1:34 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Thank you for your patience.
Well, I have a couple of items for all of you to start off the briefing. Today, I would like to note that Vital Voices is presenting the Global Trailblazer Award to legendary Syrian human rights activist Razan Zaitouneh. Razan, to whom the First Lady and Secretary Kerry presented an International Women of Courage Award in 2013, was abducted in December after reporting on the abuses and crimes happening inside Syria. Her whereabouts remain unknown. As Secretary Kerry said last week in London, Razan has risked her life inside Syria to care for political prisoners and call attention to human rights violations, including against women. We stand in awe of her leadership and heroism. We continue to call for her release and the release of thousands of other human rights defenders inside Syria and around the world.
The United States also condemns the continuing violence in Sri Lanka. We are concerned by inflammatory rhetoric that has incited violence in recent days, resulting in several deaths, scores of injuries, and destruction of personal property. We urge the Sri Lankan Government to fulfill its obligations to protect religious minorities, including protecting all citizens and places of worship, conducting a full investigation into the violence, and bringing those responsible to justice. We also urge all sides to refrain from violence, exercise restraint, and respect the rule of law. The United States Government continues to stand by the many millions of Sri Lankans who want a peaceful and unified country.
Finally, I’d like to welcome to our briefing room Mallory Moore to the briefing room today. Mallory is a reporter for National Geographic Kids. She’ll be writing on our Our Oceans Conference. She’s an eighth grader at the National Cathedral School who – here in Washington, DC. She loves to read and write, as I understand it. She’s a veteran reporter who’s interviewed I think people many of you may not have interviewed, including Dr. Jill Biden, as well as First Lady Michelle Obama. And this afternoon, she’ll be interviewing the Secretary as well as Under Secretary Novelli and our special advisor on global youth issues. And with apologies, Matt has agreed to let Mallory ask the first question. So go right ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. I read in the news that the U.S. controls more than 13 percent of the ocean area overseen by nations. This is more than any other country in the world. And only China consumes more seafood each year than we do here in the U.S. Given that, what can and should the U.S. do to take care of the ocean for future generations?
MS. PSAKI: Well, thank you, Mallory, for your question. You’ve obviously done a great deal of research and read the newspaper very well this morning. I think there are a range of steps that the U.S. can do, but why don’t I focus on what people can do who are your age, because I know that’s who your audience is. So you, as a reporter, are doing an amazing job that many people in here do, which is providing information to your readers about issues they can focus on, and that includes, of course, the Oceans Conference. So you’re out there being a role model to many others.
And the President, as you I know read because we talked about it earlier, made an announcement – or it was in the newspaper this morning – about seafood and keeping seafood sustainable. And that’s a step that he’s going to take from the White House. So I would tell kids out there to – when they go to restaurants, when they go shopping with their parents – ask whether it’s sustainable when they’re at restaurants whether the seafood they’re eating is. I would also say when you’re on vacation, maybe this summer, to respect the environment you’re in and pick up trash and do something every day.
And everybody can be an ambassador out there, so I’d encourage you to tell that to your friends and to all of your readers. I hope they’ll do the same. But we’re so thrilled you’re here, and good luck with all of your reporting throughout the day.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Matt. I know there’s quite a bit in the world going on today, so go ahead.
QUESTION: There is. And as much as I would like to follow up on that question, her question, I will have – it will have to wait until a little later in the briefing.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. That is no problem.
QUESTION: The breaking news of the last two hours, the arrest of the suspect in the Benghazi attack, we have seen the Secretary’s statement on it. I’m just wondering, is this building – are people in this building disappointed or concerned at all that it took so long to arrest this guy, considering that he wasn’t really hiding? It’s not like this was a bin Ladin type character in the – hiding in the – I mean, he was hanging out in cafes and hotels and restaurants in Benghazi.
One, do you know why it took so long? And two –given that he was not hiding? And two, is there any concern in this building that there was such a delay?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that U.S. forces conducted this operation as soon as the President and his national security team were confident that the mission could be carried out successfully and consistent with our policies for undertaking such operations. And the operations have clearly been underway for some time. This planning – this final step was a painstaking process through – that many were involved in, including, of course, many in this building. But I’ll say that any time our law enforcement officials are engaged in an operation in a country overseas, that’s incredibly challenging and they deserve to be applauded.
And the comparison to the fact that a member of the media, with all due respect, had contact with or interviewed this individual is not relevant. That is not uncommon. It’s far from unprecedented for members of the media to interview terrorists or interview individuals along these lines. We’ve seen that occur in other cases. And frankly, it’s not a surprise that an individual like this would show up for an interview. We don’t think they would show up for a scheduled meeting with the special forces, so obviously it’s more challenging to undertake our operations.
QUESTION: Okay. But I – I appreciate the answer. I’m not sure I mentioned having him giving interviews, though. I just --
MS. PSAKI: Well, you mentioned being out there, visible.
QUESTION: Well, he’s hanging out at the cafe. Exactly. I mean, he wasn’t – so there is no – the second part of the question there. There isn’t any – people in this building are universally glad that this arrest has been made and no one is concerned about the fact that it took so long? Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. We were closely involved, as would come in – as no surprise in the planning and the operations.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you say what changed on the ground that made it the right time to act on Sunday, as opposed to, say, Thursday or Friday of last week or months earlier?
MS. PSAKI: There are not operational details that I can brief out from here.
QUESTION: Can you describe what those circumstances that – what they might have been just in broad general terms? I mean, the security situation on the ground, that kind of thing?
MS. PSAKI: There aren’t other details I can share on that front at this time.
QUESTION: Can I ask on that?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: There are several people who are identified as possible suspects in the Benghazi attack. Are there any indications of where the others might be? Are there any – I’m sure you’re not going to give us a heads up if there’s an operation coming, but were there anybody else – was there anybody else detained or apprehended at the same time as this gentleman?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other details to share. As you know and as was noted in the Secretary’s statement, apprehending those responsible is a top priority for the – not just the State Department but the United States Government, and I can assure you we will remain focused on that goal.
QUESTION: Can I just ask also – there was quite a deal made a few months ago about the fact that these – that there have been no rewards posted for their apprehension. Can I ask you if the Rewards for Justice Program was in any way helpful in the apprehension of this person in Libya?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe since that time we had provided additional information publicly about Rewards for Justice. In terms of the specific involvement here, I don’t have any information on that. I’m happy to check if there was a direct involvement that we can share.
QUESTION: Jen --
QUESTION: Was the Libyan --
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do one a time. Go ahead, Lesley.
QUESTION: Was the Libyan Government informed ahead of time?
MS. PSAKI: This was a unilateral U.S. operation. I’m not going to get into specifics concerning our diplomatic communications, but it was U.S. run and done under the operations of the United States.
