The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.
1:20 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Everyone, happy Thursday. I have one item at the top.
We welcome the announcement by the Interim Election Council of Ministers in Nepal that Constituent Assembly elections will take place on November 19th. Since the dissolution of the previous Constituent Assembly – Constituent Assembly, sorry about that – more than a year ago, we have encouraged the Government of Nepal to take this important step. We congratulate the people of Nepal as they prepare for free, fair, and inclusive elections, which are the hallmark of every democracy. The United States remains committed to supporting Nepal’s election preparations, including through voter registration and education and the organization of observer missions.
With that, ladies in the front, what is on your minds?
MS. PSAKI: I would expect so. (Laughter.) How can I help you?
QUESTION: I wondered if you’d seen the comments today from – no, yesterday, I believe they were made, from former President Clinton, who is saying that staying out of Syria, I think, is a big mistake, and is – seems to be splitting with the President, with President Obama, whose ear he has. Could you comment on those, please?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, first let me say for some who have or haven’t seen reports on this, these were remarks during, I believe, a closed-press meeting. And so I haven’t seen the full context of them and I suspect most of us have not seen the full context of them. But let me say that, as President Clinton knows, these decisions are very difficult, and they require careful weighing of the facts. The President’s focus, as we’ve talked about quite a bit in here over the last couple of days, is on making the best decision that will help bring an end to the suffering of the Syrian people while balancing with our own national security interests and those of the region.
We do share the view that the regime has been aided by the influx of foreign fighters, by Hezbollah. That has helped the regime on the ground. And conditions on the ground have worsened. And the dire situation on the ground is exactly why the President and his national security team have redoubled our efforts to explore what more we can do to help the opposition.
QUESTION: That was a really amazing recitation of what your colleague at the White House just said, almost word for word. I congratulate – kudos for getting – having the --
MS. PSAKI: We’re very in tune, Jay and I. We are.
QUESTION: -- having the message. Can I take a slightly different tack on this?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: You’ve seen – I’m pretty sure you’ve seen the new UN figures on the number of dead, 93,000 confirmed, probably many more. So given that, are you or is the Administration still comfortable with this policy on – policy of kind of what people might uncharitably say is strategic dithering on the idea of arming the rebels? Or have you actually – the decision, I suppose, is the – has the decision up until this point been – has a decision been made about arming the rebels? The answer is yes, I think, and the answer – and the decision is no. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: I have no update on a decision and no announcement. Let me say --
QUESTION: So there hasn’t been a decision either way?
MS. PSAKI: I have no announcement to make for --
QUESTION: Fair enough, but --
MS. PSAKI: -- on that today.
QUESTION: Well, then, to this point at whatever time it is, 1:20 on Thursday afternoon, the decision has been no. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have not announced that we are providing lethal assistance. That’s correct.
QUESTION: No, I know. But it is fair to say that the Administration up to this point where we’re talking to right now has decided no on the answer – on the question of arming the rebels?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, discussions are ongoing, but there is not a decision I’m aware of and no announcement to make.
QUESTION: Okay. And so then my question is that if no decision has been made, are you comfortable with the fact that you’ve been weighing this for two – almost two years now and you haven’t come to a – and you haven’t made a decision?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, we’ve made a decision about a number of increases in aid to the opposition. Let me first say, just so I don’t forget to say it, that we are, of course, saddened to see the UN’s revised estimate of the number killed in Syria, but we’re not shocked. Assad has used indiscriminate and disproportionate force against Syrian civilians, and inflicted unthinkable suffering upon his own people, which is why the United States has been at the forefront of the international community’s efforts to address this situation.
We have, as you know – and I talked about this about a week ago, but this does broadly answer your question. The President led the international call for Assad to step aside and allow a peaceful, democratic process to proceed. We’ve ratcheted up financial pressure on the regime and the worst human rights abuses through multiple rounds of sanctions, encouraging our international partners to do exactly the same. We have supported the cooperation and the expansion of the Syrian opposition, not an easy process, of course, after 40 years of stifled political debate. And we are contributing efforts – to their efforts to provide an alternative to the regime in liberated areas with 250 million in transition assistance.
So we have – I stated that, even though that was a long answer, to remind everyone of the decisions and the choices that we have made.
MS. PSAKI: I did say at the top that we have redoubled our efforts and are focused on considering all options, barring boots on the ground. And the President and his national security team are focused on discussing just that.
QUESTION: But you’ve done all of that, that long recitation of stuff that you have done. Does it give you pause that all of that stuff that you have done doesn’t seem to have made a single bit of difference on the ground? Because you tend – almost 100,000 people are confirmed dead, and the situation is getting worse, not better. So does that give anybody pause?
MS. PSAKI: Of course.
QUESTION: Okay. All right.
MS. PSAKI: We wake up every morning and the Secretary is focused on what more we can do to help the opposition. But let’s not forget that these numbers have not been increasing tragically in a vacuum. This is a case where, as we’ve talked about quite a bit in here over the last couple of weeks, Hezbollah, Iran have stepped up their assistance. This has been in part why we are refocusing on our efforts to help the opposition on the ground.
QUESTION: Can you just explain in more detail, because you’ve used the word “redoubled” today. Yesterday it was “refocused,” and you just said again you’ve refocused your efforts.
MS. PSAKI: I think they’re synonyms, wouldn’t you say?
QUESTION: Probably, although redoubling suggests slightly stronger efforts.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: But anyway, I just wanted to ask, in what way have you redoubled your efforts? Could you give us a concrete example of how you’ve redoubled your efforts in the last few days?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, as you know, there are – the President, and I believe my colleague Jay Carney spoke to this, is – continues to focus on, looking at all of the options that his national security team has presented to him. They have been discussing that, but beyond that, I don’t have an announcement for all of you.
QUESTION: So you are saying the efforts have been more intensive over the last couple of days than they were previously? Because you were already focused on this, it’s just you’ve made the decision --
MS. PSAKI: Of course. Every day we’ve been focused on it. There’s not an announcement or a decision to tell you about or to make or to announce here, but again, they’ve been discussing these options. Redoubling and refocus implies that we have been looking closely at everything that’s happening on the ground, all of the tragedies and massacres that have been happening. We have had conversations, of course, with General Idris and others who have given us even more of an update of what’s happening on the ground, so --
QUESTION: So, there was a report that’s out in The New York Times this morning about – who seemed to have got hold of some kind of U.S. intelligence documents in which they say that there are – last month in May alone, there were 500 air-to-ground attacks against rebels and civilians by the Syrian regime forces, 500 in May. I mean, I guess on an average that works out at 10, 12 a day.
Does that shock you? Does that – how does that play into your picture of what your redoubling – what the redoubling of your efforts consists of?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a number of factors that play into it. Certainly, conditions that are worsening on the ground – I don’t have any confirmation of those numbers independently, but we’ve seen, obviously, what has happened in Qusayr and various massacres and tragedies that have happened around the country, the influx of Hezbollah and foreign fighters and the impact that has had on boosting the regime. And we said at the time, even if we go back to chemical weapons, when we made our intel assessment, that of course has had an impact on our increased nonlethal aid and continuing to discuss and consider options.
