1:26 p.m. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Monday. I just have a few items for all of you at the top here. First, we are encouraged that Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly voted to ratify Tunisia’s new constitution on January 26th. A strong constitution reached through consultation and debate is the foundation of a thriving democracy. This is a historic moment for the people of Tunisia and represents a significant achievement as Tunisia continues in its political transition. The debates, discussions, and compromises throughout the process of drafting and ratifying the new constitution resulted in a document that respects and guarantees the rights of all people of Tunisia.
We look forward to further steps in the democratic transition – in particular, the swearing-in of a new, independent government and setting a date for early elections so that Tunisian citizens can choose their new leaders and determine the country’s future. The United States continues to believe the Tunisian people can and will achieve their aspirations for a democratic society, and as a longstanding friend of Tunisia, the United States will continue to support Tunisia’s democratic transition.
Just one other item: There has been some confusion in the press about the situation and ongoing discussions about Homs. We wanted to make clear exactly how we see the current state of play and where the United States stands. We firmly believe that the Syrian regime must approve the convoys to deliver badly needed humanitarian assistance into the Old City of Homs now. The situation is desperate and the people are starving. What the regime has proposed, an evacuation of women and children from the Old City, is not sufficient. Civilians must be allowed to come and go freely, but the people of Homs must not be forced to leave their homes and split up their families before receiving much-needed food and other aid.
An evacuation is not an alternative to badly needed humanitarian assistance. We’ve seen similar tactics before from the regime through its despicable “kneel or starve” campaign. As of now, the ball is in the regime’s court. It is a simple thing they must do, which so far they have refused – approve the humanitarian convoys into the Old City. We also should add that we have not forgotten the old – other besieged communities that are in desperate need of humanitarian aid that we’ve discussed many times in the past.
And we have our new intern here, Elizabeth, so welcome her as well. Okay, with that, Laura.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you first about the situation in Afghanistan where 37 prisoners have been released. I understand the Defense Department is also working on this, but I wanted to ask you, from a policy standpoint and – first off on a short-term basis, does this mean that the U.S. no longer has any ability to delay the release of some of these prisoners that it’s so concerned about? And on a longer term – more broad term – what will this mean for the BSA negotiations, and would the BSA that the United States would like to have, would it bar the release of more of these prisoners?
MS. PSAKI: Well, a couple of things. One, I’m sure you’ve seen the ISAF statement that they’ve put out. I would point you to some strong language that was included in that statement, including the line in there that this is a major step backward in further developing the rule of law in Afghanistan. We have expressed our concerns from the State Department, of course, over the possible release of these detainees without their cases being referring to the Afghan criminal justice system. The 37 detainees are dangerous criminals against whom there is strong evidence linking them to terror-related crimes, including the use of improvised explosive devices, the largest killer of Afghan civilians.
These insurgents who pose threat to the safety and the security of the Afghan people and the state are being released without an investigation and without the use of the criminal justice system in accordance with Afghan law. As you mentioned, obviously, ISAF and DOD are largely running point on this. Broadly speaking in terms of the BSA, we’ve expressed our concerns as a government writ large about the importance of rule of law and the importance of abiding by – in accordance with the law. So that has been a consistent message that we have conveyed to the Afghan Government.
Our view on the BSA continues to be that it is in the interest of the Afghan people, in the interest of the government, in the interest of the United States, our NATO allies, to move forward with signing of a BSA. You are all familiar with the language that is included in a BSA. I’m not predicting nor do we anticipate a change in any of the language, but that doesn’t change our concerns that we’ve expressed in this case about the importance of abiding by rule of law.
QUESTION: I guess I haven’t seen the entire language of the BSA and short of asking you to recite it chapter and verse, would what is being discussed right now include continued detention authorities for the – by the U.S. Government?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on those specifics. Honestly, I haven’t talked about all the lines in it in quite a while.
MS. PSAKI: I was just conveying that there wasn’t planned change in what the language is that exists.
QUESTION: Okay. I guess it could go either way if it’s – a development like this makes the United States more or less eager to have a BSA with Afghanistan or certainly with the Karzai government.
MS. PSAKI: I have not – and I’m happy to go back and talk with our team again, but no view has been conveyed to me that our view has changed about the need to move forward with a BSA. As you know, there are a number of reasons why, including the fact that it’s in the best interest of the Afghan people, but also because of our own interest on the ground.
And as we’ve said, a potential U.S. military presence after 2014 would focus on two basic missions, which is training the remnants of al-Qaida – targeting, sorry, the remnants of al-Qaida. That’s an important note in the transcript – targeting the remnants of al-Qaida and its affiliates, and training and equipping Afghan forces. Obviously, there are interests there that we have for our own safety and security, but as we’ve said many times, it’s also in the interests of the Afghan people. So that hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the comments over the weekend from President Karzai basically sort of suggesting that the Afghan people would not be strong-armed into signing the BSA?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not --
QUESTION: I’m paraphrasing there. It wasn’t exactly what he said.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: But that was the gist of it.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. No, I’ve seen the comments. I think – I don’t have any specific – we don’t have any specific U.S. Government reaction, as we wouldn’t to every single comment that’s made, but I would refute the notion of the point, which is that this has been a negotiation that has occurred over the course of more than a year now. There have been – when the Secretary was there just a few months ago, they agreed on the basic tenets and the language that would be included in the BSA, agreed that it would go to the Loya Jirga to hear from the Afghan people. And it did just that. So this is – there’s no question that signing the BSA, moving forward on the BSA, is in the interests of the Afghan people. They deserve the security of knowing what their future is, and – just as the United States and our NATO allies deserve the certainty of knowing how to plan. So I would just refute the notion of the claim.
