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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action


Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 8, 2013


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Index for Today's Briefing
  • GREECE
    • Secretary Kerry Meeting with Prime Minister Samaras
  • SAUDI ARABIA
    • Donation to UN Center on Counterterrorism
  • EGYPT
    • Joint U.S.-EU statement / Encourage Peaceful Resolution
    • Deputy Secretary Burns
    • Ongoing Diplomacy / U.S. Engagement Continues
    • Role of Interim Government
  • SRI LANKA
    • Death of Three Civilians / Church Desecration / Human Rights
  • MEPP
    • Negotiations Resuming August 14
    • Settlements
    • Secretary Kerry & National Security Adviser Rice Host Roundtables
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Karzai Offer of Peace Talks with Taliban / Taliban Office
  • INDIA/PAKISTAN
    • Kashmir
  • SYRIA
    • Reports of Sarin Gas at Yarmouk
    • Amb. Ford in Paris Meeting with Members of Syrian Opposition / Geneva 2
  • RUSSIA
    • 2+2 Meetings Logistics / Agenda
    • Human Rights
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Special Immigrant Visa Program
  • ISRAEL/LEBANON
    • Explosion near Blue Line between Israel and Lebanon
  • SYRIA
    • Unfrozen Funds for the Syrian People
  • JORDAN/SYIRA
    • Zaatari Camp
  • SYRIA
    • Aid into Syria
    • Reports of Attack on Assad
  • SNOWDEN
    • Should Be Returned to the United States


TRANSCRIPT:

The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.

1:26 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Good afternoon. I have two items for you at the top. First, Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Samaras had a productive meeting that highlighted the strength of the U.S.-Greek partnership. The Secretary recognized the difficult but essential reforms Greece is taking to restore market confidence and fuel economic growth, and noted our solidarity with the Greek people as they make these important changes. The Secretary discussed our robust defense cooperation with Greece, stressing the importance of having a strong NATO ally in such an important region. The two leaders also discussed issues of common concern, including developments in the wider region.

On the second – let me just do my second piece, and then we’ll go to your question.

Also, I just wanted to note the statement we put out this morning from Secretary Kerry welcoming and applauding today’s $100 million donation by His Majesty King Abdullah on behalf of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the UN Center on Counterterrorism. His Majesty’s generous donation on the occasion of Eid demonstrates once again the Kingdom’s commitment to supporting multilateral institutions and strengthening international cooperation on counterterrorism. And again I’d point you to the statement we put out from the Secretary this morning.

So with that, let’s get to what’s on all of your minds.

QUESTION: Jen, was – I wonder if we could start with just looking at the situation in Egypt again.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: We heard the statement yesterday from – the joint statement from the EU and the U.S. Do you still feel that these talks are salvageable and that – are – is Ambassador Burns returning to Cairo at any stage?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we absolutely do not believe the time for dialogue has passed. In fact, we feel, and continue to feel, it is essential. The joint U.S.-EU statement released yesterday clearly outlined our position on the current situation. We, along with the EU, the UAE, and Qatar have been working intensively to urge the Egyptian Government and opposition parties to begin a process of genuine reconciliation and move ahead inclusively to consider amendments to the constitution, and prepare as quickly as possible for parliamentary and presidential elections.

I don’t have any additional travel to announce for you today, but we do remain in close contact with our counterparts around the world and in the region.

QUESTION: Is that statement – in any way shifts the blame on the Muslim Brotherhood?

MS. PSAKI: I believe the statement, which I am happy to send you after the briefing, made very clear that we haven’t taken sides. It’s up to the Egyptian people to determine the path forward, that we believe that a reduction in violence is pivotal, as well as a move towards an inclusive process.

QUESTION: I guess my question is that in – on the one hand, it seems that those like the military is more amenable to the idea of the suggestions made by the EU and by you, but on the other hand, there is almost a total rejection by the Muslim Brotherhood, who keeps saying that you must address yourself to the legal authority of Egypt, which is Mohamed Morsy. So could you comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just trying to understand what your question is.

QUESTION: My question is that the statement talks about people should come together and so on.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Muslim Brotherhood keeps insisting that the legitimate political entity in Egypt is Mohamed Morsy.

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: So I’m asking you to comment on their position.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think that we – our role here is to encourage – to continue to encourage all sides to come together and find a peaceful resolution here. And that’s the role that Deputy Secretary Burns was playing while he was in Egypt. That’s the role our counterparts are playing, including High Representative – Special High Representative Ashton. That’s what we’re working towards, but we’re not taking one side or the other in this process.