So there are a number of factors that play into it, including discussions we have with the oppositions and with our – with the opposition and with our allies and partners around the world as well.
QUESTION: But there have been a number of suggestions that a no-fly zone, as Matt raised yesterday, which was imposed in Libya, could help the rebels on the ground as they seek shelter and as they’re trying to hit the balance back their way. Is there still discussions going on of any kind of a no-fly zone by --
MS. PSAKI: Well, all options remain on the table, barring boots on the ground, and we continue to take a hard look at every available practical and responsible means to ending the suffering of the Syrian people.
QUESTION: Jennifer, just at the --
QUESTION: This – can I just --
MS. PSAKI: Let’s let Leslie go and then we can go right to you.
QUESTION: Thank you. Is the Secretary involved in those meetings today and tomorrow on Syria?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to confirm or give any specifics on any meetings that are happening. Routine meetings, as you know, we’ve talked about quite a bit this week. If there’s a meeting of the national security team, certainly the Secretary would be a part of that.
QUESTION: And --
QUESTION: And you’re redoubling efforts with routine meetings? How do you explain that one?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Brad, we’ve had discussions about what needs to happen and how we can help the opposition for some time.
MS. PSAKI: Those happen during meetings, those happen in a variety of ways, so – but I can assure you they’re being discussed.
QUESTION: Redoubling efforts is like when you give one dollar in aid and then you decide to give two dollars, you’ve doubled something.
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s doubling.
QUESTION: Right, and then you would give four. That would be redoubling, right? You’re having routine meetings, then you’re having more routine meetings.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know that math is any of our strength, so – (laughter) --
QUESTION: I’m pretty good. Well, 16 --
QUESTION: But I think the point he’s getting at, though, is that you – I think he’s getting at – is that you often say in talking about other governments, that action – that you’re looking for actions, not words.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And thus far, at least on the question of arming the rebels or making some significant difference, impact, on the situation on the ground, the balance of power as it stands, this Administration has been all talk and discussion and routine meetings, and not redoubling so far. How do you respond to that criticism?
MS. PSAKI: That – what I already went through in terms of what we’ve already done and the fact that we’re --
QUESTION: Yes, but as of --
MS. PSAKI: -- continuing to consider, Matt, all options, barring boots on the ground.
QUESTION: But continuing to consider can be seen by some as not doing anything, not taking action. In fact, it, by its very definition, “continuing to consider” is not taking action, it is considering. So you routinely fault other governments for not acting, for just saying – doing – just speaking, just issuing words. And I’m not – and I don’t see how you can consider yourself – not you personally, but the Administration can consider itself immune from such criticism in this case.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, if there was an easy choice to make here and if this wasn’t a difficult crisis happening in Syria with challenging decisions to make, I’m sure we would have already made them. But that’s the process we’re in right now.
QUESTION: Jennifer, right here?
MS. PSAKI: Let me just – Margaret, do you have one on Syria?
QUESTION: I do.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: On the 123 million that Secretary Kerry pledged to the opposition back at the end of April, has that yet been notified? I know you said that was in the works, but has Congress been told yet?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of an official notification. That was the next step. You’re correct. I’m happy to check if there’s any update on that.
QUESTION: But very quickly, on the point that you mentioned just a little while ago, the meetings that have just ended and the recommendations that were submitted, are you expecting that the President will actually say something before he meets with President Putin on Monday?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update for you on announcements or any timing of hypothetical announcements.
QUESTION: Okay. The other thing is that intelligence reports – in fact, U.S. intelligence reports suggest that the rebels are awash with weapons, weapons that have come from Libya. Some even suggest that they include MANPADS, which are surface-to-air missiles that conceivably could threaten commercial airlines and so on. Are you aware of that?
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen those reports you’re referring to. I would point you to many public comments that have been made by General Idris and other members of the opposition, so I’m not sure what you’re referring to.
QUESTION: Okay. Another thing is what Secretary of State Kerry said yesterday about the Geneva and how they interpret Geneva. He suggested that a major point in Geneva 1 last June 30th was a transitional government with full authority. That was the suggestion. But the Russians contradict that, and they say that Assad having to leave is not part of that. Is there, like, a contention on this point that has not been resolved?
MS. PSAKI: I would refer you to the UN. They’ve spoken about this and spoken about what was agreed to during the discussions, and they’ll have some more next week.
QUESTION: Why the UN? I mean, we’re talking about your position versus the Russians.
MS. PSAKI: They --
QUESTION: That wasn’t a UN agreement.
MS. PSAKI: The UN was part of – I’m referring to --
MS. PSAKI: I think he’s asking about what we said last week about what the UN and Russia and the U.S. had agreed to as part of the meetings that – or this is how I’m understanding your question.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me reframe the question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Are you closer today than you were a week ago to the Russian position regarding holding Geneva?
MS. PSAKI: To which Russian position?
QUESTION: The Russian position that it does not include the clear call for Assad to step aside?
MS. PSAKI: No, we’re – our position has remained the same on that issue. We’ll continue to discuss --
QUESTION: So with this kind of difference, do you expect that the conference could actually take place?
MS. PSAKI: We do. We’re still planning it, but again, as I’ve said a couple times this week, our work with the opposition and on the crisis in Syria can’t happen in a political vacuum, which is why we’re also focused on what we can do more to help the opposition on the ground.
QUESTION: And lastly – I promise lastly --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: On the issue of foreign fighters, now, there are – we know that there are foreign fighters from Hezbollah fighting on the side of the regular forces, but there are also thousands upon thousands of other fighters that are involved here that come into Syria with the aid of regional governments. Are you also calling on them to withdraw?
MS. PSAKI: We are, and you’ve asked me that question before.
QUESTION: Right, but since you mentioned certain foreign fighters and did not mention the other, I thought that I’d bring it up.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m talking – I was referring to in the context of how the situation and the conditions have been boosted for the Assad regime on the ground.
QUESTION: The Russian diplomat in Washington yesterday said that if the U.S. and Europe, Britain or France, will arm the rebels, they will step up their delivery of arms to the Syrian Government. Is this something of concern to you?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re always concerned and have been concerned about reports and public statements by the Russians about their plans to support, whether it’s through financial or through military aid, the regime. But again, we’re getting several stages down the road here into a hypothetical question. So --
QUESTION: No, but don’t you consider that the Russian and probably the Iranian are already helping the government?
MS. PSAKI: We, of course, are well aware of that and well aware of the aid that is being given to the regime by Iran and other supporters of their efforts.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Syria? Okay.
QUESTION: I have a question. Do you know of any meeting – we’re reporting out of Beirut and Paris that there is a meeting with Idris tomorrow. Your – sorry, French, British and U.S. officials are meeting him tomorrow in Turkey. Do you have any confirmation?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of the U.S. participation, though I’m happy to check on it and see what the status is of that.
QUESTION: There’s been no change in the meeting scheduled for the 25th of June between Sherman and --
MS. PSAKI: No, no change.
