12:58 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: I just have a couple of items at the top. We welcome today’s announcement by the IEC that auditing of ballot boxes will begin in Kabul tomorrow, July 17th. As the Secretary announced while in Kabul last weekend, the audit process began immediately following his visit and has been ongoing since July 13th, with preparatory meetings, trainings, and working on the logistics of moving 8 million ballots in a difficult environment.
The purpose of the audit is to finalize the election and to honor the millions of Afghans who participated. The audit will be conducted by the IEC under close supervision of the United Nation in accordance with best – with international best practices, utilizing an IEC checklist supplemented by UN best practices recommendations. International and Afghan observers, along with representatives of the campaigns, will provide oversight and transparency. International observers have been trained and will be ready when the audit starts.
As Secretary Kerry promised this weekend, the United States is working very hard, hand in hand with both candidates and with Afghan officials to ensure that the July 12th agreement is translated into the actions that the people of Afghanistan expect, and ensuring the full legitimacy and credibility of this audit process.
So just to give you a few numbers: Already thousands of boxes are in Kabul ready to be counted. ISAF forces are guarding these boxes, and there are about a hundred international observers who have been trained, including 10 USAID contractors. So just a brief update on that.
Today, Secretary Kerry also announced the appointment of former Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert Papp, Jr. – Robert J. Papp, Jr. – to be the United States Special Representative for the Arctic. This new position was created to advance U.S. interests in the Arctic region as the United States prepares to take on the chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2015. The Arctic has enormous and growing geostrategic, economic, climate, environment, and national security implications for the United States and the world, and we are, of course, delighted to welcome Admiral Papp, a distinguished and senior public servant with broad foreign policy experience.
With that, Matt, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: First of all, can you just give us any update – the Secretary with the prime – foreign minister of Luxembourg said earlier that he was still working the phones. Are there any calls to report since we last got an update of this?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let me give you a clear update of that, and then we’ll get to your next question. As has been the case for the last several weeks even, he’s been in very close contact with a range of officials. Over the past 24 hours he’s spoken with the Arab League Secretary General Elaraby, he’s spoken with foreign minister – the Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry. He spoke with – let’s see – the U.A.E. foreign minister, the Qatari foreign minister. He hasn’t spoken with Prime Minister Netanyahu in the past – since we spoke yesterday, but I’m sure he will in the next 24 hours.
QUESTION: Okay. And these are all an attempt to get the cease-fire back – to push --
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- to push the cease-fire. I don’t know if you saw this, but overnight, Human Rights Watch put out a statement saying that Israel is in violation of international law attacking – with some of its attacks, at least, some of its airstrikes in Gaza, which they claim – Human Rights Watch – are actually targeting civilians. Since that report came out a little after midnight our time, there was this incident on the beach in Gaza where four children were killed. I’m wondering: Do you endorse or do you echo the call of Human Rights Watch here for Israel to stop these attacks?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I --
QUESTION: And do you think that they are, in fact, targeting civilian structures – if not civilians themselves, but civilian structures?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that we certainly believe – and this is the message the Secretary has conveyed to all parties – that it’s in the interests of all sides to de-escalate the situation. That is a message he’s conveyed to Prime Minister Netanyahu, to everybody involved in the events on the ground. And there are great risks in what is happening in the region to civilians, as you mentioned. That is of great concern to us, and certainly any death of a civilian, whether they’re a child or otherwise, is certainly of great concern to the United States.
And right now the potential we’re looking at is, of course, an even greater escalation of violence. I have not seen that specific report or reviewed it or discussed it with our team. Certainly, we would like to see an end to the tensions on the ground, and that’s why Secretary Kerry is so engaged with the range of parties I just mentioned to all of you.
QUESTION: Right, but – well, but whether you’ve seen it or not, they say that these are unlawful airstrikes that are killing civilians and they’re targeting apparent civilian structures and killing civilians in violation of the laws of war. Would you agree with – would you agree with that?
MS. PSAKI: I --
QUESTION: Whether or not you’ve seen it – I’m reading it to you right now – does the --
MS. PSAKI: I understand.
QUESTION: Does the Administration believe that Israel is in violation of the laws of war?
MS. PSAKI: I have not heard that concern expressed internally, Matt, specifically.
QUESTION: So you don’t agree with the Human Rights Watch report?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I have not – there’s not been a discussion I’m aware of a violation of international law by Israel.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, but even if there – whether there’s been a discussion or not, the Administration’s position is that Israel has the right to defend itself and it is – and its operation in Gaza is defending itself and therefore it’s not in any violation --
MS. PSAKI: That remains our position and that has not changed.
QUESTION: All right. The --
QUESTION: Hold on a sec. The Human Rights Watch statement said – also says that Palestinian armed groups should end indiscriminate rocket attacks launched toward the Israeli population, Israeli population centers. You would agree with that, yes?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, we would agree --
MS. PSAKI: And we view – and need to urgently bring an end to the escalation that we’re seeing on the ground.
QUESTION: So you agree with Human Rights Watch when they say that the Palestinians should stop their shelling, but you don’t agree with them when they say that Israel should; is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s not exactly what I said at all, Matt. I think we --
QUESTION: Well, I’m trying --
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish.
MS. PSAKI: Our view is that there are great risks in what is happening in the region to civilians. That is of concern to us. That’s why we want to see a de-escalation from both sides.