QUESTION: Let me try it a different way. There was a period of at least several weeks, if memory serves, after the September 2012 attack on the consulate where U.S. law enforcement in particular were not allowed to come into the country to conduct the investigation. At the time, they indicated that there was a lot of concern that critical evidence as well as finding suspects might have been impeded because of the Libyan Government’s refusal to let them in.
Going back to Lesley’s point, was there permission for the U.S. military and for U.S. law enforcement to be on Libyan territory? Because I can already see the headlines being drawn: Is this another bin Ladin type situation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve long – the United States has long made clear to successive Libyan governments our interest in holding the perpetrators of the September 11, 2012 attacks accountable. That should come as no surprise. We’ve taken every necessary step in this case. I would refer you to any comments from the Libyan Government.
QUESTION: Was there any resistance during that period of appeal from Libyan authorities to having U.S. authorities on their territory to conduct their search, to conduct their investigation, were there security concerns about alerting them ahead of the efforts to bring in Khatallah?
MS. PSAKI: I just am not going to have more to share. I am sure that they will have their own comments to make, and I would refer you to them.
QUESTION: One of the things that’s been cited as a potential reason for not having acted before is the fear of some kind of retaliation. I’m wondering if that is still today a fear and if the – if there’s any – a new Travel Warning or any new advice that’s going to be coming out of the Embassy in Tripoli.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Matt, we take the security and safety of our men and women serving overseas incredibly seriously. We evaluate that on a day-to-day basis. I have nothing to project in terms of changes on that front.
QUESTION: And you don’t – so as of now, the Embassy is still staffed the way it was last week?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Is he being held on a U.S. Navy vessel? Is he being held in a third country, perhaps, at a U.S. military installation? Where is he, and how quickly would you expect that he would be brought to the U.S. for prosecution?
MS. PSAKI: Well, DOD has confirmed that he is in U.S. custody outside of Libya. I don’t have any other details to confirm. In terms of the timing, I would point you to the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: Has the Libyan Embassy or any of its representatives at the UN contacted the U.S. Government about having access to him?
MS. PSAKI: Consular access – as you know, we of course are committed in general to the principle of consular access. We’ll meet our obligations for consular access as and when appropriate. We’ll have that discussion with the Libyans, but I don’t have any other updates for you.
QUESTION: Have you determined yet to which federal court he might eventually appear?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Department of Justice. Obviously they’ll be handling all of the legal and process components.
James, to what do we owe this? (Laughter.) I’m sure it’s this issue. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Actually, I’m covering a different story today, but insofar as this is the current thread of discussion, I wish to further pursue it with you, Jen. (Laughter.) In furtherance of Matt’s line of questioning, first, would you, in fact, agree that there has been a rather egregious delay seen in this case in finally apprehending this individual?
MS. PSAKI: I would disagree. This is a case where there’s no one more committed than the leaders in the United States Government, whether that’s the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, in apprehending those responsible for the horrific acts that occurred just a few years ago. But again, there are a range of factors that are taken into account in terms of the right timing for operations along these lines. The President made the decision with the support of the national security team about the timing, and obviously it was successful.
QUESTION: And so from where this government stands, from your point of view, a delay of what you just identified as just a few years between the commission of a given offense and the apprehension of one of the suspected individuals, that’s not egregious as a delay, just a few years?
MS. PSAKI: Well, James, our focus has been on apprehending those responsible, and we’ve taken every step possible to do that as quickly as possible. But taking on operations of these kinds are difficult, and there are a range of factors involved, and we did this – this was undertaken as quickly as was possible, given the circumstances.
QUESTION: In response to Matt’s questioning, you stated – I’m paraphrasing, but faithfully – that we should not be surprised that a suspected terrorist might more readily agree to show up for an interview with a reporter than he or she would for a scheduled meeting with the U.S. Special Forces. And respectfully, I submit to you that that is not properly framing the question, as no one would expect a terrorist to show up for a scheduled meeting with the U.S. Special Forces. The question being put to you, it seems to me, is why U.S. Special Forces couldn’t have an unscheduled meeting with this individual in a period of time less than, as you put it, just a few years.
MS. PSAKI: Well, James, with all due respect, I would say there are reasons why individuals, including terrorists, meet with reporters to gain more attention for their issues or their agenda. That is entirely different from any operation to take these individuals into custody. And there are a range of factors taken into account. Where we are today is that this individual, with the support and leadership of the military, the Justice Department, a range of officials in the interagency has been apprehended, and that is an important step forward in our view.
QUESTION: So I guess the question, along – following your own logic, the next question to be propounded to you is: Why didn’t we pose as a reporter to capture him then?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we appreciate your view. If you’re volunteering yourself for future endeavors, we’ll take that into account.
QUESTION: In other words – you’re still not addressing the central question, Jen. You’re not answering the question of why a reporter was able to get within six inches of this guy, and U.S. Special Forces weren’t for more than two years. What is the answer to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the answer, James, is that reporters have interviewed a range of terrorists in the past. There’s nothing new about that. They have their own desire to get their story heard, their agenda heard. That’s entirely different from taking the steps necessary to apprehend someone in a country – a third – a second – not the United States, as has happened in this case. We did it as expeditiously as possible, took into account a range of factors, and where we are today is that the outcome was successful.
QUESTION: Would you say that the most recent developments in Libya, like the coup or the – the coup by General Hiftar made the situation more likely or more ideal for apprehension or made it more urgent that you act now?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t weigh in with that as a factor. I will just take this opportunity to confirm for all of you that General Hiftar, of course, had no involvement in this case.
QUESTION: No Libyan whatsoever was involved or informed that --
MS. PSAKI: Again, it was a United States unilateral U.S. operation.
QUESTION: Is that likely to --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: Is that likely to sort of undermine U.S. efforts in the future for cooperation?
MS. PSAKI: With the Libyan Government? I --
QUESTION: With the Libyan or any other government in apprehending suspected terrorists.
MS. PSAKI: I think the United States has made no secret of our desire to apprehend those responsible.
QUESTION: You’ve mentioned now several times a range of factors that were taken into account in terms of the timing of this, but you don’t seem to want to say – even give us a hint as to what that range of factors were – was, except for the fact that General Hiftar was not involved. So can you give us a very general outline of what factors you’re talking about that led to the capture of this guy on Sunday rather than in the previous almost two years?
MS. PSAKI: Well, without getting into too many specifics, the decisions are made --
QUESTION: Or any specifics.
MS. PSAKI: -- based on when and how an operation can be carried out successfully and consistent with our policies as the United States in carrying out these operations. I don’t have other specifics I’m going to lay out.
