The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.
1:32 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. How are you? Sorry for the delay. You’ve now had not one, but two briefings from my good friend Ben Rhodes over at the White House, but I bet I know what’s on all of your minds.
MS. PSAKI: So let’s kick this off on a Friday.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And yes, two briefings from Ben Rhodes, and I have to say – I hope I’m not alone in this – there is still quite a lot of confusion. So the United States has agreed to increase its support and aid to Syria, including direct military assistance. Are you able to help us in any way explain exactly what is meant by that?
MS. PSAKI: I cannot. Let me give you just an overview. This is not going to answer that exact question, but just so everybody here understands: We have assessed that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons. The President has assessed, and the Secretary of State, of course, agrees that the red line has been crossed. We do not believe the opposition has acquired or used chemical weapons. This assessment was made through multiple independent streams of information. The POTUS took – the President, excuse me – took deliberative, decisive action in response to crossing of the red line. He said it would change his calculus, and it did. He has authorized the expansion of our assistance to the SMC, the Supreme Military Council.
I’m not able to provide details of what we will provide. That is consistent with, of course, what my colleagues over in the White House have said. But it is a different scale and scope of what we have provided in the past. We have a range of additional options available, so this is where we go from here. And we’ll continue to look at what advances our goals of a transition to post-Assad Syria, and is in line with the national interest.
QUESTION: Why the reluctance to spell out in – not in absolute detail, but in greater detail what this expanded assistance is going to consist of?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have additional details I can provide.
QUESTION: Did you have an opening? And can I make a plea that the announcement about the briefing starting be louder? Because this is the second day in a row I have heard absolutely nothing.
MS. PSAKI: We will make sure it’s louder, with a louder voice.
QUESTION: Was there no – there was no opening? You didn’t have anything at the top?
MS. PSAKI: I just gave – Jo asked just --
QUESTION: No, no, no. You didn’t have anything at the top?
MS. PSAKI: I did not have an opening at the top.
QUESTION: All right. Okay.
QUESTION: Does --
QUESTION: When you say – hold on – I’m just curious, though – this is what you – when you say, “This is where we go from here,” where is the “where”?
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: Because that seems to be the question you’re not answering.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m happy to answer it. I’m glad you asked. The President has made clear – the White House has made clear --
QUESTION: Well, don’t – what you just told her, because that didn’t answer the question. I want to know when you say, “This is where we go from here,” what are the American people supposed to understand as where “where” is?
MS. PSAKI: Well, give me an opportunity --
MS. PSAKI: -- to answer, and then you can follow up as always, as I’m certain you will.
MS. PSAKI: So I gave an overview of what happened over the last 12 – 24 hours, I suppose. That’s how I started in response to Jo’s question, and said I was not able to provide more details, of course, than the White House has provided. Where we go from here is that there has been a decision to consider additional options. The President has decided – the Secretary of State supports that, of course – to continue to consider additional options. The President, as you know, is headed to the G8 next week and will be meeting with a number of his counterparts, where this will be a part of the discussion, along with a number of issues, of course. And that’s where we’re going. The same options remain on the table that we have discussed – not boots on the ground, but all of the other options that we have been discussing, and I can assure you they will be considered in the time ahead. But we’re not on – we’re on our own timeline here. So we’re – we’ll continue to discuss it, and we’ll go from there.
QUESTION: All right. Well, I understand what you’re saying, but when you say you consider – you continue to consider additional options, wasn’t the announcement yesterday that there has been a decision to expand what – from where --
MS. PSAKI: Yes, and this --
QUESTION: -- where you had been before --
MS. PSAKI: Exactly.
QUESTION: -- and where you had been before was direct --
QUESTION: -- what I – direct – no – direct military assistance to the SMC, which could include night vision goggles, body armor, in other words, defensive supplies. There has been a decision – is it correct there has been a decision to expand from that?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
MS. PSAKI: As you’ve all written.
QUESTION: All right, well, then --
MS. PSAKI: And I said that at the beginning.
MS. PSAKI: So I was just --
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: -- what I was trying to get at is that we’re continuing, beyond that, to consider additional options.
QUESTION: Beyond the – yesterday’s expansion --
MS. PSAKI: Beyond – exactly.
QUESTION: -- the announcement of expansion yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: Exactly.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. So when you --
QUESTION: There’s an ongoing discussion between the White House and the Congress on – I mean, regarding the Syria crisis. Would be a no-fly zone an option on the table?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, all options remain on the table aside from boots on the ground. There has been reports that a no-fly zone has been decided on. Those are incorrect. But certainly in the range of options, that is included in the range of options.
QUESTION: But that decision was made before the proof of using the chemical weapons by the regime.
MS. PSAKI: Which decision?
QUESTION: Now, the President said --
MS. PSAKI: Just to clarify.
QUESTION: -- the President said that when we will have these proofs, this would be a game-changer.
