2:10 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Monday. Thank you. I’ve been gone for a long time.
QUESTION: Are you okay?
The United States does not recognize the legitimacy of these so-called presidential elections on August 24th and will not acknowledge their outcome. Our position on Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain clear: These regions are integral parts of Georgia. We once again urge Russia to fulfill all of its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement, including withdrawal of its forces to pre-conflict positions, reversal of its recognition of the Georgian regions as independent states, and provision of free access for humanitarian assistance to these regions. We renew our full support for the Geneva international discussions as a means to achieving concrete progress on security and humanitarian issues that continue to impact the communities on the ground in Georgia.
And with that – are – I don’t think we’ve met before.
QUESTION: I’m Ken Delaney. I’m the intel writer for the AP --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, all right. Welcome, Ken.
QUESTION: -- filling in for Matt. So thanks a lot. Can you confirm the New York Times report that there were two airstrikes in the last week by Libya and the UAE – I’m sorry – in Libya by the U.S. – UAE with help from Egypt?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Ken, I’m not in a position to provide any additional information on these strikes. I’d certainly refer you to the governments of Libya, Egypt, and the UAE. We certainly – the position from the State Department is that we continue to encourage support for Libya’s elected political institutions, as well as steps they can take towards stability, and we remain supportive of a ceasefire, as you know. But again, I’ve seen those reports. I’m not in a position to offer any confirmation or any details.
QUESTION: When you said these strikes, so you’re acknowledging the strikes are taking – did take place then?
MS. PSAKI: I was referring to the reports and the question that you asked.
QUESTION: Okay. Is yours on it?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. On this question?
QUESTION: No, I’ve got a (inaudible). On this same issue.
MS. PSAKI: We can go back and forth. Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: On the same issue. Egypt just denied that they – they did any or they bombed Libya. Can you at least confirm that there was bombing and that bombing may have been done by these forces?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any information to offer you.
QUESTION: If these strikes were carried out, in fact, by Egypt and UAE, would Washington be disappointed that they had taken this route?
MS. PSAKI: I think, Roz, I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole with you. Do we have more on this specific – go ahead, Ali.
QUESTION: No, but it’s a legitimate question, Jen, because the question of whether a government which has had its issues in begin stood up in recent times is suddenly now dealing with outside military strikes, whether in support of its efforts to stay constituted or not, certainly that does raise security concerns for this government.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, I think we’ve consistently said, and I just repeated it, that Libya’s challenges are political and violence will not resolve them. Our focus is on the political process there. We believe outside interference exacerbates current divisions and undermines Libya’s democratic transition. And that’s why our focus remains on urging all factions to come together to peacefully resolve the current crisis.
Ali, go ahead.
QUESTION: You say that you’ve seen these reports of these apparent air strikes. Do you know whether anyone at the ambassadorial level or anyone from Near East Affairs here or the Secretary himself has spoken to anyone in either Egypt or the UAE about these reports and whether the U.S. has any concerns about them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we speak with our counterparts in those countries all the time. I mean, the Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Shoukry, I believe, just yesterday, but I don’t have anything to read out for you in terms of discussions.
Go ahead, Ali.
QUESTION: It would stand to reason that this did not come up in their conversation, the question of airstrikes and whether or not Egypt played a role in them.
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything more to read out for you from their calls.
QUESTION: And in that same article --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- it seemed that what was stressed, as Roz mentioned, was the lack of conversations, intelligence sharing between the U.S. and the UAE and Egypt. So could you characterize where the nature of conversations, of intelligence sharing with not only Egypt, but the UAE. Because it really seemed in this article like the U.S. got blindsided by these strikes.
MS. PSAKI: Well, all I can say, Ali, is that we have close working relationships with all of those countries you mentioned. We share a range of information. I’m not going to characterize it further.
Go ahead, Said.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: So could you update us on that and could you tell us about the role that Qatar may have played in this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, a number of these details have been out there, but let me just – I know we haven’t had a briefing since then, so let me just tick through for you what I can here.
As you all have seen in reporting and many of you reported, Mr. Curtis was handed over to UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights at 6:40 p.m. local time on August 24th, which as you all know, is yesterday. The United Nations facilitated the handover. After receiving a medical checkup, Mr. Curtis was handed over to U.S. Government personnel who then brought him to Tel Aviv.
We don’t have details to share at this point about the timing of his return to the United States. As has been also noted but worth repeating, he’ll undergo further medical evaluation. From preliminary reports he appears to be in good health. I think it’s important to note, of course, that he was held captive by a terrorist organization for many months.
QUESTION: What about --
QUESTION: So is he still in Tel --
MS. PSAKI: Said, go ahead.
