1:29 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Just have two items for all of you at the top. The United States is concerned that the deteriorating security situation is deepening the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, as we’ve been discussing in here the last several days. The International Organization for Migration estimates that the number of people displaced by the violence in Mosul and surrounding areas in recent days may have reached 500,000. They join an additional 430,000 people displaced by fighting in Anbar, as well as the nearly 1 million people who remain displaced from the war in Iraq.
We are announcing today we’re providing an additional $12.8 million to international organization partners working to meet the needs of internally displaced persons and conflict victims in Iraq. The new assistance will provide immediate relief by supplying food, shelter, and medicine for Iraq’s rapidly growing population of displaced people. This additional support includes $6.6 million to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for essential humanitarian supplies like blankets, tents, and hygiene items. And it provides 6.2 million to other international organizations for food and clean water, core relief items, and urgent medical care for the affected. These contributions are in part in response to an additional emergency appeal, the United Nations Strategic Response Plan of $104 million issued in March for Iraq.
With this announcement, the total U.S. humanitarian assistance to Iraq in Fiscal Year 2014 is more than $136 million. We urge other donors to help meet the critical needs outlined in this appeal. Since 2010, the United States has contributed to the United Nations, other international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations more than $1.1 billion in humanitarian assistance for Iraqi refugees and internationally displaced – internally displaced people.
The other piece I just wanted to mention at the top: The United States is deeply troubled by the harsh prison sentence issued yesterday against 25 Egyptian activists for organizing an authorized protest. The defendants were sentenced to 15 years in prison under Egypt’s highly restrictive demonstrations law, following very irregular court proceedings. This marks at least the third court verdict in the last six months sentencing peaceful protestors to prison under the new demonstration law. We urge Egypt’s new leadership to make good on its promise of inclusivity and impartiality, consistent with its promise to protect the rights of all Egyptians and govern for all Egyptians.
Since last November, the implementation of Egypt’s restrictive demonstrations law has led to a sharp increase in arrests, detentions, and charges against opposition figures, human rights activists, and peaceful demonstrators, and verdicts based on these charges, all of which send a chilling message to the civil society at large. These verdicts do not contribute to a transition process that protects the rights of all Egyptians.
And I just will note we have a bilateral meeting soon this afternoon, so let’s try to get through – I know there’s a lot going on – everything we can.
Go ahead, Matt. Are you okay there?
QUESTION: I – my pen exploded.
MS. PSAKI: Oh.
QUESTION: I’ve got blue ink all over myself. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Okay. At least you didn’t cut yourself.
QUESTION: No, that’s true. I feel like I voted in the Afghan election though – (laughter) --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- because of the ink on the fingers. Sorry. So on Iraq --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- you just announced this aid for internally displaced people. Have any decisions been made about – or can you enlighten us on where the process is on what the President outlined with the Australian foreign minister in terms of the options being considered for assisting the Iraqi Government in dealing with the deteriorating situation?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, what you have seen – and I know you saw it, Matt, but just for the benefit of others, the President did speak to this just a little while ago, in the last hour. And what he said and made clear is that we’ve had a lot of concern, not just in the last couple of days but months. And what we’ve seen over the last couple of days is an indication that Iraq needs more help.
Our team is working overtime on a range of options that does not include, to be clear, boots on the ground. Secretary Kerry is clearly very engaged in these discussions, which are ongoing. And Deputy Assistant Secretary Brett McGurk, of course, is as well, given he’s on the ground, as well as a range of officials from the State Department. I don’t have anything to enlighten you on, given these are ongoing discussions. But the President made clear that in the short term there may be the immediate need for additional military assistance, and there’s an ongoing discussion about that.
QUESTION: So immediate means possibly by the end of the day or in the next --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not giving a timing indication. I think what he’s indicating is in the short term, in addition to the capacity building that we’re doing over the medium and long term.
QUESTION: Right. Do you have any thoughts about the Iranians saying that they’re willing to help defend the Shia community or defend Baghdad and/or, both, the Kurds taking control of Kirkuk? Do these developments cause you any concern?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me take the second one first. We support the steps taken between the federal government and the Kurdish regional government to cooperate on a security plan that will enhance the Iraqi army’s ability to hold positions and confront ISIL. We’re encouraging both Baghdad and Erbil to continue and further their cooperation, given the immediate threat that they’re all facing from ISIL on the ground.
In terms of the Iranians, we’ve naturally seen those statements – or seen the reports, I should say – I guess there are statements and reports. We don’t have any confirmation of their presence on the ground, which I think is some of the reports. Clearly, we’ve encouraged them in many cases to play a constructive role, but I don’t have any other readouts or views from our end to portray here today.
QUESTION: You say you’ve encouraged them in many places, meaning?
MS. PSAKI: I meant Syria as well, obviously.
QUESTION: Right, right, right, right.
MS. PSAKI: It’s completely different circumstances, but --
QUESTION: I understand. So is it – does that – has that encouragement taken the forum of anything, other than you saying it just now from the podium?
MS. PSAKI: In Syria or anywhere?