QUESTION: Well, right, but can you even at least say – I mean, it would seem obvious and not classified or anything like that that security – the security situation on the ground would be one of those factors, as would the political situation on the ground. Would one be wrong in saying that those were part – among the range of factors?
MS. PSAKI: One would not be wrong in assuming there are a range of factors that are taken into account, Matt.
Go ahead, James.
QUESTION: When was Secretary Kerry informed about this operation? Before its execution or afterward?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, absolutely before. The Secretary and the Secretary of Defense and other senior officials in the government have been engaged and involved in the decision-making process.
QUESTION: And when were the families of Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues notified about the arrest?
MS. PSAKI: They – I don’t have an exact timing for you, Roz, but they have – we have been in touch with them and they have been informed.
QUESTION: Jen, why you – you’ve intended to make clear that General Hiftar didn’t cooperate with the U.S.?
MS. PSAKI: I assumed that was a question you might have and I wanted to proactively answer it for you.
QUESTION: Can you tell us whether in addition to the capture of this suspect, the special forces also managed – as in, for example, the bin Ladin raid – to obtain or acquire any cache of evidence or materials associated with him or his operations?
MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand your question. I don’t have any other details on this. As you know, this is an ongoing now Justice case, so I don’t have any more I can share.
QUESTION: Was anybody injured in this operation on either side?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of. I would certainly point you to the Department of Defense, who undertook the operation.
QUESTION: Bearing in mind that it’s a Justice case at this point, maybe you can help clarify for us: When was Mr. Khatallah charged and when were those – there were sealed indictments filed months ago. Was his case one of those, or was it a recently --
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Department of Justice, as – on timing. I believe the complaint was unsealed today.
QUESTION: But it was filed months ago --
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to them for the specific timing.
QUESTION: -- presumably after The New York Times interviewed him.
MS. PSAKI: For the specific timing, I’d point you to the Department of Justice.
Do we have more on this issue, or should we move on? Oh, another one? Go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: No no, not on this.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. New topic?
QUESTION: No one?
QUESTION: I have a new topic.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead. Oh, okay.
QUESTION: Well, I do too, but you go ahead.
QUESTION: I do too.
MS. PSAKI: All right. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You go ahead then.
MS. PSAKI: I’m here all day. What should we do next?
QUESTION: So the Iranian – senior Iranian officials said yesterday after it was reported that talks had taken place on Iraq with the U.S. that there was no specific outcome was achieved at the meeting. Would you agree with that? I mean, was it just a discussion about – that you’re going to cooperate with Iran on this, or what specifically was discussed?
They also said then that they would refer to the capitals. What exactly was referred, and what is the timetable now? Or how are things – where did you leave it that – where did you agree that things would move forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as we noted or we released last night, but let me reiterate for all of you here, Deputy Secretary Burns met briefly with Iranians on the margins of the P5+1 meeting in Vienna, separate from the trilateral meeting. It was a brief on the margins; it was separate from the discussions and the negotiations that are ongoing. They discussed the need to support inclusivity in Iraq and the need to refrain from pressing a sectarian agenda.
In terms of where we go from here, we’re open to continuing our engagement with the Iranians, just as we are engaging with other regional players on the threat posed by ISIL in Iraq. It is likely it would – those discussions would happen at a lower level, and we don’t expect further conversations with Iran on this issue in Vienna. Those talks will focus on the nuclear issue for the remainder of the week.
QUESTION: So you don’t expect more conversations with Iranians on Iraq in Vienna?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Well, where would they take place? Where would the next ones take place, and how soon?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I would caution anyone from overly formalizing what this is. This is – we’re engaging with a range of countries in the region who are concerned about the stability of Iraq and the impact on the region. That’s what this was, briefly on the margins. What it will mean moving forward I think is yet to be determined, but it’s not the launch of a formal process or anything along those lines.
QUESTION: How brief is brief?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a number of specific minutes for you, but I think the emphasis on that --
QUESTION: Well, are we talking half an hour, less than half an hour?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a specific number of minutes. The reason we portrayed that --
QUESTION: A few years?
MS. PSAKI: The reason we – I used that term is because obviously, there were several hours of meetings on the nuclear issue, and this was just simply on the sidelines of that.
QUESTION: And who was --
QUESTION: Well, maybe you can, after you answer that question of who he talked to --
QUESTION: Yeah. Who was available on the Iranian side? Thanks.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have details to share on that front.
QUESTION: Well, can we – I mean, was it like a pull-aside standing up, or did they, like, sit down at a table or something? Just goes to whether this is brief like it’s an encounter in a hallway and it lasted 30 seconds or it was – they sat down at a table and talked for five minutes.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have atmospherics for you. I understand your question. I’ll see if there’s more I can share.
QUESTION: So why (inaudible).
QUESTION: Well, no, I think it goes to whether these were --
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do one at a time.
QUESTION: -- whether this was a serious attempt to talk about Iraq or whether it was just, “Hey, we got to talk about Iraq.” “Okay, we’ll do that sometime.” I mean --
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, under --
QUESTION: -- was this a serious attempt to talk about Iraq between the Iranian and the U.S. sides?
MS. PSAKI: We wouldn’t have even brought it up as an issue if we didn’t – if it wasn’t a serious attempt, Jo, but I don’t have the number of minutes or anything along those lines.
QUESTION: So if it was a serious attempt, why is there no forward-looking idea of when you might next meet again? I can understand that you wanted to keep it separate from the nuclear talks that are going on in Vienna, but why are you not able to say, “Okay, we’ve said that we will meet again in a week or two weeks,” without even the specific date?
MS. PSAKI: Because we don’t see a benefit in laying that out. We’re going to engage with a range of countries in the region who have a concern about the threat. But again, this is not a launch of a formal process. I mentioned it will be at a lower level, and I don’t have anything to announce or predict for you in terms of how that engagement will continue, if it will continue.
QUESTION: Was this yesterday or today?
QUESTION: Well, where is the sense of urgency?
QUESTION: Was this today or --
MS. PSAKI: Yesterday.
QUESTION: This was yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
QUESTION: And presumably, even to engage in this limited interaction with the Iranians on this issue, the U.S. Government feels that it holds some hope of a productive outcome. So explain for us where in those hopes reside. What exactly is it you think the Iranians could do that would be useful here given their track record?
MS. PSAKI: Well, James, I mentioned this yesterday, but it’s worth repeating: We’re not talking about military cooperation or military coordination. In fact, we don’t think that the focus should be on the military component in Iraq. But clearly any country that can make the argument that there needs to be unity and the sectarian tensions that have been flaming in Iraq are harmful to the stability is one we would feel is useful. That is the message that was sent from our end.
