The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.
1:23 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hello, everyone. Deb, welcome to the briefing room. Under some excellent tutelage here. We’ll see. I’ll tell you at the end of the briefing.
I don’t have anything at the top. I know there’s a lot out there in the news today, so let’s start first with what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: Let’s – can we start with Syria and the Secretary? And there are all sorts of reports out there that he postponed a trip to the Middle East because he wanted to be in Washington for meetings on Syria, that these meetings could possibly lead to a decision to arm the rebels. Are those accurate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, you are correct that the Secretary will be in Washington this week. He had planned a trip that was widely reported, across the region. As the Secretary of State, he needs to balance, of course, foreign travel and foreign diplomacy and that part of his job – which, as we all know, he does quite a bit of – with the need to be here in Washington from time to time, of course, advising the President and working with the national security team.
In terms of meetings that he’s attending, there’s a wide range. There are routine meetings, as the White House often has, as the Secretary often participates in, but I’m not going to get ahead of what will or won’t be discussed or what certainly would come out of any of those.
MS. PSAKI: Well, at the President’s direction, his national security team continues to consider all option – all possible options that would accomplish our objective of helping the Syrian opposition serve the essential needs of the Syrian people and hasten a political transition, which we talk quite a bit about. And a wide range of options have been prepared for the President’s consideration, and internal meetings to discuss the situation, which, of course, are routine, which are ongoing throughout last week, weeks ahead, of course.
So in terms of what they’ll be – I don’t want to get – I have nothing to announce for you. But we continue to look for ways, the President continues to look for ways, to help the opposition and increase aid, as we’ve talked about, and something we’re encouraging our allies around the world to do as well.
QUESTION: All right. So, I just – I’ll stop after this, but is it now all options, or is it still all options but one?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President has talked about how boots on the ground is not an option, as has the Secretary.
QUESTION: So it’s not all options.
MS. PSAKI: So all options, barring that.
QUESTION: Short of that?
MS. PSAKI: Short of that, correct.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Is it the case that among the meetings, whether routine or not, that he is – or you say they’re routine, but are the meetings that he is staying in town to attend, do they include meetings on Syria?
MS. PSAKI: There are some on Syria, but I’m not going to discuss internal meetings. There’s a wide range of meetings that the Secretary is involved in and will be involved in in the coming days. And again, there’s been a long conversation about how to continue to aid the opposition and what we can do to strengthen their position on the ground while also planning a political transition. Many of these options have been discussed, and they will continue to be.
QUESTION: And does one of those – just – sorry, one more for me on this. Does – do those options include not – well, if it’s all options but the one that Matt cited, then it would be fair to say that those options do include the possibility of the United States shifting its policy so as to potentially provide arms to the rebels?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s long been included as part of the options, so the one that is not included is the one Matt referenced about no boots on the ground, which the President and the Secretary have both spoken to.
QUESTION: Jen, can I just make sure I heard? When you said – at about two minutes in, you said a wide range of options or a wider range of options?
MS. PSAKI: A wide range of options.
QUESTION: Wide, okay. Now also we do have this situation of big setbacks for the opposition fighters. You have the influx of foreign fighters coming in on the side. Do you have – what is the level of concern about all of those? I know we’ve talked about it, but now it seems to be reaching critical mass.
And also, do you have any numbers on the actual numbers of foreign fighters coming from these different countries, including Europe and the United States?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any numbers on foreign fighters. I can say that we do share, of course, the opposition’s deep concerns over the ground situation in Syria. Just this past weekend, there was an abhorrent massacre of at least 100 people fleeing Qusayr, including civilians. It’s heavy shelling clashes in the north, especially in the Aleppo suburbs, and the intense preparations for a siege on the city of Aleppo only reaffirms the urgent need for the international community to focus its efforts on doing all we can do to support the opposition as it works to change the balance on the ground.
QUESTION: What influence did those events on the ground have in the timing for the talks this week about whether it’s time to arm the rebels or not?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would caution all of you in overemphasizing or over-reading into what routine meetings mean. These issues are often discussed. It’s been the same issues on the table. Again --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) canceled a trip for every – for routine meetings?
MS. PSAKI: He postponed a trip that he knows that he can go on at a later date, probably soon, and I’m sure that he will. So – but to answer your larger point, question here that you’re raising, we still are focused, of course, on the parallel process. We are continuing to work with our counterparts on planning for Geneva 2. But the political process, of course, cannot occur in a vacuum. And as we’ve heard firsthand from General Idris over the weekend, conditions on the ground have worsened, and that is greatly concerning. And the bloodshed and the loss of innocent lives has grown worse. The increase of foreign fighters has led to a greater concern about sectarian violence. So we are taking a closer look at what we can continue to do to help the opposition.
QUESTION: Can’t you – I mean, you said you heard that from General Idris over the weekend, but did you not notice that Qusayr fell last week?
MS. PSAKI: Of course, but I was just reiterating what we all heard. General Idris, who is the commander on the ground, of course, and has some – quite a bit of reputability, well deserved, so I was just reiterating that point.
QUESTION: What is General Idris telling you about the battle that seems to be shaping up now to retake Aleppo from the opposition forces?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we – I’m not going to read out private conversations. But of course, we’ve seen, and we’ve seen the regime say, that they are pursuing, of course, the areas around Aleppo. I will tell you that Acting Assistant Secretary Beth Jones spoke with General Idris. She was the person who was in touch with him and received an update on what’s happening on the ground. And we will remain in touch.
QUESTION: When did she speak to him, what day?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure of that. I’m happy to check on the exact timing of that.
QUESTION: Can you let us know?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely.
QUESTION: Do you have any confirmation also about a report that came out from the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights that a 15-year-old boy yesterday was executed by Islamist gunmen who accused him of blasphemy?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any independent confirmation of that. We would, of course, condemn that type of abhorrent behavior in the strongest terms.
QUESTION: I mean this speaks to your fears that the whole situation is now just disintegrated more and more into a kind of sectarian fight, wouldn’t it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have been very long concerned about the increase in sectarian violence, and the influx of foreign fighters has only heightened that. And that is why we are so focused on continuing to take a close look at how we can help the opposition.
QUESTION: So you call these meetings routine, but these meetings have nothing to do with your great concern about the worsening situation on the ground?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, they – there are frequent meetings about Syria. This is an issue that is on the minds of the President and the Secretary of State and every member of the national security team. And there are often discussions about it, and --
QUESTION: Is it more pressing now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I referenced how pressing the situation is, certainly with the increase in violence. That is greatly concerning to all of us.
QUESTION: Jen, do you have an update on the Geneva 2 initiative, if there was anything happening?
MS. PSAKI: Just to say that we remain focused on planning and continuing to work with our counterparts. As you know, the next official meeting with the Russians and with the UN will be on June 25th. There are, as always, conversations that happen in between those meetings. But again, the political process can’t happen in a vacuum, so we are taking a closer look at what we can do on the ground to help the opposition.