QUESTION: Okay. So that is still set? Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is there a goal for those talks, the ones that start on the 25th?
MS. PSAKI: To continue the discussion, Brad.
QUESTION: Keeping you talking, yes. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Continue the discussion.
QUESTION: Yes, you’re really good at that.
QUESTION: They’re redoubling.
MS. PSAKI: To work through the agenda and work through participation and plan for how we can create the conditions to make the conference productive.
QUESTION: But do they have to have some sort of agreement on participants and agenda in order for this to happen in mid-July?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly that is a key part of what needs to happen before a conference would happen, as well as the opposition electing leadership and making sure on all sides this is the right time and the right conditions to move forward with the conference.
QUESTION: So if they meet and simply say, “We agree to meet again in two weeks in Geneva,” and book out a lot of hotel rooms and fly across the world again, that won’t be a success per se?
MS. PSAKI: We believe a success is continuing to work towards planning a conference to – that will have the conditions that can bring both sides to the table and move towards a political transition. At the same time --
QUESTION: Having the conference is the success, not continuing to talk about --
MS. PSAKI: No, a conference that will move both sides to a political transition. That’s why we're working with all sides in order to make sure the conditions are right for just that.
QUESTION: Jen, as they really look at different options right now, would you say that there is an agreement among officials, including Secretary Kerry, that the U.S. needs to intervene now, given the dire situation on the ground? I mean, I’ve been speaking to humanitarian groups who say – who are calling for urgency here. They can’t get their aid in. They can’t help. The humanitarian situation is worsening.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are several different tracks of this, and I know I’ve talked a bit about this. But as you know, we have been working. We are the largest – if not one of the largest, I believe the largest provider of humanitarian aid to Syria and to the – to all people of Syria. I just mentioned our nonlethal assistance and what we’ve provided there. In terms of additional options and whether one will be undertaken, or what is being considered, I just don’t have anything for you on that.
QUESTION: Do you think that nonlethal aid has been effective?
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, nonlethal aid has served a variety of purposes. It’s been worked through the coordinating body under the SOC. We have provided assistance for everything from infrastructure to access to water, and this is something that is important. You mentioned the humanitarian issues on the ground. That is a great concern of ours and the impact this crisis has had on the people of Syria.
But we’ve continued to do more, and that has been an upward trajectory over the past couple of months. And if you watched the pattern, in Rome we decided to give directly to specific entities. In Istanbul, we decided the next group would be – the next tranche of money would go in part to the SMC. So you’ve seen adjustments we’ve made as we make – as we make evaluations about what’s needed on the ground.
QUESTION: So that lack of notification to Congress on that aid that was promised at the end of April, has that – will that stall the delivery of the next round of nonlethal aid to the rebels? It’s been more than four weeks now.
MS. PSAKI: Well, 127 has been – is in train.
MS. PSAKI: I know you’re aware of that. A hundred and twenty-three is the next stage. There’s a natural process that is undertaken because we are very focused on, of course, getting this aid on the ground, but we also respect the process that we have here to moving it forward. So should it – an unwarranted delay? No. But it is something the Secretary is very focused on, and he will press to make it happen as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: Can you explain what he needs to nail down before giving that notification, why --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything specific. That’s the next stage of the process.
QUESTION: Also, do you know if – whether the U.S., and how much the U.S. is going to contribute towards the $4 billion that the UN has made an appeal for?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on that.
QUESTION: New subject?
QUESTION: Wait, I just wanted to --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- check one thing before we go on. That is, there’s still no determination on chemical weapons?
MS. PSAKI: No update on that.
QUESTION: One more Syria?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I would like to ask a general question. The U.S. was involved in Libya with putting the no-fly zone in Libya, but this time you haven’t done yet. So does the experience in Libya have some impact on the U.S. policy in Syria?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt asked a similar question yesterday, and while the atrocities committed against civilians are abhorrent in both cases, Syria and Libya are different countries, as you know. They have different populations, different geography, and different challenges. So there was also widespread support at the time, international support and clear UN Security Council authorization for military intervention in Libya. So it’s different.
But whichever judgments we make for Syria must pass the test – the bar we’re looking at, I should say, of making the situation better for the Syrian people, and we also must take a look – into account the long-term human, financial, and political costs for us, Syria and the region. So that's the bar we’re looking at here.
QUESTION: Could I just point out, when you say they’re different countries with different populations and different geographies, yeah. The one different about the population is that there’s 93,000 fewer Syrians than there were two years ago, and the death toll in Libya didn’t come even close.
MS. PSAKI: That is true, Matt, but what I meant was the size of the population, where the countries are located, there are many details that are different about the populations in the countries.
QUESTION: Two questions on South Asia, please.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: One: Today, as far as this NSA and security – I mean the phone records – today, Mr. Jay Carney at the White House, on a question, he mentioned about the – David Headley, who is serving in Chicago, on the attacks in a Mumbai hotel. And also he mentioned about some terror plots were foiled in Pakistan, as far as these NSA phone.
My question is that since India, Pakistan, and I’m sure maybe Afghanistan region is involved, if the – those – leaders of those countries like people in India, I mean the leaders in India or the Pakistan, they knew or do they know about this? I know that U.S.-India, U.S.-Pakistan, U.S.-Afghanistan cooperation is going on as far as terrorism is concerned. My question is, do they – are they aware of these things going on?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Goyal, we are, of course, aware that recent disclosures in the press about classified U.S. intelligence activities have raised concern with some other governments. I would refer to all of them to speak for themselves. And we have ongoing dialogues with allies and partners around the world on a range of issues, including counterterrorism, cyber-security, and privacy concerns, and all of these programs. And so we’ll continue to discuss those issues and others raised through our diplomatic channels.
QUESTION: And also when the Secretary visits end of the month to India and other countries in the region, he will be discussing all these issues?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any travel to announce for you today. But certainly he is open to discussing a range of issues with all of our friends and partners out there.
QUESTION: And finally, one more, Pakistan.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: If you can clarify or if you have the new government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he – they had summoned some U.S. diplomats in Islamabad to explain and to protest about the ongoing drone attacks by the United States. And the Nawaz Sharif government is calling now already on the U.S. to stop these drone attacks because they are killing innocent peoples in Pakistan. My question is: What is the future of the U.S.-Pakistan relation under the new government?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I was going to add before that the Secretary is looking forward to visiting Pakistan and India at the appropriate time, though I have no – nothing to announce today. But we do have a strong, ongoing dialogue with Pakistan regarding all aspects of our bilateral relationship and shared interests, including security and counterterrorism cooperation, and we’ll work together to address any of these concerns.
QUESTION: Same subject?
QUESTION: Well, you might not have anything to announce today, but the Pakistanis sure did. Do you have any reason to think that what the Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman said about Secretary Kerry visiting Islamabad in the last week of June is incorrect?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, we’re still working through our official process here, and when we have official travel notification or announcements to make, I’m sure we will make them.
QUESTION: Still on --
QUESTION: It is – it is already --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Prime Minister has also announced it as well.