QUESTION: Okay. And finally, it is the current positions. Do you feel that they both are headed towards confrontation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the threats of an increase in violence are certainly always a concern. That message is one that we have been conveying publicly and privately. Further violent confrontations have thus far been avoided, but we remain concerned and troubled that government and opposition leaders have not yet found a way to break a dangerous stalemate and agree to implement tangible confidence-building measures. That’s what we’re continuing to encourage and what our counterparts are encouraging as well.

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Regarding the joint statement and the – you mentioned now that there is not any plan to travel. Is there any mechanism or, let’s say, for – to go from A to B? Because what is mentioned in the joint statement is, A, which is description of the situation now or your suggestion, and then, B, what it is to be done. From the A to B, how it can move? Is there a mechanism, something you are sponsoring it, talks are going on, or what?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we are continuing to encourage ongoing dialogue. We don’t feel the window has closed for that. We feel the window is still absolutely open, and it should be open. So I don’t – what I was conveying to Lesley was that I don’t have any announcements of any planned travel from this building. Obviously, there are many of our counterparts who are closely involved and engaged in this that we’re working closely with as well. But we are encouraging the dialogue between Egyptians. We’ve put forward over the past couple of days, when Deputy Secretary Burns and others were there, some constructive suggestions, but it’s ultimately up to them to make decisions about what’s next.

QUESTION: So the other question is: It seems that many people observe that, let’s say, one side, the government, say yes to you, and the Muslim Brothers say yes to you, maybe, but they are not saying yes to each other. I mean, how you can come out of this thing, which is like somehow – Tom Friedman mentioned yesterday about Israelis and Palestinians, they are saying yes to you and they are saying yes to you but not saying yes to each other.

MS. PSAKI: Well, only Egyptians can determine their future, so what we did was we suggested a number of practical ideas to calm current tensions and help Egyptians build a bridge toward real political change. But they have to make those choices, and we’ll continue to play, as will our counterparts, as constructive a role as possible.

QUESTION: Jen, can I just ask you --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- step back just a --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- little tiny bit, not a lot --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- but just a little bit --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and ask you, do you believe that the Administration’s message to Egyptians of all persuasion, political persuasions, is getting through?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s a hard thing for us to judge --

QUESTION: Well –

MS. PSAKI: -- but there’s no question, Matt, there’s been a great deal of misinformation out there, and we’ve been taking every step possible to convey what our view is, which includes public statements – the one we released that was, of course, a joint statement with the EU – and we will continue to endeavor to make sure the accurate message is getting out.

QUESTION: Would you say that the joint statement that was put out yesterday was an attempt to – was primarily an attempt to convey an accurate sense of what the United States, in conjunction with the EU, is hoping or is trying to do?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it certainly clearly outlines our position.

QUESTION: I know, but was it in response to any one particular or any --

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t characterize it as being in response. Just – we – it was our effort to convey our view, what steps we’ve taken, and where we think things should go moving forward.

QUESTION: All right. Are you concerned at all that one or both sides are intentionally misrepresenting the U.S. – the Administration’s position and using it to foment unrest, or using it to at least foment angry – anger among their supporters?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there certainly has been misinformation out there, as we’ve talked about in the past, and that’s why we will continue to convey what our viewpoint is, which of course the statement did just that. Beyond that, I don't want to characterize what each side may or not be attempting to do. All we – our role here is to continue to encourage calm and to continue to encourage inclusivity by all sides.

QUESTION: All right. Thus far, do you think that that’s been a – that you’ve been successful in that?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to give a grade, Matt.

QUESTION: I’m not asking for a grade. It’s a --

MS. PASKI: Obviously, we’re continuing to work to make sure that the viewpoints of the United States – that the – our efforts and what we see our role as is being conveyed as broadly as possible.

QUESTION: Okay. But thus far would you say that that has been – is that incomplete? Are you – I guess what I’m asking is, is the Administration satisfied that its message and its attempts to do what this joint statement says that it’s trying to do, that that’s getting through to the – not only the Egyptian leadership but also to the Egyptian public?

MS. PSAKI: It’s hard for me to give a grade on that, Matt, but obviously --

QUESTION: Well, you have --

MS. PSAKI: -- we’re continuing to communicate that because we think it is important to continue to convey to the Egyptian people, to leaders on all sides, what we feel the role is of the United States.