QUESTION: Right. But I’m just – I just want to – I want to know why you are willing to accept or echo this Human Rights Watch call, which is something that you have been saying in the past, that the Palestinian – that Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza need to stop their indiscriminate shelling – their shelling of population centers in Israel, but you’re not willing to call on Israel to stop its bombardment of what Human Rights Watch says apparent civilian structures and killing civilians in violation of the laws of war.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re – been calling on and publicly and privately all sides to de-escalate. But the circumstance here is that we have a terrorist organization indiscriminately attacking and sending rockets into Israel. They have the right to defend themselves. Obviously, we’d like to see a return to the ceasefire. That’s what our focus is on.
QUESTION: I don’t think anyone is arguing that Israel does not have the right to defend itself.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But if you don’t think – but my question is whether or not you think Israel is targeting civilian structures and with the result of the deaths of civilians, including children.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have anything more to add on this particular question.
QUESTION: Shouldn’t Israel be held to the same standards in this case?
MS. PSAKI: I think, Said, I’ve answered this question.
QUESTION: No, I have --
MS. PSAKI: Do we have other – Roz, go ahead.
QUESTION: No, I have --
MS. PSAKI: Said, I’m going to Roz.
QUESTION: I have – I asked another question.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Roz.
QUESTION: All right. I’ll try this a different way.
QUESTION: I have another one --
MS. PSAKI: We’ll go to you next. We’ll go to you next, Said. Go ahead, Roz.
QUESTION: Several journalists, including my colleague Stefanie Dekker, a correspondent from The Washington Post, a correspondent from The Guardian, all saw an attack on what can only be described as a civilian target, a fishing pier several yards from their hotel where many journalists are. And as they responded to the scene, they found that four children from one family, the Bakr family, had been killed. They said there wasn’t any rocket strike that they could see or detect or hear that might ostensibly be coming from Hamas.
How is an Israeli airstrike on what can only be described as a civilian target in full view of international journalists be acceptable to the U.S. Government?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, let me first say that obviously the circumstances on the ground are of great concern to us, including the deaths of civilians, including the impact that the tensions on the ground have had on civilian communities. Obviously, there have been a number of lives lost in Gaza, including the lives of children, and that’s absolutely tragic in our view.
I’m not in a position here to confirm or give you ground updates of what’s happening on the ground. What we’re focused on here is de-escalating the situation using every tool in our diplomatic toolbox to do that, and beyond that I’m not going to speculate on reports of what people may or may have not seen on the ground. We know the situation is tense. We’re concerned about it. That’s why we’re focused on seeing if there’s a diplomatic path forward.
QUESTION: Why is it --
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: Let me follow up, Elise. Why wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect that civilians who, for whatever reason, happen to be living in Gaza would not become more hardened in their view of the Israeli Government, of the Israeli people, when their own children can’t ostensibly go play in the surf, and instead, the next time they see their children they’re on funeral biers?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, let me first say I’d remind you again that the deaths of any individuals, any civilians, the deaths of children, how this is impacting people in the region is why the Secretary’s been working on this morning, noon, and night for the past several days. Obviously, the tensions have escalated. Obviously, that has caused a great deal of violence that is of concern. But I would remind you that yesterday there was a cease-fire proposed that was abided to by the Israelis for a couple of hours that Hamas did not abide to. And they’re putting their own people at risk by continuing to escalate the situation on the ground.
QUESTION: If Israel does have the legal right to defend itself, and I don’t think anyone in this room would dispute that, because I would expect the U.S. to protect this territory from attack --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- how is this considered an acceptable form of retaliation? Why wouldn’t people on the ground who weren’t near any sort of Hamas airstrike into Israel, why wouldn’t they believe that this is not an act of retaliation?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what your exact question is.
QUESTION: Put it more simply: If rockets didn’t emanate from where I happened to be living or playing or visiting or doing whatever, and suddenly my area is targeted by a foreign government’s airstrike, why wouldn’t it be reasonable for me to think this is an act of retaliation and punishment, vengeance, rather than a direct response to a military attack?
MS. PSAKI: I still don’t understand what your question is.
QUESTION: I think she’s saying that if – that because these are civilian areas, I think you’re saying that --
QUESTION: Yeah. They weren’t (inaudible).
QUESTION: -- this is indiscriminate, that wholesale – the whole Gaza population is suffering. And we – I understand what you’re saying about that Hamas is the party responsible for what’s coming from the territory, but that the whole Palestinian population in Gaza is suffering at those hands. And yes, it may be Hamas’ fault, but that they’re the ones that are bearing the brunt of it.
And let me just follow up on that: Given that, is there any discussion with Israel about how you can help them or whether they have better technology for better precision in these strikes? I mean, during the – for over many years, for instance, during the Israelis surrounding the Muqata when Arafat was alive, I mean, they used to boast that they knew exactly what room he was in. So they knew – they – it was very – when they want to, they can pinpoint with pretty exact precision. So is there any discussion of any technology or intelligence or anything that could help them better with their precision?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not in a position to outline any of that, Elise. Obviously, their targeting or their response is something that the Israeli Government is overseeing, not the United States. Certainly, we’ve expressed our concern about civilian deaths and civilian casualties to all parties involved here. And I think beyond that, that’s why our focus is on now moving as quickly as we can to see if we can return to a discussion about the cease-fire, whether that’s the – that was proposed by the Egyptians just yesterday.