QUESTION: Jen, can you help us understand what the Secretary achieves by being here rather than closer to the situation in the region? Is he in contact with other counterparts here that he wouldn’t be able to --
MS. PSAKI: Closer to the Syria situation or --
QUESTION: To the Middle East and the concern right now. Syria specifically, yes.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But what can – does he achieve by staying in Washington, and who has he been in contact with – other counterparts, foreign ministers and the like?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he is in frequent contact with other foreign ministers. I don’t have any update of recent calls over the last 24 hours, but as you know, he is frequently on the phone, often day and night.
In terms of the region, I just would want to separate them out slightly because his planned trip was focused on continuing the efforts on Middle East peace, which he remains focused on. He can do both at the same time. And we will have that trip soon, in the short term. But this is a balance, and this is a challenge every Secretary of State – and I venture, on a different scale, the President – has in balancing when they need to be where, and he made a judgment he wanted to be in Washington for the first couple days of this week.
QUESTION: You – okay, because when you started you said the Secretary will be in Washington this week. Now you say the first of couple of days?
MS. PSAKI: I think I said the early part of this – I don’t have anything specific for you on when our planned travel ends so – was – so I didn’t mean to parse it in a confusing way. I don’t have any update on when the trip will be postponed to.
QUESTION: But it’s conceivable he could go somewhere else later in the week?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any planned travel, so it’s – we will reschedule or postpone the trip, but I don’t have any update as to when that is. I wasn’t trying to be confusing.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary speak with Hague this morning?
MS. PSAKI: He did. He was unable to come for his own reasons.
QUESTION: Well, no, no – well, I understand that, but didn’t he – but they did have a conversation?
MS. PSAKI: He did. He did. That was scheduled, to speak with him.
QUESTION: Presumably, it was largely about Syria.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have the specific readout of it. I’m happy to get that to all of you. That was a long-planned bilateral meeting where I’m sure a number of issues would be discussed, including Syria, but I don’t have any readout on what they did discuss.
QUESTION: Do we need to – just going back a bit to last week and the previous weeks, Secretary Kerry has said that he now needs the Israelis and the Palestinians to make the tough decisions needed to get back to the negotiating table. Last week in a speech before the American Jewish Committee, he said that the chances are running out now. Is this – the fact that he’s postponed this visit, does that mean that he hasn’t had those assurances from the Israelis and the Palestinians that they’re ready to make these commitments?
MS. PSAKI: No, I would not link the two. He made the decision because he wanted to be here in Washington, and he is looking forward to doing that trip in the short term. I just don’t have a specific date on when that will be.
QUESTION: So just back to the point – so there have been in the past – he has been traveling when there have been these routine meetings about Syria and other national security issues, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: So he made a decision that he thought it was important enough for him to stay in town for this meeting. So I’m not sure exactly why you’re saying – insisting that it’s routine when --
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I would --
QUESTION: -- it’s clearly not routine because if it was routine, he would feel comfortable being away.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, what I was implying was that it’s not that there is a checkbox that you say if these five criteria are here, I’ll stay in Washington; if these five are here, I’ll travel. It’s a judgment call made by every Secretary probably back to the invention of airplanes, and that’s one he made.
QUESTION: So there are not five boxes; there might be three?
MS. PSAKI: There may be – could be three to five.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a specific number for you.
QUESTION: But is it fair to say that it is routine, the meeting? I mean, do you think that’s – I know that there have been many, many, many, many meetings on Syria, but are the ones this week – are you absolutely convinced that the ones this week are indeed routine?
MS. PSAKI: I am.
QUESTION: Well said. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Which is --
QUESTION: Her definition of routine is something different.
MS. PSAKI: Syria?
QUESTION: Yeah, Syria. The – Al Mayadeen TV is reporting that the Syrian Government wants to move elections up to later this year. What’s your position on those elections?
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen those reports, so I can’t speak to them, but I’m happy to look into that following the briefing. It sounds like something that just came out before.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Jen, when you mentioned --
MS. PSAKI: This is my first briefing with you.
QUESTION: My building pass still works amazingly, so – (laughter) --
QUESTION: Well, have you tried to leave? (laughter) --
QUESTION: You mentioned earlier that the U.S. shares the Syrian opposition’s deep concerns over the status on the ground, and you mentioned specific areas on the ground that are occasioning this deep concern. When Ambassador Ford testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 20, he was explicit in testifying that the military position for the Syrian Government had been worsening, at least as of that time that he testified.
What is your overall sense for the military position of the Assad government now? Is it still worsening or is it, in fact, improving?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a few things wrapped up in there, so let me try to untangle them. Well, that first testimony was, it sounds like, three and a half months ago or so, and obviously, events happen on the ground rapidly, especially in crises like these. We’ve talked a little bit over the past couple of weeks or days – it all runs together – about the influx of foreign fighters and how they have come in, and they have dramatically helped the Assad regime. They have had a large impact both in their success in Qusayr and other parts of the state – of the country that we’ve been discussing recently.
So when I say that we are concerned about events on the ground, and things have worsened on the ground, we’re talking about the massacres that have happened at the hands of the Assad regime and the foreign fighters and the influx of help from Iran and others, and that has certainly helped them. So there’s no question that that has been an adjustment in the ground – what’s happening on the ground.
QUESTION: And is it still accurate to say that President Assad’s days are numbered if his situation is, in fact, improving? Is that still an operative statement?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe I talked about a couple of parallel courses that we remain focused on. One, which has been a development since that testimony, of course, is working with the Russians and the UN to plan a political transition or, I should say, a conference to discuss a political transition. And also, which we’ve talked about already a little bit today, is continuing to look at ways we can help the opposition on the ground. That’s something that the President will make decisions on. All options aside from boots on the ground is on the table. That will – that is a big focus of the Administration’s.
QUESTION: But you would agree, wouldn’t you, that the pursuit of any of these alternate courses that you’re describing becomes harder in each and every case if President Assad’s military position is improving, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s exactly why we are focused on taking a look at how we can help the opposition and doing what we can to change the situation on the ground.
QUESTION: Excuse me, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You’ve often said – your predecessors and the Secretary himself have said that Assad’s days are numbered, as James just mentioned. Is it still the Department’s belief that President Assad’s days are numbered?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, we believe that we can work with our international allies, we can help strengthen the opposition, that the massacres and the horrific acts of the regime are not and will not be accepted by the international community. We know this won’t be easy, never thought it would be easy, but that’s why we’re working on multiple tracks and why we’re so focused on this day in and day out.
QUESTION: Jen, could you just give us a little more detail? You gave us some specifics there about a massacre, about a hundred people fleeing Qusayr and also a siege on Aleppo. What is the characteristic common among those being targeted? I mean, do you have anything more about why that group of 100 was massacred – their affiliation, their religious group, anything?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specifics for that. The vast majority of massacres that have been – happened at the hands of the Assad regime have not been targeted. They’ve been – thousands of innocent women and children and civilians have died, but I don’t have anything more specific on those 100 individuals.