QUESTION: Are you – would you agree that you’re in a standoff now with the Afghan Government? I mean, when was the last time that the Secretary actually spoke to President Karzai?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s been awhile. However, this is being discussed, and as is appropriate, on the ground, with our officials on the ground who work this issue every single day. So it’s – it shouldn’t be taken – the last time the Secretary spoke with President Karzai shouldn’t be taken as an evaluation of how closely we’re working this. I can assure you that people on the ground are in touch on probably a daily basis on these issues and how to move forward.
QUESTION: But it hasn’t moved since December. I mean, if Karzai’s comments over the weekend suggest that if anything he’s more deeply entrenched his position, that you’re going to have to wait until his successor is chosen on April the 5th. So we’re now almost in February, so February, March. So you’ve got two – nine weeks before an election, which he says is when he believes Afghanistan should sign the BSA.
MS. PSAKI: Well, our – look, our position hasn’t changed in terms of why we think this is necessary, as I just outlined. Our position also hasn’t changed that --
QUESTION: But can you wait ‘til – I mean, can you wait ‘til April the 5th?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the further this slips into 2014, which we’re obviously almost a month into, the more likely that we will have to begin planning for a zero option. I don’t think that – as we’ve stated many times. I’m not going to give you a date or a day on when that would need to take place, but that certainly is a real option out there, and why we continue to press the government to move forward.
QUESTION: Jen, could you talk about this --
QUESTION: Do you agree that --
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do one at a time. I’ll go to you right next, Roz. Okay. Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you if whether you agree that the language of President Karzai is becoming more and more belligerent toward the U.S.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to do an evaluation of that. I don’t think it would be particularly productive. Our focus here, Said, is of course continuing to make the case, both publicly and privately, on why signing a BSA is in the interests of the Afghan people and the interests of all parties involved. So I’m not going to do an analysis of what is --
QUESTION: Is he unnecessarily straining the U.S.-Afghani relations, you think?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to give an evaluation of that either. Obviously, while we never saw the end of last year as a hard deadline, it was certainly our preference to complete the agreement by the end of last year. We remain focused on our goal on – of attempting to move forward so that we can plan, so that our NATO allies can plan. And many of them have spoken out publicly on this front and the need to move forward as well.
QUESTION: Do you think that President Karzai is probably looking after his own survival and longevity post the elections?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to him and Afghan political analysts on that particular question.
QUESTION: You talked a moment ago about the need for the Afghan people to have some certainty about their future as a reason for having --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- the BSA. Is it also accurate to suggest, as was in today’s New York Times, that the U.S. intelligence community is looking for some sort of certainty? Because without a BSA, it would find it very difficult to operate its UAV program and would have to relocate it to perhaps less advantageous places in the region.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m certainly not going to outline or entertain any questions about any intel planning. And of course we’ve seen the story. There are a range of reasons, many of which I’ve already outlined, as to why it’s important to move forward with the signing of the BSA. So we’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: When you talk, though, about the U.S.’s security interests in Central and Southwestern Asia, does that – doesn’t having a BSA mean that the U.S. is better able to keep tabs or to provide support to its non-military operations in those countries?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to outline more specifics or comment any further on the story today. We all saw the story. I just don’t have any more commentary for you on it.
QUESTION: Are you able to say whether or not this whole question of the pending BSA has come up in the Secretary’s meetings with his Pakistani counterpart today?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a good question. Obviously, Afghanistan and the future of Afghanistan is a priority for the United States, and certainly Pakistan as well. Because they’re ongoing, I don’t have any readout for you at this point. We’ll put something out after they conclude later this afternoon.
QUESTION: Could I ask you a follow-up question?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I just – it’s been said from this podium that the decision on whether or not the United States will continue pressing for a BSA will happen before the Afghan elections, before April 5th. And I just wanted to make sure that was still the case and nothing had changed.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know if it’s been stated that – in that specific language, as much as we’ve long wanted it to have been done by the end of December, and now we were continuing to press for it be completed. So obviously, sooner rather than later, weeks not months, is – continues to be our preference here. But we take this day by day and week by week and determine what planning we need to do in accordance with what happens on the ground.
QUESTION: Okay. So there’s no hard-and-fast? It could be a decision made after Karzai’s successor comes in or – but it’s obviously the preference for it to be done while Karzai – before Karzai leaves office, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the preference was related in large part to the need for the United States to plan, for our NATO allies to plan. Obviously, having this done by last year, or long before the elections, so that the Afghan people have certainty going into the Afghan elections and this doesn’t get entangled with Afghan politics was certainly a priority. But I don’t have anything to announce for you in terms of the exact date at which we’ll have to start planning.
QUESTION: So can you wait, though? You said it was a preference, so can you wait until April the 5th now? Are you coming – is the Administration coming around to that idea that they will wait now until April the 5th?
MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t predicting that. It’s an evaluation we’re making day by day, week by week. I don’t have anything to announce for you today on what it means or when the date will be when we’ll have to start that planning or when things will change. Obviously, discussions are ongoing on the – in the – within the Administration on that particular question.
QUESTION: Is that a decision you’re going to take with your NATO allies? Did you see the comments today from the NATO Secretary General Rasmussen?
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t see them, but what --
QUESTION: He was basically saying that you can’t wait any longer. I mean, is there some pressure now coming from NATO as well to finally just go ahead with your own planning and forget about what the Afghans do?
MS. PSAKI: Well, NATO has been very clear that they can’t move forward with a SOFA – I don’t know if this is what he stated as well – until there’s a BSA signed, right? So there’s a domino effect here in place. They have a number of countries and a large number of resources that they would need to incorporate for planning. I think we’ve been pretty clear on the need to move forward as quickly as possible, but – and of course we’re in touch with our allies about it. In terms of what the determining factors will be, that’s a discussion that will go on and continues to go on internally in the government, but I don’t have anything to announce for all of you today.