QUESTION: No, no. Has your encouragement of the Iranians to play a constructive role in Iraq, has that come out in any other forum, other than you just saying it on the podium? In other words, what I’m getting at is have you talked to the Iranians directly about this and – in this case? Whether you have or not, could you identify what a playing – them playing a constructive role might mean from the U.S. view?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the circumstances and the threats obviously posed to a range of countries on the ground is clear. We’ve talked about that. We know the history here. I don’t have anything more to analyze from here in terms of what role they could play. As you know, the talks that our team has been engaged in with the Iranians in Geneva have focused on the nuclear discussions, and that has continued to be the case.
QUESTION: So that – so the situation in Iraq has not come up in conversations that Deputy Secretary Burns and Under Secretary Sherman have had with the Iranians?
MS. PSAKI: No, the focus has been on the nuclear program.
QUESTION: Well, okay. The focus might have been. It hasn’t come up at all that you’re aware of?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: Okay. And I’m just – but playing a constructive role – I’m trying to figure out what that might mean in this case. Would you be supportive of the Iranians sending troops, since you’re not willing to send – or you don’t want to, and presumably the – many – most Americans wouldn’t want you to re-invade Iraq, as it were.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Would the Iranians sending troops be a constructive role?
MS. PSAKI: Again, Matt, obviously these comments and these reports are new. I don’t have any analysis from our team at this point in terms of what specific constructive role they could play.
QUESTION: But just taking you up on that, Jen, do you believe that there is some kind of common approach that the United States could forge with Iran on ways to support the Maliki government?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the fact is we’ve been out there, obviously, long supporting the Iraqi Government. You know where the Iranians stand, but I’m just not going to get ahead of where things stand right now.
QUESTION: And just to, again, stress, this was not raised at all with the – between Burns – Deputy Secretary Burns and his team in Geneva?
MS. PSAKI: The discussions were focused on the nuclear program.
QUESTION: And do you have any – sorry, one more from me – have you got any – the Iraqi foreign minister was talking in London today. He’s attending this conference that I believe the Secretary’s going to be at tomorrow.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So Foreign Minister Zebari said today that he believes that the ISIL militants were now on the run with the security forces having fought back. Does that coalesce at all with what you’re hearing from the ground?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are – given how fluid this is, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that there are conflicting reports about the situation on the ground, on the further advances ISIL has made. I’ve not heard a confirmation of that particular report, but there’s also been conflicting reports that I don’t have confirmation of either, if that makes sense. So we’re obviously tracking this closely. Deputy Assistant Secretary McGurk is on the ground, as you know, but events are incredibly fluid on the ground.
QUESTION: Would you say that your position on Iran has changed? Because you used to say that Iran’s role in Iraq is not constructive; in fact, it’s negative and meddling and interfering. So would you say that there has been a change in your position on Iran?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I indicated – I don’t think I said very much about our position here. Obviously, we’ve seen the comments, so – go ahead.
QUESTION: But you said something about these options are not including boots on the ground. But it does not preclude, let’s say, drone strikes, does it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to get into eliminating or adding each thing. I think the President’s comments made very clear he has a broad range of options, and I was just making clear that doesn’t include boots on the ground.
QUESTION: Would you say that the volatility of the situation now has called it – called for, let’s say, U.S. interference by air, let’s – perhaps by missiles or --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to indicate what option it may mean or what options, but clearly the grave security situation on the ground that’s been deteriorating every day has warranted our team working overtime on a range of options. And ultimately, the President will have to make a decision on what that will be.
QUESTION: Is the United States taking additional steps to bolster support to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, or is there any evacuation plans?
MS. PSAKI: As you know, we would never indicate that in any case in advance. But the security situation we’re clearly monitoring as closely as possible. The U.S. Embassy and consulates in Iraq remain open and continue to operate on a normal status, so I don’t have any plans of – any announcements about planned changes to tell you about.
QUESTION: Not even a heightened status in regards to all the fighting? You’re not even --
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we put out a Travel Warning yesterday, as we often do when we want to provide information that has become available. This – in this case it is information that we’re all aware of, but we want to make it – point it out to American citizens, and we did that just yesterday.
QUESTION: How about the – does the current security framework with Iraq, does that allow the U.S. to conduct kinetic strikes inside Iraq’s borders?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re familiar with where we stand with – post 2011 where our agreements are with Iraq. Obviously any decision made would be taken – we would take into account any legal needs at the time.
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: I know the Embassy in Baghdad is one of the largest. Do you have an approximate of how many people there are there? I know you don’t get into specific numbers, but if you have any sense of the size.
MS. PSAKI: We also don’t like to provide a range for security reasons, and that’s no different in this case.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) evacuated just since the crisis, since the crisis began in Mosul, have you evacuated any American official from the region, from Mosul or from the approximate regions?
MS. PSAKI: Have we – I’m sorry, can you repeat it?
QUESTION: There was any evacuation from the – evacuation from the region for the U.S.?
MS. PSAKI: Evacuation?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t have a consulate in Mosul.
QUESTION: But I mean in Erbil or any other places, have you --
MS. PSAKI: All of our consulates remain up and running, as they have been, and we continue to monitor the security situation on the ground.
QUESTION: Do you have any update about the Turkish hostages? Do you have any – I know that Secretary Kerry and Vice President Biden talked on this issue with the Turkish hostages.
MS. PSAKI: Yes, and I know you’re aware of that, and obviously watching it closely. I don’t have any update beyond that.
QUESTION: So has the Secretary made any calls related to Iraq today?