QUESTION: American Administration is considering resettling Syrian refugees to the U.S. Do you have any details about this plan?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let me speak to that. Well, let me first say the preferred solution for the vast majority of refugees is to return home once it is safe. We are in close contact with the UN on the need for resettlement of refugees from countries of first asylum throughout the world. The United States accepts more UN-referred refugees than all other countries combined, and we are aware, and we would – and the UN is aware that the U.S. would consider any individuals referred to us to have been determined to be in need of resettlement. So we are prepared to respond if asked, and will encourage other resettlement countries to do the same.
QUESTION: What’s the number that you are ready to resettle?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it doesn’t work exactly that way. There’s a cap by Congress of about 70,000 refugees in total. So the way it would work would be if a specific country is added to the list of refugees where we would accept their refugees, which the U.S. is certainly open to – but let me just reiterate that the preferred solution for the vast majority is to return to their country once it’s safe.
QUESTION: Are you aware if UNHCR has referred anybody to any country?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that kind of an update for you.
QUESTION: I mean, has it --
MS. PSAKI: I’d refer you to them.
QUESTION: Okay. But you don’t know?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, many countries in the region have accepted tens of thousands of refugees --
QUESTION: Well, but that’s for temporary --
MS. PSAKI: -- across the border for temporary --
QUESTION: Right. No, this is for --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on the exact status in that regard.
QUESTION: Jen, the Secretary General of OIC, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, was in town last weekend.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: He met some top Administration officials. And his office confirmed that he asked no-fly zone from the Administration. So can I have a comment on this? What is your --
MS. PSAKI: I would just reiterate that for the President and for the Administration, we continue to focus on looking at all options aside from boots on the ground and evaluating those. But I’m not going to parse individual options that are thrown out there.
QUESTION: But how much is the stand of the Islamic countries is significant for you on this issue?
MS. PSAKI: Of course we weigh the input of countries in the region, of our different international partners, very heavily. But I’m not going to parse internal deliberations on any of these issues.
QUESTION: He’s going to Russia to meet some Russians officials. Are you expecting something from his meetings in Russia?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to him and to the Russians on that question.
QUESTION: But the meetings on Syria at the White House, have they started today? Or when is Secretary Kerry’s first meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to specify exactly when meetings may or may not be routine meetings, as I’ve said a few times. But I would say it’s safe to say over the next couple of days, he’ll have meetings about a range of issues.
QUESTION: Can we expect any big decision from these routine meetings? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: I have nothing – I have no announcements to make, and I --
QUESTION: How about any routine decisions? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: I have nothing new or nothing to predict for you.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Very basic question about Syria --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, there you are in the back.
QUESTION: Sorry, I’m way in the back. As you consider ways to help the opposition – I just have a very basic question – does this Administration want the rebels to win?
MS. PSAKI: Of course we want the opposition to win. Of course we want the terror of the Assad regime and the actions they’ve taken against tens of thousands of civilians to end. We want the bloodshed to end, and we think a political transition is the best step toward doing that. But we’re going to remain focused on our dual path.
QUESTION: If you – last week, I think I’d asked you if the Administration felt it should have done more to prevent the fall of Qusayr. Does the Administration believe it is in its interest to try to help – I mean, you just said you want the opposition to win. Does the Administration believe it is in its interest to try to help the opposition fighters keep ground?
MS. PSAKI: Keep ground, in terms of --
QUESTION: Yes, hold onto ground that they’ve seized from government forces that the government is then seeking to retake.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Arshad, given that I did express extensive concern for the events on the ground, and the massacres that have taken place, and the actions of the regime, and the fact that we are taking a closer look at what we can do to help the opposition, I think that answers that question.
QUESTION: But it doesn’t, actually. I mean, does – do you believe – I mean, can you not simply then say, “Yes, we do believe that it is important for the U.S. Government to try to help the opposition keep ground that it has seized from the government forces”?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly want to continue to help the opposition and take a close look at what we can do to help the Opposition --
QUESTION: So, again, not a --
MS. PSAKI: -- to make gains and to continue to hold the parts that they are holding, yes.
QUESTION: Great. And how about to extend their hold on ground?
MS. PSAKI: I think across the board we want to help the opposition, and we are very focused on what’s happening on the ground right now.
QUESTION: Why didn’t you do more to prevent the fall of Qusayr, which is widely regarded – which is a strategic town in terms of lots of flows, given its space? Why, if you do believe – well, you just said the U.S. Government believes that it should help the opposition keep ground and help the opposition extend ground, why didn’t you do more to prevent the fall of that town?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, I know this isn’t an answer you’re going to love, but there’s no real benefit in looking in a rearview mirror. This was a specific case where, as we know and as we’ve seen reports, Hezbollah and their influx of fighters there and help from Iran had a dramatic impact on helping the regime. And as we looked at the scenario that was unfolding, this was a case where that helped the regime. And also, as we talked about a little last week, one of the largest issues we were concerned about as it was unfolding is – were the hundreds, if not more, of civilians who were stuck there, who were not getting aid, and the inability of humanitarian aid to go in.
So all I can say is that we have provided and we have continued to increase our assistance over time. As you know, we’re at 250 in nonlethal – 250 million, I should say – in nonlethal assistance, over 500 million in humanitarian aid. The next tranche of nonlethal assistance, which we’re going to be notifying Congress on in the short term, a portion of that is what the Secretary talked about in Istanbul that will go directly to the SMC and to General Idris. We’ve obviously been in touch with him to get a ground update, and we’re focused on moving forward.
QUESTION: When – just to follow up on that, you don’t, I hope, simply look at things through a rearview mirror. The battle for Qusayr extended over more than days. You were aware that it was going on, you were aware and said from the podium that Hezbollah fighters were on the ground and fighting on the side of the government forces, so my question is: Why, at that time, when you had real-time intelligence about the fact that the government forces were getting reinforced, and given that the U.S. Government believes it should help the opposition to keep and take back ground, did the U.S. Government judge that it was not – that it should not have done so in that case? Why didn’t you do more back then?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything more for you on it.
QUESTION: Can I get to a broader point here?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Have you ever driven a car?
MS. PSAKI: Have I personally driven a car? I have.
QUESTION: Then you know that there actually is benefit to looking in rearview mirror, at least in that specific --
MS. PSAKI: Fair analogy.
QUESTION: And also, you’re familiar with – in terms of policy, expressions like “Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to” – “the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.”
MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve spoken a lot about what we’ve learned from the past. I was talking about --
QUESTION: Okay. No, no --
MS. PSAKI: -- this specific case.
QUESTION: Well, I understand, but I just want to – but surely you do look back on recent developments and use those – use that to determine how you’re going to forward, right?
MS. PSAKI: Of course, Matt. Of course.