QUESTION: And has Iran in the past, in recent memory, demonstrated that particular inclination?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you’re familiar with our concerns about Iran’s actions and behavior in the past. There is a shared concern, there is a concern that they have expressed publicly about the stability of Iraq and the impact of ISIL. That was the reason why there was a brief engagement on this yesterday.
QUESTION: Is it about hope that Iran can be helpful? Or is it more about laying out what your redlines are when it comes to what Iran’s role is in Iraq, and how that affects your view of what’s going on in Syria?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s really neither. This is a country that also has a concern about the stability of Iraq, therefore we felt it made sense to have a discussion. How that takes place in the future we’ll determine in the future.
QUESTION: Do you --
QUESTION: Jen, was it a topic of discussion during the trilateral or not?
MS. PSAKI: No. This occurred on the margins of the trilateral, outside of the trilateral meeting.
QUESTION: Can you imagine a situation where Iran does not wield so much influence in Iraq, that you – that someone has to talk to it about the stability of Iraq? I mean, Iran obviously supports certain groups, it has a great deal of influence, it has the holy places in which they go back and forth. So it has a great deal of interest in Iraq. Can you imagine stability in Iraq happening without some sort of consultation with Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we consulted briefly yesterday, so I think that answers your question.
QUESTION: Okay. And just to follow up a little bit --
MS. PSAKI: Roz.
QUESTION: Is there a goal here? Is this simply to stop ISIL and any other partisans who want to join in in their tracks? Is this about perhaps having Maliki step aside and have some other leader step in on an interim basis? What’s the point of engaging with Iran if the U.S. doesn’t have any idea of what it wants to see happening inside Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly have a strong idea of what we want to see happening, but there’s no outside country that can do that on behalf of Iraq. And obviously the officials in Iraq need to take those steps, political steps, to reduce sectarian tensions, to strengthen the Iraqi security forces. Clearly, we want to see an end to the threat of ISIL not just to Iraq but to the region, to the national security interests of the United States. Our view is that the political component should play a large role there, and any country that can help make that argument to the Iraqi Government is one that we will engage with.
QUESTION: Is that the primary reason why there is this overture to Tehran?
MS. PSAKI: Primary reason --
QUESTION: For the overture to get it to get the message to Maliki and whoever is advising him that they shouldn’t focus so much on fighting this threat as much as putting energy into political reconciliation and inclusivity.
MS. PSAKI: That certainly is a prominent component of our message, yes.
QUESTION: Jen, I want to take you back to the interview yesterday with the Secretary of State with Yahoo. And when asked about Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and Qatar in particular, these three countries supporting and financing – with weapons and money and so on – ISIL, he said we are concerned about this reality, we are dealing with it and so on. So is it the feeling in this building and for the Secretary of State that in fact Saudi Arabia does aid ISIL?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not at all what the Secretary stated. You’re familiar with our concerns we’ve expressed in the past as it relates to Syria. Our – the message that he is conveying to these leaders as he speaks to them is that the threats from ISIL’s advance touched them and their interests directly, and that at this critical time it’s important for Iraq’s neighbors to support all of Iraq’s leaders and the Iraqi people to help them build unity they need to move beyond this crisis and on to a better future. And that’s the message he’s conveying. He talked to them a bit about our thoughts, hears from them as well, but that is the reason why he’s calling and has continued to call a range of leaders in the region.
QUESTION: But you agree that at least the United States Government knows that many wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia are financing these fellows in ISIL.
MS. PSAKI: I think, Said, we’ve expressed in the past our concern about financing of terrorists from a range of sources. Those haven’t changed. But our focus of these conversations remains on the need for countries in the region to support all Iraqi leaders at this time.
QUESTION: My last question regarding this issue: ISIL issued a statement saying that Jordan is part of this great Islamic caliphate that they are establishing. Are you doing anything with the Jordanians, considering how close they are to the United States of America?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Judeh this morning, so they’re one of the countries that we’re engaging with.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Just to clarify more on this, and I’m sorry to go around and around on it --
MS. PSAKI: No, go ahead.
QUESTION: Jen, yesterday as everybody here was kind of groping for how to frame some of the messages that were coming out of the Administration, you twice during this briefing said that this communication with Iran would follow a kind of precedent set by communications between Washington and Tehran over Afghanistan.
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say a “precedent.” I actually said that there are other times where we’ve engaged with other – Tehran about other issues, including Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Okay. So then --
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t link the two as exactly modeling each other.
QUESTION: I bring it up just because that particular communication involved the sharing of intelligence in the effort to topple the Taliban, and you’re saying now that that wouldn’t be – we shouldn’t read that as a precedent that --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not just saying now. I would point you – encourage you to read my transcript more closely from yesterday.
QUESTION: Jen, are you --
QUESTION: Hold on. I’m sorry. Quick – just to follow on that since we’re still on this. Let’s also just kind of hone in on the fact that there’s a group of diplomats in Iraq that were taken hostage. There are something like 25 Turkish diplomats, 49 Turkish citizens in all. The Erdogan government today is saying that it’s working extremely sensitively towards getting their release. I’m wondering if anybody in this building is part of that conversation or has any kind of insight into what that sensitive effort involves.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new insight to offer, other than to convey that we’ve been in close touch with Turkish officials, as we were last week when many of these diplomats were actually kidnapped. And we’ve offered our help and our support, and we will continue to be available for that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: I think – I just want to make a point. The first contacts with Iran – acknowledged between the U.S. and Iran over Afghanistan were not – it was actually about drugs, drug smuggling, back in 1999, 2000.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Thank you for that.
QUESTION: Jen, a follow-up on Said’s question: Prime Minister Maliki was clear today in holding Saudi Arabia responsible for supporting ISIL financially and morally. What do you think about this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s the opposite of what the Iraqi people need right now, and we have continued to make the case to Prime Minister Maliki – Ambassador Beecroft met with him just yesterday – that taking steps to govern in a nonsectarian way, to be more inclusive to increased support to the security forces is what his focus should be on. And this is obviously the opposite of what that is. It’s inaccurate and, frankly, offensive.
QUESTION: Would you say that --
QUESTION: Sorry. What --
QUESTION: -- he is fanning the flames of sectarianism?
QUESTION: -- is inaccurate?
MS. PSAKI: The comments that he made.
QUESTION: What is inaccurate and offensive?
MS. PSAKI: The comments he made. I would --
QUESTION: About Saudi?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Would you say that Maliki is basically fanning the flames of sectarianism?
MS. PSAKI: I think I would say there’s more that can be done to be more inclusive and govern in a nonsectarian manner.