MS. PSAKI: He spoke with Deputy Assistant Secretary McGurk this morning again, but no other calls to read out for you.
QUESTION: Okay. So is it your understanding – and I realize this is a little bit outside of your lane – but that the Vice President is going to be the one, the main interlocutor with the Iraqis on this? Or does the Secretary plan to meet with – as Jo noted, Zebari is going to – is in London already. Is there --
MS. PSAKI: There’s no planned meeting at this time. But I think in this case, as is the case in many other issues, there’s often a team of individuals who talks to a range of officials. I expect that will be the case here. And if it’s helpful for the Secretary to make a call, I’m sure that he will.
QUESTION: And given the Vice President’s having had the lead, essentially having had the lead for the Administration since – for the last six years, and the fact that when he was in the Senate he advocated this three-state solution – Kurdistan and then the Sunni area, then Shia in the south – does the Administration still support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Iraq as it exists today, as it has existed since post-colonial times?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
MS. PSAKI: Yes, we certainly do.
QUESTION: So there’s no – you’re not aware of any consideration of a tri --
MS. PSAKI: No.
QUESTION: -- three-way deal?
MS. PSAKI: No. Let me just give you --
MS. PSAKI: Can I just give an update on McGurk’s meetings just for those of you who it’s of interest to? Over the past --
QUESTION: If it’s London, it’s supposed to be in half an hour.
MS. PSAKI: It doesn’t, but I think it just shows how active he is so that’s why I wanted to make sure you all are aware. And obviously there’s a lot of interest in this issue.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Brett McGurk over the past 24 hours has met with Deputy Prime Minister Shahristani, with Defense Minister Dulaimi, Party Chair of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq Ammar Hakim, Parliament Speaker Nujaifi, and the United States Special Representative for Iraq, and others. He remains in Baghdad where he will continue to engage with Iraqi leaders over the next several days.
QUESTION: How long do you expect him to stay in country?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an indication of this – of that at this point. He’ll be there for the next several days. I’m sure that’s something we’ll evaluate day by day.
QUESTION: Is he in contact with the tribe leaders?
MS. PSAKI: He was. I think in the readout I gave yesterday, he had been in touch. So I don’t have – not in the last 24 hours but certainly in the last 48 to 72.
QUESTION: Are you concerned about the tribes who change the side in this conflict? Because according to the press reports, some tribes in the region in Mosul are supporting the ISIL forces’ advance against the Iraqi – I mean the Maliki government. Are you concerned about this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve seen the reports. As I’ve noted, it’s an incredibly fluid situation on the ground. I think our focus is on not just the assistance bucket, which clearly the President spoke to and we’ve spoken to extensively in here, but also the political bucket and the importance of unity. And so in that vein, any efforts to work with the Iraqi Government in any capacity is what we’re encouraging all sides to do.
QUESTION: Back to Vice President Biden. In 2010 he was very optimistic about Iraq and said that it could be one of the greatest achievements of the Administration. I was wondering if Secretary Kerry thought the same thing.
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’d point you to the Vice President’s office on his comments from four years ago.
QUESTION: Back to the embassy. You can’t from that podium even say that you are strengthening security at the embassy at this time?
MS. PSAKI: We typically don’t discuss security for obvious reasons. And if anything changes, that would warrant making information available publicly, we do that on a regular basis.
QUESTION: Yeah, Iraq. Did you listen to the pretty strong comments of Senator McCain this morning at --
MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen – I’ve seen some tweets and reports of them, yes.
QUESTION: So he was asking to – was asking the President to change his national security team. What would you reply to that?
MS. PSAKI: I think I’d point you to the White House on that, Nicolas. But I would make clear that this is a situation where the impact of the ongoing crisis in Syria, the overflow of that into Iraq has clearly been a major factor. We have made – taken a range of steps to increase the capacity of the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi Government over the last several months. I’m not sure what Mr. McCain – Senator McCain is or isn’t aware of. I assume he’s aware of all of that. And right now, we believe all of our focus should be, as a United States Government, regardless of what party you may be in, in making a determination about what steps we can take in the short term to boost their capacity to address the immediate threat from ISIL.
QUESTION: So what steps can you take in the short term?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you heard the President speak to this, but given what we’ve seen and the deteriorating situation on the ground, that has warranted a look by the national security team at a range of options. And obviously, we’ll give them the space to make any decisions about what we’ll do, but we’ve increased assistance over the course of the last several months given what we’ve seen on the ground. And I think you heard the President say that this warrants the need to do more, and that’s what they’re discussing now.
QUESTION: There have been concerns, though, over the past few days that the Iraqi – in many places the Iraqi army just fled in the face of the offensive. There’s been billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer money poured into training and equipping the Iraqi Government. Has this been squandered? Is it a failure?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Jo, obviously the last events --
QUESTION: Just say yes and get it over with. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: The events of the last several days are clearly – were – they’re alarming. And I think there’s no question about that. We – there was a clear structural breakdown. We were disappointed by the reaction of – or the steps that were taken by a range of security forces. But our commitment to Iraq is long-term. We share a commitment to addressing the threats from groups like ISIL, and that’s why we are continuing to take steps and consider steps to increase their capacity.
QUESTION: And do you have an analysis of what the cause of the structural breakdown was? Why did this happen?