QUESTION: Well, there’s a lot of anger and a lot of mistrust from both sides towards the United States.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And toward – in particular towards the Administration now. You are aware of that, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And you have people at the Embassy who read the newspapers, who monitor the web, who presumably go to demonstrations or at least are aware of demonstrations. There is anger at the ambassador. There’s a new – her successor hasn’t even been chosen yet and already there’s opposition to a potential nominee. Is that an indication to you that your message is getting out there?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, the only antidote to misinformation is accurate information, which we will continue to endeavor to provide.

QUESTION: Jen, just a follow-up on that. When Ambassador Burns left there, was – did he leave – I mean, the government’s been saying that this is a failure. Did he leave under the belief that the Egyptians were then going to follow on certain measures, one of them being a letter of intention that they would issue as a signal that they’re moving towards a process?

MS. PSAKI: Well, he left there with the viewpoint, as was expressed in the joint statement that we had – he had played a role in putting constructive ideas forward to the Egyptians in order to help prevent further violence and help advance the transition, that it’s up the Egyptian people – up to Egyptians to make the choices about the path forward, that that’s not a choice that can be made on their behalf, that we remain committed to ongoing dialogue, and we believe that window continues to be opened. So it wasn’t a conclusion of our role and engagement; it was more that efforts – conclusion of a three-day trip more than anything else.

QUESTION: So on that very point --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- the status today, as of today, Friday the 8th --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- are you engaged --

QUESTION: Today’s Thursday.

QUESTION: I mean, sorry, Thursday --

MS. PSAKI: Thursday. You’re bringing us ahead to the weekend.

QUESTION: Thursday. Sorry. I apologize. Thursday the 8th. Are you engaged? Disengaged? What is the level of engagement today? What is going on in this process?

MS. PSAKI: We continue to remain engaged with both our counterparts in the region as well as officials in Egypt.

QUESTION: Okay, so what would be the one thing that you would consider to be a breakthrough that both sides need to do to show movement towards each other, that the crisis is behind them? What would be the one thing?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I’m not going to give one thing. There are a couple of steps that we’ve continued to say and continued to encourage publicly and privately the Egyptians to take. We would like to see a reduction in violence. We would continue to encourage them to take additional steps toward an inclusive democratic process. Those are all steps that can be taken. We’re not giving a day by day grade. We’re continuing to play as constructive as a role – of a role as we can play from here.

QUESTION: So if the Muslim Brotherhood would come out with a new statement and say “we accept the concept of early elections,” that would be sufficient for you?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to predict what’s sufficient and what’s not. It’s not for us to determine that. It’s up for the Egyptians to determine that. But obviously, both sides, in order to walk toward a peaceful resolution, both sides need to compromise.

QUESTION: Jen, I want to go back for --

QUESTION: Yes, you mentioned at least three times the word “misinformation.” I mean, I wonder if it’s misinformation or misinterpretation. I don't know the – I mean, if –

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- how you characterize it. But besides saying that you are – U.S. is with this side or that side --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- which is usually correct, because we are not with this side or that side --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- what are the other misinformation that you think it’s misinformation?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I need to give a list of misinformation out there. We’re just conveying what is accurate. I know you all are reporting what our view is, and we will continue to endeavor to convey that to the Egyptian people.

QUESTION: Do you consider Senator McCain’s use of the word “coup” in Egypt part of that misinformation?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to characterize further his comments. He wasn’t representing the United States Government. He is free to have his own viewpoints, and we’ve stated what ours are.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I want to go back for a second on the joint statement, if you will.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The statement puts responsibility on the government to start the process.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there any feeling that they have been reluctant to do so?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s natural that the interim government, given they are leading at this time up to the elections, would play an important role in moving the process forward. The world is certainly watching Egypt closely. We’re continuing to monitor every single day the transition very carefully. And success, of course, depends on actions that are taken in the weeks and months ahead. And of course, the interim government has an important role in that.

QUESTION: Do you feel in any way that they are not doing enough?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s more work to be done. We know what the steps are that have been laid out, and we encourage them to continue to take those steps.

Any more on Egypt? Okay.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: On Sri Lanka, do you have – have you seen news reports about the killing of three unarmed people because they were holding demonstrations, and – by the Sri Lankan army, and also desecration of a church in the city of Weliweriya?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, we have, and I do have something on that for you.

QUESTION: And how do you assess the human rights condition, again, the Sri Lankan army? It hasn’t improved, it looks like.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. One moment, Lalit. I know I have something on this for you in here. Well, Lalit, I know that I have something for you, so let us venture to get that to you right after the briefing, and I apologize for that.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. I missed the top. Did you have any announcements of any travel at all?