QUESTION: Is he in Tel Aviv? Is that what you said?
MS. PSAKI: There hasn’t been a change in his location.
QUESTION: Okay. And could you tell us, on the role of Qatar, of any?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important to note that the U.S. Government has over the past two years reached out to over two dozen countries, including Qatar, for help from anyone who may have tools, influence, or leverage who can assist in securing the release of American citizens, including Curtis, held hostage in Syria. A range of senior U.S. Government officials, including from the State Department, were in touch with partners in the region and specifically with the Qataris about working for the release of American citizens held in Syria.
I think all of you have probably seen the statement from the family that they issued yesterday. We understand his release follows a direct request from the Curtis family itself to the Government of Qatar for its assistance. And beyond that, I don’t know that I can detail much more for you from here, but go ahead.
QUESTION: So was any benefit conferred by the U.S. or any other party to the kidnappers or their allies as part of the negotiations for --
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we don’t make concessions to terrorist organizations, including paying ransom. We also don’t support any third party paying ransom and did not do so in this case. We’re unequivocal in our opposition to paying ransom to terrorists. So with that, I don’t know if I could be more clear than that.
QUESTION: Well, are you aware of any benefit being conferred by another party then?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have – I think it’s important to note that the family has addressed this issue in their own statement and their public comments and made clear that their understanding this was a humanitarian release. We also have not been told by the Qataris or any other party that there was anything more than that.
QUESTION: What is this intelligence --
QUESTION: Jen, did the U.S. ask specifically Qatar not to pay any ransom?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Nicolas, it’s important to note that our public and private position has been very consistent on this and has been repeated many, many times, and not just our position. We’ve also been very engaged in policy-making on this front through the UN Security Council, through international organizations. And our belief continues to be that the paying of ransom puts U.S. citizens at risk.
QUESTION: Jen, do you know what was different this time? I mean, he was held for almost two years. Why did this intervention make a difference? Was there excessive pressure from the U.S. in the wake of Jim Foley? Was there something specific that triggered this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s understandable that I’m not going to speculate on motivations and will let al-Nusrah speak for itself in that regard. It’s a case where obviously this is a situation we’ve been working on for some time now – as you know, he’s been captive for – he had been captive for two years. We’ve been working with – we’d reached out to nearly two dozen countries from the State Department alone, and obviously there are a number of agencies who have been very involved in this. So unfortunately, I can’t shed light for you from the podium on specifically what took place here.
QUESTION: Well, the statement came from Secretary Kerry yesterday announcing this. Was he directly involved in reaching out to the Qataris in recent days or to any of the other two dozen countries you’re mentioning?
MS. PSAKI: The Secretary has been engaged, as was noted in his statement as well. Mr. Curtis, has a strong connection to Massachusetts. The Secretary has been engaged in this, as have as number of other senior U.S. officials.
QUESTION: But he hasn’t in the past week directly implored for help from the Qataris – the Secretary?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have more of that that I can read out for you. If that changes, I’m happy to make that available. But I think it’s safe to say that the Secretary has been personally involved in this, yes.
QUESTION: Do you know whether --
QUESTION: Just one last thing on the ransom issue.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: You said the Qataris didn’t tell the U.S. that they paid a ransom, but the U.S. has ways of gathering information outside of what people tell them. I mean, presumably, the intelligence community would know if a ransom was paid. So does the U.S. know if a benefit was conferred or a ransom was paid?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything more to add on this particular topic.
QUESTION: In terms --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Roz.
QUESTION: In terms of the intelligence benefit, do you know whether he is undergoing extensive interviews by U.S. intelligence in order to get a better sense of what Jabhat al-Nusrah is doing inside Syria, especially given that they had been fighting alongside the Free Syrian Army despite the U.S.’s extreme misgivings about this organization?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, I certainly understand your question. I just am not going to be able to lay out any further detail on the discussions going on with him at this point in time.
QUESTION: Jen, seeing how he was held by Jabhat al-Nusrah, how do you feel this might impact, let’s say, those who are held by ISIS – I mean, this kind of a deal?
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: Are you concerned that actually it may imperil American hostages that are behind held by ISIS at the present time?
MS. PSAKI: I would not state that. I think, Said, it’s important to note here that he is the only – we’re not aware of other Americans behind held by al-Nusrah. Obviously, they’re different organizations, and I think that’s important for everybody to note. Al-Nusrah is still a designated terrorist organization with close ties to al-Qaida. That hasn’t changed. We have – their members have committed many horrific acts of violence against many people and our concerns remain. But again, it’s a different organization, so I would caution anyone from drawing conclusions about what it may or may not mean.