MS. PSAKI: That is something the Iraqi central government is looking into, and I don’t have any updates at this point --
QUESTION: And do you believe that --
MS. PSAKI: -- on what their findings are.
QUESTION: -- sorry.
MS. PSAKI: No, go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you believe the Iraqi army is actually in a position to be able to counter this threat that’s coming from the ISIL?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think clearly the events of the last few days tell us that we need to do more. And that’s what we’re considering here, and we’re in touch with a range of partners around the world, and we’ll see what is determined out of those conversations.
QUESTION: And just going back to what we were talking about before about Iran, I mean, given the fact that the United States is obviously equipping and training the Iraqi army, do you believe that Iran has a role to do similar things on – for its part?
MS. PSAKI: I just – the statements that they’ve made are just out in the last sort of 12 hours, and I just don’t want to get ahead of where we are in our analysis or consideration of what we think would be appropriate.
QUESTION: Irrespective of the statements they’ve made, in this situation, in the fact that we have this crisis in Iraq, do you believe that there is a military role for Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Again, our focus is on increasing the capacity and doing what we can do as the United States. As I mentioned, this wasn’t an issue that was discussed during the talks in Vienna. I will see if there’s more that our team would like to add about our --
QUESTION: To turn that around, do you – can you say that the Administration would oppose the deployment of Iranian troops inside of Iraq to defend the government?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything more to add on this front. Obviously the entire situation is very fluid. I’m happy to talk to our team and see if there’s more we’d like to say from here on this issue.
QUESTION: All right. And then to try and – recognizing that if a question is posed to you in terms of why – in terms of “isn’t this a failure” you’re never going to say “yes, it was a failure” – can I just ask you, why isn’t it? Why should it not be seen as a failure, the fact that – not only of this – the Administration’s strategy in Iraq, but also in Syria, which you have said played a major role in the bolstering of ISIL and their advance? Why is it wrong to look at this as a failure?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, because I’m not – one, I think the context of what we’re looking at here is important. Obviously, the withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 was not a mistake. We – that was a decision made with the Iraqi Government consistent with the U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement, a decision and a timeline that was set out five – let’s see, 2011 – no, longer than that – four – what year are we? We’re in 2014.
MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) Sorry. Several --
QUESTION: Sometimes it feels like 1937.
MS. PSAKI: A decision and a timeline that was set out long before 2011, is, I guess, what I should say – back in 2008 if I remember correctly. And we stand by that decision that was made. Now obviously in circumstances like this there are steps that we’ve taken, given the increasing threat – whether that’s the counterterrorism fund that this president announced just two weeks ago or the increase in assistance we’ve given. We’re not going to make an evaluation that something is a success or a failure because we’re continuing to work on it. It’s – it is in the interests of the United States and the interests of a range of countries around the world to continue to boost the capacity and take on this threat.
QUESTION: Okay. If you can say that the withdrawal, such as it was in 2011, was not a mistake – which is what you just said – can we – I presume that means that you think it was not a mistake to withdraw because you didn’t have – because you couldn’t get a SOFA? Is that --
MS. PSAKI: Not just that, but I think the other contextual point here is it would be inaccurate to assume that the small contingent of military that was being discussed at the time would have helped stem or prevent what we’re seeing and what we’ve seen over the last several days and even months. So there are – there were factors that we could have not predicted five years ago, six years ago – including --
QUESTION: Hold on. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: -- including, obviously, the situation on the ground in Syria, the impact of that. And we’ve made decisions over the last several months to increase capacity in both cases.
QUESTION: Right. But I mean, some people did predict this – that complete withdrawal, the withdrawal that happened in 2011 would lead to something like this. Maybe not in this timeframe, but that was predicted, so – by a range of people.
MS. PSAKI: I would pose to these same individuals whether they would think that the small contingent of military that was being discussed to leave on the ground would have prevented this, and I think the answer would be no.
QUESTION: Okay. There is some – there is some criticism or maybe I should say suspicion that the President, because he campaigned on ending the Iraq war, which he thought was a mistake to begin with, really didn’t try hard enough to get – to negotiate a SOFA with the Iraqis. Can you say that that’s false?
MS. PSAKI: I would say that’s absolutely false. I would remind you that the timeline was laid out by the prior administration. It wasn’t a political decision.
QUESTION: So it was – so you’re saying that you can rule out that it was – that it wasn’t – I don’t want to do a double negative, and I’m – because I’m not trying to trick you. I just – it was – you can say for sure that the President tried as hard as he could and directed his Administration to try as hard as it could to conclude a SOFA with the Iraqi Government?
MS. PSAKI: I can say that there was no politics involved in the decision making, and that there were a range of factors that were considered at the time – now three years ago. I’m obviously not going to dial back or go back in history to what was occurring at the time.
QUESTION: Well, but – okay. But when you say not politics, you mean that it wasn’t simply to fulfill a campaign promise.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: That’s what you mean by that?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Jen --
MS. PSAKI: Iraq or --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: And we’ll go to you next in the back. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Jen, do you have an update about the U.S.-made equipment that ISIL took over from the Iraqi army and the money that they took over from the Mosul banks? Do you have anything?