MS. PSAKI: I expect we’ll have something for you a little bit later today.

QUESTION: And – okay. And can I ask you if you would have an update on the next round of Israeli-Palestinian talks?

MS. PSAKI: I do, Matt. I’m so thrilled you asked. Negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians will be resuming August 14th in Jerusalem and will be followed by a meeting in Jericho. Ambassador Indyk and Deputy Special Envoy Lowenstein will travel to the region to help facilitate negotiations. Secretary Kerry does not expect to make any announcements in the aftermath of this round of talks.

QUESTION: Okay. That was what – actually what I was referring to when I was mentioning travel.

MS. PSAKI: I thought you were referring to this travel.

QUESTION: No, I wasn’t. No, no.

MS. PSAKI: Well, there you go. You got to it next.

QUESTION: So Lowenstein – Ambassador Indyk and Deputy Special Envoy Lowenstein --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- are going where and when?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they’ll be resuming in Jerusalem on August 14th --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: -- so they will be traveling there. As we’ve said before --

QUESTION: When?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a specific date for their departure. I can check back on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, do you know – will they be having meetings with each side separately before they get back together?

MS. PSAKI: I’ll have to check. I think the schedule of meetings is still being worked through, and as we’ve talked about before, of course, there will be some meetings that they may not participate in. They may be in some of them and not others, but --

QUESTION: No, no, no, but I’m asking about – I understand that.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I’m just asking if Ambassador Indyk and his deputy will be having separate – do you expect them to have separate meetings with the Israelis and then --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- with the Palestinians before the 14th?

MS. PSAKI: They all come together?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: We’re still working through the schedule, so I will check back. There was not an update on that as of this morning.

QUESTION: All right. And then when is the meeting in Jericho?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a date for that at this point.

QUESTION: Well, it’s not the same day?

MS. PSAKI: It’s after, yes.

QUESTION: So, but – I mean, in the coming week? I mean --

MS. PSAKI: There’s not a date yet. That will be the location of the next meeting.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: But I mean, is that – do you envision, like in another week or so, a break after the second meeting? That’s what I’m just wondering. Are these two --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is the Jerusalem meeting and then the Jericho --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- meeting, are they, like, kind of both together the second round? Or would you characterize this meeting in Jericho, whenever it happens, as a third round?

MS. PSAKI: I believe it’s a third.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: But let me get some clarity and see if there’s any more clarity to provide.

QUESTION: Would it be – am I correct in assuming that based on the Secretary’s statement --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- from last Tuesday when the first round ended, when he said that they would get together in two weeks’ time in either Israel or the PA, that you are announcing the two venues here --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- as – that’s part of the agreement that has been reached in between now – between your announcement today and Tuesday? In other words, the two sides agreed to meet first in Jerusalem and then at some later point in Jericho? That’s --

MS. PSAKI: That is my understanding, Matt.

QUESTION: But I mean, that was a decision that was – it was linked, Jerusalem-Jericho?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more clarification on it, but those – both of those locations were agreed to, so presumably, yes, that is correct --

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: -- and I will see if there’s any more clarification on it.

QUESTION: If it is possible --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- two things, just – if it – and these are both logistical things: Is it possible to determine by the end of – or soon, as soon as possible --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- whether you do expect there’s going to be a break of more than a day or so in between the two meetings, and also if we can figure out what their – Indyk and Lowenstein’s schedules are and whether they intend to have their own meetings --

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- prior to --

MS. PSAKI: I believe the second one may not yet be answerable, but the first one, certainly, we will venture to get you some more information.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Jen, do you have any comment on the Israeli decision to build 800 more housing units?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, our position on settlements has not changed. We do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity and oppose any efforts to legitimize settlement outposts. The Secretary has made clear that he believes both of the negotiating teams are at the table in good faith and are committed to working together to make progress. We are speaking to the Government of Israel and making our concerns known.

QUESTION: So you spoke with the Government of Israel in particular on this announcement --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- of 800?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. And what did they tell you?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any further readout of the conversation, and that we’ve made our concerns known.

QUESTION: Who made the contact? Was it Ambassador Shapiro? Was it someone from this building?

MS. PSAKI: It happened in – it was a contact made in the region, so it wasn’t the Secretary or from this building.

QUESTION: Do you have any indication that this is going to have any impact on the meeting on the 14th?

MS. PSAKI: I do not.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, on --

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Middle East peace?