QUESTION: Can we move to another topic? Egypt?
MS. PSAKI: Do you have any on Afghanistan, or --
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Sure.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any reaction to General Sisi first promoting himself to field marshal today, then resigning, then preparing himself for a run for the presidency?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve of course seen the comments. I believe it was President Mansour who promoted him, just to be factually correct. This is a – in terms of the future, he has not announced that he will run for president. This is a decision in terms of who they will elect and who will be future leadership that the Egyptian people will make. What our focus is on is the transition moving forward and encouraging the transition to move forward. We believe that the government needs to have – advance an inclusive transition process that leads to democratic – a democratic civilian-led government selected through credible and transparent elections. But again, it’s up to the Egyptian people to determine their future.
QUESTION: But I asked Marie on Friday about your reaction to his possible run for the presidency and so on, and she said that you don’t interfere in Egyptian – in Egypt’s internal affairs and so on. But don’t you think, I mean, for the democratic future of Egypt and so on, it would be advisable for you to tell General Sisi that perhaps Egypt would be better off without the military running it again?
MS. PSAKI: I can assure you that our position on not putting ourselves in the center of the Egyptian elections has not changed since Friday.
QUESTION: But yeah, Egypt is a close ally.
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct.
QUESTION: And certainly it’s a future and well-being of a great deal of interest. You’ve invested a lot in Egypt. So to do like a turnaround, almost a 360 degree, and allow the military to run for the presidency and assume the presidency and have it for the next 30 years and so on is not good for Egypt.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think we’ve been very clear about our views on this. We’ll continue to talk about this day by day as events unfold. But I don’t think I have anything --
QUESTION: How pleased has the U.S. Government been with the transition process to date?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any particular evaluation or grade for all of you. Obviously, we’re looking closely at it. It impacts how we’re looking at things like aid and assistance, of course, as we’ve talked about a bit in here. I don’t have anything new for you on that front either. We know that transitions and revolutions are never easy, and there are often challenging events that take place over the course of that, and that Egypt is no different. So they are navigating a political transition. When we have concerns, we speak out about them, whether that is crackdowns on individuals and freedom of speech or whether – or detentions or even crackdowns on the media that have been occurring again and again in recent months.
QUESTION: But the --
QUESTION: After these bombings over the weekend, did you – sorry Roz – did you send – kind of reach out to the Egyptian Government and say this is deplorable, we support you fighting against terrorism but don’t use this as a pretext to crack down on the opposition?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Elise, obviously we’re in very close touch on the ground, and we convey messages along those lines. We’ve obviously put out statements last week, so I think – on those particular bombings, making our position clear, and you can be assured that those messages were conveyed privately on the ground as well.
QUESTION: Just would the election of a former military general fit in with the United States vision of a democratic, inclusive, pluralistic government?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’re getting into a hypothetical at this point, given he hasn’t announced plans to run, and we don’t know what circumstances --
QUESTION: Well, he – the military has given him the green light to go. I mean, he – I would suggest that it would beg a belief that he wouldn’t run now at this stage.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ll see. And we’ll talk about it at that point.
QUESTION: And what – how does it feed into your – the American – America’s freeze on the aid at the moment? I mean, presumably there’s no decision yet to resume that aid that’s been frozen since last – since October.
MS. PSAKI: That’s right. There’s no decision at this point.
QUESTION: When – at what point would you consider lifting the freeze and resuming some of that aid?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s a range of factors. I know we talked a little bit about the budget that went through Congress and the fact that that doesn’t indicate a decision has been made, but Congress basically has laid down parameters and conditions for continuation of assistance to Egypt. Pending passage of that bill, we will determine – we can determine whether these conditions are being met. And as we talked about a little bit two weeks ago, there are certain conditions for different parts of the aid. We’re not at that point yet, so we’ll continue to evaluate.
QUESTION: So that goes back to my first question, which is: Does electing a military general fit in with the idea, one of which is that the Secretary has to sign off that there have been elections and that the government is ruling in a democratic manner?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that military general has not even announced a plan to run at this point. So we’ll entertain that if that happens.
QUESTION: So there’s no concern? There’s no feeling of caution in the U.S. Administration at this point?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we have expressed our views and our caution about a range of things, including inclusivity, including the need for freedom of speech and respect for freedom of the media. We’ve expressed our desire to see an inclusive, democratically led election process and government move forward. Those are all factors, of course, that are taken into account as we look at the resumption of aid and that evaluation.
QUESTION: Jen --
QUESTION: How much of a problem is it that the Muslim Brotherhood is still outlawed?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve talked a bit in the past about the importance of inclusivity, but there are a range of factors that, of course, we look at with all these issues.
QUESTION: On this very point, you began by saying – you almost gave them a pass, saying that revolutions are messy and so on. Yet at the very top, when you began, you cited Tunisia, and we have seen, like, a smoother transition.
MS. PSAKI: I think I hardly --
QUESTION: If I just may --
MS. PSAKI: Said, hold on. Hold on a second. I hardly gave them a pass. I was --
QUESTION: Okay. I take it back.
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. I was responding to a question. We have expressed in great detail many times – the Secretary has, we all have – when we have concerns about events that are happening on the ground, whether it is violence or a crackdown of freedom of speech or actions taken against the media. And we’ll continue to do that, and that has not changed.