MS. PSAKI: We do not. We clearly remain concerned by these reports and the pictures that have been posted online. We’re working to obtain solid confirmation on what assets may have fallen into ISIL’s hands, and until we do that and if we do that, I doubt we’ll have much more to add.
QUESTION: According to the press reports, they are carrying some of this equipment to the Syria.
MS. PSAKI: I have seen those reports. But again, it’s our responsibility to have the level of confirmation we can have to speak about.
QUESTION: And one last thing about the all options that Mr. President has mentioned today. Are you concerned that ISIL can use the Turkish hostages, for example, to prevent some of these options that they are – that you are considering right now. For example, to prevent any drone use in the region to – they can use these hostages to make it part of this (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I think that obviously in any discussion or consideration, there are a range of factors taken into account. And you’ve seen – including civilians, right? But you’ve seen the Vice President make clear and the Secretary that we have – we are – we have made clear to the – our Turkish allies that we want to see these hostages be released, that we want to see them safe, and obviously that remains the case.
QUESTION: Get any – these kind of messages from them or through some channels in terms of this kind of thing?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what you’re asking. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Is ISIL – has sent this kind of message to Turkey or to U.S. for the options that you are considering (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: You’d have to ask the Turks, but not to us that I’m aware of, no. I mean, we just have been talking about it now.
QUESTION: Jen, my colleague just mentioned the word “drone,” so I wondered if you could confirm reports that the Iraqis have actually asked you for drone help.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to confirm requests on their behalf. I’m sure if they’d like to speak to it, they will speak to it when you reach out to them.
QUESTION: So when the President says all options remain on the table, does he also mean that the option of possible drone strikes is on the table?
MS. PSAKI: All options aside from boots on the ground.
QUESTION: So including drone strikes?
MS. PSAKI: All options aside from boots on the ground.
MS. PSAKI: That’s --
QUESTION: All options?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not sure where you’re going, Matt, here.
QUESTION: I mean, we have a nuclear arsenal that’s rather large. (Laughter.) I’m assuming that that option is not on the table.
MS. PSAKI: Matt’s playing his fantasy war games over here. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Not – I mean, come on. It’s not – there are several options that are off the table, not just boots on the ground, right?
QUESTION: So drones --
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of options that remain on the table. I’m not going to do a yes or no for every option that’s being discussed.
QUESTION: Is there any legal framework that exists that prevents the United States from making a unilateral strike in Iraq right now?
MS. PSAKI: I think, again, I would take – we would take into account any legal requirements needed in this and any other case.
MS. PSAKI: I’m familiar with the laws and the history, Lucas. But again, we’re still in the discussion and consideration phase here.
QUESTION: Yes, please. Regarding the contacts that assistant secretary – deputy assistant secretary, he had it with the local players, Iraqi players.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Beside that, do you have any contacts with the regional players, beside Turkey? Any other countries?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, countries in the region?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. I mean, there are contacts every day, and certainly, given the situation on the ground, this is a topic of discussion.
QUESTION: And what is the message to them? I mean, either to play a role or stay away or what?
MS. PSAKI: The message is that the security threat posed by ISIL is not just a threat to the Iraqis, it’s a threat to the region, and we all need to engage in this effort to help them at this challenging time.
QUESTION: My second question regarding ISIL. After two days of being fluid and this situation, which is getting worse and worse, do you still – what’s your understanding? Is – it’s because of ISIL or other – even other sides in Iraq taking side with ISIL? I mean, they are supporting them, getting bigger. It’s more than ISIL.
MS. PSAKI: Well, but our core concern here is ISIL, and that remains the case.
QUESTION: Do you expect the Under Secretary Sherman to say this message to the Saudi official she is meeting with today?
MS. PSAKI: I know there was some interest in this. I wasn’t able to get a readout of – or plans for that. I’ll see if there’s any plans to read anything out after the meeting.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, did – Iraq, or – Iraq?
QUESTION: No, I’d like to move on as well.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. One more on Iraq, and then we’ll move on.
QUESTION: Do you believe that Prime Minister Maliki is doing enough to forge national unity in Iraq and (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I’ve said in here a few times, but it’s worth reiterating, that there’s more that Prime Minister Maliki should have done, could have done over the course of time. That’s a message we’ve conveyed publicly and privately directly to him.
But the enemy here is ISIL. We need to work together and present a unified front. There have been steps that we’ve been encouraged by, calling for national unity, and we’ll see if that can manifest itself on the ground.
QUESTION: Sorry, just because you said that about Maliki: Do you believe – does the Administration believe that it could have – should have and could have done more?
MS. PSAKI: Who’s “it?”
QUESTION: It. The U.S.
MS. PSAKI: Oh. (Laughter.) Sorry.
QUESTION: You say that Maliki could have and should have done more. Is it the opinion of the Administration --
MS. PSAKI: What I was referring to --
QUESTION: I understand.
MS. PSAKI: -- is the political question, yes.
QUESTION: Right, and I understand that. But I mean, given the fact that the – that this Administration inherited the situation in Iraq that it might not have agreed with but still had an obligation to bring to a responsible end, do you – is there any concern that you did not do – that you could have done and should have done more?
MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly – I know this isn’t exactly what you’re asking, but just to connect the two, what I was referring to is the political component of this. In terms of the assistance front, we’ve been increasing it over the last several months because of our concerns.