QUESTION: I do on this one.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m wondering, what is the Secretary hoping to get out of his meeting tonight with Jewish leaders here in the United States? Is he looking for more support for --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- this peace process?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me – for those of you who weren’t aware of the meeting, let me just give a little bit more information. Secretary Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice will hold roundtable discussions with Jewish American and Arab American community leaders tonight and tomorrow morning at the White House. These meetings will serve as an opportunity to update community leaders on the resumption of direct final status negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as to hear directly from these community leaders about their perspectives. The Secretary is looking forward to these discussions with leaders who have been deeply involved in these issues for many, many years, and who share our goal of achieving a final status agreement with two states living side by side in peace and security.

Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Martin Indyk, Senior Advisor and Deputy Special Envoy Frank Lowenstein, and other White House officials will also attend these meetings.

QUESTION: And so these are separate? It’s Jewish leaders tonight and Arab --

MS. PSAKI: These are separate meetings. Exactly. There’s one this evening and one tomorrow morning.

QUESTION: Yes, please. There’s going to be a readout of this meeting, or it’s just a informal --

MS. PSAKI: We’ll do a readout tomorrow morning, but --

QUESTION: With the name of the participant leaders for both sides?

MS. PSAKI: I will check and see if that’s possible. I think – the goal here is, of course, to provide information on our efforts here and hear feedback from them. So it’s not necessarily meant to be a public meeting.

QUESTION: So who are the other White House officials?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a readout of that list for you.

QUESTION: And who organized this meeting? Was it the White House or was it the State Department that took the lead?

MS. PSAKI: In cooperation.

QUESTION: Would you expect that the President might stop by either or both?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe that is planned as of now, but you never know what’s up his sleeve.

QUESTION: Afghanistan?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The President of --

MS. PSAKI: Wait. Do we have any more on Middle East peace? Okay. Afghanistan. Sorry, go ahead, Lalit.

QUESTION: Yeah. The President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, today once again offered the Talibans to come for peace talks. And he says that on the Doha peace process, he says if they had open – they should open the office in Afghanistan instead of the third countries like Doha. How – what do you say that – do you support Taliban having an office in Kabul or in any other place?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have – well, we’ve supported, of course, an office in Doha for the purpose of political discussions and negotiations, Afghans talking to Afghans. Of course, the goal has always been to move that discussion to Afghanistan through the process. I’d have to check with our team and see if there’s more of an analysis or reaction to the specific news today.

QUESTION: Okay, because – this is a good idea or a bad?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Something like that.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Absolutely.

QUESTION: And, if I follow, something on Kashmir, LOC?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Last two days you have been asked a lot of questions on that. Now, two days after five Indian soldiers were killed, there have been statements coming from both India and Pakistan about who killed and who were responsible for this, and there’s a statement coming from Nawaz Sharif also. What do you make out of it? What’s your sense of the situation there?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly have seen that the governments of India and Pakistan are in contact over the issue. We continue to encourage further dialogue. We still believe, as has consistently been our position, that the pace, scope, and character of India and Pakistan’s dialogue on Kashmir is for those two countries to determine. So we just encourage them to continue to do that through dialogue.

QUESTION: And do you have any sense who were responsible for this? Were the terrorists in the – in a Pakistan army uniform, or does – the Pakistan army soldiers were responsible the killing? Do you have --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more on it for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we change --

QUESTION: On Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There’s a report that the Syrian army – activists are saying that the Syrian army has used sarin gas near Yarmouk --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- a refugee camp. Are you aware of their reports? Are you concerned?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re always concerned about any allegations of chemical weapons use. We don’t – we’re still looking into the specifics here. As always, we continue to encourage the Syrian regime to let the full – the UN team in for full access to investigate all potential cases, but we don’t have any additional information on these particular reports.

QUESTION: Follow-up on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: We’re a bit confused. What is the status of, let’s say, any kind of activities or talks or engagement with, let’s say, Ambassador Ford with the opposition? What’s going on? Where do we stand in terms of any possible conference?

MS. PSAKI: Where is Ambassador Ford?

QUESTION: Where is Ambassador Ford?

MS. PSAKI: It’s one of my favorite questions.