MS. PSAKI: I did see that as well.
QUESTION: Still on Pakistan.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have any information about four embassy officials who were not allowed to go to the consulate in Karachi, I think, and then sent back to Islamabad?
MS. PSAKI: So I can confirm that the four U.S. embassy officials flew from Islamabad to Karachi yesterday, I believe it was, to meet with U.S. Consulate General Karachi officials at the consulate. When they arrived at the Karachi International Airport, they were detained by airport officials and have since returned to Islamabad. In terms of the reasoning, we’re still gathering information on what happened here.
QUESTION: Do you generally need special permission to travel within Pakistan between diplomatic posts?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of the requirements or the forms needed. Again, we’re still looking at what happened here, so we just don’t have a new update.
QUESTION: And did you find this becoming behavior of a close counterterrorist ally?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to judge without knowing the details, Brad.
QUESTION: Do you know, though, if there is – you have, presumably, if you’re still trying to find out what happened, you’re asking the Pakistan – you’ve inquired with the Pakistani authorities about what happened, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m sure we’re in touch with all the appropriate point people here in terms of determining what happened. And beyond that, I would refer you, of course, to the officials there.
QUESTION: This would seem a bit unusual. Is it something’s that’s happened in the past to your officials in Islamabad?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of the history here, but again, I don’t want to over read – and I would encourage none of you to over read – into it while we’re still looking into what the specifics of the events were.
QUESTION: Well, these four people were told something. They weren’t just rounded up in complete silence. Surely, you have some information about why they couldn’t proceed to the consulate general.
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything more for you on it, Brad.
QUESTION: Madam, as far as Secretary’s visit to India, it is – it has been already printed in the news media in India. The Secretary will be in Delhi on June 24th.
MS. PSAKI: I have seen those reports, Goyal. And when I have something to share with all of you, I’m happy to share them.
QUESTION: We might join, you think.
MS. PSAKI: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: So as part of whenever it is that you make this announcement – well, we do expect the Secretary to visit Israel soon – I don’t think that that’s any secret since you had basically announced that he had postponed his trip there – trip to the Middle East there. So I’m wondering, in light of that – in light of his upcoming travel, if you have particular concerns about the latest settlement announcement in the West Bank today from the Israeli military.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we, of course, have seen those media reports that the Government of Israel has advanced plans to approve the construction of additional settlement housing in the West Bank settlements, and our position is the same. The Secretary has expressed his concern in the past both publicly and in private conversations. We don’t accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity. We remain hopeful that both sides will look at the important opportunity we have here to build trust and confidence and move back to the negotiating table, and that’s what our focus is on.
QUESTION: Have you seen anything so far to give you hope? You say you remain hopeful. Has there been anything to give you hope?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, as you know, to the frustration of all of you I’m certain, these conversations and the meetings have been very private, and we’ve kept them private for a reason.
QUESTION: No, let’s talk about public, just things that have appeared in public, things that are public knowledge. Has there been anything that would give you hope? I mean, there comes a point at which remaining hopeful is – becomes just naive and unworkable.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the Secretary himself made very clear the last couple of times he’s spoken about this that both sides need to make tough choices, and it’s on them to make the decision about whether they’re willing to move back to the table.
QUESTION: Okay. So have you seen either side make a tough choice?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to lay out --
QUESTION: Well, I mean, I just --
MS. PSAKI: -- what conversations that happen privately.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, have you seen --
MS. PSAKI: I’ll leave you to analyze what they’ve said publicly.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you – then I will do that. And what they have said publicly, or, at least in this case, what the Israelis have said publicly, is not conducive to any resumption in negotiations. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: There have been --
QUESTION: You say that continued settlement activity is bad and is not helpful to the process.
MS. PSAKI: That is true.
QUESTION: Okay. So have you seen anything public, that they have done publicly, that would be conducive to resumption, on either side – not just the Israelis, either side? Has either side done anything since the – since you have been in this job, or since the Secretary has been in – the current Secretary has been in his job, that would give you any reason to be hopeful that a resumption in negotiations is possible?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, the Secretary --
QUESTION: Anything? Anything?
MS. PSAKI: The Secretary would not have returned as many times as he had if he didn’t think that there was an opportunity here. And given the stakes and how important this would be and how impactful it would be to the region and our interests around the world, that’s why he’s so focused on it. Obviously, there are a lot of conversations that happened privately. There have been a range of comments made, of course. We know that – we knew going into it, the Secretary knew there would be cynics, and we’ve seen that in the media, as he himself has said. But there have been meetings, a number of positive meetings they’ve had. There have been positive comments from both sides about the openness to continuing the discussions, and we’ll see if we get to the point where both sides make the tough decisions to move back to the table.
QUESTION: Okay. Are you suggesting that it is cynical to say – to see an Israeli – another Israeli announcement of continued settlement activity, something that you yourself say is bad – it’s cynical to see that as something that is not --
MS. PSAKI: No, I --
QUESTION: -- conducive to --
MS. PSAKI: -- I wasn’t --
QUESTION: -- negotiation?
MS. PSAKI: -- I wasn't attributing that to that specific question. I was attributing it to the fact that there have been comments, as we’ve all seen and as the Secretary himself has talked about, about how difficult this is, how he understands people are skeptical, things along those lines.
QUESTION: But here’s the thing: How – I don’t see how you can it’s cynical or – he understands why people are skeptical? I mean, it’s precisely because of things like this that people are skeptical. I would --
MS. PSAKI: And because --
QUESTION: -- argue that it’s not cynical. It’s realistic.
MS. PSAKI: This is because there have been efforts to move back to the table countless times, as you well know, because you’ve followed this closely --
MS. PSAKI: -- for a number of years. And it’s difficult. So – but he still remains focused on it, and if him going back to the region will help move it --
MS. PSAKI: -- the ball forward one step, he’ll do that.
QUESTION: Just on – this should be easier. Do you know, has this latest announcement been raised by U.S. officials with Israeli officials?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of a – because this was just this morning, so I don’t have any update on kind of a recent --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) an update since we talked the last time about this.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Said’s going to read out conversations.
QUESTION: Yes, exactly. There was – if I may. There was an increase of 670 units yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: Yes, that’s what I was referring to.
QUESTION: And today there was an announcement for Gush Etzion, another addition of 1,000. So in the last --
QUESTION: I’m sorry, but he update --
MS. PSAKI: I think Matt was --
QUESTION: -- I was looking for was whether --
MS. PSAKI: Matt was asking about conversations between people at our Embassy or consulate, or presumably in the State Department.
QUESTION: Do you plan to raise it at a high level in the coming days?
MS. PSAKI: The Secretary has raised it at a high level before. I don’t have any planned calls, but I’m sure he will not hesitate to do so.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me just follow up, if I may, on this. Was this issue, the issue of expansion of settlement, discussed between Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hague yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: No, it was not.
QUESTION: Okay. Are you aware that Mr. Netanyahu in Warsaw refused to sign on a statement that calls for a two-state solution, he insisted that the two-state solution would be taken out?