QUESTION: Okay, well then what’s --
MS. PSAKI: And I didn’t --
QUESTION: Then I don’t understand why you’re so adamant against answering --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think he’s asking me to analyze one specific part of Syria, and one specific couple days of events that happened. More broadly, of course – and I said this at the top – the influx of foreign fighters, the role Hezbollah has played, what we’re seeing on the ground is, of course, part of our determination in taking a closer look about what we can do more. And that’s part of your decision-making always, and is certainly part of the government’s decision-making.
QUESTION: So how does the capture of Qusayr, then, given that we now know that Aleppo is next in the target sights of the Assad forces, how does that picture into your thinking going forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I can’t take a specific incident, as tragic and terrible as it was, and tell you how exactly it’s going to determine a decision, or any other decisions. I can say broadly that we do, of course, take a look at events like this and the influx of Hezbollah, foreign fighters, the impact that had on helping the regime. We do talk to, of course, leaders – military leaders like General Idris and hear about what’s happening on the ground. And that is, of course, factored into any thinking and discussion as we move forward.
QUESTION: Okay. So just to put a very fine point on this, the fall of Qusayr is – will inform your – the Administration’s decision-making as it relates to going forward and specifically to Aleppo.
MS. PSAKI: I would say any tragic events, any tragic cases – that is certainly the recent one – where Hezbollah and their role had a prominent place is something that certainly is part of the discussion.
QUESTION: To what extent the Administration is ready to listen to General Idris call for arming the opposition and for helping the opposition?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, the Acting Assistant Secretary Jones spoke with General Idris and listened to him and what he had to say, and beyond that I’m not going to parse out internal discussions or deliberations.
QUESTION: Jen, would it be fair to say that Secretary Kerry and this building have had some diplomatic success in encouraging some of our partners to also support the SMC and to provide some lethal – some nonlethal support through those channels that we believe are moderate and worthy of supporting? Has there been a shift?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point you to – I don’t want to speak for other countries and why they make decisions they make, but certainly – well, if we go back to Istanbul, part of the result and positive outcome of those meetings was an agreement by the participating countries that they would send aid through the SMC, and that, we felt, was a very positive development. We’re going to be doing that, and we are hopeful other countries will be doing that. And that’s something the Secretary certainly does discuss frequently when he talks to his counterparts.
QUESTION: So he has seen the follow-through to those pledges that he would like?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I don’t have anything – any updates on other countries. I can tell you what we’re doing, but that was an agreement made and something that they all felt strongly as being the next – the appropriate path forward.
QUESTION: Forgive me if this came up on Friday when I was off, but General Idris was quoted in a New York Times story as saying that if he didn’t get arms, the opposition wasn’t going to come to Geneva 2. If it did not come up on Friday, what do you think about that stance?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point back to what I’ve already said here, which is that we are continuing to plan and discuss with our counterparts Geneva 2. Obviously, the opposition is a key component of that. We have been in touch with General Idris and we’re continuing to look at how to continue to help the opposition. But we’re working on both parallel paths at the same time.
QUESTION: Do you take him at his word that the opposition will not come if it does not get arms?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t want to parse what he said and what it means, and I would encourage you to speak with him.
QUESTION: Do you think he’s playing hardball with you?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to characterize it one way or the other. Obviously, the Secretary has a great deal of respect for him and the hard work that he’s been doing, and we’ve been in touch with him and we listen closely to what he has to say. And that’s one of the reasons that the next tranche of aid will go through the SMC and why we’re continuing to look at options.
QUESTION: Was --
QUESTION: Different subject?
QUESTION: Well, did the --
MS. PSAKI: Well, let’s finish Syria just to make sure.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary think that was a helpful comment on General Idris’s part, to his effort to convene Geneva 2?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think the Secretary is under no illusion that this is easy. He said that himself before and I’ll say it on his behalf, and is not – I don’t think any of us are surprised that it has been a journey to move toward the conference and to move toward getting that done, and he just remains focused on it. So we’ll continue to have discussions.
QUESTION: And one last question from me on the timing: As you know, the month of Ramadan will begin in – I think it’s in the second week of July – maybe the 9th. Is it conceivable to you that the Geneva 2 conference could be held during that month, during that period?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we said last week that our target was now July. I don’t have any updates on the timing or dates or anything along those lines. Obviously, there are many participating countries, and I’m sure we’ll take scheduling needs into account.
QUESTION: Jen, a technical question about nonlethal aids: Are you trying to find new ways to deliver these nonlethal aids to opposition parties in Syria, I mean, to some safe zone within Syria maybe? Or will you transfer again this nonlethal assistance through Turkey?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not sure if that’s actually an accurate depiction of what’s happening. There’s been some cases where humanitarian aid, it’s been difficult to get it through. That’s absolutely true and we work with the International Red Cross and other partners to do that.
In terms of nonlethal assistance, and we talked about this a bit last week, the 127 that is in train, that has gone through – a large amount of it has gone through the ACU, the coordinating body, and it does go for different purposes and different needs on the ground. The ACU is underneath the SOC. So that continues to be how we transmit that aid. And the next tranche, part of that will be through the SMC, so – but we’re not quite there yet.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, we can.
QUESTION: I just have a couple things, and I realize you can’t talk in specifics, but maybe in generalities. This has to do with Hong Kong and the extradition treaty. Do you know – I mean it seems as though this treaty has been used often since it came into force in ’98. Do you have specifics on the numbers of how many people have gone in each direction, and whether there have been any denials of extradition?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have specific numbers or that level of detail. To your larger point, which is – we do have, and some have asked me this, an extradition agreement in force with Hong Kong, which a number of people have asked. But I don’t have any specifics on how many times we’ve used it or anything along those lines.
QUESTION: Okay. Is it possible to find out? I’m less interested in how many times it’s been used than how many times it may have been one side has asked for extradition and that has been denied.
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we can look into what information is available.
QUESTION: And then just on the other thing: That treaty was negotiated by this building and Secretary Albright at the time very carefully so that people could not be – or would not be forced to – would not be extradited for political offenses.
Does this building or does anyone in this building find it somewhat ironic that we’re currently looking at a situation where someone is potentially going to be using this – be using an argument for – on political prosecution to avoid being returned to the United States? Because when it was negotiated, that was never envisioned. It was always the idea that the U.S. could refuse to return someone to – or send someone to Hong Kong for political reasons there. Has this raised any eyebrows in the building?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, given that I’m not going to comment on whether we’ve asked for extradition or will do so in the future --
QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking that.
MS. PSAKI: -- I’m not going to speculate on that. I can give you a little history, of course, here.
QUESTION: I just wonder if there’s anyone in the Legal Adviser’s office who is sick to their stomach or something – feeling some kind of strange emotions about the fact that it is – that the United States is now in a position – the Administration is now in a position where it could be accused of pursuing politically motivated prosecutions, especially from – when it involves a part of the People’s Republic of China.
MS. PSAKI: Again, not that I’m aware of, Matt.