QUESTION: No, no, no. But I’m talking about it politically. I’m not necessarily talking about militarily.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: I mean, do you think there is more that you could have and should have done to push Maliki in the direction of greater inclusivity?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think our message of calling on him and others to be more inclusive has been pretty consistent, as you know.
QUESTION: Yeah. But --
MS. PSAKI: We can’t force anyone to take steps just because we feel that they are the necessary steps. So that’s continued to be the case. Of course, we continue to press and hope that this will be a reason to do so.
QUESTION: Do you approve on Maliki’s call for a state of emergency?
MS. PSAKI: My understanding is that the parliament failed to reach a quorum and did not act on this request, so our focus now is on all parts of the government coming together. Iraq’s constitution permits the parliament to declare states of emergency, but again, that doesn’t seem that that has been the case here.
QUESTION: Well, if you say that you’re disappointed in the army, in the Iraqi armed forces for their collapse, apparently, are you disappointed in the state of parliamentary democracy --
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s a --
QUESTION: -- and that can’t even get – they can’t even get a quorum?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a lame duck parliament, Matt, so I think that’s just the nature of where things are standing at this moment.
QUESTION: Well, but presumably if the capital of the United States was threatened, the Congress would be able to muster a quorum to declare some kind of a state of emergency, no?
QUESTION: You’re sure about that, Matt?
QUESTION: Well, maybe not. I don’t know. Or you doubt this --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any --
QUESTION: You’re not disappointed? I’m just basically --
MS. PSAKI: -- additional expression here to offer.
QUESTION: Okay. You don’t – you’re not --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have --
QUESTION: You’re not – you don’t – you’re not – you can’t say that you’re disappointed in the parliament for not being able to (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: I am not choosing to do that.
MS. PSAKI: Scott, go ahead.
QUESTION: May we move on?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Venezuelan Government has asked Interpol to arrest three Venezuelan opposition leaders who are living here in the United States and arrange their extradition to Venezuela. Is that a request that the United States Government intends to comply with?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Scott, as you know, we don’t speak to extradition requests, so there is very little that I have to add on this front. I will see if there’s more that we can convey in terms of our concerns about the overarching message it’s sending.
QUESTION: What about the requests to have these opposition leaders detained?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re familiar with our view, broadly, here that the focus needs to be on having a dialogue between all sides. And there have been a range of accusations launched against not just the United States but opposition leaders in the country, and that hasn’t been a productive approach to what we’re seeing on the ground.
QUESTION: Can I yield more time to myself?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry will meet with Foreign Minister Kutesa this afternoon. What are the issues that he plans to discuss?
MS. PSAKI: One moment here. Well, as you noted, they’ll be meeting this afternoon. There are a range of issues that we, of course, work with Uganda on, including promoting regional security and justice and accountability for perpetrators of atrocities like the LRA – I’m certain that will be part of their discussion – ensuring that life-saving treatment for HIV/AIDS continues to reach those who need it. And obviously there – they don’t have an extensive meeting, so I’m sure there’ll be a range of topics discussed, but I think the security issues and other humanitarian needs will be the focus of the discussion.
QUESTION: Does the United States believe that Uganda intends to pursue its pretty public anti-gay agenda at the United Nations?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that would certainly be a disappointing step. We have been clear about our views on Uganda’s anti-homosexuality act. We believe it undermines human rights and human dignity for all persons in Uganda, and certainly if that were to be taken to a larger scale that would be greatly concerning.
QUESTION: Does the Secretary plan to raise this issue with the foreign minister – the human rights issue --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we --
QUESTION: -- the LGBT issue with him?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve raised it on a range of occasions. I will – we will do a readout after the meeting and we can make clear what topics were brought up.
QUESTION: Was there any – I suppose this question might be better directed to USUN, but was there any attempt by the United States to lobby against Foreign Minister Kutesa from being elected to be the president of the next General Assembly session?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as the election of the president of the General Assembly follows the system of regional rotation, and non-members of regional groups aren’t a part of the selection process. So --
QUESTION: That wasn’t my question, though.
MS. PSAKI: I know. But I’m just – it’s worth stating. And so obviously the United States wouldn’t have a vote in this manner.
QUESTION: I didn’t ask you if you voted against him. I asked you if you lobbied countries to vote against him.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe that’s a role that we played.
QUESTION: No? So --
MS. PSAKI: I encourage you to talk to the USUN folks about it.
QUESTION: Okay. But you’re not aware if the U.S. opposed. I mean, you oppose other countries --
MS. PSAKI: Certainly.
QUESTION: -- getting on to the Human Rights Council, getting on to – all the time. So I just want to know if you – if there was any kind of effort to prevent Uganda generally, and Mr. Kutesa specifically, from being elected to this position.
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Matt. I’d encourage you to, as you may already do, ask that question to the UN.
Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: Can we stay with the Secretary’s meetings? He’s meeting today with the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. What’s the focus of the meeting going to be about? What issues are going to be discussed?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, the President also just met with Prime Minister Abbott. We work with Australia, of course, on a range of issues, and – including security. I know there was a fact sheet and information put out by the White House on the force posture agreement. I’m sure they’ll discuss that. Obviously there’s an upcoming AUSMIN meeting this summer in August; I’m sure they’ll discuss the agenda for that. And we work with Australia on a range of security issues, economic issues, so I’m sure it will be a wide-ranging discussion.