MS. PSAKI: I would send you to the Government of Israel and Mr. Netanyahu.
QUESTION: Okay. And lastly, the Palestinians – the Palestinian Authority says that these settlement expansions is actually a way to sort of disrupt Secretary Kerry’s effort towards some sort of a peace settlement. Do you agree with them, or do you --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I may --
QUESTION: Perhaps you find that to be cynical?
MS. PSAKI: I made pretty clear that we don’t accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity, and we encourage both sides to act in a way that will provide for a path to peace. So --
QUESTION: Yeah. But, I mean, you always say the same thing, that you are unhappy, you find it unhelpful and so on. But the process is really accelerating at a breathless kind of speed. Are you not concerned that there may not be any land left for the Palestinians to build their state on?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s why I expressed a concern today.
QUESTION: What I don’t understand is – the Secretary said it several times, you’ve repeated it – that there’s reasons for skepticism, for cynicism, you understand.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But you don’t provide any counter evidence why people shouldn’t be skeptical or cynical in this case. You’re not providing any --
QUESTION: Is it secret?
QUESTION: -- evidence or anything to suggest that people should get rid of this skepticism and believe in the process.
MS. PSAKI: The strategy here is to keep these negotiations private, because his belief – and the belief of a number of these officials – is that that’s the best way to create an environment to bring both sides back to a negotiating table.
QUESTION: But you understand that on that notion, then, if you were skeptical, you should stay skeptical, correct?
MS. PSAKI: If the current path we’re on leads to a peace agreement, Brad, we will accept --
QUESTION: You will inform us of the decision.
MS. PSAKI: -- every ounce of skepticism there’s been.
QUESTION: Is it possible --
QUESTION: (Laughter.) What if it doesn’t?
MS. PSAKI: It’s worth the effort to try to bring both sides back to the table.
QUESTION: I mean, isn’t part of the problem here that despite the U.S. condemnation of settlement building, the Israelis have absolutely no incentive to stop it? I mean, they know that they’re going to have the U.S. support ad infinitum. And is it – shouldn’t there be consequences? Shouldn’t the U.S. be sort of saying, okay, we hold a lot of aid – we send a lot of aid to Israel; shouldn’t there be some kind of consequences for the Israelis going ahead and deliberately tarnishing the waters that the Secretary’s trying to build here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our focus right now is not on consequences as much as working with both sides to try to move them back to the table. So I don’t have anything new or any new policy on that front. Certainly we find this unhelpful, as I just said. And he’s continuing to talk to both sides.
QUESTION: But diplomacy has always been about a carrot and stick thing. And I mean, working with the two sides isn’t actually getting you anywhere. We’re still stuck now where we were sort of 60 years ago. Despite the Secretary’s efforts, the Israelis are still moving forward with plans which you yourself concede are unhelpful.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Shouldn’t there be some kind of modification of the U.S. policy in that case to sort of say, “If you guys do this, we’re going to do that”? And maybe that would actually unblock this process somewhere.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t – that’s not the current plan. But we are – he is continuing to work with both sides, to have discussions, express concerns where needed with both sides, and remains focused on moving them back to the table.
QUESTION: Do you have a comment on the increased attack by settlers against Palestinian farmers and villagers?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t – I’m not sure which report you’re referring to.
QUESTION: I mean, they are constant. They happen almost every day within – they double every month. Talk about doubling. I mean, it doubles every month. Are you concerned, or do you raise this issue with the Israelis? Do you demand that they bring these attackers to justice?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t – I’m not sure what report you’re referring to. We’re always concerned about attacks on innocent civilians, but beyond that I’m not sure I have much more to add.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you expect both sides to hold the aggressors from their side accountable to justice? Do you call on both sides that they do that, including the Israelis?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve probably done what we can here on this topic, Said.
QUESTION: I just want to check one thing that you said to Jo. You said, “That’s not the current plan,” when I think her question was why – is there any thought being given to making there --
QUESTION: -- be consequences for unhelpful actions as it related to the settlements? And you said that’s not the current plan. Is it still the policy, though, that if the Palestinians try to get recognition at U.S. – at UN agencies or affiliates, that there will be consequences in terms of aid?
MS. PSAKI: You’re familiar with our policy. That hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: So in other words, that there are consequences for the Palestinians if they do things that are unhelpful, but there are not consequences – and there are no plans to have consequences – for the Israelis if they do things that are unhelpful to the process. Is that correct? Is that correct? That’s --
MS. PSAKI: Well, again --
QUESTION: I want to make sure that I understand that that’s the --
MS. PSAKI: There’s no change in our policy on either front.
QUESTION: Okay. All right.
MS. PSAKI: That was what I was conferring to Jo, perhaps not clearly enough.
QUESTION: Okay. So if I could just make – so it is then correct that U.S. policy is to – for there to be consequences for the Palestinians if they do things that are unhelpful to the resumption of the peace process, but it is not the U.S. policy to have consequences for the Israelis when they do similar things?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think Jo was referring to funding that we provide for security purposes, which have a broad range of reasons, as you know.
QUESTION: I don’t think – she just said consequences.
QUESTION: No, no. Matt’s question is the right question, actually, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: There’s no change in our policy, Matt.
QUESTION: Okay. So there are no consequences for the Israelis but plenty of consequences for the Palestinians?
MS. PSAKI: Again, we consider aid to all sides – as you know, because you know how the Congressional process works – on a very regular basis.
QUESTION: I just want to make sure that I understand it.
MS. PSAKI: We make points to both sides about actions they would take that would be unhelpful. And we – that is why moving both sides back to the table for a peace process is so important.
QUESTION: Another topic?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: The October 23rd Inspector General memo that we’ve talked so much about – the surveillance detection agent in Brussels at the time, according to the memo, quote, “determined that the ambassador there routinely ditched his protective security detail in order to solicit sexual favors.” It then goes on to cite as other sources the ambassador’s protective detail and the embassy’s surveillance detective team, which they describe as staffed by host-country nationals. Do you have any reason to believe that those agents or the regional security officer at the time were mistaken?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve broadly covered this topic this week, so let me just restate we’re not going to talk about individual cases from the podium. I will say that, again, this memo was put together without the benefit of case files and includes a great deal of unsubstantiated information.
QUESTION: But specific to what those particular agents and the RSO said --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to – they did not review the case files. I’m not going to speak to individual cases. I’m just making a broad point here that I’ve made a couple of times in here about this specific memo.
QUESTION: But has anyone in the State Department talked to those members of the protective detail or the RSO since – in the past two years?
MS. PSAKI: For all of the cases that were in this memo, they were already under review or – they were all already under review, so that applies to all of them, and that means they were being looked into.
QUESTION: But that involves speaking to the protective detail members?
MS. PSAKI: It involves a number of efforts to get to the bottom of the facts and look into the details. I’m not going to get into specifically what that means.
QUESTION: Well, the regional security officer in Brussels at that time told CBS that one of his concerns was that the ambassador’s behavior left him vulnerable to counterintelligence. And he also said to CBS that the ambassador was leaving the country without his protective detail. So was Washington – was this building aware of the ambassador’s movements out of the country without protection?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to get into any specific cases.