QUESTION: No? Okay.
MS. PSAKI: But I’m not going to speculate on whether we’re going to use it or not. Just to tell you that we do have an extradition treaty with Hong Kong.
QUESTION: You were just about to give us some history. That would be –
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure.
QUESTION: Give me the rearview mirror, as it were.
MS. PSAKI: Through the rearview mirror.
QUESTION: Yes, yes.
QUESTION: What if it’s no value to them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it was established – the extradition agreement with Hong Kong was signed in 1996 and entered into force in 1998. It is still in force, and we’ve actively used it over the years. I don’t have numbers to Matt’s earlier question. It is called the agreement – the U.S. has an extradition agreement with Hong Kong. It is called the Agreement Between the Government of the United States and the Government of Hong Kong for the Surrender of Fugitive Offenders. Beyond that, I think that’s the extent of my history, but a little for all of you.
QUESTION: Can you just give us any sense of how these recent developments involving Mr. Snowden have impacted this Department or created work for any particular bureaus? I mean, is there any involvement of the State Department at all in this case right now?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speculate on all of that or read all of that out to you here today.
QUESTION: Do you share the view expressed by other spokesmen and other Administration officials that this disclosure was seriously damaging to U.S. national security?
MS. PSAKI: Again, this has been extensively spoken to by the Department of Justice, by ODNI. They have put out a number of statements. I would point all of you to those.
QUESTION: American diplomats though also impacted?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not aware of discussions at this point or demarches from governments. Of course, we always listen to our counterparts and are in close contact about a range of issues.
QUESTION: Have you talked to the Chinese Government or the Hong Kong Administration on the extradition issues?
MS. PSAKI: I just have nothing more on the extradition question for all of you. Just that we have a treaty.
QUESTION: In general on this treaty, do you communicate with the Chinese Government or the Hong Kong Administration?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I just don’t have anything further you on it.
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think I spoke to this a little bit, in that I’m not aware of any discussions at a very high level or demarches from other governments. Broadly speaking – and maybe this will answer your question – these programs – and the President has spoken extensively to this, as have ODNI and others – but are used to obtain information on persons who would do harm. That information is used to protect human lives both here and abroad, not just in the United States. And these programs are designed and implemented in a manner consistent with a nation’s rule of law based democratic system of government that respects individual civil liberties while providing security to its people. And they’re also tailored to ensure that information is collected, utilized – and utilized as needed and that intrusions into privacy are minimized. So that’s just a broad overview of, of course, what they do and what has been, of course, communicated.
QUESTION: Was Secretary Kerry aware of the existence of this program prior to The Guardian report?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything for you on that.
QUESTION: Who informed him of this report? Do you know how he learned about it?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything for you on that either.
QUESTION: Madam, ask you about Korea. Last week --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Korea?
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Last week I asked you a question about inter-Korean talks. You gave me some comments. I appreciate that. But there was new development in Korea over the weekend, the two Koreas agreed toward minister-level talks. So I’m wondering if you have an updated statement on that.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, our understanding is that there was an agreement to – these were preliminary talks over the weekend and they have indicated plans to meet again in Seoul. We welcome news that South Korea and North Korea have agreed to talks on the Kaesong industrial complex and other issues. We support and have always supported improved inter-Korean relations and will continue our close coordination with our allies and partners in the region and, of course, monitor this closely.
QUESTION: Jen, so do you still think it is premature to talk about dialogue between the United States and North Korea?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s a slightly separate issue. We have long made clear that we are open to improved relationships – relations with North Korea if it is willing to make clear actions to live up to its international obligations and commitments. And we continue to seek credible and authentic negotiations that lead to concrete steps toward denuclearization and that result in an enduring reduction in tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
QUESTION: One final.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Just one more. South Korea’s Deputy Foreign Minister – his name is Kim Kyou-hyun – is in Washington, DC. So do you have – I think you may have a readout of his meetings with State Department officials?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. I believe – are you referring to the meeting with Deputy Secretary Burns?
MS. PSAKI: They discussed a range of bilateral, regional, and global security issues. This is a part of our ongoing consultations with South Korea. And that’s what I have for you.
QUESTION: Different subject.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, the Department of State employs more than 70,000 dedicated men and women serving in some of the most challenging environments working on behalf of the American people at 275 posts around the world. We hold all employees to the highest standards. We take allegations of misconduct seriously and we investigate thoroughly. All cases mentioned in the CBS report were thoroughly investigated or under investigation, and the Department continues to take action.
Finally, the Department has responded to the recommendations in the OIG report regarding the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence. Diplomatic Security has taken the further step of requesting an additional review by outside experienced law enforcement officers on top of the OIG inspection so that officers with law enforcement experience can make expert assessments about our current procedures.
QUESTION: Okay. There was a lot in there. And let me see if I can untangle it --
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Let’s see. We can go back and forth untangling.
QUESTION: -- to borrow a phrase. You stated at one point early in your answer just now that all cases mentioned in the CBS News report were thoroughly investigated but that the State Department continues to take action on them. Did I understand you correctly?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. I did not mean to imply they were – the investigations were completed. Some are in process.
QUESTION: And when you talk about those cases being in process or in progress and action continuing to be taken on them, is that separate from the hiring of outside personnel that you also just referenced?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not a hiring. It’s – it would be an investigation being done by the Inspector General’s Office working with outside law enforcement officers. So I would refer you them for any more specifics on that or how that would work. That’s a decision, of course, they make.
QUESTION: So you don’t have any further details you can share about who these outside investigators are or what they’re expected to accomplish?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the IG’s Office, which is as you know is independent, would be conducting this investigation, something we thoroughly support. But for any questions about that, I would naturally refer you to them.
QUESTION: So when you say that not all of these cases have been completed, some are still in progress, and that the State Department continues to take action, you’re saying that those pending cases are unfolding underneath the aegis of the State Department, not with respect to OIG?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. And there would be taking a look – and again, I don’t want to parse what their investigation is for them – but looking into current procedures, which is something that we fully support them doing.
QUESTION: As you know, one of the allegations in this story concerns a United States Ambassador who is still in that post said to have engaged in inappropriate conduct with minors as well as prostitutes. And I think you could understand the concerns that all Americans would have if one of our top diplomats overseas were engaged in that kind of activity and what that would do for the United States image abroad if credible allegations to that effect were, in essence, covered up. Can you assure the American people that no U.S. Ambassadors are engaged in that kind of inappropriate conduct, or that where there have been such credible allegations they have been fully investigated?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, I can confirm they would be fully investigated. I’m not going to talk about specific cases, but I can say broadly that the notion that we would not vigorously pursue criminal misconduct in a case – in any case is preposterous. And we’ve put individuals behind bars for criminal behavior. There is record of that. Ambassadors would be no exception. But of course, we would be – we are conducting investigations of all of these cases, and I don’t have anything further to speak to the process or status or anything along those lines.