QUESTION: Exactly. Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Ambassador Ford is in Paris today and tomorrow. He’s meeting with members of the Syrian opposition to discuss the prospects of a Geneva conference. We remain committed to helping Syrians negotiate a political settlement along the lines of the June 2012 Geneva communique. In particular, Ambassador Ford is talking to them about the need for a unified opposition delegation headed by the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, the Syrian Opposition Coalition, which can strongly press the case for its vision of what a transition government – governing body should look like.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, will – whatever he is doing today, will that figure in the discussions tomorrow between Secretary Kerry and Minister Lavrov?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we do certainly anticipate that Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov will discuss this issue in their bilateral meeting tomorrow specifically and possibly in the morning as well. So I would venture to guess that Secretary Kerry will gather a readout from Ambassador Ford and that will be part of the discussion tomorrow.

QUESTION: Is there any possibility that actually a date could come out of this meeting tomorrow as to when the conference could be held?

MS. PSAKI: Well, though the United States and Russia both play important roles here, it’s ultimately up to the Syrians and both sides to commit to a path forward. So there are a number of players. We still need to work through, of course, remaining issues, including attendants, and we’re working with the UN through that as well.

QUESTION: Okay. And finally, on the issue that you just raised, attendants --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- is Iran being considered, now that it has a new president, to be a member of any conference in the future?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any further update on that. We know it’s a remaining issue all of you are interested in.

QUESTION: Can you – just staying on the meetings tomorrow --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- are you able to tell us anything more either logistically or substantively – logistically in terms of timing, and substantively on more specifics on the – more specifics than yesterday on the agenda?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me start with the logistics side. The 2 and 2 meeting will be late in the morning. I don’t have an exact time, but of course that will be on our schedule that we’ll provide to all of you. Later in the afternoon, Secretary Kerry will be meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and that will be the extent of the program.

QUESTION: So there’s no – you’re not aware of any meeting between Secretary Hagel and --

MS. PSAKI: I apologize. I meant to find that out for you, and I will check with them unless you would prefer to know their plans --

QUESTION: No, I have Pentagon people on this.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: But if you knew, or if you don’t know off the top of your head if there’s a --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t know off the top of my head.

QUESTION: All right. And then that’s – so that’s it, just the – I mean, not that that’s it, but that’s what you know in terms of logistics?

MS. PSAKI: That’s right.

QUESTION: Now, in terms of substance, can you give us any more details, or can you go through the agenda items with more detail than you did yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not sure I have more than I told you yesterday, but we have much to discuss with the Russians, including cooperation on Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, and also working through disagreements on issues like missile defense, arms control, and human rights. And as I mentioned a little bit earlier, of course, Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov will continue their dialogue on Syria and discuss efforts to build momentum towards the Geneva conference as part of their bilateral meeting later in the afternoon.

QUESTION: Okay. And Snowden, still?

MS. PSAKI: That will be certainly part of the conversation. As you know, we’ve raised this many times in the past, and we expect we will again.

QUESTION: Okay. And is it still the plan or is it still the – I assume it’s still the Administration’s position that they should revoke this asylum and send him back to the States. That’s correct?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And is it – you expect Secretary Kerry will make that specific request or make that point specifically to Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. We’ve made it in the past. I expect he’ll make it again. But there are obviously a number of issues that will be the thrust of the conversation tomorrow.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you anticipate that there will be any discussion of the canceled summit?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t – I don’t believe --

QUESTION: Because the Russians – the reason I ask is the Russians have said that the invitation to President Obama is still there.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I haven’t – I don’t know, and I know you don’t speak for the White House, but I don’t know if – the decision, as far as you know, is a final, final one that it’s not going to happen, even though the invitation is still open from the Russian side?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that the – I would, of course, refer you to them, but I think their statements have made pretty clear that that door is not open for September.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: But obviously, we have an ongoing relationship with Russia and certainly it could happen in the future.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, do you expect – I mean, is this going to be something that they’re – that Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov will talk about, or is it basically water under the bridge now from your point of view, from the U.S. point of view?

MS. PSAKI: Well, part of the decision making, as you saw from the statement the White House was put out – put out was that the relationship was not at the point where there was the opportunity to make significant progress to have a presidential-level meeting. So I expect they’ll spend most of their time focused on making progress on issues --

QUESTION: On the issues that the lack of progress prevented a meeting from --

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: With an eye toward having a summit, or is that just not, like, in the picture at the moment?

MS. PSAKI: I think there’s an openness to doing that at an appropriate time where there’s an opportunity to make progress. But I don’t expect that’s going to be a major part of the focus tomorrow. I think it will be more focused on making progress on the issues.

QUESTION: Just over here?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: A couple more logistical questions.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Any plan for a background briefing or a readout or a press conference with the Secretary and the Foreign Minister?