QUESTION: But that’s unusual, right?
MS. PSAKI: The ambassador you’re referring to has issued a statement in his name about these allegations. I would point you to that. And I would also point you to what I’ve kind of ticked through this week about the fact that this document contains a number of unsubstantiated points in it. There have been several follow-ups to that. There was a memo in February. And the OIG is currently looking into our processes here and how things are reviewed, and we certainly welcome that.
QUESTION: Well, I ask you that because some of those principals involved, who had reported those incidents that were reflected in the memo, have told us that they have not been contacted in two years. They have not been contacted even since this latest review has been initiated with the persons brought on after the February report.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the review is underway. Also, all of these cases were being reviewed internally at the time. In terms of that process entails, I just can’t speak to that.
QUESTION: I got two things. One on that.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Just in general, recognizing you can’t talk about the specific cases, are ambassadors required to have security details accompany them when they leave their post, leave the country of their posting for personal reasons or for even --
MS. PSAKI: I believe they are, but I can get you a more specific --
QUESTION: They are. So --
MS. PSAKI: -- what our policy is on that.
QUESTION: Okay. And I would be particularly interested if there is a blanket requirement of that. And then even if there isn’t a blanket requirement, if there is one requirement for specific countries or specific regions. Western Europe isn’t exactly the most threatening place to be, but if there is such a requirement it would be interesting.
And then the second thing is there was a report this morning in the New York Post which seems to – which suggests – or it doesn’t suggest, it says that many of the 2,000 Diplomatic Security agents currently employed by the Department have criminal records or otherwise checkered backgrounds. Is that-- many of – can you be – one, is that true? And two, can you put a number on how many of the 2,000? And I would also note that there seems to be a report that taped off from the Post story that says that 2,000 – all 2,000 have criminal backgrounds. So can you answer those?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think this is referring to another memo with unsubstantiated information in it. Let me just tell you what our process is here. Diplomatic Security agents – as all foreign personnel are – are carefully screened and vetted during a vigorous selection – rigorous selection and hiring process. Successful candidates pass a series of highly competitive written and oral assessments. They must obtain a top secret clearance that is based on extensive background investigations that include past employment checks, criminal record checks, and interviews with neighbors, colleagues, coworkers, and employees.
In addition, because Foreign Service personnel are subject to unusual pressures, Department officials conduct a final suitability review to consider such matters as criminal history, financial responsibility, past drug or alcohol use, misconduct in prior engagement, and failure to exercise good judgment. Every evaluation is made case-by-case, but this is a rigorous and extensive process that any individual who goes through participates in.
QUESTION: Well, is it accurate to say that many of the 2,000 Diplomatic Security employees have criminal backgrounds or checkered – criminal records or checkered backgrounds that make them – that reduce their – or hinder their ability to perform their jobs? Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, there are 1,900 – just over 1,900, so you know – DS agents around the world. Each is reviewed on a case-by-case. That’s a process that is an HR process. I would caution you not to believe things that you read based on internal memos, as we’ve learned this week.
QUESTION: That’s why I’m – I’m not believing anything, but I’m just looking for a straight answer. Is it correct that many of those 1,900 have criminal backgrounds or – sorry – criminal records or checkered backgrounds that inhibit their ability to perform their jobs?
MS. PSAKI: No.
QUESTION: It is not correct?
MS. PSAKI: No.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you give a – are there any?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any numbers for you on things like that.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, is it a handful? I mean, I presume – this is a big building, there are a lot of people that work here. It would be --
MS. PSAKI: You’re right, Matt, but what --
QUESTION: It would be ridiculous to assume that nobody in this building doesn’t – that --
MS. PSAKI: We’re never going to get into personnel issues along those lines.
QUESTION: This is far – I mean, yes, this is a personnel issue in its most broad sense, and I’m willing to give the Department or any bureaucracy that’s got tens of thousands of employees the benefit of the doubt because it’s impossible to have --
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: -- a workforce that large and have no one have a criminal record.
MS. PSAKI: And what I was trying to convey with my outline of what we do is that --
QUESTION: So, what I’m trying to figure out – these people are law enforcement agents, right? They are federal law enforcement agents. Diplomatic Security takes great pride in the fact that it is considered a federal law enforcement agency.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And if it is correct that many of the 1,900 of them are unable to do their jobs or are not able to do their jobs effectively because they have criminal backgrounds or checkered backgrounds --
MS. PSAKI: No, that is incorrect.
QUESTION: That is incorrect?
MS. PSAKI: The reason that I went --
QUESTION: But are there – then can you say, if it’s not many, is it some?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything for you on that.
QUESTION: But Jen, surely having a criminal record would bar you from working in Diplomatic Security, wouldn’t it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Jo, I’m not going to get into all the specifics of this, but obviously there is a rigorous and extensive process that every individual goes through. So every factor is considered. I mentioned their suitability, their financial background, certainly their criminal background. All of these are factors that are considered through this process.
QUESTION: But again, wouldn’t a criminal record bar – just bar people from having any kind of role in a security agency, in a law enforcement agency?
MS. PSAKI: I can assure you that every aspect of anyone’s records are looked into closely and considered as a part of any approval process for any position, and certainly in Diplomatic Security.
QUESTION: So – but you would not dispute the veracity of the memo where it says that this is an issue for at least some, or would you?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I can’t rule out for you every individual’s background. So I was just being careful about not doing that.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, this is what the OIG says – right, this is what the OIG says in its report. You’re not saying that that’s wrong, are you?
MS. PSAKI: I would – I am not ruling out anything in anyone’s background. I’m just assuring for you – reassuring for you how rigorous the process is.
QUESTION: Well, I understand that. But I mean, is the – does the Department believe that it is an issue that needs to be addressed, as apparently the OIG believes?
MS. PSAKI: We welcome any review that is going to happen or take place, looking at any of our processes. I’m not aware of one that is happening in this case given how rigorous our process is.
QUESTION: Okay. So is it fair to say that you disagree, the building disagrees with the OIG concern?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t – it’s not – it’s an internal memo.
QUESTION: I understand.
MS. PSAKI: So I’m not going to analyze an internal memo. It’s not something that we would have even necessarily seen.
QUESTION: You haven’t seen it?
QUESTION: Not necessarily.
MS. PSAKI: Well --
MS. PSAKI: -- Matt, they’re OIG documents.
MS. PSAKI: I mean, I would point you to them for specifics on each of these.
QUESTION: No, I understand, but maybe – but the Department often – the Department – the OIG, when it does a report or review on something like this, asks, as you went through the last time --
MS. PSAKI: Yes, they do.
QUESTION: -- with the other memo that she’s talking about, and they – and you respond, the Department responds to the OIG. Do you know if there was a response in this case, and if there was, was it that, “Well, this is interesting but we don’t think it’s a problem?”
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on a response. You are correct on the process.