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: So what are the options right now? That was before.
MS. PSAKI: That is correct. All options remain on the table aside from boots on the ground. So there’s a range that have been out there, discussed; I’m not going to outline them from here, but those remain under consideration. The President will be at the G-8 next week. The White House has made clear he’ll be discussing this.
Let me tell you, too, that the Secretary has also been in consultation since yesterday with a number of his counterparts as well. So he’s spent a great deal of time on the phone. This morning alone, he’s spoken with U.K. British Foreign Secretary Hague, French Foreign Minister Fabius, Foreign Minister Lavrov, and EU High Representative Ashton to update them and discuss with them the latest findings. We have been briefing a number of these countries, of course, throughout the week. And later this afternoon he’ll speak with Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu.
QUESTION: Jennifer, could you --
QUESTION: And do you know what – Ban Ki-moon has said that no military solution to this conflict – he doesn’t seem to support this, and saying that it could lead to further disintegration of the country. Would any kind of action by the U.S. and its allies need Security Council clearance?
MS. PSAKI: No, but let me be clear. A political solution is the preferred solution. A political transition is what we are all focused on moving toward. That is where the Secretary is, that is where the President is; that’s what we’re focused on. And there are a number of factors that led to the announcement yesterday and the ongoing consideration of additional options, including what’s happened on the ground that we’ve talked about quite a bit in here the past couple of weeks with the influx of foreign fighters, the impact of Iran and Hezbollah, as well as, of course, crossing the redline on chemical weapons.
But in terms of decisions made by each government, each government will make decisions. Of course, traditionally, broadly speaking, actions by the UN Security Council which we’ve supported, as you know, many times on Syria, are always helpful in making the case.
QUESTION: And Jen, just one more thing. What is the goalpost after the G-8? What kinds of questions is Secretary Kerry trying to – asking his allies, and what kinds of issues do you need to come out with to be able to clear the way either to a peace conference or to further military action?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the broad goal here we all have is to strengthen the opposition on the ground, but also their political organization, increase their effectiveness and their cohesion, connect with and coordinate with other partners around the world. So that’s part of what the Secretary will be doing during his discussions. As you know, he’s done quite a bit of travel and had quite a few phone calls with many of these same individuals in a coordinating effort.
We are still working towards planning a conference, and there still will be a meeting planned for next week to move forward in discussing all of the outstanding issues with that.
QUESTION: Jen, you said that the Secretary spent a great deal of time on – excuse me, spent a great deal of time on the phone with these foreign ministers. The conversations were all about Syria? Or there were other issues as well?
MS. PSAKI: There – I – this was the main purpose of the conversations. Of course, there are always other issues that may come up, but that was the main purpose of the calls.
QUESTION: And can you give us roughly an idea of how long these calls were?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that in front of me. I’m happy to get that to you. The point I was making, Matt, was not necessarily these four specific calls, but just in general that he has spent a lot of time talking with his counterparts about Syria.
QUESTION: Right. No, I understand, but these are pretty – these are four pretty key people, or five --
MS. PSAKI: They are, absolutely.
QUESTION: -- including – five if you include Davutoglu. So I’m just wondering if you could characterize what the conversation was about with Hague and Fabius and Ashton and Lavrov --
MS. PSAKI: It --
QUESTION: -- and what he’ll – did he tell them what the President had decided? Is that the idea?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve been providing information and in touch with many of these allies throughout the week. So this was a conversation following the official announcement.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. But – so did he tell them more than what was discussed – than what the White House said yesterday, or right now what the White House is saying?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, there are many private conversations that happen --
MS. PSAKI: -- that are more in-depth than what is shared publicly for obvious reasons.
QUESTION: And I’m curious to know about the conversation specifically with Foreign Minister Lavrov because, as you are aware, the Russians have reacted rather negatively to this whole thing, and it sets a – it sets the stage for a rather contentious meeting between the President and President Putin when they do meet. Did they – did either – well, did the two men, Lavrov and the Secretary, did they talk about the upcoming meeting between the President, and did they express hope that it would be --
MS. PSAKI: That call was happening just as I was coming down, so I don’t have any update on their conversation. This was the purpose of it, but I’m happy to see if there’s more detail to provide to you.
QUESTION: Do you --
MS. PSAKI: And certainly – and just to – let me just make this last point. They have discussed the meeting between President Putin and President Obama in the past and I would be surprised if that wasn’t a part of the conversation today.
QUESTION: You said that it was determined through multiple independent streams of sources that they used chemical weapons. Are those independent streams that the United States of America obtained directly?
MS. PSAKI: Again, there’s part – our focus and our efforts, as well as working with our allies. I’m not going to get into more of a level of detail than that.
QUESTION: But could you tell us that – whether the United States was able to obtain this evidence independently, which means independent of everybody else? Or was it dependent on, let’s say, what the French provided?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into that level of detail. There are obviously a number of factors that go into any intel assessment.