QUESTION: And one more – sorry James – on this. Saudi Arabia called the events in Iraq a Sunni revolution, adding that the sectarian – that the exclusionary policies in Iraq over the past three years are behind the recent unrest in the country. Do you agree with the Saudis on this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I – the way we see this is that the situation is complex, and there are some tribes and key local Sunni politicians have joined with the Iraqi Government. Others are working with ISIL through violence to destabilize the government. Those working with ISIL are, of course, supporting terrorists who adhere to an extreme ideology, which believes that Shia should be killed based on their sect alone. Obviously, our view is that there needs to be – the way that Iraq is governed by the leaders needs to take into account the legitimate grievances of all of the people.
QUESTION: That means you don’t agree with them that what’s happening is a Sunni revolution?
MS. PSAKI: I think I made my comments clear.
QUESTION: Given the latest developments – the new violence and what appears to be the spread of exactly what you don’t want, which is sectarian killings and massacres on both sides – I’m wondering, one, is there any change to the revised status of the Embassy and Embassy personnel? And two, are all of the people who were being relocated to different places, are they at those different places?
MS. PSAKI: There’s no change. That process, as I understand it, is ongoing, but I’m not going to --
QUESTION: Excuse me. The relocation process is ongoing?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: So it’s not complete?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: On the issue of the security contractors, there are a number of security contractors, many of them American and so on, in Iraq. Are they in coordination, or did they coordinate their presence or their departure from Iraq with the U.S. Embassy? Do you know anything about their status?
MS. PSAKI: The – are you referring to the contractors who were --
QUESTION: Contractors – yeah, security contractors. They were providing security --
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish my question --
QUESTION: Yeah, I’m saying --
MS. PSAKI: -- so I can make sure I answer your question accurately.
MS. PSAKI: Are you referring to the contractors from last week that were moved out --
QUESTION: Yeah. Partially, yes --
MS. PSAKI: -- or different?
QUESTION: -- the contractors from last week and others that stayed on.
MS. PSAKI: Well, those individuals were moved out by their companies. Obviously, we remain in close touch with American companies and we provide information and services to American citizens. But beyond that I don’t have any other update for you.
QUESTION: May I request two different topics if I might here?
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: One is, is it correct that there is a U.S. Government delegation meeting with the KRG today?
MS. PSAKI: I did not receive an update from our team on – are you referring to our diplomats in Iraq?
QUESTION: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
MS. PSAKI: On their meetings today – I can go back. They’ve had a range of meetings with a range of officials, including Kurdish officials, over the past several days. So it wouldn’t surprise me, but I’ll check and see if we have an updated list of meetings.
QUESTION: We did an interview with the foreign minister from the Kurdish Regional Government yesterday, and he indicated that today he expected to be sitting down with a U.S. delegation. Is – would that be Assistant Secretary McGurk or are you familiar with this?
MS. PSAKI: It could be. And I would just – I am happy to check, but I would remind you that Deputy Assistant Secretary McGurk has been there for, I believe, a week and a half now. He’s had meetings with a range of officials. We’ve tried to provide updates on those. So it could be him; it could be other officials as well.
QUESTION: The other question I wanted to ask is this: Given all the particulars of this situation in which so much American blood and treasure was expended in order to establish this central Iraqi government, and given furthermore that that central Iraqi government is now in a situation where terrorist enemy fighters are closing in within 100 miles of Baghdad, isn’t it the case that for the President of the United States to predicate any swift U.S. intervention to help this central government on the readiness of that government to make some greater efforts toward political inclusiveness in the political system there – isn’t that really akin to trying to teach a drowning man to swim?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s not an accurate depiction of our view or the President’s view. I would say that our view is that Iraq and the successful outcome here is not contingent upon the intervention of any country. They need to take steps on the political front to be more inclusive, to govern in a non-sectarian manner. But the United States is – and the President is – considering a range of options, looking at factors including the national security interests of the United States.
So in the meantime, we’ve increased our assistance, whether that’s military assistance or surveillance, over the course of the last several weeks and months because of our concern here and in an effort to assist. And we’ll make decisions about what’s next based on what’s in our national security interests.
QUESTION: So you think that if al-Maliki were to just hold hands with Sunni leaders prominently and sing “Kumbaya” that this would somehow stop the advance of ISIL within 50 miles of Baghdad?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not what I’m suggesting. But we do think that at this time a unified government across all of the sects is an important component of a successful long-term outcome.
QUESTION: So you’re anti-“Kumbaya”? Is that what you’re saying?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a lovely song. I’m not sure it will immediately help in this case.
QUESTION: Jen --
QUESTION: Can I just ask you – going back to the Iran thing for one second, you said at a lower level – recognizing – that the future talks would, if there are any, would be at a lower level. Recognizing that there isn’t anything set – I want to make sure. There’s nothing set, right?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Are we talking about having meetings in Baghdad amongst diplomats who are there, or like in New York or the UN? Has that not been decided? Could it be – could they be anywhere? I mean, there are a lot of places where there are U.S. and Iranian diplomats posted in the same place. Would you expect that they would be in a place that is in or close to Iraq or could they be, I don’t know, Beijing?
QUESTION: Or Tehran?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any more details to share. I certainly understand the interest. Don’t have any more details to share.
QUESTION: Oh, no. That’s right where I wanted to take – is where were those – where were discussions left? I mean, how do you see moving forward on this thing? Would you see maybe Iran being part of a bigger discussion in a room with other neighbors? Because you said that this is a regional issue.
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s far ahead of where discussions were left. This was a brief discussion on the sidelines of the P5+1 negotiations. We’ll continue to engage with countries in the region, including Iran. But beyond that, I don't have any predictions for you in terms of if, when, how.
QUESTION: So you don’t know – where were discussions left? I mean, where – surely you didn’t say okay, thanks very much, and that the book was closed.
MS. PSAKI: We conveyed where we were coming from. It was an opportunity to do that. Beyond that, I don't have any other updates.
QUESTION: And a follow up on that. Is – given that there’s no sign that Maliki’s government is going to listen to the U.S. on reaching out to the Sunnis, would the U.S. still then be willing to consider options of strikes? I mean, is it – is that a – is it a condition of those strikes or of the U.S. offering further assistance?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President continues to consider a range of actions, but there – our view is there needs to be a comprehensive strategy, and that includes capacity building for security forces. But there’s a great deal that’s on the shoulders of the Iraqi Government, and we believe that there’s more they should and can do. But I don’t want to lay out more detail about what’s being considered and how and why.
QUESTION: So you want to see them --
QUESTION: Is there any --
QUESTION: You want to see them coming up with a plan first before the President moves? I’m just trying to figure it out.
MS. PSAKI: No, I understand why you’re asking. But I’m not going to box us into how and when and why we’ll make decisions.