QUESTION: What is the gist of the Secretary’s brief with the President in the next half hour or so? Is he going to be recommending that the President step up pressure on Israel and on interlocutors for Hamas to get back to a cease-fire? What exactly is he going there to do?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not, obviously, going to outline the President’s – the Secretary’s private discussions with the President of the United States, but part of their discussion will certainly be on the situation on the ground that we’ve been discussing. It will also be about the P5+1 negotiations. I think you’ve seen a commitment by Secretary Kerry as well as by the President to reach out, to engage with any entity in the region who can play a role here on influencing Hamas and trying to take steps forward back to the cease-fire.
QUESTION: Has anyone spoken with President Abbas?
MS. PSAKI: Our team on the ground remains in close touch, and that will certainly continue. And the Secretary’s – I’ve outlined some of the calls that he has done, but we receive many updates. He’s in close touch with the team on the ground as well about what’s happening on the ground.
QUESTION: Are you counseling Israel not to bomb hospitals?
MS. PSAKI: Said, I think --
QUESTION: Are you telling the Israelis not to bomb hospitals like Wafa Hospital and the Shifa Hospital? Again, (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Said, I think I’ve been clear --
MS. PSAKI: -- that we’ve expressed our concern about civilian casualties. Obviously, we want to see an end to what’s happening on the ground, and a de-escalation is in the interest of everyone.
QUESTION: I understand. But I remember last week asking you, and you said that the Israelis give warning to the Palestinians to evacuate. Now many of them evacuate to the beach out there, as was the Bakr family, and they have been hit. There isn’t really many places to evacuate to, so what should the Palestinians do to escape this onslaught of Israeli bombardment? I’m talking about civilian – Palestinian civilians. What do you suggest to them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think part of our focus here is on working with all of the parties who can have influence on the circumstances on the ground so civilians are not impacted. And obviously, that’s one of the driving forces and motivations for us being as engaged as we are.
QUESTION: Okay, but seeing that this Gaza problem lingers on time and time and time again, and basically it is bad because it’s – because of the siege, because of the lack of access, because of the humanitarian conditions – unemployment is 60, 70 percent and so on – why can’t the ceasefire include a – either a promise or a commitment to open up these entry points, border points between Egypt and Gaza – between Israel and Gaza?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Egyptians have the lead on the proposal. They will remain in the lead on that and in discussions about that. As you know, there are some discussions going on on the ground today. President Abbas is in Egypt today; so I’d point you to them for any specific updates about their proposal.
QUESTION: There are some who are throwing around the idea that maybe Israel should reoccupy the strip closest to Egypt, that small, narrow area and the border between Egypt and Gaza. Is that something that the Administration --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate further --
MS. PSAKI: -- on the proposals.
QUESTION: And my last question on the issue of Palestinian Americans in Gaza.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Did you find out what is the status of Palestinian Americans?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I did. I did, after you asked that question yesterday.
So the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem continues to work to facilitate the safe passage of U.S. citizens from the Gaza Strip. That’s an ongoing process. As you know, there was a message that we sent out July 10th, so just about a week ago, and we received quite a few responses from U.S. citizens and their immediate family members. I believe that on the ground they’ve put out a number of about 300 responses. The U.S. Consulate General Jerusalem has also – has now provided assistance to approximately 150 U.S. citizens and their family members to depart Gaza. And these individuals who checked in were – would check in at the point of departure and their – they’ve been transported to Jordan via a bus. This is an ongoing process, and we’re continuing to engage with the local community to ensure that we can assist as many American citizens as possible.
QUESTION: And the same thing is true with the border with Egypt?
MS. PSAKI: In terms of their movements?
QUESTION: Yeah, their movement. Can they go through Egypt?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to get into greater detail about how we’re moving these individuals out.
QUESTION: What in your view is the goal of the cease-fire? Is it just to stop the rocket fire and have calm and quiet in a lasting way? Or is it something larger to kind of break Hamas’ choke-hold on Gaza, disarm the territory, and see if you can use this opportunity to empower President Abbas or the Palestinian Authority to take – exert greater control over?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Elise, I think the first goal is the primary, immediate goal right now. Obviously, we know that this has been an ongoing issue that has long preceded the events of the last couple of weeks. If there’s a possibility of a larger conversation, we’ll leave that to the parties who are engaged in this to have.
QUESTION: But what would you – I mean, what would you – when you clearly the – while I understand you’re saying that this is an Egyptian proposal, clearly the United States is involved in the discussions. And you’ve said and Secretary Kerry has said that you’re willing to help facilitate. So what are you trying to facilitate? Are you trying to facilitate an end to this current round of violence, or something that changes the status quo?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the United States certainly would like to see an end to this current round of violence and a de-escalation of the tensions on the ground. And certainly we’d love to see a lasting peace in the region. Now our view is that will also require a two-state solution between the parties. Beyond that, I think we’re just taking it day by day and playing the diplomatic role that we can play.
QUESTION: I understand about a two-state solution and all of that, but you seem to have been skirting around for years, and certainly what’s going on right now is even – the issue is even more germane of Palestinian reconciliation and how one of the Palestinian parties is in a conflict with Israel while the other is not. So is de-escalation enough or can you really not have – are you bound to keep repeating this cycle of violence until something is done in Gaza?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of steps over the long term that obviously would need to be taken. A two-state solution is one of them. Obviously, given --
QUESTION: You could have a two-state solution, but you still – if Hamas --
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish.
QUESTION: -- still controls Gaza --
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. Obviously, given – we’ve not – our position as the United States Government is not opposition to reconciliation. As you know, there are certain requirements that we would need to see in place in order for our relationship to continue. Given the circumstances right now, it’s hard to see how that could move forward at this point in time. However, what our focus is on right now is bringing an immediate end to the violence. We’re not ending our engagement or our work with the region if we see an end to violence. Obviously, discussions will continue about a range of issues.