QUESTION: Okay. And also it says that the use was over a period of two years, so to speak, or over the past two years. Were there, like, periods of time when these uses were, let’s say, more than other times and with people killed – apparently between 100 and 150, all in one attack, all in several attacks; two in each attack. Could you give us --
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve talked about four specific dates. I don’t have more information than that to provide to you at this time, and if I do, I’m happy to. But that’s what I have available at this time.
QUESTION: Okay. On providing weapons, it is said that it is mainly small arms and so on. Now, I want to go back to some of the aid that you guys have already promised back in April, which include trucks, goggles and, like, night vision and so on, which have not been delivered thus far, two months later. So if you decide to give weapons now, do you have any idea how long that will take – weeks or months?
MS. PSAKI: Well, in any process we would be closely coordinating with Congress. I don’t have any update for you on the timing of how long. I do have an update on Margaret’s question from yesterday in that the next step on the $123 million, which was the other part – what was announced in Istanbul – we’ve started the congressional notification process this week. So that is ongoing.
QUESTION: And on the no-fly zone, do you have to have a Security Council resolution or not for a no-fly zone?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have the details on that, but it’s a hypothetical because --
QUESTION: And do you – right. And do you expect that the Russians and the Chinese would actually veto a no-fly zone?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to anticipate the actions of others, but --
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Jen --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Because you said Secretary Kerry spoke with several of his counterparts --
MS. PSAKI: He did.
QUESTION: -- this morning. Is he planning to speak with any of his Arab counterparts?
MS. PSAKI: Any of his --
QUESTION: Arab counterparts?
MS. PSAKI: He has regular conversations, and I should have said --
QUESTION: No, today?
MS. PSAKI: He may. Those were the calls that have happened and were scheduled, but I expect he’ll be making calls through the course of the weekend.
QUESTION: Who? With whom?
MS. PSAKI: So as we have updates, I’m sure we can provide those.
QUESTION: Do you have an idea with whom?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have other scheduled calls right now, but those are being scheduled as we speak.
QUESTION: I just want to – on the – you said the notification to Congress on the $123 million has begun?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: So on all of it?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. And that is – can you remind me? My memory isn’t as good as it used to be.
MS. PSAKI: That is the --
QUESTION: What is the hundred and twenty – is that the armor and the – or is that --
MS. PSAKI: That is the piece, exactly, that includes direct aid to the SMC in the form of forms of equipment that we have consulted with them on they would need.
QUESTION: Beyond the food and the medical --
MS. PSAKI: Correct. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: All right. So that hardware, military hardware, although nonlethal, is being notified now?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Do you – can you be more specific about what, since it has begun, what exactly it is that’s going? Like, is it goggles, body armor and armored vehicles? Or is it something else?
MS. PSAKI: There were a range of options, including trucks and communications equipment. I don’t have any greater level of specificity than that at this point.
QUESTION: Okay. But it’s not classified, right, though?
MS. PSAKI: No.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. Well, since Congress is being notified, could you endeavor to --
MS. PSAKI: Yes, absolutely.
QUESTION: -- since they won’t be upset?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly not.
QUESTION: If they’ve already been notified, they won’t be upset if we know about it too. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Is it --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, Margaret?
QUESTION: Jen, can you explain whether it’s a priority in this building or within the U.S. Government that there be perhaps more balance in the field in Syria headed into the Geneva conference? I know you can’t speak about timing, but at least that premise that the parties who we hope come to the table in Geneva, that they be more on an even level, the opposition and the Assad government.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I just wouldn’t tie the two together. They are parallel paths. So clearly the conditions on the ground and the fact that they have been worsening for the Syrian people and for the opposition has been one of the factors – as I mentioned, the influx of Hezbollah, influx of foreign fighters – as has the use of chemical weapons been a big part of our decision-making process.
Geneva, we still want to happen when the time is ripe and when it is the best opportunity to bring both sides to the table. There are a number of factors that go into that. Certainly what’s happening on the ground is a part of that, as you’ve seen the opposition talk about, but also the opposition needs to elect leadership; that’s a step they need to take. We need to make determinations about everything from the agenda to the participation. And all those pieces are still being worked through.
QUESTION: And on that point about getting the opposition to be more cohesive, what are some of the legal restrictions on arming rebels in a country whose government we still officially recognize diplomatically?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t have any legal rundown here. If there’s something we can get from our team or from our friends across the street, I’m happy to provide that to all of you.
QUESTION: Because it would help, clarity-wise, if there is the need, per se, for that opposition cohesiveness to be then a government inside the country that we could help out a bit more.
MS. PSAKI: If there is a clear legal document, I’m happy to provide that to all of you.