QUESTION: Is Assistant Secretary McGurk or anyone from the Administration reaching out to see how this – it’s not only ISIL, but it’s also a coalition of 80 Sunni tribes, maybe 41 militant former Baathist groups and so on. It’s huge. It’s a huge thing. Is anyone reaching out to these groups?
MS. PSAKI: As I noted, I think last week, Deputy Assistant Secretary McGurk had met with a range of officials from different tribes. We’ve met with different officials across the political spectrum, and I expect that will continue.
QUESTION: Has there been any discussion of having the Arab League intervene in this in any way?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Roz. Obviously there are a range of countries that could be in touch with them.
QUESTION: And then I have one other one. It’s a legal question regarding the U.S. troops. Apparently they have legal permission from the Iraqi Government to be in country. They are carrying weapons. Given the crisis, I can understand how things move very quickly. Does it sort of beg the question why this couldn’t have been done back in 2011, when the U.S. was ready and willing to have troops there to work on counterterror measures with the Iraqi army?
MS. PSAKI: It’s an entirely separate question. These are – military are there for the security of the Embassy. That’s what their focus is. That’s the role they’re playing. This is linked to the announcement we made on Monday – or sorry, Sunday – about the relocation of some of our staff and the fact that some would be coming in to help the security there.
QUESTION: But I think the question was: Technically, on the legal issue, I mean, are – do they come under chief of mission authority, even though they’re Pentagon and not the regular Embassy Marine guards? Because if they do, then they have immunity, but if they don’t, then you would need some kind of an agreement with the Iraqis to give them immunity. And I think what Roz is asking, and it makes perfect sense, is: If the Iraqis were willing to do it now for these people, why didn’t you – why couldn’t you try – why couldn’t you have gotten – why couldn’t you convince them back in 2011 when you were trying to get a broader SOFA?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, they were – they’re trained to integrate --
QUESTION: So – but it’s a moot point if they’re under chief of mission authority and they have immunity because of that. But if --
MS. PSAKI: They’re trained to integrate with existing U.S. Embassy security teams, but they’re not playing a combat role. They’re playing a role at protecting our Embassy and providing security at our Embassy.
QUESTION: Well, right. But --
QUESTION: But the SOFA wasn’t supposed to give them combat status. It was supposed to give them training and cooperation on counterterror, which is not technically combat status.
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s not the role they’re playing here, though, either. So I will see if they’re under the chief of mission authority and I’m happy to get that answer (inaudible).
QUESTION: Right. And if they’re not, can you find out exactly how they have – because presumably you wouldn’t – they wouldn’t – the Pentagon wouldn’t have sent them if they were – did not have immunity. So if they are not under – if they’re not covered by the diplomatic – by a Vienna Convention type of thing, what they are covered by would be interesting to know.
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, and they’re meant, as I noted, but to augment --
QUESTION: I know, I know.
MS. PSAKI: -- the security we already have on the ground.
MS. PSAKI: Iraq?
QUESTION: Do you have any update on the presence of Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: I do not.
QUESTION: Where is Bill Burns at the moment? Is he coming – is he back here or is he staying?
MS. PSAKI: Where in the world is Bill Burns?
MS. PSAKI: He was only in Vienna for yesterday. I’m not aware if there are other travel plans. I’m sure he’ll be back in Washington soon, if he’s not already.
QUESTION: New subject?
MS. PSAKI: Any more on Iraq? Hello, Nicolas. You’re so far back.
QUESTION: Yeah, I was late, so – but it gives me another perspective, so --
MS. PSAKI: Okay. (Laughter.) Good to hear.
QUESTION: Just follow up on the – on your relationship with Iran. Would you – I mean, would the U.S. consider resuming the diplomatic relationship, as the U.K. will do in reopening their embassy in Tehran?
MS. PSAKI: That’s far from the point we’re at. We’re just talking about a brief engagement on this issue. Our focus is on the nuclear negotiations, and I expect that will be the case for the time being.
QUESTION: And do you – so do you support the U.K. – I mean, the U.K. decision to reopen its embassy in Tehran? Is it a good sign? Is it a good move?
MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly every country makes their own decisions, and our focus is on continuing the P5+1 negotiations and the effort to close the gaps there. So as long as it doesn’t interfere with that, it is a choice that they are making.
QUESTION: Just one last one, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say that American policymakers were taken by surprise with this sweep into Mosul and other Iraqi cities by ISIL, or did they, in fact, have some advanced knowledge or warning that this was going to be happening imminently?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that we’ve long been concerned about the growth of terrorist operations in Syria, the neighboring country, of course, and the expansion of that or the overflow of that, we feel, is one of the main determining factors here. Beyond that, we’ve also increased our assistance, whether that’s training or it’s military equipment, over the course of the last several months given our concerns. I don’t have any other outtakes for you.
QUESTION: Would you say that anyone --
MS. PSAKI: No. Two Iraqis, two Iraqis.
QUESTION: Would you say that anyone who asserted that he or she were inside the United States Government and tried to warn top policymakers that this was imminent would be wrong or inaccurate to say so and that those warnings were not heeded?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that feels a little straw man argument to me, but we’ve increased our assistance because of our concern about the overflow from Syria, and we’ve taken steps over the past couple of months given that.
QUESTION: And maybe the simplest way to ask this is: Were there warnings specifically about these kinds of developments happening imminently that were unheeded by top policymakers in this government?
MS. PSAKI: I think I have nothing more to share with you on that front, James, other than to say that we’ve, again – we took steps because we were concerned over the course of the last several months, and we’ve taken a range of steps to increase the capacity of the Iraqi security forces.
QUESTION: So by definition, those steps were insufficient to prevent this from happening?
MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly we’ve seen what’s happened across Iraq. That’s why we’re going to continue to increase our assistance, and the President is considering a range of options.
QUESTION: Jen, given that the – that you met briefly with the Iranians --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- about Iraq, would you now be open to talking to them about Syria?
MS. PSAKI: As you know, the Secretary raised the issue of Syria when he met with Foreign Minister Zarif in Germany several months ago. Beyond that, I think our focus will continue to be mainly on the nuclear negotiations.
QUESTION: And there was no discussion yesterday on Syria at all?
MS. PSAKI: No. No.
Okay. New topic? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Jen. This is Arshad with the –
MS. PSAKI: Yes, the other Arshad.
QUESTION: The other Arshad.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
QUESTION: The good-looking one. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Oh. Uh-oh.
QUESTION: Well, thank you so much for your kind compliment. (Laughter.)