QUESTION: The collapse of the Egyptian peace ceasefire initiative clearly shows that the relationship between the military-backed government in Egypt now is nothing like it was with Morsy’s government, which brokered the cease-fire in 2012. So to what extent is the Secretary using these calls to regional players like Qatar to get them to reform – to get involved to reformulate a cease-fire proposal that might be more acceptable and more – that might gain Hamas’ trust? And does Turkey have a role to play in this as well? Because they also have something of a bond with Hamas and Gaza.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, the reason the Secretary’s engaged in such a broad number of calls is the point you’ve raised, which is there is – there are many players in the region, many countries in the region who have a stake, who have different relationships with the relevant parties on the ground. And he is open to engaging with any country and any leader who can help play an influential role with Hamas. What we want to see is an end to the violence on the ground, a return to a restoration of the 2012 cease-fire.
In terms of the specific details and particulars, we’ll continue to discuss those through private channels, but obviously the end goal is what our eyes are focused on.
QUESTION: Jen, just to – I have a quick follow up on a question that I asked yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
QUESTION: Seeing that Gaza is really twice the size of DC and has more than three times the population – so it’s very densely populated – in this case, why shouldn’t Israel be held to the same standard to avoid the – a high possibility of civilian casualties or intense civilian casualties in a state of – like Elise raised and Roz raised, having targeted targets?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think as I’ve mentioned in response to a similar question you’ve asked a couple of times before --
MS. PSAKI: -- Hamas is a terrorist organization. They’ve been firing indiscriminately into Israel. Israel – we want to see an end to the violence. We want to see a de-escalation of what’s happening on the ground. They have the right to defend themselves. So I think the context of the circumstances on the ground is an important component of the answer here.
QUESTION: Yeah, but that same right to defend themselves is denied to Hamas because it is a terrorist organization regardless to what the population’s position is, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Hamas is putting their own people in Gaza at risk by continuing their actions.
QUESTION: So that means that it’s okay?
MS. PSAKI: I did not say it was okay. I did not say it was okay.
QUESTION: More --
MS. PSAKI: That’s why our focus is on de-escalating the situation on the ground.
QUESTION: More broadly, since this began, you have been counseling restraint on the side of the – on the Israelis and an end, obviously, to the rocket attacks. Today – and you have commended the Israelis, I believe, for showing restraint thus far. Can you still – are you still of the opinion that Israel has shown restraint in its operation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, yesterday, Matt, I was referring to the time where they – the Israeli cabinet abided by the cease-fire.
QUESTION: No, but even prior to that?
MS. PSAKI: That’s true. I don’t have any new – anything new to offer for you today.
QUESTION: Okay. So it’s the opinion of the U.S. Government that the Israelis are still showing – well, I won’t use a qualifier – that the Israelis are using – are showing restraint in their operation to exercise their right to self-defense?
MS. PSAKI: The comments I made about the cease-fire yesterday certainly stand, Matt, but obviously, we – the situation on the ground changes every day.
QUESTION: So if you don’t agree that – I mean, if you say that Hamas – this is Hamas’ fault, they’re putting their own people at risk. That suggests that you think that whatever Israel does is okay and comes within their rights to self-defense. But correct me if I’m wrong, please.
MS. PSAKI: Not what I suggested, Matt. I’m speaking to circumstances that are happening on the ground, and I think the most important issue here is what we’re working to do to bring an end to this violence, which is what our efforts and our focus is on.
QUESTION: When there has been collateral damage and civilian casualties in U.S. military operations – in Afghanistan, in Iraq, elsewhere – the United States has often apologized, paid compensation. Would you call – would you suggest or tell the Israelis that the same thing might be appropriate here?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not suggesting that, no.
QUESTION: Nope? So you would not?
MS. PSAKI: No.
QUESTION: So the people who have been killed, including these children – it’s – frankly, it doesn’t seem to – it doesn’t faze you?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not at all what I said. I think I’ve stated multiple times that the deaths of civilians, the loss of lives for children and individuals in Gaza is horrific and is a tragedy. And that’s why we’re so focused on bringing an end to the violence, and I think that’s far more important than a speculation about --
QUESTION: Right, but it’s – but it’s horrific and it’s a tragedy, but you’re saying that it’s the fault of Hamas for not stopping the rocket fire.
MS. PSAKI: They certainly are at fault in part here, yes.
QUESTION: Can I get back to this Hamas proposal for – their own ceasefire proposal that they have put out, that in addition to a cessation of the hostilities – some of these other things, particularly like fishing rights, payment of salaries, opening of the – closing of Israeli aircrafts to Gaza airspace – I mean, do you think that some of these things should be considered as part of the cease-fire talks?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to do a negotiation from here.
QUESTION: No, I understand, but – I mean, there are certain things that Israel has called for in order for there to be a cease-fire. Do you think it’s reasonable that Hamas should have certain demands – certain conditions that they want met as well, or do you see this as a one-sided thing where Hamas has to stop the rocket fire in order for Israel to stop.
MS. PSAKI: Well obviously, Hamas would have to agree to a cease-fire. But in terms of what the specific details would be, I’m not going to do that from here.
QUESTION: But do you – but – I mean, I understand maybe you don’t want to speak about the specific things. But do you see Hamas as having any legitimate demands, or – I don’t even know if I want to use the word “demands.” But as part of a negotiation, it’s really two sides that are negotiating. Or do you just see this as Hamas has to agree to what Israel is calling for?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think that’s realistic, in the sense that, obviously, Hamas has to agree to a cease-fire. But beyond that, in terms of what it would entail or whether there will be requests or demands met, I’m just not going to speculate on that further.