QUESTION: Can I just – I want to clarify something, because there seem to be three different things going on here. One is the memo that the story reports on, which has to do with Diplomatic Security special investigations. You’re saying – and you said in answer to James’ question – all the cases that were mentioned in that story, which presumably is most of the ones or at least those are ones that are in this document, this memo, have either been investigated and they’re over or they’re still in the process of being investigated by DS.
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, secondly, you have an IG report or audit or inspection of the investigatory department, that – of all of DS, I guess, but including that agency or that branch of it, which said that there is the perception, at least among some in DS, that investigations have been or can be influenced. Are you aware – because the IG report doesn’t actually come out and say that there has been any of this undue influence or improper influence. Is that still the case?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t – am I aware personally? No.
QUESTION: Well, is the building – does the building think that this is a significant enough concern that the procedures should be changed, or is this something that is purely going to be done by the third strand of this, which is this outside review of the DS chain-of-command or the DS process?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me see if I can explain this a little further. In the memo – there was an original memo that CBS was referring – there’s another IG memo that is public from February. And one of the issues that was raised in there was the lack of a firewall, which is what you’re referring to, I believe, if I’m understanding your question. And we have disputed this finding in a number of engagements with the OIG. The Department would never condone any undue influence on any report or investigation. But again, we took the extra precaution of asking – or I should say DS did – of asking or supporting – IG makes their own decisions – an investigation to look into the processes. And that’s what they’re doing so.
QUESTION: Okay. So in fact, there was a response to the OIG report, which said that there was this potential problem in the way that the structure in DS – that’s the process – there was a potential problem with the way it was structured and the investigatory process. And you said no, you don’t think that there is, but we’re going to go and bring in these outside people to look at it to make sure; is that --
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. And when was that outside – there was some suggestion that it was as a result of questions being asked about this that the outside investigation or the outside review was commissioned. How long ago was that?
MS. PSAKI: No, I can’t – I don't know the exact timing, but I can assure you it was long before we were contacted by CBS.
QUESTION: Can I – there’s something I don’t understand here, Jen. First of all, the outside people who are being brought in, they’re --
MS. PSAKI: And just to be clear, sorry to interrupt you --
MS. PSAKI: -- they’re not being brought in here.
MS. PSAKI: This is an independent IG process.
QUESTION: Right, so that’s the first thing I want to understand. So in other words, the State Department Inspector General has made a decision to bring in outside people to look into that issue?
MS. PSAKI: The process, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The process, good.
MS. PSAKI: And procedures, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Second, it’s not clear to me, and maybe you said it precisely, but I thought I heard it both ways – are those outside people who are being brought in by the IG to look at the process – are they current law enforcement officials, or are they people simply with law enforcement backgrounds?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of detail. Experienced law enforcement officials – the IG would be able to – office would be able to define them more clearly for you.
QUESTION: Since you mentioned it, though, I think it’s an important distinction to make, and ideally for you to clarify. Because if they are law enforcement officers working for another agency, right, like the Department of Justice or the FBI, whose jobs it is to investigate criminal malfeasance, then --
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I don’t want you to combine a DOJ or FBI investigation with this independent IG investigation.
QUESTION: But that’s exactly why I’m asking, because if you’re not explaining who these people are – and I’m not looking for details, but I do think it’s important to understand whether these are people who have brought in – been brought in from other arms of the government whose job it is to investigate alleged malfeasance, or whether it – I don't know, there may be consultants, there are lots of them that exist, that happen to have had law enforcement background, but are independent consultants who don’t work for the U.S. Government formally now.
So can you clarify that one point for us?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I don’t have that level of detail, but I also just want to be very clear: I’m not suggesting that the IG is uniting with DOJ or the FBI. We would refer any criminal case, of course, to DOJ, as would be standard. But this is not that. So --
QUESTION: Okay. I think it’s important to understand, are these contractors with law enforcement experience, or are these law enforcement officials who have been brought over by the Inspector General? So if you can clarify that for all of us, I would appreciate it.
MS. PSAKI: Again, the IG’s office is the best place, but I understand your need for clarification.
QUESTION: Well, I’m confused now. Is the IG office – whose process are these outside investigators looking at? DS’s, right?
MS. PSAKI: The OIG, the Office of the Inspector General, is working with law enforcement.
QUESTION: The IG has hired these outside people to come in and look, or whatever?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have the level of detail of how they’re working together.
QUESTION: It’s the IG and not DS that’s done that?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: All right. DS prides itself on being a federal law enforcement department. How is it that they can’t figure out what the proper way to structure these things is?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they’ve also – they’re also conducting investigations, as would be standard in any case of misconduct, on these cases as well. So this is just a separate investigation by an independent body looking into the processes, something we fully support.
QUESTION: Do you know, of the cases mentioned in the memo or the CBS report, how many have been resolved --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t, and I also would --
QUESTION: -- and how many are still under investigation?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I would be able to provide that information.
QUESTION: Well, surely you could say that if any criminal activity was uncovered, do you know how many of them resulted in – because there are such things as allegations that turn out not to be proven, not to be true.
MS. PSAKI: There are. There certainly are.
QUESTION: So do you know how many were – turned out not to be true, or how many --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of information.
QUESTION: Well, I think that it would be quite nice if we could figure out exactly --
MS. PSAKI: If there’s something we can share on that, I’m happy to.
QUESTION: Because if all of these cases have been thoroughly investigated and there was no indication of criminal activity or that they were handled administratively, there was something short of criminal activity, it would be good to know. Because the impression from the report left out there is that the State Department is just ignoring really serious violations of the law.
MS. PSAKI: I think I made clear that’s not the case.
QUESTION: Well, that is the impression.
QUESTION: Can you address one particular allegation that’s in this original memo, which is the effect that the use of prostitutes by members of the Secretary of State’s detail, security detail, has been endemic over the years? That’s the word that was used, endemic.
MS. PSAKI: Again --
QUESTION: Is that something you can assure the American people, that the Secretary of State’s protective detail hasn’t been out cavorting with prostitutes in every port of call?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I started off by talking about how many people work for the Department of State around the world. Last year alone, the detail accompanied then-Secretary Clinton to 69 countries with more than 10,000 person-nights spent in hotels abroad. So I’m not going to speak to specific cases, as I said at the onset, for obvious reasons. But it is hardly endemic. Any case we would take seriously and we would investigate, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
QUESTION: What is (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: He asked me if the incidents of a couple of individuals soliciting prostitutes would be – would show that it was endemic.
QUESTION: No, I thought he asked – and maybe I’m wrong, but I thought he asked, is the use of prostitutes by the Secretary’s detail endemic.
MS. PSAKI: I think we just said the same thing, and I just said --
QUESTION: And – well, no, you said he asked whether a few instances suggested that it was endemic, whereas I think his question was, “Is it endemic?” And is your --
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely not.
QUESTION: Okay, great. Thank you.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, are you saying that there are a few instances of this?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not at all.