QUESTION: Do you know if the Secretary plans to raise the issue with Prime Minister Abbott about that Australia has decided to remove the term “occupied” when it refers to East Jerusalem? It says that this term is “freighted with pejorative implications” and is “neither appropriate nor useful.” Does the Secretary intend to raise this? And generally, what is the U.S. view on this removal of the term “occupied”?
MS. PSAKI: I have not – I have not seen this on the agenda, but again, a range of topics often come up in meetings, and I’m happy to provide all of you with a readout once the meeting is concluded. I – you know where our position is on this issue. I don’t think we have any other particular comment on their own internal politics.
QUESTION: But is – Australia is breaking ranks with other countries which do use the term “occupied East Jerusalem.” Is that not a matter of concern for you?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you know where we stand and a range of countries stand, as you said. And I’m not sure if this will be a topic in the meeting that will cover a range of important strategic issues, but I’m happy to provide that – or an update, once the meeting concludes.
MS. PSAKI: On the --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Have you seen the reports about the autopsy of these Palestinian teenagers who were killed? And if you have, or even if you haven’t, what do you make of the reports?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen reports that say that the autopsy found that Nadeem Nawara was killed by live ammunition. We express our condolences again to his family. We remain deeply concerned by the incident and are closely following the Israeli investigation. Given its investigation, I don’t think we’re going to have a further comment on it.
QUESTION: You mean until the investigation is over?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I’d like to go back to Asia.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I asked about this yesterday, but today the Chinese and the Japanese are trading accusations over who was responsible for the close encounter that the Japanese protested recently. The Chinese defense ministry actually released a video that they say suggests that the Japanese are responsible for this. I wanted to know if you’ve seen the video and if you had any comments on it.
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen the video. I will just reiterate that we urge all states to ensure that they respect the safety of aircraft in flight. These reports reinforce the need for China and its neighboring countries to develop crisis management procedures that can avoid miscalculations or further incidents at sea or in air. And any attempt to interfere with freedom of overflight in international airspace raises regional tensions and increases the risk of miscalculation, confrontation, and unintended incidents.
QUESTION: Does the State Department attribute any blame on either side for this encounter?
MS. PSAKI: I think, again, we’ve been clear that we’ve expressed concerns in the past about China’s declaration of an ADIZ. I don’t know that this was part of that, but we continue to urge all sides to ensure that they respect the safety of aircraft in flight, and obviously I don’t have additional details on this specific incident.
Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: On Ukraine, there’s been reports recently that three tanks have crossed the Russian border into Ukraine. I was wondering if you had any confirmation. And if proven true, would this be a step that warrants further sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: I think I do have something on this. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I have it with me, so why don’t we get that to you and anyone else who’s interested after the briefing.
QUESTION: Is it – well, can we stay on Ukraine for a second?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And just – do you remember at all what it was? Is it a confirmation?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think it’s probably sitting on my desk right now and it came out right before the briefing --
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: -- so let me – we’ll venture to get that out to all of you shortly after the briefing.
QUESTION: There were reports yesterday that the Ukrainian military is using phosphorus – white phosphorus bombs and attacking Slovyansk. Do you know anything about that? Did that come up in the conversation between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov, if there was one last night?
MS. PSAKI: There was one yesterday. And actually I did find what I wanted to say on the vehicles, so let me to get to that after I get to Matt’s questions, so thank you for your patience.
QUESTION: Well, you can start with the tanks.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. We’ve seen the media reports that three Russian tanks and other military vehicles may have crossed the border into eastern Ukraine in the border town of Snizhnye. We have long condemned the flow of Russian fighters and arms into Ukraine as destabilizing and a violation of Russia’s Geneva commitments. If these latest reports are true, which I don’t have confirmation of, this incursion marks a serious and disturbing escalation of the crisis in eastern Ukraine.
As you know, there are a range of factors we look at as it relates to consequences. I don’t have anything to outline on that front at this point in time.
Your question – I’m sorry – was about --
QUESTION: About the phone call --
MS. PSAKI: -- the use of phosphorus.
QUESTION: -- and about phosphorus.
MS. PSAKI: The Secretary did speak with Foreign Minister Lavrov just yesterday afternoon. They discussed two issues: the ongoing situation on the ground and Ukraine. They did not talk about that specific issue. The Secretary encouraged Foreign Minister Lavrov to encourage President Putin to directly engage with President Poroshenko. We’ve seen reports that they had a phone call today. He also encouraged that conversation or engagement to focus on de-escalating the situation on the ground, and he called on Russia to halt the flow of militants and arms from Russia into eastern Ukraine, which is clearly relevant in this case.
They also discussed Syria’s chemical weapons program. The Secretary made clear that there’s no excuse for failing to turn over the remaining 8 percent and asked for Foreign Minister Lavrov’s assistance in putting additional pressure on the Syrian regime.
QUESTION: Even though it didn’t come up in their conversation, do you have anything to say about the reports that he used phosphorous? There’s some pretty – there’s some – what appears to be video and photographic evidence of this – of the use of this.
MS. PSAKI: Of the – by the Russian --
QUESTION: No, by the Ukrainians.