QUESTION: Jen, can you – just on a point of clarification, and Matt touched on it at the top. Putting the memo aside, but not only for an ambassador to leave a post without notifying Washington, but to leave the country in an area that the regional security officer and his detail have outlined is at high risk of counter-surveillance because of NATO, because of all the other interests there, can you just tell us what the rule of thumb is in terms of notifying Washington and being able to overrule your regional security officer who has told you they would prefer that you stop doing this? Like, what’s the rule of thumb for ambassadors?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly if an ambassador has Diplomatic Security, which I believe most if not all of them have, that moving away from or traveling without them with you would certainly be frowned upon and would not be within what our policy is here. But every scenario is different and every case is different.
QUESTION: Could you clarify that for us, if you can take that question of specific to this post, whether that would be different than any other where you could leave your detail and leave the country?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to look into it and see what we can provide, and I’m sure we have an outline, and I have an outline of what the requirements and what the standards are that we can provide to all of you.
QUESTION: Because this was reported two years ago, so it would – since you can’t, from the podium, say – and clear the ambassador’s name since this review separate from this is going on – if you can outline for us that, at least, whether this would be with Washington’s knowledge that he was allowed to leave the country without detail, whether it was unusual or not. Because certainly, according to his agents and some of those detail members, it was, and it was reported to Washington as being quite unusual.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ll certainly look into what the protocol process is here. Again, I would caution you about --
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MS. PSAKI: -- believing everything you read or everything in an internal memo. So I would take that all with a grain of salt.
QUESTION: But this is not based – well, that’s what I’m saying, it’s not just based on the memo; it’s based on separate interviews, which is why I was citing those. Because I know you’ve talked extensively about your questions regarding memos and hearsay, but this is based on what agents have shared and reported, so it’s separate from that.
MS. PSAKI: So to break through all of your questions here, I believe what you’re asking for is what our process or protocol is for ambassadors and whether, if they have security detail, they should stick with their security detail. Certainly, yes, they should.
QUESTION: But when they’re leaving the country and the agent has said to cease that activity, in this case, particularly to this post, whether there would be any reason for this to not be unusual behavior that would warrant concern and would warrant reporting, and whether these agents could be mistaken in the reports that they shared two years ago that were then reported to Under Secretary Kerry – excuse me, Kennedy in May 2011?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, we’ll look into it. If there’s more to share, I’m happy to share it.
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Two days ago, the Greek Government shut down the Greek public television. 2,500 of our colleagues are out of a job. In Europe, they believe that it is a violation of the freedom of the press. Do you have any comment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have seen, of course, those reports. I don’t have anything for you on this specifically. We recognize these are, of course, difficult times, economic times, and support Greece and have empathy with Greeks during this economic crisis. We understand the need for reforms that will make Greece more competitive and prosperous in the future.
QUESTION: But to fire 2,500 people is a reform, you think?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything specific for you. It, again, is a tough economic time and we support Greece in the tough choices that need to be made.
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
MS. PSAKI: Let’s go to Scott just because he hasn’t asked.
QUESTION: No. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely.
QUESTION: Several of the large European retailers have signed on to a binding fire and building safety code; U.S. retailers, not so much. Does the U.S. Government have a position about whether American retailers doing business in Bangladesh should sign this binding Fire and Building Safety Accord?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Scott, I am familiar with that issue. We believe that companies need to make their own decisions. We do have an ongoing dialogue with Bangladesh and internally in the interagency about the need to help Bangladesh and work with companies and work with the government on the working conditions and the situation there. So that is a focus that we have here.
QUESTION: So if it’s up to them to make their own decisions, it is not the recommendation of the U.S. Government that --
MS. PSAKI: It is up to them to make their own decisions.
QUESTION: Can we change topics? The
QUESTION: (Inaudible) make sure that U.S. companies obey – which are working in Bangladesh – make sure that basic human rights and pay, other facilities provided to the Bangladeshis workers, are assured?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. That’s a separate question about the specific – specifically what he’s asking about U.S. companies signing on to. Certainly, we think companies should hold to the highest standards their working conditions, human rights conditions, absolutely. And that’s something we have an ongoing dialogue with Bangladesh about.
QUESTION: But if the U.S. companies are not signing on to those provisions, aren’t they not trying to do the same thing with other – which you would like to – expect them to do?
MS. PSAKI: Again, it’s a separate – whether they sign on to this specific agreement, we do hold them to the highest standards and expect that they will hold human rights and working conditions to the highest standards.
QUESTION: I wonder if you would comment on the Iranian elections tomorrow. They have one moderate candidate, Hassan Rouhani, but they also have – these are the leading candidates. They have five other really conservative – led by Saeed Jalili and Qalibaf and Ali Velayati. I wonder if you – would you like to see Mr. Hassan Rouhani win the election? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Not going to speak to specific candidates, and you’re laughing because you know I won’t. The decision on who will become Iran’s next president is up to the Iranian people. However, as the Secretary said, by international standards this election is not free, fair, or transparent. The candidates were chosen, as you know, by the Guardian Council, which is unelected and unaccountable to – an unaccountable body. And nonetheless, the Iranian people will make some choice among the small choices that they have.
QUESTION: And now, what was the reason that it is – it’s declared not to be up to international standards.
MS. PSAKI: The elections?
QUESTION: Why is it not up to international standards, in your opinion?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s quite a history in Iran that I’m sure you’re familiar with.
QUESTION: Right. Yes, I am.
MS. PSAKI: And as you know, the Supreme Leader, the ultimate authority --
MS. PSAKI: -- on not only issues but a lot of these cases lies with the Supreme Leader. So we have concerns about the history and concerns about how free, fair, and transparent it will be moving forward.
QUESTION: Okay. But that brings into question the whole system in Iran, not only the election. But as far as the elections are concerned, is there – as we have seen in the past, they were actually held with some – quite transparently. Don’t you agree?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Guardian Council selected candidates without support --
MS. PSAKI: -- or a vote from the Iranian people. That, I think, is a clear sign of not making this a democratic process in the true nature of the term. So that’s a flag right there. But certainly the history here and what happened just four years ago gives all of us pause.
QUESTION: But considering that Mr. Rouhani said statements that are quite conciliatory towards the United States and the West, wouldn’t you like him to see – to see him win in this --
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to speculate on individual candidates.
QUESTION: Yeah. Turkey.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have a general message to the people of Iran who are facing, as you call them, these small choices, given that the last elections in 2009, in which – which were won by Mr. Ahmadinejad, ended with quite a lot of violence on the streets of Tehran?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think our message to the Iranian people is what our message would be in any of these cases where we know that – and we have – we are not – we don’t believe, given the history, as I’ve just outlined, that we are on track for free, fair, and transparent elections. That doesn’t mean we discourage people from participating; we certainly do encourage them to. And we know the challenges that the Iranian people are facing. We’ve taken efforts and taken steps in recent weeks. It doesn’t solve this specific problem, but – to provide greater access to tools to communicate because we feel that’s so important for the people in the country. But until things change, we understand the challenges that the people in the country will be going through.