MS. PSAKI: I expect we’ll have a readout following the conclusion of the meetings tomorrow.

QUESTION: And the meetings are going to take place –

MS. PSAKI: -- at the State Department.

QUESTION: -- in this building? In the State Department?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there a luncheon in between these two meetings, or are they basically going to go to their corners, as it were, and --

MS. PSAKI: We’re starving our guests. I hope not. I’ll have to check on the specifics of the schedule. I had kind of the outline of the substantive focused meetings, but I know we were getting a final rundown of that so that we could provide that to all of you.

QUESTION: Is there any more that you can explain on why there wouldn’t be any appearance by the Secretary and the Foreign Minister tomorrow, particularly given that --

MS. PSAKI: There will be a camera spray at the top of the 2 and 2, where they’ll both speak briefly.

QUESTION: Jen, on a related issue, there’s a lot of people that are getting really appalled by Russia’s ill treatment of gay and lesbian and so on, calling for the boycott of the Winter Olympics.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is that something that is gaining stock? Is that something that you would use as leverage against the Russians?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly human rights, as I hope I mentioned, will be a part of the discussion tomorrow, as it always is. LGBT rights are human rights; that is very much the Secretary’s view. It’s one of the reasons that he made the announcement last week that same-sex couples will be treated in the same way with visa applications as heterosexual couples. And certainly, that will be an issue that is on the docket for discussion.

I would not – so we will continue to discuss it and continue to press the Russians on our concerns.

QUESTION: I guess my question is: Is there a real concern here that the Russians may arrest, actually, members, participants, and so on who are, let’s say, gays and lesbians and so on, in Russia that may push you to sort of call for a different venue than Russia?

MS. PSAKI: Said, we’re not at that point yet. We certainly are concerned about the law, we are concerned about how it would apply, just as we’re concerned about several human rights issues that we have disagreements with the Russians on. And we’re not afraid to make that clear. But that is not something we’re currently considering, or I’m aware is being currently considered.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any information regarding the visa status of the Afghan translator known as Hafez who helped Dakota Meyer in the Battle of Ganjgal?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as a matter of policy, we don’t speak about specific visa applications. I can tell you broadly, I believe that the Special Immigrant Visa program is what you’re perhaps referring to. I can give you an update on that.

Overall, over 2,500 Afghans have worked for the United States in Afghanistan and their family members have benefitted from special – the Special Immigrant Visa programs. Across the U.S. Government, every effort is being made to ensure qualified applicants are processed in a timely fashion. We have redirected increased resources to improve efficiency at all stages of the SIV process without compromising national security.

And finally, as a result of these processing improvements, wait times for initial visa interviews at the Embassy in Kabul have been dramatically reduced. Additionally, there is no longer a backlog of applicants waiting for an eligibility decision from the Chief of Mission Committee, the initial step to the – in the Special Immigrant Visa application process. But of course, processing times depend on a number of variable factors specific to each individual, and overall processing times, as I mentioned, have improved dramatically over the last two years, and we’re still continuing to focus on that.

QUESTION: He reportedly filed for his visa over three years ago. What is, like, the average wait time?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any statistics on that for you. If we have anything to provide, I’m happy to. Obviously, we’ve made efforts to improve the wait time and improve the processing time, and that’s been a priority for us.

QUESTION: Sorry. That figure at the top that you said, 2,500 Afghans, that’s 2,500 Afghans who have gotten these visas? Because surely more than 2,500 Afghans worked for the U.S.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, who have – they have benefitted from the program.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, exactly.

QUESTION: And how many are waiting or how many are on the waiting list if there’s no pending applicants right now?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have those specific numbers for you. I’m happy to see what we have available.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on yesterday’s incident at the Lebanese-Israeli border?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure I do. Let me follow up with our folks. Actually, maybe I do. One moment. Yes, I do. Thank you for asking.

We, of course, have seen press reports of an explosion between – near the Blue Line between Israel and Lebanon that reportedly injured four Israeli soldiers. It may be – I’m not sure if those numbers are fully updated as of today. We understand that an investigation has begun into the specifics of the attack. We are seeking more information from both the Israeli and Lebanese Governments about this incident and cannot confirm details at this time.

QUESTION: Jen, could you refresh our mind on the issue of unfreezing of assets, Syrian assets, for food? Could you say anything about that?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we are aware there have been recent reports and understand that the specific funds being referenced are not subject to existing U.S. sanctions. We note that these frozen funds are fungible assets that could be used by the regime to bankroll its continued brutality against the Syrian people. Thus we urge all countries and international organizations to ensure that any unfrozen funds for the Syrian people are channeled through an international group, such as the United Nations and other international humanitarian organizations, to provide oversight and ensure funds reach all those in need across all 14 governorates in Syria, not just regime-controlled territory.