QUESTION: I asked Marie last week on the number of hostages that may be held. Do you have any idea the number of hostages and how many Americans are being held as hostage?
MS. PSAKI: That’s just not something that we outline publicly.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Anne.
QUESTION: Yeah, I’m just slightly confused on the ransom question. The United States did tell Qatar that it was the U.S. preference not to pay ransom, correct?
MS. PSAKI: That has long been our position and long been stated to Qatar, yes.
QUESTION: But in this specific transaction, it was the U.S. telling Qatar, great, go talk to them, do what you can, no ransom. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: That has been consistently our position publicly and privately, yes.
QUESTION: On Syria, today Syrian Foreign Minister Muallim gave a press briefing and said that Syrian Government is open to work with countries such as U.S., Britain, Saudis, against ISIS. Do you have any response to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I would say first that we obviously have taken the threat of ISIL very seriously, as evidenced by the President’s actions and the actions of the U.S. over the last several weeks. But while the Syrian regime may now be bombing ISIL and taking other step with the right hand, it’s helping ISIL’s recruiting with the left hand by refusing to deal with the Syrian people’s legitimate grievances, or to accept any willingness or openness for a real political solution. So I think Marie spoke to this a little bit last week, but in our view, there are multiple challenges and issues on the ground in Syria, and certainly just because the Syrian regime may be taking on ISIL or saying – speaking publicly about that, and certainly the United States is, that certainly doesn’t mean we’re on the same side of the coin here.
QUESTION: Does the United States have permission to act unilaterally? One of the things that the Syrian foreign minister said is that outside of coordination with his country, quote, “anything outside of this is considered aggression.” Will the United States act unilaterally to strike inside Syria?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to get ahead of, obviously, the President’s decision-making, Lucas. But I think when American lives are at stake, when we’re talking about defending our own interests, we’re not looking for the approval of the Syrian regime.
QUESTION: On this subject. Could you step back and describe the nature of the threat from ISIL to the United States directly? And I ask because there seem to be different views within the U.S. Government on this question. There was a joint FBI/DHS bulletin recently that said there’s no evidence of a threat to the homeland, and I’ve heard intelligence officials say – talk about threats to the homeland through west – ISIL fighters with Western passports. Where does the State Department come down on the threat to the U.S., to Europe?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, one, I think ISIL has – itself has said they want to attack the homeland. We take those threats very seriously, and we monitor closely, of course, whether or not ISIL will seek to develop plots aimed at the West beyond the geographic area they’ve been operating in Iraq and Syria. So we’re doing that right now and, of course, that’s ongoing. And we’re actively consulting with counterparts around the world, as you would certainly expect.
But there’s also been a range of comments made outside of the Administration as well, and I think our view is that of particular concern now is the fact that many Westerners and some Americans have gone to Syria or Iraq to fight with ISIL. We’re concerned about the fact that someone with a Western or a U.S. passport might return home and attempt acts of terrorism there. And obviously, that’s something that’s been a big topic of discussion with the UK and other countries as well.
But the bottom line is we need to base our analysis on the facts as they are, and some of the analysis out there appears to not actually be based on information but more in conjecture, which isn’t helpful either. So our view is we need to continue to assess and monitor closely what their capabilities are – we certainly take their threats seriously – but also conjecture and – is not helpful to the cause, either.
Go ahead, Margaret.
QUESTION: Jen, follow on that. For the few Americans who the intelligence community assesses may have joined ISIL or have gone to fight in Syria, has this building revoked their passports?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any – it’s a good question, Margaret. I’m happy to take it and see if there’s more information we can share on that.
QUESTION: Yeah, or if it’s being considered.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. And I think it’s important to – I think this has been out there, but the President is going to be chairing, also, a meeting at the UN Security Council on foreign fighters and the shared concern we have with many of our counterparts around the world, where a range of issues will be discussed. I’m happy to take that and see if there’s more we can share.
QUESTION: Just following on that. I mean, so does ISIL pose the kind of credible threat to the U.S. homeland, say, that AQAP does? It wasn’t clear from your answer whether you – the State Department believes that.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t like to do rankings of terrorist organizations, as you may know. I know there have been comments made about 9/11-style attacks. To date, we’ve not seen them focus on that kind of planning. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to be very mindful that they could quickly aim to pivot to attacks against Western targets outside of the region, and that’s certainly something that we’re monitoring very, very closely.
QUESTION: Jen --
QUESTION: And to follow on Margaret’s question, when you ask about the passport status, can you spell out for us what the criteria are? Does that equate losing one’s citizenship? If you can parse out the legalities of what it means to lose your passport for us, that would be really helpful.