QUESTION: On the issue of --
QUESTION: And also can I ask how confident this Administration is that the chemical weapon stocks, which we’ve now known have been used, are actually secure? Or are they in danger of being – of floating around the country being used by extremist groups?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have anything new on that. Obviously, as you know, the movement – the transfer was also a redline, but what we have discussed here is the use as being the crossing of the redline. That’s always something we’re focused on and we are concerned about given what could happen if they were moved and were made into – or made it into bad hands. But I don’t have anything new or kind of any new analysis on that.
QUESTION: So you’re not sure if they are secure?
MS. PSAKI: No, what I was saying is we’ve long said that we believe they are. The crossing, the transfer of them would be of concern. I don’t have anything new or anything I can announce or say about whether that is a concern at this point.
QUESTION: But I thought the point was they already were in the bad hands.
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: Otherwise this whole exercise is completely pointless. (Laughter.) Why would you be opposing Assad and wanting him to go if you didn’t think he was bad?
MS. PSAKI: The use of, the transfer of --
QUESTION: You’re talking about the terrorist groups?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: So you believe they’re secure, but you’re not in a position to say whether they’ve been transferred to other groups?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any information to believe that. But again, I just don’t have a new update on that.
QUESTION: Jen, on the aid --
QUESTION: When the U.S. draws a redline and when a country crosses the redline, what the consequences would be?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the White House has made very clear that the consequences are that it has changed the President’s calculation; that’s long what they have said, that it would change his calculation. They talked about their decision to expand assistance to the SMC – military assistance. And beyond that, I just can’t discuss the scale and scope of what that means.
And of course, beyond that, as I mentioned at the top, we’re considering additional options. There are a number of factors that lead into that decision-making process. Of course the use of chemical weapons is part of that, as is the situation on the ground. And the reasons why we are where we are, which is, as I’ve mentioned a few times, Iran’s impact and the influx of foreign fighters. And that’s all part of the decision-making process as we look forward.
QUESTION: Do you have an example from the past that the United States drew a redline and a country crossed and what the consequences --
MS. PSAKI: I would leave that to you, all the historians in the room.
QUESTION: On the --
QUESTION: To remember or to see what will happen maybe in Syria, to see what the consequences would be?
MS. PSAKI: Take a look. We can discuss it again on Monday.
QUESTION: Jen, on the issue of foreign fighters. Today or yesterday, the President of Egypt, President Morsy, who is your ally, said that he cannot stop Egyptian volunteers from going to fight alongside the opposition. And this also comes at a time when there are many calls from many mosques for volunteers to go and fight alongside the opposition. You do consider that to be foreign fighters, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: So would you discourage Mr. Morsy, your ally, from making such calls?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly would.
QUESTION: Jennifer, what are the certain outcomes or geopolitical implications that the U.S. Government is waiting for to happen before jumping and interfering in Syria?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re already very involved in Syria. And I know I outlined what exactly we’ve done.
QUESTION: I mean in a different way, like more military way. That’s the way that I’m talking about.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think over the course of the last 24 hours it’s been clear that we’ve made a decision to authorize the expansion of assistance to the SMC in a different way. And I can’t, again, talk about the scale and scope of that, but let me just point that out.
Beyond that, there are a number of factors; we’ve talked about them today quite a bit. The President is going to continue to consult with his counterparts when he’s at the G-8 next week. The Secretary is in ongoing conversations with foreign ministers representing a number of the key nations who have had a – significant stakes in Syria. But I can’t give you a timeline or give you a prediction of what will happen next. Just to assure you that this is a major focus and it will be a major topic of discussion in the Administration.
QUESTION: So no further steps before the G-8 summit?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything for you before the G-8 summit. I think the White House --
MS. PSAKI: -- let me just finish – White House made very clear that the President will be consulting with his allies and his counterparts at the G-8 summit, and the Secretary will be having these ongoing discussions, and I’m sure they will be discussing Syria with other members of the national security teams – team on countless occasions in the weeks and months ahead.
QUESTION: Just some housekeeping, Secretary Kerry’s not traveling with --
MS. PSAKI: He is not.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Did he invite other non-members of G-8 summit, like Ashton or Davutoglu, to discuss this issue?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I mean, the Secretary spoke with Lady Ashton this morning. I don’t – I’m not – I don’t know all the participants in terms of additional participants with the G-8.
QUESTION: What is the timeline of the Congress notification that you mentioned? I mean, how long it takes?
MS. PSAKI: It started this week. It’s ongoing. I don’t have an update on when it will be completed.
QUESTION: Ninety days, or I mean what --
MS. PSAKI: But it usually doesn’t take that long. So I don’t have an update on when it will be completed, though.
QUESTION: You had delivered, first tranche, an amount of $8 million without a notification. And the Syrian support group was a facilitator. This is the difference that why you are making such a notification for this time?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we consult closely with Congress on all of our aid. I’d have to check on that point that you just made to make sure it’s accurate. But we have delivered – 127 is in train. This is the next stage in the process for the 123, and we’re working and focused on it.