Well, a question on Bangladesh, as usual, and it’s very important for the region, for the democracy – for democracy and security and for the containment of – threat of extremism in that region: Does the United States still stand for a fresh re-election in Bangladesh? In the wake of a recent statement made by the former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia that they should – they are interested in having a talk with the current prime minister and her government in order to come to a settlement for a fresh election. As in the past, you have supported for a dialogue, which unfortunately didn’t work out. Are you still in favor of a dialogue between the two contending parties for the sake of democracy and for the sake of the freedom-loving people of Bangladesh? Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Well, nothing has changed about our position. As you know, Assistant Secretary Nisha Biswal was just in Bangladesh having a range of meetings, and beyond that, nothing has changed.
QUESTION: Move on?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I’m wondering if you – if there have been any developments that either give you concern or give you hope that the situation is easing, number one. That’s a very broad one. We’ll start with that.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a couple of small developments over the last couple of days – or 24 hours. We would welcome President Poroshenko’s statements yesterday noting he will continue to advance constitutional reform and address calls for early local elections in Donetsk and Luhansk to promote unity. There are – we’ve seen a range of reports of renewed Russian troop movements close to the Ukrainian border, and we’re also closely monitoring that situation. But beyond that, I don’t know if you have a specific question about a particular issue.
QUESTION: Well, on the political side, yeah, I mean, presumably you support his calls for the election and for – I think that he’s proposing a new ceasefire or a new – something new. You are in favor of that?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly would be, yes.
QUESTION: Have you – has the Secretary been in touch with Foreign Minister Lavrov in the last day?
MS. PSAKI: Let me do a little check for you here, Matt.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering if you’re seeing anything from the Russian side which would make you – which would lead you to believe that they are doing the right thing.
MS. PSAKI: He spoke with him on Saturday and we did a readout of that.
MS. PSAKI: There’s not a new call since then.
QUESTION: Okay. Have you seen reports that two Russian journalists were killed by the Ukrainian army?
MS. PSAKI: We have seen those media reports. We don’t have confirmation of the details or the cause. Some reports say they were badly injured, some say died while they were with a group of armed separatists during fighting in Luhansk. We would express our condolences, of course, to their families, call on all sides to ensure the safety of the media. But again, we don’t have specific details on the circumstances.
QUESTION: Okay. And then yesterday I asked you about these comments that were made by both the prime minister and the foreign minister. Do you know – has anyone – have U.S. officials, maybe Ambassador Pyatt or someone, raised this at all, either the controversial comments with the Ukrainian officials, or is this just something that you’re willing to let pass?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I spoke to the context of one of the sets of comments yesterday, and the other I looked into after we talked about it. And the prime minister’s comments have been misreported. He didn’t call anyone “subhuman.” What he said was that those supporting the militants destabilizing eastern Ukraine were inhuman, so it’s slightly different. And he’s referring specifically to the armed militants and certainly not Russians, as I understand the translation.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean, they put it up on their website, the English translation. And it’s been changed since, yes, but it did say those who support the separatists are subhuman, not inhuman. And so – and it was up until yesterday in that language. So anyway, but you’re satisfied with it? I mean, you would have a problem with subhuman, yes, if this – if the prime minister was running around saying that Russians are subhuman? You would have a problem with that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the accurate translation is a relevant point here.
QUESTION: Okay. So did you – you said that you – did the U.S. Government request some kind of clarification from the Ukrainians --
MS. PSAKI: No, I --
QUESTION: -- or are you just --
MS. PSAKI: No, I think that’s just an important component here of the context of the comment.
QUESTION: Okay. But you would have a problem with the use of language like that, right? I mean, there is hyperbolic language on both sides, I recognize, and presumably you would call on both sides to keep the rhetoric down. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: As we have. But I think our concern has been focused more naturally on the actions of the Russian separatists and the movement of military tanks and other equipment across the border.
QUESTION: Okay. And when you said that you had seen renewed – or signs of renewed activity, Russian military activity, that’s on their – in Russia, right, but near the border?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Close to the border. Exactly.
QUESTION: And is that cause for concern? Is it enough to be cause for concern?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s something obviously that is certainly not our preference and it would be – it’s something we’re going to be watching closely and seeing what they do over the course of the coming days.
QUESTION: Right. But I mean, they are free – it is their country. I mean, they’re free to have troops move around their own country, right, without --
MS. PSAKI: Correct. But if there’s another buildup of troops on the border, certainly that would be a cause for concern.
QUESTION: Okay, and then last one. Have you seen since the incident with the tanks that you – the tanks and the rocket launchers that you talked about, have you seen more hardware, people going across the border into Ukraine, into eastern Ukraine from Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s become a daily occurrence but not along the same lines of what we talked about on Friday.
QUESTION: Jen --
QUESTION: I’m sorry, what does that mean?
MS. PSAKI: Meaning on Friday it was several Russian tanks.
QUESTION: So it’s no – so it’s – a daily occurrence is what? People and --
MS. PSAKI: Equipment, people crossing the border.
QUESTION: But not tanks?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Since that one --
MS. PSAKI: That I’m aware of that I’ve received an update on.
QUESTION: Jen, can I --
QUESTION: Is it movement toward the border or away from the border? I don’t understand. On their side, but are they going back to where they were, let’s say --
MS. PSAKI: Across the border from Russia into Ukraine. That was the area we expressed concern about on Friday.
QUESTION: Jen, have you seen the reports that there was an explosion on one of the pipelines in Ukraine today? The interior minister says that one of the theories they’re investigating is whether it was an act of terrorism. Do you have anything more concrete on it?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen the reports, as you mention, that an explosion has damaged a natural gas pipeline in central Ukraine. This pipeline transports Russian natural gas to Ukraine into countries in the EU. Both Gazprom and the Ukrainian Gas Transit Company report that this will not affect deliveries of gas. In terms of an update on the causes or the source, I don’t have any additional information on that.
QUESTION: Did you get any – I was wondering if there was any kind of confirmation from the Russians following the call yesterday for them to return to negotiations, whether there’d been any update on that from your side. Has that been communicated to the Russian authorities in Moscow, and are they receptive or not?
MS. PSAKI: There hasn’t been an update. We would reiterate our call for them to return to the negotiations. Obviously we think this is the right way to resolve the dispute over gas costs.
QUESTION: But still a stalemate as far as you’re concerned?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: And are you at all concerned that the Ukrainians are going to start running out of gas supplies? I know we’ve mentioned in the past there have been stockpiles, but are they going to --
MS. PSAKI: Our assessment is that they have adequate supplies from its own – they have adequate supplies from their own production and storage, and flows from European states can also help meet the demand. But obviously there is an urgency in moving back to these talks as well.
QUESTION: How long can they survive without the flows being reopened?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any set of days or weeks or months or anything like that, and I wouldn’t want to give a prediction. They have a range of supplies they can tap into.
