmmaker Tim Tracy – did you guys accept the meeting before he was released or after?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary was prepared to discuss his case during the meeting. In terms of the tic-tock of the timeline of when we accepted it, I believe it was sometime last week, but it was an issue he was prepared to discuss.
And can also confirm, of course, as you all have seen, that Mr. Tracy has been released. We are pleased that he will be reunited, of course, with his family. We also want to thank the fine work of Venezuelan Charge Ortega and our Embassy in Caracas in getting to this moment.
QUESTION: So is he – do you know where in the world – is he still there or is he --
MS. PSAKI: No. He’s either en route or back.
MS. PSAKI: Anymore on Venezuela? Okay. China.
QUESTION: China. When China’s Commerce Ministry stated in a public announcement that they were going to join the TPP, was that a surprise to United States? Have you spoken with them about this issue? And how do you assess the seriousness of their announcement?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, no country announces they’re a part of a trade agreement. This is a case where the TPP – one – well, let me say first that USTR, of course, has the lead on this. It’s not something that one gets invited to, the TPP that is, but rather something that one aspires to with a very high standard that is required that any country meets. And beyond that, in terms of their posting on their website, I’m not sure there was any heads-up on that, but it doesn’t signify membership, but it signifies, I think, their interest. And other than that, I’d refer you to USTR.
QUESTION: Is this something that the United States welcomes, their interest?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I would refer you to USTR. This is a case where they have to meet high standards in order to become a part of TPP and a part of the trade agreement, and I would refer you to them on what those standards are.
QUESTION: Do you think it’s going to come up in the summit meeting in California between the presidents?
MS. PSAKI: Well, White House has outlined what their main topics of focus are there. I’m happy to reiterate those if helpful. And of course, the expectation is there would be a broad range in conversation. Whether or not this will be raised from the Chinese side, I would send you to them.
QUESTION: On North Korea.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Have you ever got in the direct contact with the North Korean delegation in New York regarding repatriate from Laos to nine North Korean young peoples issues?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything for you on that. We’ve talked a little bit about this, of course, about our concern about reports about these individuals and our continued urging for all countries in the region to cooperate in the protection of North Korean refugees. But in terms of contact and anything else, I don’t have anything for you on that.
QUESTION: On Nigeria. There’s been a lot of talk in this building about whether the United States should classify Boko Haram as a terrorist organization. It has not. The Nigerian Government, however, has. Do you have any thoughts on President Jonathan’s decision?
MS. PSAKI: We have seen that. And they also classified Ansaru – I’m sorry – as terrorist organization as well. As the Secretary of State recently said, the United States condemns Boko Haram’s campaign of terror in the strongest terms. We urge Nigeria’s security forces to apply disciplined use of force in all operations, protect civilians in any security response, and respect human rights and rule of law. We respect, of course, the decision by Nigerian authorities. As you know, we have designated individuals in Boko Haram as specially designated global terrorists. Beyond that, I don’t have any comment on further deliberations.
QUESTION: Can I ask one more on --
MS. PSAKI: Oh. Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: -- may I just go to Egypt briefly?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Yesterday there was a question from one of colleagues about the Ethiopian river dam. And I did see the statement that you put out just before we came down. But also at the same time, one of the advisors to President Morsy has borrowed a line from the U.S. briefing book, saying that all options remain open if the water supply is damaged in any way by the Ethiopians. How would you characterize that comment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve been encouraging – as many people have been – continued cooperation between the Egyptian and the Ethiopians and efforts to do that in this case. I don’t want to characterize the comment beyond that, but obviously our focus is on encouraging that and not rhetoric that would discourage it.
QUESTION: But it does seem – yeah. I mean does it seem – there’s an implicit threat there, that if something happens to Egyptians’ water supply the Egyptians could retaliate in some way against Ethiopia. I mean, there’s enough kind of crisis going on in the world. Presumably, the idea would be to try and calm this situation down.
MS. PSAKI: Of course, but our – what we’ve seen on the ground is that both sides are working together to resolve this, so we encourage that to continue and we’re hopeful that it will.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:12 p.m.)