QUESTION: I take back what I said about a pass. But you cited Tunisia --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and actually they were able to come up with a transitional, inclusive kind of constitution.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yet in Egypt, your great ally, where you invested a great deal of money and effort and time and so on, it’s not inclusive. I mean, you are – are you making that point emphatically enough, you think?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve been very clear on that point. And Tunisia is obviously in a different stage, and we were giving a comment on the stage that they’re in.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Yasser Abed Rabbo, one of the Palestinian officials, has given a very extensive interview to a Palestinian newspaper pretty much just laying out the entire framework agreement. And although some of these details were known, one of the main things of Secretary’s efforts was that he said and implored upon the parties not to leak any of the details, that the atmosphere was more conducive if they just talked about it in the room. And I’m wondering what you think of that, and given the fact that he framed it in a negative way, if you think this casts light on the Palestinian seriousness in negotiations.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve seen that report. And I think how I read that report was that it outlined a lot of the details and the view from the Palestinian side of where they think that the outcome should land. As in any negotiation, there are differences that the parties work through. The question is how you come to a compromise, how you come to an agreement. So, sure, is the Secretary dismayed when there are public leaks of private discussions? Absolutely. And he raises those issues as appropriate when those occasions come up, because he continues to believe that these negotiations will be more productive and be more effective if they are kept private.
But you would all know if there was an agreement on a framework for negotiations. There is not, otherwise you would know. And so reports out there about what it may entail or what it may include are not – are inaccurate. They’re based on --
QUESTION: So what he’s saying in the – what he’s saying in this interview about the elements of the framework agreement are not accurate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve talked about what the components are that would be addressed in a framework – the key, core issues that you all are familiar with. I don’t have the article in front of me, but what I’m conveying is that given a framework for negotiations has not been agreed to, any reports about what it is or what it looks like aren’t reflective of an agreement, because there isn’t an agreement.
QUESTION: Well, it sounds like the Palestinians are trying to negotiate through the press.
MS. PSAKI: That may be the case, and there are some on both sides who may do that. And certainly, as – when that occurs, when appropriate, those issues are raised. But as in any negotiation, there are differences. That’s what you’re negotiating over. So the question is how can you come to a compromise and an agreement over a final product.
QUESTION: But, I mean, part of the issue is that the Palestinian president is not really – I mean, not really preparing the Palestinian people for the kind of concessions that both sides will have to make in the event of a deal. I mean, we’ve talked about what Prime Minister Netanyahu has and has not done for – to contribute to a negative atmosphere, but he does speak out quite a lot about the fact that the Israelis are going to have to make painful concessions, whereas on the opposite side, the Palestinians are continually not only trashing the process, but trashing all the elements of a deal. So do you really think that it’s creating – if this agreement would have to go to a referendum and the Palestinian people, which the president has said, do you really think that this is creating the conducive atmosphere for the Palestinians to accept this type of agreement?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Elise, as you know – and you’ve been covering these issues a long time – there are critics on both sides; there are skeptics on both sides.
QUESTION: This is a very senior Palestinian official.
MS. PSAKI: I understand. I’m just conveying there are people who, as we get closer to really discussing the core issues, are – there’s naturally a political pressure felt on both sides. Of course, if you look at what – polls of whether people want peace in the region, they want peace in the region. Of course there are going to have to be sacrifices, and certainly there will have to be more communication from many places on what that means. But this is obviously an important point in the process, and we’ll continue working through it, despite commentary that’s made from either side.
QUESTION: But you are not refuting what Yasser Abed Rabbo said as basically the framework agreement?
MS. PSAKI: I think I just did. I’m not – I don’t have the article in front of me, but what I’m conveying is given --
QUESTION: He said that --
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. Given there’s not an agreement, there’s not a framework for negotiations – otherwise you would all know about it – I would caution you to read into the range of reports and what is included in the range of reports that have been out there.
QUESTION: So you’re saying that it’s not – the details of which he is spilling out, you’re saying is not what the final agreement is because there hasn’t been a final agreement on the framework?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: However, he’s – his comments are based on the ideas that Secretary Kerry submitted to the parties. So he’s, in fact --
MS. PSAKI: Well, to be clear, these are not ideas Secretary Kerry submitted. These are ideas that both parties have been --
QUESTION: I understand.
MS. PSAKI: No, no, this is important though – that both parties have been talking about. And obviously, whenever an individual talks from one side or the other, they’re going to portray what they would like to see, not what is in a final agreement, because there isn’t an agreement on a framework for negotiations at this point. So that was the point I was making.
QUESTION: Is there a piece of paper with --
QUESTION: Let me just quickly --
QUESTION: I mean, is there a piece of paper with all the ideas written down on yet that has been put to both sides?
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of pieces of paper, but in terms of whether there’s one document going back and forth, the last update I have is no, but I’m happy to check if there’s more we can tell you at that point.
QUESTION: And has the Secretary decided when he’s planning to visit the region again?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything, any update on that. Could be in the coming weeks, but we haven’t made a final determination of his next trip. His focus is ongoing when it’s most productive to move the negotiations forward. And obviously, the negotiators are on the ground quite a bit. Saeb Erekat is here later today, and the Israeli negotiators were here last week, and the Secretary saw Prime Minister Netanyahu when he was in Davos, so he’s been able to communicate with them over the last several days.
QUESTION: Is Saeb Erekat here tonight, and last week, Tzipi Livni was here because they are unable to meet there face to face? Basically, you are conducting separate negotiations with the Palestinians and the Israelis; would you say that is the case?
MS. PSAKI: No. I would say that --
QUESTION: Are the Palestinians and the Israelis meeting with one another?
MS. PSAKI: I would say, Said, that, at this point in the negotiations, we’re talking about the core sensitive issues that are challenging, that are difficult. We’re working – these are ideas that both parties have put forward, but we’re working to help bridge the gaps. That’s what you do as a facilitator. So we had – you know the Secretary has been in the region however many times – 11, 12 times now. This was an appropriate time to bring the negotiators here to have discussions. We have discussions with the parties – with just the parties, they have discussions with each other. It’s natural that this would be happening at this point.