QUESTION: Have you seen the Hamas cease-fire proposal?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any more details from here on this.
Do we have more on this issue? Should we move on? You want to go into --
QUESTION: No, I’m sorry. I --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: This is not – this is just a logistical thing.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: You said you would expect that the Secretary to speak with Prime Minister Netanyahu within the next 24 hours. Is that right?
MS. PSAKI: He’s been in – he’s been speaking with him frequently, so I was setting the expectation. I would suspect he speaks within the next 24 hours.
QUESTION: Okay. Is he still open – the Secretary – is the Secretary still open to going to the region if – I mean, that’s still an option?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, he certainly is. I have nothing to announce at this particular moment.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead in the back, and then we’ll go to you. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: China just moved one of the oil rigs in South China Sea.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you applaud this move?
MS. PSAKI: We welcome China’s announcement that it is moving its oil rig from its location near the Paracels to an area closer to Hainan Island. The oil rig incident has highlighted the need for claimants to clarify their claims in accordance with international law to reach a shared understanding on appropriate behavior and activities in disputed areas. We support relevant parties adopting a voluntary freeze on provocative unilateral actions in support of further implementation of the 2002 code of conduct for the South China Sea between China and ASEAN.
QUESTION: Do you see the reason behind it – does it have anything to do with your recent call of all claimants to freeze their provocative actions, or the President’s call with Chinese President Xi, like if they have reached any consensus?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the White House, of course, put out a readout of their call. As you know, issues related to maritime issues, issues related to the South China Sea often come up. The Secretary certainly discussed these issues and reiterated his concern while he was in China just last week. I’m not going to speculate on China’s reasons for withdrawing its rig, but of course, we have expressed our same concerns publicly as we have privately.
QUESTION: And a quick one on the announcement of the BRICS bank yesterday. First of all, what’s your thought on this?
MS. PSAKI: I think – I don’t know that I have much more than I said yesterday. I’m happy to reiterate that. I know there have been some announcements over the course of the last 24 hours. As I noted yesterday, this summit is a venue for leading emerging economies to discuss economic issues they may have in common. Obviously, they made an announcement about the plan for the creation of a BRIC development bank. There are no – not a lot of details about the specific focus that this planned development bank would play – or what it would have – the specific focus it would have, I should say. And many of the important details, including its governance and any relationships with the established international financial institutions aren’t clear yet. So we’ll wait to see what more details emerge.
QUESTION: But do you have any concern that the China and Russian lead BRICS bank may affect the U.S. interest?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, without knowing the objectives or the focus or the means of governance, it’s hard for us to speculate on that or worry about it at this particular moment.
QUESTION: If it is modeled after the World Bank, I mean, if they are trying to replicate the World Bank, would that be fine with you?
MS. PSAKI: Said, I don’t think we’ve seen the details of how it’s modeled, and obviously, it has to serve a particular role and needs to these countries that works with the other financial institutions that are out there internationally.
QUESTION: One more on the South China Sea?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, sure.
QUESTION: So Chinese Government still emphasize that it has not any plan to stop the – carrying out the exploration activities in water. What’s the view on – what’s the U.S. view on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – our view, I think, on – is well known on this issue. We certainly maintain a national interest in maintenance of peace and stability and respect for international law, unimpeded lawful commerce and freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. The Secretary reiterated just last week his concerns about some of the recent actions when he was in China and those have not all been addressed.
Do we have any more on Asia or --
QUESTION: Just one.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go – Asia, Asia, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and the threat that those launches might pose to civil aviation. Can you tell us about that?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. On July 8th, so just last week, we cosigned – the United States cosigned a letter to the president of ICAO expressing concern with the serious threat to international aviation posed by North Korea’s recent rocket and missile launches. We’ve talked about them a couple of times but there have been more than a half dozen, and certainly, that’s raised concern.
North Korea’s decision to conduct these launches without prior notification threatens the safety of international aviation and demonstrates North Korea’s disregard for the rules and regulations of the organization, and hence our effort to express our concern from the United States.
QUESTION: North Korea?
MS. PSAKI: North Korea, sure.
QUESTION: I asked this question last week but didn’t get a clear answer, and North Korea has, you said, fired a number of missiles, rockets and artillery rounds recently. And some of those launches violated UN Security Council resolution --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- including the Scud launches last weekend, another set of ballistic missiles fired this week. North Korea is flouting these UN Security Council resolutions every week and – but it looks like all you do is just expressing concern over and over again. And I’m wondering if the U.S. has any plan to raise this issue at the Security Council, because there’s no point of having these kind of resolutions unless violations are properly dealt with.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me give you a little bit of context. There are times when we have to do a little more work confirming some of the details, so according to our information that North Korea launched two Scud-class short-range ballistic missiles from its southwest region on July 13th. Both missiles flew in a northeasterly direction and impacted the sea, and that was, of course, just a couple of days ago, but as I mentioned, sometimes it takes a little time to confirm specifics. And certainly, we are concerned about the most recent round of ballistic missile launches. These are yet another – this is yet another violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions, and these provocative actions heighten tensions in the region and will not provide North Korea the prosperity and security it claims to seek. And obviously, the UN Security Council has the lead on deciding next steps here. In terms of our role, I can check on that and see if there’s more specifics about our engagement with the UN Security Council.