QUESTION: When you say that you encourage people to participate, that means you’re encouraging Iranians to participate and vote in what – an exercise that you think is completely pointless? Why would you --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I said, we’re not discouraging participation. We would – but we remain skeptical about what is going to transpire here.
QUESTION: I understand. I understand you’re not discouraging. But you actually said you are encouraging people to participate. Why would the United States Government encourage people to participate in an exercise that it, the United States Government, thinks is a complete waste of time and a sham?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are skeptical about how this will be handled and managed, Matt.
QUESTION: I know, so why would you encourage people to participate in something like that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we always encourage participation in any processes like voting along these lines. I don’t want you to read too much into the message I was sending there.
QUESTION: I’m not – I just – I’m not trying to read too much in – I’m not reading anything into it, other than the fact that you’re basically telling people to go waste their time, which I find a little bit surprising. But anyway, I have one.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: It’s on a purely domestic issue.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: So this morning, the House – a subcommittee of the House Oversight committee had a hearing about the International Religious Freedom Act. And the chairman of that committee, Congressman Chaffetz, was most peeved that the witness from the State Department who had been invited to attend, the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook, did not attend. Can you explain why she did not?
MS. PSAKI: I can.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom gladly agreed to testify today at the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee hearing that you’re referring to. It is standard operating procedure that the U.S. Government witnesses that are – Department witnesses, I should say – testify on a separate panel from private witnesses. And there was a change in the procedure and the process that they – as they planned the subcommittee hearing. But the Ambassador and the Department would very much look forward to participating in a future hearing that follows standard procedures for Department witnesses.
QUESTION: Okay. Are you aware of there being any exceptions to that rule or that practice or policy? Because Congressman Chaffetz found at least one where he said and named former Assistant Secretary Shapiro as appearing on a panel with a representative from Lloyd’s, the insurance concern?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not familiar with that case. This is our standard operating procedure here.
QUESTION: I understand, but this seems like it’s a middle school fight, and it’s a little embarrassing, I think, that it even has to be raised here. Couldn’t there be some kind of compromise reached with committee about allowing her to testify? Both the chairman of the committee and the Department think that it is – it would be good --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- and that her testimony would be important to understanding the situation.
MS. PSAKI: Well, she agreed to testify and she’s --
QUESTION: Yeah, but --
MS. PSAKI: -- open to testifying, so I’m sure they’ll discuss that.
QUESTION: Yeah, but testifying – yeah, but saying, “I’ll testify, but I’m only going to testify in my room,” or “at my own table,” seems a bit petty, as it does the other side as well, saying that, “No, we’re not going to ask – you can’t sit at your own table; you have to sit with these other people.”
So I just want to know why – I mean, this is the federal government we’re talking about here, and both sides are acting like a bunch of three-year-olds. Why can’t a compromise be reached? I mean, I could come up with any number of possible solutions.
MS. PSAKI: Maybe we should get you involved here.
QUESTION: Well, no. Yeah, I don’t get paid enough to do that. (Laughter.) But I just don’t understand, if you want to cooperate, why don’t you?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, in this case, they had a process that – or a procedure that they were planning. She agreed to testify. They changed that. She’s happy to testify again. I’m sure there’ll be a range of discussions from both sides about that.
QUESTION: Congressman Leach, who is the ranking member of that subcommittee, said that he had a similar experience with – when he was actually the chairman of the subcommittee during the Bush Administration, had a similar experience with the refusal to testify with private witnesses. And he said that while it – he suggested that Congressman Chaffetz’s colleague might have been trying to set something up to have some kind of an argument between witnesses, and the way he suggested this was by saying that he understood that it might be entertaining for the committee members and perhaps the public, the few people who would watch this kind of a hearing – it might be entertaining for them, but it would be uncomfortable for the Administration.
Can you assure us that it is not because it would have – might have been uncomfortable for either the Administration or the witness in question? That’s not the reason why --
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, they were following standard policy and process here. That’s what the Department was doing. I’m sure they will discuss how to make the hearing happen in the future. You’re right that they do want to have this hearing. It is to talk about religious freedom, something the Secretary and the Department cares deeply about, and we’ll see --
QUESTION: Well, if you care so deeply about it, why couldn’t you have come up – why couldn’t you come up with some way that she could appear, when it has, in fact, happened before?
MS. PSAKI: Well, she agreed to appear, they’re going to discuss appearing, and we’ll keep you updated on what happens next.
QUESTION: But what is the standard policy again?
MS. PSAKI: That government – that Department witnesses testify in a separate panel from private witnesses.
QUESTION: And the point of that?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a longstanding Department policy. I’m not sure I have much of an analysis for you on it.
QUESTION: There’s no point?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not saying that at all. I just don’t have an analysis on it for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
MS. PSAKI: Let’s do one last one – two last ones and then we’ll --
QUESTION: A year, almost a year on Mr. Morsy being President of Egypt, how do you see the evolution of the relationship between the U.S. and Egypt during that year?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to give an analysis of the relationship. Obviously, there are issues that we work together on. We continue to strongly support the Egyptian people’s desire to build a prosperous, democratic future. There are issues that we disagree on. We – the Secretary has been very vocal about the need for the Egyptians to do more on their economic reforms, to do more on human rights. We’ve expressed concerns about the recent NGO ruling, of course. But Egypt has been an important partner. We know they’re continuing to build on their democracy, and we’ll continue to work with them and encourage them to do just that.
QUESTION: Jen, just on that point, today, Senator Rubio and 12 other senators submitted a letter to President Morsy. It was a very terse letter demanding that they reverse the sentences of a couple weeks ago, or 10 weeks ago. One, are you aware of the letter? And second, did you coordinate with the Senate on this issue?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen the letter, so I’m not aware if we knew about it in advance.
Let’s do the last one.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. In Turkey?
QUESTION: Yeah. Prime Minister issued final warning, and then he’s saying that he clean up the square. Can I have your comment about that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we do, of course, as we’ve said a couple of times, continue to follow the events in Turkey very closely. We welcome efforts to ease tensions and encourage attempts, including the proposed referendum, which was also a part of what happened overnight, to resolve this situation through dialogue, taking into account views from across the political spectrum. We also call on all sides to exercise restraint and avoid violence. And we’ve seen incidents – I’ve talked about a couple of times over the last two weeks of – that have raised concern, so we’re continuing to follow that. And let me just add, too, that we’re troubled by any pressure against media outlets as a result of them performing the normal functions of a free press. And we’ve also seen that happening in recent days as well.
QUESTION: Did you raise this issue with the Turkish Government (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of a – aside from the Foreign Minister conversation that happened a couple of days ago, I’m not aware of another one since then.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Turkish Government is complaining about the perception of Turkey in international media, and they are blaming some outlets in international media for this, CNN and other American media outlets (inaudible) actually. How your perception about Turkey has been affected because of this coverage?
MS. PSAKI: I think the most important thing here is for Turkey to respect the freedom of the media and the freedom of the press and not take actions that would contradict that, and that’s why I was referencing that.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:27 p.m.)
DPB # 98