QUESTION: Well, you just said that.
MS. PSAKI: He was asking me about a report that is being investigated.
QUESTION: Okay. So --
MS. PSAKI: And I don’t have anything further on that specific report. So he --
QUESTION: All right. So that is one of the ones that is still being looked at?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have anything specific for you on the status of any of these cases.
QUESTION: Well, I think you – but you opened the door to this line because you said – you hardly – you think that a few isolated – or whatever you said – a few --
MS. PSAKI: Alleged, Matt, alleged.
QUESTION: Okay. Alleged, all right, so it is still – it is alleged.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into, again, just to repeat, the specific incidents or the specific cases. But I did think it was worth making the point of how broad the Diplomatic Security issue – office is, how many men and women serve proudly and bravely every day.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you just one more thing on this?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Are you comfortable speaking – declaring something not to be true for 70,000 people?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think --
QUESTION: I mean, are you comfortable, when you’re asked, can you assure the American people that something, whatever it is, is not endemic, you’re pretty confident when you say no, it’s not --
MS. PSAKI: I do feel comfortable --
QUESTION: -- even though you’re talking about a large, large universe of people?
MS. PSAKI: -- and after I said we have 70,000 employees, I said we take – we hold every employee to the highest standard. We take every allegation of misconduct seriously and we look into it.
QUESTION: Jen, can I ask you, do you take issue with any of the instances that were mentioned in the CBS report that are being or have been examined by the Diplomatic Service and the IG? There was – the one we’ve mentioned, we talked about the prostitutes, there was always – also an issue about drugs being sold at the Baghdad Embassy. Do you – does the Department take issue with any of those cases that were mentioned?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I just – I understand the desire to know more about each case, but I just can’t go into specifics for ongoing cases. I just made a broad point for the purpose of talking about Diplomatic Security as a whole, but I’m not going to go into specific cases.
QUESTION: So you can’t tell us whether each of those cases mentioned in the CBS is actually something that has been looked into by the IG?
MS. PSAKI: I did say at the beginning that they’re all being investigated or have been investigated, but I’m not going to go into specifics of the status of what they --
QUESTION: No, but you could confirm if those cases are factually correct, as in the CBS report.
MS. PSAKI: It is not at all confirming they’re factually correct. These are allegations in a memo. So obviously, as I stated at the beginning, they have been – all these cases are being looked into. They were already in the process of being looked into prior to the memo, and again, I don’t have any update on status, or I don’t want to break down what is happening internally.
QUESTION: And can you tell us how they came to the notice of the IG? What triggered --
MS. PSAKI: I can’t. You’d have to ask the IG office that question. It was an IG memo.
QUESTION: So then just for clarification, none of these cases have been resolved, then? Because you said they’re all --
MS. PSAKI: Again, I didn’t --
QUESTION: You said you can’t comment on cases that are in an ongoing process. So --
MS. PSAKI: Just to alleviate all confusion, these – all these cases have been looked into or are being looked into. I’m not breaking down which have been concluded, which haven’t. That’s not something --
QUESTION: Can you – I mean, you said you’re --
MS. PSAKI: I cannot.
QUESTION: -- not allowed to talk – I’m just clarifying --
MS. PSAKI: I cannot.
QUESTION: -- you’re not allowed to talk about cases that are in process, but --
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t mean --
QUESTION: -- are you able to talk about cases that are resolved?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything for you on any of the specific cases.
QUESTION: And you would dispute the notion that any of these cases that have been – that are being looked into, that there was any kind of political pressure or other kind of pressure put on the investigators? You would say that that is not correct, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. This is obviously – we’ve taken --
QUESTION: So the memo, the allegations in the memo, according to this building, are wrong?
MS. PSAKI: Again, we’ve taken the extra step. The DS office has taken the extra step --
QUESTION: But the allegation in the memo that --
MS. PSAKI: We will let that process unwind.
QUESTION: Because if someone – fair enough, but I mean, the whole idea is that the investigations – that people might be being pressured into terminating an investigation or dropping it just because they’re told to improperly. So, you could say --
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve – well, what I said --
QUESTION: -- that all the cases are being investigated, and --
MS. PSAKI: -- earlier, so let me point back to this, Matt --
QUESTION: -- both could be true.
MS. PSAKI: -- is that we’ve disputed the notion of the issue of the firewall with the OIG office.
MS. PSAKI: We would never condone this. As an extra step, the DS has asked them to look into this.
QUESTION: I understand, but I just --
MS. PSAKI: We’ll let this play out.
QUESTION: I just want to make sure and clear that you deny the allegation in the memo that there was political or some kind of pressure put on investigators to drop cases or to --
QUESTION: Undue pressure.
QUESTION: -- undue pressure to --
MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have anything --
QUESTION: That’s not correct.
MS. PSAKI: -- more to add than what I’ve already added on this case.
QUESTION: Can I ask just two sort of housekeeping questions on this? Number one: Is there anything in CBS News reporting this morning, either on TV or online, that the Department of State disputes?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’m going to get into parsing this CBS story here. I think I’ve laid out what our position is, the steps we’ve taken. Some of that wasn’t included in the report, so I would – in the report this morning, so I would point you to that.
QUESTION: Let the record reflect I didn’t ask you to parse anything, I just asked if you had any problems with the accuracy of the report. As you know, your colleague, Mr. Ventrell, seated to the side of the podium today, has on certain occasions – and all spokesmen from time to time find it within their rights to say when they think something has been inaccurately reported. I wasn’t asking you to parse anything, but let the record also reflect you have nothing that you want to raise as an issue with the CBS News reporting on this subject, unless you interrupt me to the contrary.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what I just said, to answer your question, is that there was information, including the fact that we have been looking into these cases, what we’ve asked the IG to do and to undertake, that are important, relevant components of that. I’d have to look back closely at the story, but those are important pieces for everybody to note in their reporting moving forward.
QUESTION: Lastly, you stated earlier that the decision to retain these outside law enforcement types was one that was taken officially long before the Department of State was contacted by CBS News.
MS. PSAKI: That’s not what I said. What I said – and sorry, I know this is – there’s a lot of details here in that the Department – Diplomatic Security had been looking into these cases. Separately, they had also asked – has taken the further step of asking for an additional review by outside, experienced law enforcement officers on top of the OIG investigation, so working with the OIG investigation --
QUESTION: And that latter --
QUESTION: This is what --
QUESTION: Excuse me. Excuse me. That latter decision to retain those outside types, you stated earlier in this briefing, was made, quote, “long before we were contacted by CBS News.” That’s what you said.
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: When were you contacted by CBS News?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’m going to get into that from here.
QUESTION: Hold on a second.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: This is why I wanted to clarify this right after Arshad’s last question. It is not the OIG that is contracted or otherwise arranged with this law enforcement – outside law enforcement to do this review. It is DS itself. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: No, I believe it’s the IG is working with these --
QUESTION: All right. Because that’s not what you just said.