QUESTION: But have there been any direct talks since the Secretary’s trip in early January to the region?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on that for you. What I was conveying is that, given we are – there’s an effort to bridge the gap on these core issues, and as we try to work towards a framework for negotiations, it’s natural that we are spending a bit of time with each of the parties.
QUESTION: How much of the gap have you bridged, would you say? Have you bridged halfway, one-third of the way, a quarter of the way, part of the way?
MS. PSAKI: I appreciate your question, but I’m not going to give you an evaluation of that.
QUESTION: Okay. Because we also hear other statements like the prime minister of Israel, who said that they – he will not uproot anyone from the settlements in the West Bank. What is your reaction to that?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen those statements, and obviously, a discussion over borders and all of those issues surrounding that is part of what is being discussed.
QUESTION: So if you were to give us, like, a timeframe or a calendar date and so on on when these framework proposal will be made, when are they likely to be made? Are we going to wait till the end of the nine-month period?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any prediction of that for you. Obviously, it’s something we are working hard on, and we’ll continue to work to make progress.
QUESTION: You’re meeting negotiator Saeb Erekat tonight, and he’s been saying – he’s been telling everybody that not one day after the 30th of April. Is that how you see things, or do you see these negotiations ongoing for a period after that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think we’re – at this point, what our focus is is working with the parties to agree on a framework for negotiations. That will be the basis for moving forward. So we’re going to take each step as it comes. I don’t have a prediction for you beyond that.
QUESTION: Okay. And my last question is about --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- Abbas visiting Moscow and so on --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- where he basically said that as an alternative, the Palestinians will go to international bodies, presumably UN agencies and so on. Do you tell him directly, sir, that this is a redline, this is a no-no, we will not aid you in any way, shape, or form if you do that?
MS. PSAKI: Those are not the words we put it in, Said, but you’ve heard the Secretary say, when he’s been in Ramallah himself, that this is part of what they agreed to, that it wouldn’t – any step that would be – would create tension in the negotiations is unproductive, and so they have agreed not to go for the time being to the international community. And it’s important that we work outside of these outside issues in order to try to make progress on the core issues.
QUESTION: Sorry. I said that was my last question, but I do have one more.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Erekat is going to say to you this evening and tomorrow and so on that since the negotiations began, an untold number of settlements have been announced, the Israelis have killed 37 Palestinians. He’s going to complain – submit a laundry list of complaints and so on. What are you going to tell him?
MS. PSAKI: Did he give you his talking points that he --
QUESTION: No, he didn’t. (Laughter.) I’m – I know these things, so it’s – I’m speculating (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Well, you are familiar with what our position is on settlements. The Secretary has stated that position to Saeb Erekat numerous times. One of the reasons we’re so focused on moving forward on the negotiations is to work to come to a final resolution of all of these difficult issues. So he will remind him of that.
Let’s move to a new topic.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Can we go to Scott, because he hasn’t had – go ahead, Scott.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Your statement over the weekend said that the United States is prepared to consider targeted sanctions against those who abet violence in the country. Is it the assessment of the United States that there are members of this new transitional government in Bangui who are responsible for abetting or encouraging violence?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think also in that statement we mentioned a couple of individuals that we had concerns about. But in terms of sanctions and what that would mean, we are in the same place we were this weekend, which is that we’re prepared to consider targeted sanctions. It doesn’t mean that we’ve moved forward on that. There are a range of tools, as you know, or mechanisms, I guess I should say, that targeted sanctions could take through the U.S., through the UN, a range of options. So if we get to the point where we’re considering them, we’ll consider a range of options of how we would utilize them.
QUESTION: There’s been the withdrawal of some of the Seleka rebels under Chadian guard from one of their main – what had been one of their main bases in Bangui. Do you consider that a positive sort of disengagement, a separation of the two sides, or a further division between these Christian and Muslim communities?
MS. PSAKI: You know, Scott, I’ll have to touch base with our team and see if we have an update on our view on that – make sure that we get you the most up-to-date one.
QUESTION: So the French Foreign Ministry is saying that, in fact, the UN Security Council is expected to adopt sanctions – adopt a resolution on sanctions tomorrow.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Does that fit in with your understanding of the situation?
MS. PSAKI: I have not heard that, although I’m happy to check on it and see if we have a particular view on that. I’m not sure if our mission has had anything to say on that either, but --
QUESTION: Well, I wondered if you’ve been working with – obviously, your mission in the UN’s been working on putting together a package of sanctions. And if so, could you tell us what’s in it?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check with our mission, and obviously, we’d defer to the UN to announce anything. But I’ll check with them and see if there’s more to convey on that.
QUESTION: New topic?
QUESTION: So there hasn’t been any announcement or discussion on what the sanctions – what industries the sanctions would be on that this point?
MS. PSAKI: My understanding is it’s preliminary for that. Obviously, the UN may take steps, and I would defer to them on that, and we would be working – we’d be aware of them, so I’ll have to check with our team. But the stage we’re at is that we’re just prepared to consider, so we’re not quite at that stage yet.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Given the threat to impose some sort of state of emergency, has anyone from the U.S. Government spoken to anyone in Ukraine about the inadvisability of doing so?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not sure what you’re referring to in terms of a pending announcement, because I’m not – I don’t think we're aware of a pending announcement.
QUESTION: Well, there’s a threat to impose a state of emergency. Has the U.S. expressed its concern, its dismay that things might have come to this point in Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what we have expressed – which, maybe I should start there – is we – that we fully support the ongoing substantive dialogue, discussions between the government and the opposition that have been ongoing over the last several days. Rapid progress on the key concerns of the population is critical. We’ve also seen reports that there will be a special session of Ukraine’s parliament tomorrow. We encourage all parties to use this session to repeal the antidemocratic legislation passed on January 16th, which of course, as you know, the opposition has been calling for.