QUESTION: But the first tranche also was including some goggles, some food for the soldiers. I mean the content is not too different, I think. And that – but the last time – and it happened at the end of April. But the facilitator, as I said, was Syrian support group. This time maybe you will deliver this aid directly to the SMC. That’s why you need a notification?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this aid, in addition to part of the aid that was in the 127 is going directly to the – a lot of it is going directly to the ACU, the coordinating body of the SOC – that’s a lot of acronyms – and the 123, a portion of that will go to the SMC. And part of that is being in – discussed right now with Congress.
QUESTION: Can you give us an idea of just in general how long it takes from notification to stuff actually arriving?
MS. PSAKI: I can. I’m not sure there’s a standard or an average --
QUESTION: I know. I know. It depends.
MS. PSAKI: -- but I can talk to our Congressional team --
QUESTION: But can you find out?
MS. PSAKI: -- and see if I can give you a better sense of that.
QUESTION: Because – is it correct or incorrect that all of the 127 million is actually – the original 127 million is already there, right? It’s not all there; it’s still – some of it’s still in transit?
MS. PSAKI: It’s in transit, but the way that works is sometimes it’s in an account and hasn’t been spent on the ground.
QUESTION: No, I understand, but it’s – but that was notified to Congress weeks and weeks ago.
MS. PSAKI: It was.
QUESTION: So it can take a significant amount of time --
MS. PSAKI: It can.
QUESTION: -- for stuff to get --
MS. PSAKI: It can.
QUESTION: -- actually show up on the ground.
MS. PSAKI: It can.
QUESTION: So if there’s an – if there’s any way to, just in a general sense --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- find out how long it will take now that it’s been notified on the 127 --
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to talk to our --
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: -- Congressional folks and see if I can get you a better sense.
QUESTION: Could I --
QUESTION: Is there (inaudible) so far, I mean, from the Congress?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, but again, these are just ongoing consultations.
QUESTION: Could I ask you on the feeling in this building or by analysts, was that – the use of chemical weapons, was that experimental, considering that it was sporadic and the low – the relatively low number of casualties and so on when compared against the enormity of 92,000 killed, 100 to 150? Did they use it experimentally, or did they use it for strategic military gain?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I can’t get into their minds, but I think we’ve been pretty clear about their use.
QUESTION: Right. But do you feel it was used for – to gain strategic advantage?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I can’t get into analyzing why they did. Obviously, we’re concerned that they did, and that’s why we’re taking action.
QUESTION: Given Russia’s reaction --
QUESTION: Can I – just one – sorry, just – do you think – is the feeling, as you look forward and explore these additional options, that you would first try – that the U.S. would first try looking at a diplomatic solution to try to be fleshed out at the G-8 before it moves on to the military solution?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to get into that level of detail. I mean, I think at the same time, we’re pursuing parallel paths here, and that’s been ongoing for months unrelated to the G-8, right? So we’ve been considering additional options for some time. It wasn’t that this decision was made in the matter of the last 24 hours. This has been something that the national security team and the President have been discussing for weeks, and I know the White House has said the President decided before this week, long before this week.
So – but my point is that we’re still pursuing both a political option, a diplomatic option, while also taking steps – additional steps, obviously, and considering additional steps – to aid on the ground. The preferred solution here is still a political transition and a political solution. But we know that the ground – events on the ground have worsened in the past couple of weeks, and there have been a number of factors that have led to the decision that we discussed last night and today.
QUESTION: And how much was the assault on Aleppo, part of the President advised by the Secretary – how much was that part of the play going into his decision to take this next step?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to get into, of course, discussing internal deliberations or read out high-level discussions. There were a number of factors that led into this. There were four incidents of chemical weapons use discussed as part of this report and part of this statement that was released last night. But again, there are changing conditions on the ground. I think there’s no question there has been a rise in sectarian violence, a rise in violence impacting neighboring countries. And all of this, of course, leads into the thinking and the decision-making process.
QUESTION: So one thing: We have a source – a Gulf source saying that the Saudi Foreign Minister had met with the French, and – this week to discuss setting up a no-fly zone, but – that the measure is expected to go ahead, but the timing’s not set. Are those discussions being had with the U.S. as well? I mean, is the possibility of a no-fly zone part of those additional measures?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we discuss a range of options, and we’re considering a range of options. And what I was saying earlier was just there had been some reports that the President had decided on, or was – there was an impending announcement on, and that is incorrect.
QUESTION: Jen --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Correct.
QUESTION: Do you think that the U.S. Government deserves credit for pursuing diplomatic solutions and sanctions, or it didn’t do enough to balance the crisis between what – the crisis in Syria between the regime and rebels?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not looking for credit. We’re looking for a resolution that will help the Syrian people and bring an end to the suffering. We have taken a number of steps. As you know, we are the largest provider of humanitarian aid. We made an announcement just two days ago about sanctions and efforts we’re trying to make to help return some basic --
QUESTION: Is it enough?