QUESTION: You’re not aware of the council considering any action at this point, though, to --
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen any updates from their end, but certainly, we view these as a clear violation.
QUESTION: Okay. And then on the ICAO thing, I don’t know this and I don’t know if you know it either --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- but does North Korea have a representative at this organization? It seems to me that writing to the head of ICAO instead of contacting the North Koreans directly would be – is a bit odd. I mean, I can see writing to both of them. Do you know if there was any contact with the North Koreans directly?
MS. PSAKI: I do not know if North Korea has a representative. We can certainly – I’ll look into that, Matt.
QUESTION: But do you know if the same --
MS. PSAKI: But obviously, they have oversight over --
QUESTION: Right, fair enough.
MS. PSAKI: -- civil aviation issues, so --
QUESTION: But you don’t happen to know if that same letter was cc’d to Pyongyang, do you?
MS. PSAKI: I do not have that level of detail. I’m sure we can check on that for you.
Do we have any more on Asia? Okay.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I know it’s been addressed before, but the election. I wanted to see if the U.S. had anything further to say about the deadlock after the election. What’s the level of concern with the lack of – or the rival claims to victory there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know that has been – I don’t know that I have anything particularly new on this, Shaun, though we’re happy to follow up afterwards and connect with the appropriate person from post on the ground, if that’s helpful. Obviously, we – our understanding is that they’re expected to announce the official results by July 22nd. And certainly, we remain committed to the close relationship we have based on common interests and values, but we typically would wait until the official announcement is announced before we have any additional comment.
Any – okay, Asia? Not – no more Asia. Go ahead, with the red shirt.
QUESTION: Hi. Kenneth Handelman recently spoke about the possibility or hinted about the possibility of loosening controls for the export of armed drones. Is there, first of all, a timeline for when this announcement will be made, what kind of factors play into this decision, and who the potential allies that we’d be seeking these drones for are?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on that. We can check and see if there are any to share.
MS. PSAKI: Iran? Sure.
QUESTION: If no comprehensive agreement is reached by July 20th, will the Administration recommend more sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just give you all a quick update. One, I’m not going to get ahead of the conclusion of this round of talks. Obviously, as you note – as you know, there are discussions that are ongoing on the ground with our team that’s continuing to negotiate. The Secretary’s meeting today with the President and Vice President to discuss the Iran talks, as I noted in response to Roz’s question, and they will, of course, receive a briefing on the Secretary’s conversations in Vienna and talk about the path forward.
And part of what they’ll be talking about and what our teams will be talking about on the ground is whether taking more time for negotiations makes sense given the progress that has been made. And we’ll also be engaging with Congress on that discussion. And obviously, there are a range of proposals that are out there, but we’re just going to take this one day at a time and determine whether we have the progress that’s needed to proceed and what steps would be taken accordingly.
QUESTION: And what progress has been made thus far?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think as the Secretary noted yesterday, we’re going to leave the negotiations behind the – at the negotiating table. You’re familiar with the issues that are being discussed and the difficulty of those. But that’s one of the factors – of course, the main factor – that will be part of our decision making.
QUESTION: The Iranians are saying, I mean pretty much – well, I think they’re going even a little bit more forward-leaning than you in saying that, obviously, the goal is to get a deal by the end of the week, but they’re already discussing that it’s possible that there may be an extension. And so --
MS. PSAKI: Well, Elise, there’s a discussion going on in Vienna and certainly an active discussion about the options, including that option. No decisions have been made at this point in time.
QUESTION: Jen, eight --
QUESTION: But Jen --
QUESTION: Hold on. Eight months ago, you said from that podium, “If the Iranians don’t get to a yes at the end of six months, we can put in place more sanctions.” Is that not the case anymore?
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I think, Lucas, our focus here and our primary goal is preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We are going to let the negotiations proceed on the ground. There’ll be ongoing discussions with a range of senior officials, with members of Congress, and I’m not going to get ahead of that process.
QUESTION: But is what you said no longer the case?
MS. PSAKI: I would have to look at the context of the comments, Lucas. But I think our goal here has remained the same and we’re looking at the negotiations through the prism of what our goal is.
QUESTION: And Jay Carney said the same thing. He said, “If Iran fails to reach an agreement with the P5+1 on the more comprehensive agreement over the course of six months,” he said this back in December, “we are very confident that we can work with Congress to very quickly pass new, effective sanctions against Iran.”
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the discussion, Lucas, is about whether there’s been enough progress made to continue these negotiations. It’s been written into the JPOA, the possibility of an extension. Obviously, a decision hasn’t been made, but we’re working through what the best – what’s in the best interests of the United States, our P5+1 partners, and our goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Given the fact that it’s --
QUESTION: Was that the terms, though?
QUESTION: Given the fact that you’re still negotiating – you haven’t closed off the negotiations, even though, I mean --
MS. PSAKI: Sure, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- I know the deadline is Sunday. But it seems as if that would indicate that you think that there’s enough good faith in the negotiations that would merit a continuation of them.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn’t – I think we’re making that determination right now. So that’s part of the discussion the Secretary will have today with the President and the Vice President, and certainly part of what our team is discussing on the ground.
QUESTION: But I mean, whether – if you haven’t already determined that, then I mean that would indicate that you’re just running out the clock for the next couple of days.
MS. PSAKI: It’s not an indication of that at all. I think our team is working to make a determination about whether it makes sense, given the progress that has been made, to proceed. And there are obviously a range of very senior officials who will be a – play a part in that decision making.