Michele.

QUESTION: I have more on the humanitarian situation.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: It seems that UNHCR is very worried about the Zaatari camp --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- which Kerry visited last month. They say that there’s organized crime, violence against women, recruitment of teenagers into rebel forces. Does the – does Secretary Kerry share those concerns, and what is the U.S. doing to help alleviate that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say we commend UNHCR for its candid evaluation of its response to the Syrian refugee crisis. You are correct, of course, that the Secretary recently visited the Zaatari camp. Due to the rapid establishment of the camp and its dramatic growth in the past year, a number of security concerns, including the presence of criminal elements, have come to light. With a population of nearly 130,000 refugees just in this camp, this constitutes the fourth-largest city in Jordan. Along with them comes – along with that comes the criminality that you see in other large cities.

We have expressed and will continue to express our concerns about security in the camp, and we have worked with the Government of Jordan, UNHCR, and other organizations operating the camp to identify and implement security solutions. As you know, the Government of Jordan has primary responsibility for security in the camp and is also working closely with the UNHCR to improve overall internal security. And UNHCR is also undertaking a reorganization of the camp’s administration to promote community involvement and camp management and security. And we, of course, fully support any efforts to make the camp more secure and safe for all refugees, staff, and the local community.

QUESTION: What --

QUESTION: So --

QUESTION: I’m sorry. One other thing about – Valerie Amos was making some suggestions more broadly about getting aid into Syria, whether she brought to those to the Security Council, whether the U.S. is trying to push for a resolution or something to change the way aid gets into Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. I don’t have any update specifically on what the U.S. is doing. You might have to check with the UN on that. We, of course, have had ongoing concerns about the difficulty of humanitarian access to many parts of Syria, including parts of Syria that have been under fire. As we know, there have been countless incidents where hundreds of innocent civilians have been stuck without food, water, supplies, and so we are – would certainly encourage an ongoing discussion on that.

QUESTION: Sorry. When you refer – so you agree with these finding that there are criminal elements in the camp? What kind of criminal elements would those be? Like gangs?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s been the – in the report, it referenced organized crime networks in the camp.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So --

QUESTION: Which would be a gang – or gangs.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure – I suppose there are many ways of labeling.

QUESTION: Well, because I --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what the AP standard is.

QUESTION: Well, I just – well, no. It’s not my standard I’m worried – it’s just that what – I remember that when Secretary Kerry was there he was told specifically by the police chief that was running the camp that there were no gangs there. Does that mean that the – that you don’t agree with him and that you agree with the findings of the UN?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we – the UN looked closely into what was happening in the camp. We were not surprised, given the size of the camp, that there could be criminal elements. I don’t think it’s about agreeing or disagreeing.

QUESTION: Well, okay.

MS. PSAKI: It’s just about recognizing that this is certainly a possibility and we need to take steps to keep people in the camp safe.

QUESTION: Right. But you would say the claim that there were no criminal elements or no gangs would be incorrect?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we – I think I made clear that --

QUESTION: You recall the incident I’m referring to, yes?

MS. PSAKI: I recall the briefing. But again, this is the management of a very large city.

QUESTION: Gotcha.

MS. PSAKI: He has a very challenging job, and we will work with all officials to do everything we can.

QUESTION: One of the main brigades of the Free Syrian Army is claiming to have fired rockets at Assad’s motorcade. I’m sure you’re aware. Would the U.S. consider that a legitimate target?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have certainly seen those reports, of course. I think most people have. We’re seeking more information. Our position has not changed, that Assad has lost all legitimacy long ago and should step aside. But our objective is on achieving a political solution between all sides and ending the bloodshed for the Syrian people. And so that’s where our focus remains.

QUESTION: Does that make him a legitimate target?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to define further, Said. I think I made clear what our focus is.

QUESTION: His days are still numbered?

MS. PSAKI: His days are still numbered.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: One more from Lalit.

QUESTION: Yeah. On that, what is the Administration view on a U.S. congressman equating Snowden with Gandhi and Martin Luther King? What do you make out of it?

MS. PSAKI: I think our view on Mr. Snowden is clear. He’s been accused of three felony counts. We believe he should be returned to the United States and he should face a fair trial here.

Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:09 p.m.)



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