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen those reports. I’m happy to check with our team and see if we have any confirmation of that or more to say on that front.
QUESTION: All right. And the Russians, do you – are you supportive of the – excuse me – of the resolution at the Security Council that they’re preparing or may have already introduced?
MS. PSAKI: We haven’t – they haven’t yet shared to my knowledge, or when I came down here, a text – a UN Security Council resolution text. Our view is that the focus should be on engaging directly with the Ukrainians. We find it hypocritical for the Russian leadership to call for an end to violence or call on the Ukrainians to take these steps when Russian separatists are abetting the violence and bringing weapons illegally into the country. But we haven’t yet seen the text of what they’re proposing.
QUESTION: But you do think that the violence should end, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Of course we do. But again --
QUESTION: Well, I don’t understand why it’s hypocritical for them to say that they want an end.
MS. PSAKI: Because I think it depends on what the text is calling for, and if it’s focused on Ukrainians taking steps, that is clearly different from what the reality is on the ground.
QUESTION: Well, what if it’s – I mean, what if it was both sides? What if the text said both sides should end the violence?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ll --
QUESTION: Then you would support it?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll see what the text says and then we can do some more analysis.
QUESTION: All right. And then the last thing is if the reports of the Poroshenko-Putin call are correct, if they’re accurate, is that a good – is that a positive step, in your mind?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. We would be encouraged by direct engagement, but clearly there’s more that needs to be done beyond that. It’s a step in the process, but there’s more that needs to happen.
Ukraine or another topic?
MS. PSAKI: Iran, okay.
QUESTION: So yesterday, the Iranian foreign minister tweet that the negotiation with U.S. actually now were – it’s at – deadlocked over the restriction on Iran’s centrifuge. Is that the case?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve never gotten into the details for good reason, because our negotiating team and the P5+1 for the most part feels that’s the appropriate way to approach these negotiations. The team was on the ground the first couple of days of this week having a bilateral meeting on kind of – which has been a normal part of the process all along. They felt that was a good meeting. Gaps remain. There’s no question about that. The negotiations will resume next week, and certainly our efforts will only increase from here.
QUESTION: So are you still expecting to achieve a deal before the deadline?
MS. PSAKI: Our focus remains on the July 20th deadline and that has not changed.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Fox News is confirming the presence of a targeting memo that was issued by AFRICOM on September 14th and distributed to members of the State Department, Defense Department, and to the White House confirming that there were 11 suspects, four of whom were members of AQIM. If this is the case, doesn’t this prove that al-Qaida was involved in the attack all along?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I haven’t seen the memo that you’re referring to, but let’s be clear about the history here and what the Administration said at the time. We described the perpetrators as terrorists from the beginning. We have discussed this fact over and over again, of course, from the podium, and that hasn’t changed. There has been extensive efforts to look into what happened here. But the question was about, of course, who they were, who exactly they were, and whether there was also a demonstration. And as you know, there have been countless hearings and efforts to look into the details here.
QUESTION: Why did it take two years for this memo to get to Congress?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s been, Lucas, as you know, an ongoing effort to review and produce documents. And given the range and the number of requests, that has taken some time, and there are issues that need to be taken into account before documents are released to Congress. But we’ve released tens of thousands of documents, and that speaks to our commitment to this issue.
QUESTION: Now Hillary Clinton in her book said that – on Benghazi, every step of the way when something was learned, it was shared with Congress and the American people. So if we’re just finding out about this targeting memo on September 14th, the Administration was aware that al-Qaida was involved, why are we just now learning that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Lucas, I haven’t even seen the memo. As you know, there were disputed facts at the time, and I think a range of senior officials have spoken to that in testimony under oath weeks after, months after, and even recently about the events that happened and what we did or didn’t know at the time. So we’ve produced more documents in this case than I think in almost any case in recent memory. We’ll continue to be – provide as much information as we can, but I’d remind you that this issue has been litigated heavily by a range of senior officials over the course of time.
QUESTION: But do you delay the litigation, do you – are you slowing people down by this tranche of documents you’re releasing, if you’re releasing tens and 20,000 pages worth of documents?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve released tens of thousands of documents. Tens of thousands we’ve released.
QUESTION: Is there – was there a new tranche of documents that was just released?
MS. PSAKI: No, he’s referring to a report of a memo that was reported, but again, our view is it doesn’t tell us anything new that hasn’t been discussed, reviewed, analyzed in 50 briefings, countless testimonies, and all of the focus that has gone on to this issue.
QUESTION: But it’s not something that – well, I’m not sure I understand it. This is a new memo? I mean, it’s an old memo, obviously, from --
QUESTION: From September 14th.
QUESTION: -- from September 14th, but it was just released now?
MS. PSAKI: I believe that he’s talking about something that may have been given to Congress, but I haven’t even seen the memo. I don't know what date it may have been given.
QUESTION: Well, okay, but you’re not aware that there’s been a new – I mean, you’ve said all along that you’re releasing documents as fast as you can --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- but it takes time. Has there been some new batch of stuff that’s been turned over to the Hill in the last couple days?
MS. PSAKI: No, to – not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: Tune it tonight at six o’clock Eastern.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure when – where this came from, but it’s not related to a new batch that’s been given, to my knowledge.
MS. PSAKI: Great. Well, thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:19 p.m.)