We condemn – we’ve also made clear that we condemn the use of violence to seize government buildings, such as the takeover of a ministry of justice building that happened over the last couple days and public exhibition hall this weekend and have continued to reiterate our call for all protesters and government forces to refrain from violence and the destruction of property.
We’ve been in very close touch on a range of levels with the Government of Ukraine – I’m happy to outline that if that’s helpful to all of you – over the past several weeks, many – much of which you’re familiar with. We’ve – there have been several trips, including Assistant Secretary Nuland, Deputy Assistant Secretary Rubin – they went in November and December. We encouraged Ukraine’s leadership to meet the requirements to sign an association agreement with the European Union at the time, as you know, just to go back to the history.
Also, of course, Ambassador Pyatt and other embassy officials are frequently meeting with high-level Ukrainian Government officials and opposition leaders. That’s been ongoing for months, but certainly over the last several days, as events have been transpiring on the ground, whether it’s the takeover of buildings or dialogue that’s increased between the parties. And in addition, you may have seen that Vice President Biden also spoke with President Yanukovych by phone on January 23rd, so last Thursday, encouraging him to take steps to end violence and to meaningly address the legitimate concerns of peaceful protesters.
So we’ve been very engaged in what’s happening on the ground, and, of course, monitoring it very closely.
QUESTION: Is the Vice President’s phone call the most recent phone call? And then I have another question.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the most recent phone call from the Vice President, I suppose, is the most recent phone call from him.
QUESTION: But from the U.S. Government, that’s what I --
MS. PSAKI: No. Our officials on the ground remain very – in very close touch with officials on the ground. So the ambassador on the ground is in daily, regular contact with government officials.
QUESTION: How does this building read the offer, which was then quickly rejected, to bring in key opposition figures including the former boxer in as high-level members of President Yanukovych’s government?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hm. Well, the opposition said – and they made some public comments on this, so I’d point you to them – that it did not accept the first offer given by the government because it did not address the full range of their concerns. There are a range of concerns that they have outlined. It’s not focused on having one member of the opposition in the government, or two members of the opposition in the government.
One of the pieces that they expressed a concern about is the anti-democratic legislation that was passed late last year. They are – the discussions are ongoing between the parties, so we will, of course, let them negotiate that. It’s not up to the United States to determine what the opposition should or shouldn’t accept.
QUESTION: Will you state what – the reasons why the opposition didn’t go into this government? Does the U.S. share the opposition’s concerns that President Yanukovych perhaps has been too cute by half, to use an expression, in terms of trying to put down an uprising that really started because he refused to sign the deal to bring Ukraine into the EU?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think that the United States has made any secret about our concerns about violence on the ground, how the concerns of the people of Ukraine have been handled by the government. But again, at this point, the negotiations are between the opposition and the government. We’ll let those proceed, and beyond that --
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: Is the U.S. fully calling on the protestors who are still occupying a couple of the smaller government buildings to leave the buildings now? Are they setting themselves up if they don’t leave now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s important to note that the takeover of – or the steps that have been taken by members of the opposition, it’s important to note that they were by a certain faction of the opposition. Obviously, there are many components of the opposition that were not engaged in that at all. They were by some extreme right demonstrators such as Pravyi Sektor who were engaged in some of these violent street clashes and issues that happened with government buildings. So we’ve expressed, certainly, our concern about that, but our focus is on the dialogue that’s happening between the opposition and the government.
MS. PSAKI: This is an issue that we certainly have discussed in the past, and the Secretary discussed this last week as part of his conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov.
QUESTION: And also given we’re increasing every day, we’re getting closer and closer to the Olympics, you have to imagine that Putin might be getting worried about the unrest in Ukraine spilling over and affecting security in Sochi. So are there any concerns and are there any contingency plans in place to deal with a possible situation where perhaps Putin tries to get into Ukraine and tamp down the situation and try to control the chaos on his own?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of those plans being underway. I would point you to the Russian Government for that. Obviously, the protests and the violence that’s happened on the ground in Ukraine, we’ve expressed concern about that. I’m not aware of a concern about an overflow, but I would point you to the Russian Government if that’s a concern they have. Obviously, the preparations for Sochi and the preparations for the Olympics are an issue that we’re very focused on, as is the Russian Government. And I know we’ve done a range of briefings on that as well.
QUESTION: And you guys have, in recent days, also repeated that you’re offering assistance to the Russians.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Have there been any more indications that they’re going to be accepting any of that security assistance ahead of the games?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, the Russian Government is the lead for security. The U.S. is – plays a liaison role. We have offered, of course, and we’re cooperating with the Russian Government. I know we did a briefing call – or a briefing for all of you on Friday. I don’t have very much to update you on since then. There was also on the 24th – so let’s see, when was that, Friday – we also issued a new Travel Alert for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. And that’s, of course, public. There’s a fact sheet for U.S. citizens traveling to Sochi. That’s on our website. It includes a range of information, and we remain engaged with the Russian Government as we prepare for the Olympics.
QUESTION: New topic.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. I do believe I have something on this. So we commend the consensus adoption of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2133 on kidnapping for ransom, which identifies kidnapping for ransom as a source of terrorist financing and expresses the Council’s determination to secure the safe release of hostages without ransom payments or political concessions. The United States Government estimates that terrorist organizations have collected well over $120 million in ransom payments over the last 10 years. They use this money to help fund the full range of their activities, including paying salaries, recruiting, and training new members. The UN – the resolution states in no uncertain terms that the payment of ransom to terrorist funds future – terrorist funds future kidnapping and hostage-taking operations, which creates more victims and perpetuates the problem. The resolution is also directly in line with the United States longstanding policy to make no concessions. The resolution also calls upon the United Nations member states to encourage private sector partners to adopt or follow relevant guidelines or good practices for preventing and responding to terrorist kidnappings without paying ransoms.