MS. PSAKI: Is it enough? Well, look, we’re continuing to consider other options, and we’re focused on bringing an end to the brutality that’s happening in the country. We’re focused on both a political solution mainly – that’s where we want to go – but we’re also focused on providing assistance and helping on the ground, and we – the Secretary wakes up every day focused on this and wanting to continue to discuss it.
QUESTION: Given Russia’s reaction to this latest development, what are you doing in your interactions with them to prevent this whole situation from escalating into basically what amounts to a proxy war between the two nations?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I mentioned this a little earlier, but we have briefed the Russians regarding our chemical weapons information and assessment. The Secretary --
QUESTION: But they flatly rejected that.
MS. PSAKI: Let me just finish. The Secretary is speaking with, or was speaking with, the Foreign Minister as I was coming down. And of course, we all know the President has a meeting with President Putin next week. And part of the case that will be made is about all of the evidence and the reasons why we are so confident in the assessment that was released by the White House on chemical weapons use yesterday, but also why it is so important and why it is in the interest of the Russians to continue to move towards a political solution. And that’s what the focus will be.
So, we will continue pressing. We know they are an important partner now. They have been. That’s why the Secretary’s been working with the Foreign Minister. And we’re going to continue to apply the necessary pressure to hopefully move towards a productive result.
QUESTION: You are aware that Mr. Rhodes’s Russian counterpart called the evidence completely fabricated?
MS. PSAKI: I am. That’s why I said we’re – brief them, we’re continuing to discuss with them, and the President will be meeting with President Putin next week.
QUESTION: And he also said that don’t make the same mistake as happened with Iraq. I mean, you are saying that – you said you’re confident in the assessment that was made yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. The President is, the Secretary is. And let me just remind you the Secretary and the President, in a different role, of course, were there for the debates around Iraq. And as you all have asked about why this is taking so long and why we don’t know more, part of the reason is because they both felt, as did members of the national security team, it was so important to nail down the facts and feel confident in them before making a further assessment. So that’s why we reached where we were yesterday.
QUESTION: Sorry, the President was around for the debate over the --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I said in a different role. He wasn’t the President then. He was speaking out against the Iraq War. But he was paying attention to it, and the Secretary was in the Senate.
QUESTION: But he wasn’t even – yeah, but the current President was not in the national government in any branch of it.
MS. PSAKI: He was not; in a different role.
QUESTION: So as a state senator in Illinois, he really got into the weeds on this?
MS. PSAKI: He did. He was vocal on it. But I was making the point that the Secretary --
QUESTION: Here’s the --
MS. PSAKI: -- and the President both watched the debate.
QUESTION: You’re confident that the presentation that you made yesterday won’t go down in history in the same way that former Secretary Powell’s presentation to the UN General Assembly did?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. That’s why we did our due diligence to nail down the facts before --
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: -- making any further assessment.
QUESTION: Are there any plans – it’s very new and now, but are there any plans at some point to make some of that assessment or all of that assessment publicly available?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of. I mean, this is an intel assessment. If that changes, we’ll let you know. AFP will be the first to receive the information.
QUESTION: Doubt that highly. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Turkish media have reported today that 73 Syrian military officers, including seven generals and 20 colonels, have crossed the border with their families, seeking refuge in Turkey. Do you have any idea about these reports? Are there --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any independent confirmation of that. I know there are a number of people – tens of thousands of people – who are moving across borders in different directions from Syria. Obviously that’s something we’re very concerned about, why we’ve provided aid to a number of those countries to help with that burden. And we’ve been in touch, of course, with the UN about it as well. But I don’t have any independent confirmation of that specific report.
QUESTION: And do you think that the White House statement yesterday had an effect on the defection of these colonels and generals?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t want to analyze it in that way. There have been, as you know, a number of military officials and others who have defected over the course of the last year-plus because of what’s happening with the regime. But I wouldn’t want to speak on their behalf about why they made the decisions they made.
QUESTION: Have you shared your assessment --
QUESTION: Can I ask --
QUESTION: -- excuse me. Sorry. Have you shared the assessment with General Idris and your interlocutors in the Syrian opposition?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an update on that. I know we’re in close contact, but I’m not sure who has been in touch, so I’ll venture to get that for you.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) there was a meeting in Istanbul (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: There was. But that meeting was something that was pulled together – it was part of our regular engagement with the opposition. And we consult with them very regularly, as you know. We did have two staff members from Embassy Ankara attending, but the purpose wasn’t to brief on the assessment that was announced yesterday.
QUESTION: There’s a meeting tomorrow with the French and British and General Idris in Istanbul as well, and you weren’t sure whether there was any U.S. involvement.
MS. PSAKI: That’s the same meeting, I believe, I was talking about.
QUESTION: Oh, it’s the same one?