QUESTION: Change topics?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Have you had any reason to change your position from yesterday regarding working with the national unity government – the Palestinian unity government?
MS. PSAKI: No change in our position, no.
QUESTION: Okay. It seems that Prime Minister – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the world – and that includes you on the Palestinian – to dissolve the – this national unity government. Is that something that you would encourage the Palestinians to do, or Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas?
MS. PSAKI: We’re not. We continue to call on the Palestinians to abide by the Quartet principles. We’ve noted that President Abbas has also condemned these activities and reached out to Prime Minister Netanyahu. There’s clearly more that needs to be done, but nothing’s changed about our position.
QUESTION: And since early this morning, the Israeli army has overtaken many homes in Hebron, in fact tens of homes and so on, keep people under curfew, so to speak, or law. Are you expressing your concern that Palestinian civilians should go about their lives as normal?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen those reports, Said. I’m happy to look into them for you.
QUESTION: Well, more broadly on that, do you have any concerns about the way the Israelis are handling this operation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re conducting an investigation. We’ll let that see itself through. We’ve been in touch with them, but I don’t have any concerns to express here.
QUESTION: Well, there’s been – I mean, the Palestinian community is not – they feel that this is – what’s happening now, they say, represents collective punishment. And I’m just wondering if the U.S. sees it the same way, or do you think that the Israelis are acting with all due diligence and with restraint, or do you have any concerns about it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as in any case, we encourage all sides to operate with restraint, but I don’t have anything new to add on this topic.
QUESTION: All right. And then on the American citizen --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- is the Privacy Act waiver still an issue?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new on that front.
QUESTION: Are you calling on the Israelis to perhaps (inaudible) draw back on their heavy hand or to loosen up their heavy hand in handling the Palestinian population over the past 24 hours?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve been in close touch with both sides as a follow-up to the kidnapping of these three teenagers. I will let those conversations take place within diplomatic channels.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that the Israelis also may be taking it out on Palestinian prisoners already incarcerated?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to add on this issue.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Matt had raised the question yesterday of my colleague from Arabic, Abdullah al-Shami. Is there more that you’re prepared to say about these apparent – his apparent good news?
MS. PSAKI: Well, thank you for your question, Roz. We understand that the prosecutor has decided to release Al Jazeera journalist Abdullah al-Shami for health reasons. We obviously would welcome that development. However, at this time, we cannot confirm that he has physically been released, and there are others who remain in detention. As we’ve said, we remain deeply concerned about the restrictions of freedom of expression in Egypt, including the targeting of Egyptian foreign journalists simply for doing their jobs. Journalists, regardless of affiliation, should be protected and permitted to do their jobs free from intimidation, free from – or free – fear of retribution, and we continue to convey our deep concerns directly to the Government of Egypt and are watching the Al Jazeera trial very closely.
QUESTION: Can you say with any more specificity at what level has this message been communicated not just about my colleagues, but also for the hundreds of Egyptian journalists and bloggers who have found themselves behind bars just for trying to exercise their constitutional rights?
MS. PSAKI: Well, when the Secretary speaks with his Egyptian counterparts, he often raises concerns about these issues, but certainly the highest level on the ground in Egypt it’s raised.
QUESTION: Has this building seen any improvement in the overall human rights situation in Egypt since Mr. Sisi was formally inaugurated as president?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to give a grade or a ranking, Roz, but we have continued concerns, as we’ve expressed, and think there’s more that can be done on freedom of media, freedom of speech, freedom for protesters.
QUESTION: I just wanted to check one thing. You said journalists, regardless of their affiliation, should be able to do their business? That’s correct?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I just want to make sure that applies outside of Egypt as well. That applies everywhere around the world, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Including the Associated Press, even. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No, I’m talking about physical locations. That would apply universally. The United States believes that this should be everywhere, not just in Egypt, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: That’s not a trick question.
MS. PSAKI: No. I --
QUESTION: I don’t know why you’d think I would --
MS. PSAKI: Well, you never know with you. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I was waiting for the punchline on that as well.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: There was another attack today. I wondered if you (a) had a reaction to that, obviously – although you had a strong reaction yesterday – and (b) whether there was any changes now being made in U.S. personnel at the Embassy in Nairobi.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we condemn in the strongest terms the latest terrorist attack by al-Shabaab on the coastal town of Poromoko and Lamu County, as well as the attack earlier this week that killed dozens. We offer our deepest condolences to the families that have lost loved ones and to those injured in the attacks. I don’t have any update for all of you on a change in our Embassy. Obviously, that’s something we evaluate on a daily basis, and I would point you to the last Travel Warning we put out.
QUESTION: So it remains open, operating normally?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: But there are restrictions in place for staff?
MS. PSAKI: There have been for travel, exactly.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What is the --
MS. PSAKI: They are – and let me just – if you don’t mind, let me just outline.
MS. PSAKI: We – the U.S. Embassy had already restricted travel for U.S. Government personnel to the Nairobi neighborhood of Eastleigh and to all coastal counties. Travel to those areas for U.S. Government personnel is limited to mission-essential trips, but the Embassy is open for normal operation.
QUESTION: And no plans at the moment for any kind of drawdown?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we typically don’t predict such things, but we evaluate on a daily basis. But I have nothing for you today on that.
QUESTION: What discussions are U.S. officials having with their Kenyan counterparts about guarding against this ramp up in attacks from a group that’s, frankly, from another country?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we continue to work in partnership with Kenya to address – and countries in the region to address these threats from al-Shabaab. We’ll continue to share information and conduct law enforcement training with the Kenyan – our Kenyan counterparts, in addition to other counterterrorism cooperation. And that’s been ongoing, but certainly we’ll continue, especially in light of these recent attacks.
QUESTION: Is --
QUESTION: So President Kenyatta actually said today that – he said that this was not a terrorist attack, and that in fact it was the result of a squabble over land and that the people who perpetrated the attack were trying to clear these others out. Do you have any reason to think that that’s accurate, that that’s actually what happened here, and that despite the claim of responsibility al-Shabaab had nothing to do with this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our view is that as – they claimed credit, but we believe that al-Shabaab was responsible for these terrorist attacks.
QUESTION: So, I mean, what do you make of the president of Kenya coming out and saying something that you believe to be demonstrably untrue?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have much analysis for you, Matt.
QUESTION: Is there any thought in this building about increasing U.S. military assistance to the Kenyans to help them with this problem?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve had a range of assistance on counterterrorism efforts. That has been ongoing. I don’t have anything new to predict for all of you for the future.
QUESTION: So no new packages of aid or anything like that?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:39 p.m.)
DPB # 107