QUESTION: So, I mean, to take on that last part --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- about working with the private sector – I mean, as – we know that the U.S. Government and many other governments don’t negotiate with terrorists, but a lot of times, if someone’s working for a company, the company – in fact, a lot of them have K&R insurance policies to be able to negotiate just to get their employee back. So are you saying that this resolution doesn’t make it illegal for them to do that, or just recommends that you don’t? And then how do you – given that these people are terrorists and it’s really hard to negotiate with them in any way, how do you secure the release of these kidnapping victims without giving any concessions whatsoever? Because they’re not going to do it out of the – out of generosity or humanitarian concerns.
MS. PSAKI: Certainly. Well, on the second question, I think it’s unlikely I could outline – it’s probably beyond my base of knowledge anyway – but outline what steps the government takes. I will check on that and see if there’s anything we can outline for all of you.
On the other front, and I’ll check on this too, Elise, but my understanding is it’s more of a recommendation, and this is – our effort is to try to create a united front between public and private actors in rejecting this tactic, and that that is an important component of our effort given the role the private sector can play, unfortunately, in these cases.
QUESTION: Because basically, these companies paying a ransom through their own insurance is really one of the only ways that we’ve seen success of release of these kidnapping victims.
MS. PSAKI: Well, our concern is, as I mentioned, the – what this perpetuates, which is the fact that terrorists kidnap people and they have raised well over $120 million in ransom payments. So the belief here, clearly, by the UN Security Council, but the United States, is that this is not an approach that can continue because it perpetuates the action. But beyond that, I’d have to check with our team and see if there’s more specifics on it.
QUESTION: Can we go --
MS. PSAKI: Catherine, go ahead.
QUESTION: Can I – just quick one here.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- parts of the speech. If you could give us any information on that – or if he will be involved in that tomorrow in any way.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary, of course, is engaged with the National Security Council and with the President’s team on every aspect of foreign policy, including major speeches. Beyond that I don't have any prediction for you or outline for you on what may or may not be in the State of the Union, and I will defer to my colleagues over in the White House for that.
QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let’s go to Jo, first, and then we can go --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Just a quick check. There’s reports out of Iran that the P5+1 talks on a comprehensive agreement are due to take place in New York at the end of February – towards the end of February. I wondered if you could – had any information or confirmation about it.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. It is our understanding that it will be – those talks will be in New York in mid-February with dates still being confirmed on schedules. So around that time period and hopefully in the next – the coming days we’ll have more specifics for you.
QUESTION: So why the move to New York, as opposed to the wonderful city of Geneva that we’ve all grown to love?
MS. PSAKI: Geneva is beautiful this time of year. New York was agreed to by EU High Representative Ashton and Foreign Minister Zarif. It has a similar support infrastructure to Geneva, and we believe that the UN and international support is important for a comprehensive agreement. So no more reason than that.
QUESTION: And will it be held – sorry Elise – will it be actually held within the UN buildings? Or are you anticipating it will be held outside of the UN buildings?
MS. PSAKI: That’s a good question, Jo. I’m not sure if that level of detail has been determined, but I can check and see if we’re at that point yet.
QUESTION: And this will be Zarif plus Wendy Sherman? That level? That’s what we’re talking about?
MS. PSAKI: The next step is the political director, so from here it would naturally be Under Secretary Sherman. In terms of who other people would send, obviously we’ll defer to them.
QUESTION: Do you anticipate that the Secretary could also be taking a role in some of those talks?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of at this point. So – or no plans that I’m aware of. But we’ll first focus on seeing when the date is and how it will proceed and we’ll go from there.
QUESTION: And will the initial talks concentrate on agenda, or is that already agreed under the interim deal? Do you have your agenda set already?
MS. PSAKI: You know I – this is the first step of what the next stage is here and a lot of this is still being determined and will be announced when appropriate by the EU. So I will check and see if there’s more to outline for all of you. But as I understand it, some of the details are still being worked through.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
QUESTION: Does that mean that – given that this round is going to be in New York --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- does that mean that – like that the process now moves to New York, or you’re just holding this particular round in New York and it could be in Geneva or New York?
MS. PSAKI: That’s a good question, too. I’m only aware of this next round. I can see if there’s been any determination past that that’s been made.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Today Brahimi said that things were deadlocked, that neither side was giving in on their position, that concessions that need to be made and so on. Do you have any comment on that? And could you tell us about the role that Ambassador Ford or the American side might be playing?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, just to kind of give you all an update for those of you who haven’t been following what’s been happening on the ground, UN special – Joint Special Representative Brahimi met with the parties together this morning, then he met separately with the two – with the opposition and the regime. Ambassador Ford also met with the opposition following that, and we’ve of course been working very closely with the opposition. Brahimi made clear in his press conference that they will meet again tomorrow and that part of the discussion will be on the Geneva communique implementation and the discussion about that.
Clearly, Joint Special Representative Brahimi is leading these talks, is the chief negotiator in these talks. We’re on the ground playing a support role. Of course, Ambassador Ford and a team – his team are on the ground. We’re working closely with the opposition and we’ll be called in as appropriate.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Now I know you mentioned at the top about Homs --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and you’re saying that it is not enough for the regime to agree to have people evacuated if they want to. You want open roads and so on, and all these things. Is that issue something that maybe you are taking the lead on in these negotiations?
MS. PSAKI: That the United States is?