QUESTION: But even Mr. Carney was very clear that if Iran fails to reach a comprehensive agreement after six months there would be more sanctions. That’s not the case anymore?
MS. PSAKI: Again, Lucas, I’d have to look at the context. I think we’ve always known it was written into the GPO – JPOA that if there was mutual agreement, there could be a six-month extension. Obviously, we want to take steps that would allow a negotiation to proceed, if that’s the case. But we’re going to take it one day at a time and see what’s needed.
QUESTION: Does an extension help Iran more than the United States?
MS. PSAKI: I think – again, I’m not going to speculate on what decision may or may not be made, Lucas. But our goal here is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That helps not only the United States but countries in the region, and obviously Iran has its own reasons for being engaged in these discussions.
QUESTION: So if Iran has six more months, potentially, does that help them acquire a nuclear weapon, or does not help them acquire one?
MS. PSAKI: I think there have been several steps that were taken in the interim agreement, as you’re familiar with. But I’m not going to speculate further on what that may or may not look like, given a decision hasn’t yet been made.
QUESTION: Any conversations with members of Congress since the Secretary returned?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he just got back last night, as you know. There have been calls made by Deputy Secretary Burns, by Under Secretary Sherman, by Tony Blinken over at the White House. Those calls were made yesterday. They’ve continued. I don’t have anything else to predict for you, but we’re making decisions day by day on our engagement.
QUESTION: Can you say to whom those calls were made? Are we saying foreign relations, are we saying armed services? Who’s at the receiving end?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a list of those calls. I can see if there’s anything more specific.
QUESTION: But the Secretary plans on making his own, I would assume.
MS. PSAKI: The Secretary plans to absolutely be engaged, of course, with members of Congress, as he stated yesterday.
QUESTION: Is there any plans for him to brief them or meet with them or anything on the Hill planned?
MS. PSAKI: Not at this moment, but we’re making decisions day by day. And obviously, there are a range of senior officials who are – have been very closely involved in this who are certainly qualified and able to also brief members of Congress.
QUESTION: One more. Would the Administration grant an extension with no additional sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate further on the circumstances that would go into granting or not granting an extension.
QUESTION: You’ve said several times that people are looking at the progress that has been made and whether it’s worth it to continue if an agreement isn’t reached by the 20th. What constitutes what you called “enough progress” to do that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that goes into the discussions of those particular issues.
QUESTION: Just very broadly, what would constitute – not specifics at all. What – very broadly, what would constitute enough progress to make an extension worthwhile?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, obviously on the core issues that you’re familiar with, whether it’s enrichment or other issues that are pivotal to these discussions, whether we’ve made enough progress on issues to see a path forward. And that’s a decision being made on the ground and through discussions at a very high level.
QUESTION: But there has been – but you aver that there has been some progress; it’s a question of whether it is enough to warrant an extension.
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct, yes.
QUESTION: So would you – if you had to compare the progress made here with the progress that we heard so much about during the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, how would you – where would that rate? About the same? More? Because as we all know, the progress that was allegedly made during the peace talks amounted to nothing in the end.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I would disagree with that as well. Just because we didn’t talk about it publicly doesn’t mean that it wasn’t made. There was a great deal of progress made in the peace talks; there has been progress made in the Iran negotiations. I don’t – I can’t tell you right now if we’re going to be able to outline that publicly or not.
QUESTION: Well, given what’s happening right now between Israel and the Palestinians, I hope there was more progress made in the Iran negotiations.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, that the circumstances on the ground – the environment on the ground existed long before the Secretary made an effort to reignite the peace process.
QUESTION: Still on the conflict. If it’s decided that there will be an extension, will it come out in the form of a statement, press conference?
MS. PSAKI: You always like to ask – how things will be rolled out.
QUESTION: I love it, yeah. I mean – if you know.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any prediction of that for you at this point in time, Said.
I can just do a two – couple more, because I just have a meeting at two o’clock.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: In fact, there’s talk right now about the – negotiating teams returning to capitals on Friday the 18th and announcing an extension. Was this decision made prior to the Secretary left --
MS. PSAKI: I understand that has come out in some Iranian press, but there hasn’t been a decision made yet about an extension. So it’s – would be hard to see how a rollout plan would be made.
MS. PSAKI: Syria, okay.
QUESTION: Yes. Today President Assad gave a speech after the election, and he said that he pledged that uphold laws and freedoms in his third term. What’s your reaction?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve been clear that President Assad – that Assad has no more credibility now than he did before the so-called presidential election. And while Assad and his regime include in this charade – indulge in this charade, I guess I should say – Syrians are starving and besieged in Damascus, dodging barrel bombs in Aleppo, fleeing across Syria’s borders from refuge, and enduring unspeakable abuses in regime prisons and detention facilities. And in the face of this, we will continue to help the Syrian people stand up against Bashar al-Assad and support those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future. So our concerns are no different today than they were yesterday, than they were right before this farcical election.
QUESTION: Just one more follow-up: Speaking of helping Syrian people, former U.S. State Department official Fred Hof wrote couple days ago that your Administration asked Congress for an opposition equip and train funds. And according to his analysis, this cannot happen – realized until the ideal circumstances, until the end of 2014. Is that a fair assessment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Mr. Hof is a private citizen, and I’m not sure he has all of the details on all of the plans that have been proposed. Obviously, part of our effort is what you just outlined: the President’s announcement to increase the kind of and expand the kind of support that we’re providing to the moderate opposition. Daniel Rubenstein is on his way back from the region; he’s been there for quite some time, meeting with a range of countries, meeting with the opposition as well. As you know, they just elected – the opposition just elected new leadership. So there are a range of steps that we’re taking, but obviously, we want to see it move as quickly as it can. There’s a process for that. I don’t have any predictions on the timeline.