MS. PSAKI: I believe it was yesterday. It may be continuing. That certainly is possible. But we did have two staff members from Ankara who attended that.
QUESTION: Is Ambassador Ford in town? Is he doing anything?
MS. PSAKI: Is he in Washington?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure of his whereabouts. He’s a very busy guy. But I’m happy to check on that for you. He’s not at this particular meeting that Jo was referencing.
QUESTION: How much longer will he stay in his post, Ambassador Ford?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on that for you.
QUESTION: So, but he will be there for the Geneva 2 thing?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any update for that on – on that for you.
QUESTION: Should we assume that the General Idris and SMC will be the representative of the opposition military in – on the military side? I mean, because we are only talking about General Idris. There are several groups on the ground.
MS. PSAKI: Well, he’s the head of the SMC, so that’s why we talk about him. But again, the opposition is – the goal is for them to expand. They’ve taken some steps to do that. They need to elect leadership. That’s a part of their next step. So we continue to encourage them to do just that.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely.
MS. PSAKI: I was.
QUESTION: And also my question on the criminal records, criminal backgrounds?
MS. PSAKI: I was.
QUESTION: Excellent. Can you enlighten us to as to what those answers --
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to enlighten you. So on the question of the process for the DS, while a past criminal violation would be a strong indicator against employment, it does not automatically disqualify a person for service. Such history would be scrutinized intently, considering the nature of the offense, the age when it occurred, and any extenuating circumstances. So the reality is here, just to put it in pure plain English, is that what we’re looking at is likely a juvenile conviction or minor brushes with the law. Of course, that’s considered and discussed as part of the rigorous and extensive process I talked about yesterday.
QUESTION: But a juvenile infraction or a minor brush with the law – that would impair them from doing their job?
MS. PSAKI: It would not, no. Sorry. I was answering the question as to what our process is or approach. It would not impair them from doing their job. It would not preclude them from getting a job with DS. That’s – that was what I meant in answering.
QUESTION: Right. I understand that. But the concern that was mentioned in that IG memo was not that they – not necessarily that they got a job, although that may be what some commentators are upset about, but that they were not – they were hindered in being able to do investigations, which is part of their job, because of this – these problems in their backgrounds. So my question is: Would a juvenile offense or a minor criminal violation do that? Would it impair their ability to conduct investigations?
MS. PSAKI: No. Let me just remind --
QUESTION: It doesn’t. Okay. So the --
MS. PSAKI: Let me just --
QUESTION: -- IG concern expressed in that memo is not grounded in --
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I haven’t even seen the full memo. I know – I’m sure some people here have. But the note – the claim that was made was that there was widespread – I mean, there was a larger issue at hand here. The reason I --
QUESTION: Well, that’s my second part of my question. But continue.
MS. PSAKI: The reason that I went through yesterday how rigorous this process is was to explain that in order to get a job as one of the just over 1,900 Diplomatic Security officers, it’s a very rigorous and challenging process with multiple steps. And so if you have, as I described, a minor offense or a juvenile conviction, that’s all factored in. It doesn’t preclude you or eliminate you as being an option.
QUESTION: Right. But that’s not the question. The question is --
MS. PSAKI: Some were asking that yesterday, so when you said Margaret’s question --
QUESTION: Okay. Well, it wasn’t my question. Well, actually, Margaret’s question was, I thought, different. But anyway – and had to do with – specifically with one ambassadorial post. But my question to you is: Do these minor criminal offenses or juvenile convictions hinder or impair an agent’s ability to do the job of investigating, as was stated in that IG memo?
MS. PSAKI: If there was a decision through the process that it would, they wouldn’t get the job.
QUESTION: So – okay. So in other words, the Department disagrees with this concern expressed by the IG.
MS. PSAKI: Correct. I just went through the --
QUESTION: Okay. All right. You – okay. And then the other thing was that – just on the – reports about this suggests that many of – or it didn’t suggest, it said many of the 1,900 have this problem. Can you – since you’re saying that none of them have this problem, because it’s not an issue, can you say how many of the 1,900 Diplomatic Security agents that are employed by the Department do have these small blemishes on their record?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not sure the report said that the majority of them had these blemishes.
QUESTION: It said many of them.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. No. This is – these are rare cases. I don’t have an exact number for you. But again, the important point here – and I’m sorry to go back to this – but that this is a factor that’s factored in in the process, which includes a background investigation, which includes a suitability review, which includes several steps to even get considered for the job.
QUESTION: Right. No, no, I understand. I just want to make sure it’s not the case that there are no – there’s no one who has an – it’s not the case that there are no agents who have blemishes on their record, however minor?
MS. PSAKI: Correct, but that’s all factored into the decision-making process.
QUESTION: But it’s certainly not many of 1,900?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: All right. And then, did you get a question – actually, I’ll let Margaret follow up on that.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead, Margaret.