QUESTION: Right. Right.
MS. PSAKI: That’s a – the negotiations --
QUESTION: I know. In terms of what – no, I understand. But in terms of talking to the opposition, and then the Russians maybe are talking to the Syrians on this very point. Is this point being discussed in Geneva?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I can’t tell you what the Russians are or aren’t discussing. Obviously, a – progress on the humanitarian situation in Homs is certainly a priority for the opposition. So to the degree it’s a priority, which it is, we are discussing it with the opposition. It’s important to also note that the – Brahimi has made clear that the point of coming to Geneva is to discuss how to implement the Geneva communique. Of course, as part of that, there’s a discussion – they started with a discussion of humanitarian issues as an opening and a way to possibly make the discussions over the Geneva communique easier. And of course, making progress and providing some assistance to the men, women, children who are suffering on the ground is something we would certainly support and continue to press for.
QUESTION: The reason I wanted to bring your attention to what you said about Homs, because the same thing is happening at the Yarmouk camp – in fact, more severely. I wonder if you have any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as we’ve – as I said at the top, our concern about the humanitarian situation on the ground does not stop at the border of Homs. It is also – pertains to a number of other priority besieged communities in Syria. There are specific steps that the Secretary talked about over the course of last week that the regime could certainly take. So we continue to encourage them to do that.
QUESTION: I’m sorry if you got into --
QUESTION: Are you aware of the severity of the situation in that Yarmouk camp in particular? It’s a Palestinian refugee camp outside Damascus. Are you aware of the situation, how severe it is?
MS. PSAKI: We are.
QUESTION: That people are actually dying of starvation?
MS. PSAKI: There are people, unfortunately, dying of starvation around Syria in a range of communities. And we certainly are aware and the Secretary has even called out that particular camp, as you know, when he was in Paris just a few weeks ago.
QUESTION: I just want to follow up on a Homs issue --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- and then I guess this would talk about more besieged areas. And I’m sorry, I missed the top --
MS. PSAKI: No, it’s okay. Sure.
QUESTION: -- so if you got into this particular angle. There’s been talk – and the UN doesn’t seem to be kind of criticizing this, but Brahimi doesn’t really necessarily seem to be criticizing the approach that the regime is saying that women and children can be evacuated from those besieged areas, but I mean, this kind of – you would think that this is like a humanitarian gesture, but that’s basically kind of evacuating those areas and making them regime strongholds and kind of making even more Syrians displaced. So is this something that – I mean, do you agree with this particular approach?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I did talk about this at the top, and that particular issue, but let me just reiterate it, because there’s always – any opportunity is a good opportunity. What the regime has proposed, as you mentioned, is an evacuation of women and children. It’s not sufficient, in our view. Civilians must be allowed to come and go freely, and the people of Homs must not be forced to leave their homes and split up their families before receiving much needed food and other aid. So an evacuation is not an alternative, in our view, to the badly needed humanitarian assistance that we feel is essential to reaching that community.
QUESTION: Does it surprise you that since this came out yesterday, according to the ICRC, there still hasn’t been any moves at all today to get to those women and children? There’s – it’s – it might have been agreed in Geneva, but there’s actually no concrete action taking place on the ground in Homs.
MS. PSAKI: It’s hard for me to say whether it surprises us, that we’ve seen these tactics used before. And I think even beyond that point, what’s important here is that even the initial call is not sufficient, and that getting the aid and assistance there is really what we feel is the essential step that needs to be taken.
All right. Oh, one in the back.
MS. PSAKI: No problem.
QUESTION: Can I have one – China?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let’s finish it off with China.
QUESTION: Sorry. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay. That’s fine. That’s fine.
QUESTION: The human rights activist in the – called Hu Jia (inaudible) capture by Chinese authority (inaudible) because supporting for the Xu Zhiyong and the – another professor of the Uighur. So do you have any reaction on that?
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen those reports. Let me touch base with our team, and I’m sure we can get you a reaction after the briefing. But thank you for your question.
You had one on Sri Lanka?
QUESTION: I do, yeah. Apparently, there’s a delegation in town today, and they’re – one of the things I believe they’re talking about is a potential U.S. plan to sponsor a resolution in the UN Human Rights Council this March. I believe it has something to do with concerns about calls for an international inquiry into allegations of war crimes during their civil war. And so I’m wondering if the U.S. is planning some kind of resolution, and if the U.S. does support an inquiry for war crimes.
MS. PSAKI: I believe – I know I’ve seen that report. Let me see if I have anything on that in particular. And if not, I’m happy to get you all something on where we stand after the briefing.
Unfortunately, I don’t have anything new on that here, but let us venture to send something all around to all of you.
Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: Sorry, I have one last one.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Were – I’m not sure if you were aware, but there was a bombing in northeastern Nigeria this morning in a market. Apparently, 45 people were killed. It’s suspected that it was Boko Haram, although that hasn’t been confirmed yet. Just wondered if you had a reaction.
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen those yet. Let us get a reaction around to all of you after the briefing.
Let’s do the last one. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: The Wall Street Journal last Thursday said that U.S. officials were seeking assurances from Japan that Prime Minister – Yasukuni – will not make a repeat visit to the shrine. And they’re also calling on the Japanese to refrain from further comment and actions that might fuel tensions in East Asia. And I’m wondering why the U.S. Government would take that approach. Was the disappointment comment earlier not enough?
MS. PSAKI: Well, thank you for your question. We have expressed, as you noted, disappointment in the past, several weeks ago. Our position hasn’t changed. The report in The Wall Street Journal is inaccurate. We have always said we want Japan and its neighbors to deal with sensitive issues constructively and through dialogue, but it is inaccurate that we are seeking private assurances.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:24 p.m.)
DPB # 17