QUESTION: So this --
MS. PSAKI: But I have to move on so I can just do a few more.
QUESTION: -- this fund can reach them before 2014, is what you are saying?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any predictions on the timeline. I’d just remind you that Mr. Hof is a private citizen and not currently employed by the United States Government.
Scott, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, given, Scott, there hasn’t been any formal announcement for – from the Russian or the Cuban Governments, I have very little to say. I’d of course – and would, naturally, have nothing to add on alleged Russian intelligence facilities. So if there’s more public statements made, perhaps we’ll have more to say.
QUESTION: Can you – can I ask you about --
MS. PSAKI: Yes. And then we’ll go to Michele, sorry.
QUESTION: As you know, the Europeans are meeting today right now --
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: -- soon, and – to discuss potential additional sanctions.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: In the view of the Administration, has Russian – has the Russian behavior gone now to the point where a new – you are encouraging the EU to enact a new round of sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve been engaged in that discussion with them for some time. And obviously, all of our efforts are focused on being coordinated. We know that there’s strength in numbers, especially when we’re talking about impacting an economy. I – as you noted, the European Council is meeting today. We anticipate they’ll discuss Ukraine at their dinner tonight, which should be taking place about now. It’s possible we’ll have more for you later today when we get closer to the end of the Council’s discussions, including from here. But I would just say that we’ve been encouraging, of course, the Europeans to keep considering and keep on the path of preparing additional sanctions, just as we are doing on our end.
QUESTION: I – understood, but do you believe that the time has come to pull the trigger on new sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: Well again, that’s of course up to the Europeans to determine, but we have certainly been discussing the need to keep sanctions prepared and ready to go. And certainly, the actions of the Russian-backed separatists – supported, in many cases, by the Russians – have not given us a great deal of pause in our preparations.
QUESTION: Just some quick ones.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, let – can we go to Michele?
QUESTION: Yeah – oh, Michele. Excuse me. Yeah.
MS. PSAKI: She hasn’t had one. I just have to go in a minute here.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Michele.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let me just give you a quick update on this, Michele. Well, you probably did see the Secretary’s op-ed opinion piece last week. We also have been engaged with members of Congress through our office here on the need to move forward as rapidly as possible with confirming nominees. As you are all aware, we have the AU Summit coming up in early August where we’ll be welcoming dozens of African leaders to the State Department, while at the same time we have nearly a full 25 percent of total ambassadorial posts or present – or posts in the continent are without an ambassador.
So what we’re doing is the Secretary is asking our team every morning for an update, working through every channel we have to encourage fast movement on confirming nominees. In his opinion piece last week, he proposed considering career nominees in the same way that military nominees are proposed. We’re continuing to work with our colleagues on the Hill on that. And right now the numbers stand at 55 Department nominees still pending before the Senate, 39 of whom are noncontroversial career diplomats, 33 have been approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and could be confirmed with a simple voice vote on the Senate floor.
QUESTION: Hold on.
QUESTION: Wait, wait. Thirty-nine are noncontroversial career diplomats? Does that mean that there are some career diplomats who are controversial?
MS. PSAKI: I was using that as an adjective, Matt, for career diplomats who have served for decades. Those are --
QUESTION: Okay. But you’re not saying that career diplomats can’t be controversial.
MS. PSAKI: I’m saying that these are 39 career diplomats who should be confirmed as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: And – okay, but other than the 39, are you – does that mean that the others are controversial political appointees?
MS. PSAKI: They are not.
MS. PSAKI: They are political appointees, so I was --
QUESTION: Right. But not necessarily controversial?
MS. PSAKI: Not controversial.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up --
QUESTION: The proposal --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Michele.
QUESTION: The proposal that he’s making is to vote for those 39 noncontroversial ones as a lump sum?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. Yes, exactly.
QUESTION: I have one question on that.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: John Bass, Mr. John Bass at the Hill for his hearing yesterday as well. I think he’s one of the 39. But Senator McCain several times ask him if he thinks Turkey’s becoming more authoritarian, and he considered the fact that Turkey is becoming more authoritarian. As an ambassador who’s going to Turkey very soon if he’s confirmed, do you think he’s going to be a problem for his post?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say that his comments were consistent with the concerns we have previously expressed, including in the annual Human Rights Report. We remain committed to supporting democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms in Turkey. And when they’re not met, we certainly express our concerns, and that’s true in many countries around the world. Ambassador Bass is – will serve as a strong voice on the ground in support of democratic principles in Turkey. I worked very closely with him, can’t think of a better representative for the United States, and I’m – I can assure you that when he’s confirmed, I think the people of Turkey will see that as well.
QUESTION: So you also agree with him that Turkey’s becoming more authoritarian?
MS. PSAKI: I think we have expressed concerns in the past when we haven’t seen actions that represent abiding by human rights – respect for human rights and media freedoms, and that’s also noted in our Human Rights Report.
QUESTION: Did you get an answer to my Iran oil export question from yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: I did.
QUESTION: Do you have time to do it now or do you want to put it out as a taken question?
MS. PSAKI: Why don’t we put it out as a taken question and we can discuss it further tomorrow if you’d like.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Can you (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll be back tomorrow.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:53 p.m.)
DPB # 123