QUESTION: If she wants to. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It was answered by Jen, but if you want to read it out for other people, sure.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, there was a question yesterday about whether ambassadors can leave post without – or leave the country of their posting without notifying or without getting permission from Washington, or whether they are allowed – whether they are required to have diplomatic security or other security agents with them when they leave.
MS. PSAKI: So let me explain to all of you the process. I know a couple of people had this question. There are a very limited number of Ambassadors who have a U.S. security detail. Many other ambassadors have security details provided by the host government, so that would be local authorities. And those details would not travel outside the country as they have no legal authority outside of their home nation. So that wouldn’t be standard. If the ambassador has a security detail in a post that would require that, as in a DS security detail, the detail stays with an ambassador until departing the country. And then if they go to a post where there is high threat, then that’s – they may have an additional detail, but it’s case by case in each of these scenarios.
So long story short, it would be incorrect to assume that a detail, especially local authorities, would leave a country with any ambassador serving. Not every ambassador has security, and ambassadors have different kinds of security with different requirements. Some don’t even have it all around the clock. So it’s a case by case depending on the post.
QUESTION: All right. Well, recognizing that DS and the rest of the building would probably get – freak out if they – if you were asked which ambassador posts have this – have security 24 hours and which ones don’t, I --
MS. PSAKI: They wouldn’t freak out if I asked, only if I answer you. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Right. Well, so I’m not going to ask that question because I know you won’t answer it, but can you give us a rough idea of how many – around the world, how many posts we’re talking about that – is it just like in war zones? I mean, I think we can all assume that Afghanistan or Iraq would be one of these ones, but an idea or a percentage of ambassadors who have – who are required to travel with security.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to define it because they’ll come down here and they’ll tackle me. But I will say it’s a small number. It’s a handful.
QUESTION: Small number? A handful. Okay.
QUESTION: Can I change topics?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: The Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Today, the Israeli Defense Minister, Mr. Moshe Ya’alon, placed the blame squarely on the Palestinians for the (inaudible) in the peace process, for not going into the direct negotiations unconditionally. Do you concur with this assessment?
MS. PSAKI: We, again, believe it’s on both sides to make the tough choices, to go back to the negotiating table, and that’s what our focus is on.
QUESTION: Okay. He also on the issue of the Arab Peace Initiative, which is a great success for the Secretary of State – he got the Arabs to sort of agree to swap land – to land swaps and so on. He actually dismissed that and he said that this is not really the issue that they are trying to impose upon us conditions that we reject.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I haven’t seen his specific comments, but let me just repeat why – or just tell you why the Arab Peace Initiative is significant or why the Secretary thinks it’s significant. And that is because it shows a unity among several Arab nations, that they support an effort to move towards a peace plan and that they would support that if it were to be completed. And that’s why it’s significant. So beyond that, I’m not going to respond to back-and-forth comments that I haven’t even seen.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, let me just sort of inform you. He also said, on the settlement issue, he dismissed this as being an issue because he said, quote-unquote, "The Palestinians consider all Israelis to be settlers and all of Israel to be settlement," and so on. Is that a feeling that you get from the Palestinians when you talk to them, when you talk to the Palestinian Authority, that they consider Israel to be a settlement and all Israelis are settlers?
MS. PSAKI: I am not going to characterize the broad feelings of all Palestinians. We have made clear what our feeling is, and I said that yesterday and I think I’ll leave it at that. Okay.
QUESTION: Okay. And finally, on the issue of incitement, he said that the Palestinians incite against Israel and he requested or appealed to the United States to connect the aid that it provides to the Palestinian Authority with their agreement not to incite and to change all the textbooks. Do you agree with him?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I haven’t seen his remarks. We have made very clear --
QUESTION: I recommend that you do look at it. Yeah.
MS. PSAKI: -- about no preconditions. There are a number of issues that need to be worked out through the process, and we’re hopeful they’ll remain – they’ll move back to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: On North Korea, there are reports that Glyn Davies will be meeting with his Japanese and Korean counterparts here next week. Can you just confirm that meeting for us and tell us what you expect to happen there?
MS. PSAKI: I do have something for you on that. So the United States will host Japan and South Korea for bilateral consultations on the D.P.R.K. on June 18th, and a trilateral dialogue on June 19th. The bilateral and trilateral meetings will be hosted by, as you referenced, Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies. The South Korean delegation will be headed by South Korea Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs – that is an amazing title – Cho. And the Japanese delegation will be headed by Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General Sugiyama. The United States, Japan, and South Korea have regular consultations, as you know, in which we exchange views on a wide range of regional and global issues, including on North Korea.
QUESTION: Jen, last one.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
MS. PSAKI: The focus of the conversation is on Syria and on the recent assessment that we announced last night. Beyond that, they often discuss a range of issues. They are good friends and good colleagues, but I don’t have a prediction for you on that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:20 p.m.)
DPB # 99