MS. PSAKI: It was perhaps phrased in a confusing way. So I apologize for that.
QUESTION: So it is --
MS. PSAKI: But the IG is doing the independent report on this. They are working with outside law enforcement folks.
QUESTION: So if – so in other words, DS still thinks there’s no problem?
MS. PSAKI: DS continues to look into these cases where relevant.
QUESTION: Right, but they think there’s no problem. As you said, they dispute the finding of the IG.
MS. PSAKI: They support the effort --
QUESTION: So they --
MS. PSAKI: -- to do the additional investigation.
QUESTION: Does the fact that the Ambassador in Belgium is still in place speak to where the case is and what progress?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything for you on that.
QUESTION: Can I move on?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
MS. PSAKI: I suspected you might ask about this, Matt. I don’t have any new update for you. I know we talked a little bit about the Secretary’s trip and how it was successful in moving things forward. And then in terms of next steps and where that will happen, not quite yet.
QUESTION: All right. I asked a question earlier in the week and then again on Friday about Bahrain and the Secretary’s conversation with the Crown Prince and whether it specifically talked – whether they specifically talked about the UN Special Rapporteur.
MS. PSAKI: They did not.
QUESTION: They did not. You’re aware that there’s a letter that’s been sent to the Secretary and others signed by a couple dozen --
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen the letter. I’m happy to take a closer look at it.
QUESTION: Can you – okay. Do you know why this wouldn’t have come up at the conversation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, they did discuss a range of issues, including human rights, which was part of the conversation. But every meeting --
QUESTION: But the Administration does think that the Bahrainis should allow the Special Rapporteur in, correct? I mean, you say that you want special rapporteurs --
MS. PSAKI: Sure, but --
QUESTION: -- to have access --
MS. PSAKI: -- I would just caution you on thinking that every topic that’s important comes up in every meeting. It doesn’t. They had an extensive conversation, wide-ranging, which we did a little readout of.
QUESTION: Okay. But they – yes. But they did talk about human rights and somehow the – somehow, the concept that that didn’t include the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights --
MS. PSAKI: Our position remains the same, and --
MS. PSAKI: -- every topic doesn’t --
QUESTION: All right. It’s just --
MS. PSAKI: -- come up in every single meeting.
QUESTION: Well, fair enough. Okay. And then last one, and this has to do with Benghazi, but not anything – just – you complied with the subpoena on Friday. Have you heard back from the committee as to whether they’re satisfied with this opening tranche of documents?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the RNC FOIA request?
MS. PSAKI: I do have an update for that on – on that for you. We did receive the request on Friday and we’ll review it and process it as appropriate, as we do with all FOIA requests.
QUESTION: Sudan. A report – well, over the weekend, President Bashir ordered a stop to oil exports to South Sudan and is telling people to prepare for a holy war. What’s your reaction to that? And what kinds of conversations have people in this building had with either Sudanese or South Sudanese officials?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, the Secretary was there, met with both the Sudanese and South Sudanese officials just about two weeks ago. But I’m not aware of a recent conversation. I can check if there have been some others from the bureau.
President Bashir’s statement that Sudan will instruct oil companies to shut down the pipeline transporting southern oil is deeply disappointing. If carried out, this threat is in violation of Sudan’s obligations under the September 27th agreements, which only allow for a shutdown with 60 days of notice for economic or technical reasons. This is neither. We deplore this action and urge Sudan to reverse this decision and respect its internationally recognized obligations.
QUESTION: On Qatar. The Telegraph has reported today that the Amir of Qatar will relinquish power this summer to his son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad. And The Telegraph added that the U.S. has been briefed about the succession. Are you aware of that?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to Qatar on that, specifics on that.
QUESTION: But how do you view this move, if he will relinquish the power to his son?
MS. PSAKI: I understand it’s a report. I don’t have anything further for you on it.
QUESTION: But in general?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything further for you on it.
QUESTION: By anything further, you don’t have anything at all.
MS. PSAKI: Anything at all.
MS. PSAKI: Did you have a specific question about it, or --
QUESTION: About your dialogue with Turkish Government maybe, because the Prime Minister --
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary did speak again with the Foreign Minister this weekend, but it was mainly focused on Syria. Of course, we remain focused on calling for calm and calling on all sides to make sure that they don’t escalate the rhetoric and that – refrain – that all sides refrain from violence. So that’s where our focus remains.
QUESTION: The Prime Minister made a statement about the Occupy Wall Street protests. And he said in America also, there were 17 people who were killed during the incidents. And immediately, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara refuted his remarks, and they tweeted that there was no one who were killed in the incidents.
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct.
QUESTION: But then they deleted the tweet.
MS. PSAKI: And they’ve, I believe, spoken to standing by the information. It is correct that no individuals died during Occupy Wall Street. But these were decisions made by our Embassy there, and I would point you to them.
QUESTION: Jen, can you just clarify: You said that Secretary Kerry did speak with his counterpart, his Turkish counterpart this weekend.
MS. PSAKI: The Foreign Minister. He spoke mainly about Syria and the ongoing crisis there as part of their conversation.
QUESTION: Perhaps I misunderstood when I asked earlier about conversations that the Secretary had had with his counterparts. Were you just speaking about today when you said he hadn’t spoken with anyone but Hague? Is there anyone I missed?
MS. PSAKI: I think I was. I’m happy to get you all an update. I wasn’t meaning to be – he speaks with people all the time – with his counterparts all the time about Syria and a range of issues. So obviously --
QUESTION: Specific to Syria would be helpful.
MS. PSAKI: -- Hague today, and Davutoglu this weekend, and we’ll see if there are other calls that we can read out for all of you.
QUESTION: Jen, to clarify: Are you confident that these incidents, this protest, didn’t affect the relationship between U.S. and Turkey in terms of the dialogue with – on Syria, for example?
MS. PSAKI: We are confident. The Secretary has a great working relationship with Foreign Minister Davutoglu. They have been working very closely on coordinating and discussing options for how to best help the opposition. They see each other around the world at various conferences, and they speak frequently. So we’ll continue to work closely with them on that.
Okay, last one, Lalit.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just – we condemn, of course, in the strongest terms the Taliban attack on the facilities in the vicinity of Kabul International Airport early Monday morning. We do note that the Afghanistan National Police led the successful operation to secure the airport with ISAF advisors in a mentoring role only.
QUESTION: But do – are you confident enough that given this major attack on the Kabul International Airport, Afghan national security forces are strong enough to protect the nations after 2014?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we felt it was, of course, positive that the Afghanistan National Police led the successful operation to secure the airport. And beyond that, we remain focused on working with our counterparts there to discuss a BSA and to discuss plans for post-2014 on how we can best coordinate on that front.
QUESTION: On BSA, do you have any timeline? Do you think what stage we are --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on that for you. Thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:32 p.m.)
DPB # 95