MS. PSAKI: I will see if there’s anything more that we can share. I think you all are aware of the fact that, obviously, we work on this closely with many of our counterparts. There are a limited number, certainly, of U.S. citizens that we would be looking at.
QUESTION: Jennifer, on the --
MS. PSAKI: Go – sorry, on the – (laughter). Why don’t we go to you, and then we’ll go to Said next, and then we’ll go to Scott. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Secretary Hagel last week said that confronting ISIS would be through a regional coalition. Any steps already underway to establish such a coalition? And on what basis such a coalition would be – would coalesce?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President also spoke to this, as well as Secretary Hagel, and I can certainly say that Secretary Kerry agrees that there needs to be a common effort to take on this threat. So that means not just unity within Iraq – among the different parties in Iraq, but it’s also about building and mobilizing a broad coalition of countries – regional states who have no interest in seeing ISIL get a foothold; international partners like the UK – this is working together to determine how we can best address this common threat we face.
QUESTION: But how to do this if Syria is not part of this coalition? As General Dempsey said, that it would do nothing if you don’t address the problem in Syria, too.
MS. PSAKI: Well, are you talking about – so just can you extrapolate or add a little more on your specific question? You’re asking us about working with the regime? Are you asking me about taking on the threat in Syria?
QUESTION: I mean, for the time being, you still consider the regime in place as governing Syria, right?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: So how would you address the ISIS problem in Syria without coordinating with the regime, even if there is a coalition – I mean, in which Syria is not --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I addressed this a little bit earlier, but it’s worth repeating. As we look to possible future military action – I think this is the question that you’re asking – we’re going to do what is necessary to protect Americans. So again, I’m not going to get ahead of decision-making that the President hasn’t made yet or rule any option on or off the table, but we’re not going to be restricted by borders. We’re actively considering what’s going to be necessary to deal with this threat. We’re certainly working with a range of partners in the region as we coordinate those efforts.
QUESTION: Have you already started talking with someone in the region to make this coalition possible, or not yet?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s been an ongoing discussion, and one that I expect will continue and will take some time to put together and to address the threat, certainly.
QUESTION: Jen, now that ISIL has taken over al-Raqqa area completely and they routed out the Syrian forces out of there, that provides like a base – opportunity – a good target opportunity. Now, if the United States decides to, just say, bomb this area, since we know where they are, and the – without coordinating with the Syrians, and then they fire at U.S. airplanes and bring one down – so is that – first of all, do you see this as a likely scenario?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure where you’re going with this, Said.
QUESTION: I’m going with this – that if you don’t coordinate with the Syrians and they look at, let’s say, whatever American assets, including fighter jets, as enemy or as a target and down one, then the situation gets a bit more complicated, doesn’t it?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure that’s a likely scenario, but I – we have some pretty talented military officials over at the Department of Defense that I’m sure would take any factor into account.
QUESTION: On the other hand, if you do coordinate with the Syrians, and then you have both the Syrians and the Americans, in this case, attacking ISIL, that would be like a juggernaut, wouldn’t it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Said, I think I addressed a little bit earlier what our views are on that.
Anne, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, actually, Said asked a version of my question --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- which was: Is there – I mean, is there a scenario here under which the United States would go ahead, should the President decide to do this – using your words, you’re not going to be bound by borders and we would do what was necessary to protect Americans – without any coordination, without any heads-up, without any, at all, signal to the Assad forces that these actions were going to be taken?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just – I understand, certainly, the nature of the question. Obviously, there hasn’t even been a decision made, so I’m just not going to speculate from here on what kind of coordination we would be participating in if we were to decide to take an action.
QUESTION: Is there a third party through which that coordination might take place?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly understand, and if we decide to take an action, we can of course, discuss this. But I’m not going to have much more to add on this particular question today.
Scott, go ahead.
QUESTION: As Marie did last week, you’ve been clear that just because the Syrians and the Americans are both fighting Islamic State, it doesn’t put you on the same page. Plus, you blame President Assad for contributing to the rise of the Islamic State. Given that, is there any concern that in fighting the Islamic State yourself, you almost reward or bail out President Assad for creating what may turn out for him to have been a miscalculation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the way that we are looking at this – the world is a complicated place, certainly, and obviously the strength of ISIL has gained in the past several months, as we’ve all seen and watched closely. And we would be looking at this through the prism of what is in the interest of the United States; how to protect the American people, how to protect American soil; and obviously, decisions that need to be made. Those are the most important factors. And certainly we would not view it as being on the same side just because there is a common enemy.
QUESTION: Can we go to Gaza?
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish this and then we can. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. I have two more on this specific question. One is that – do you have any kind of update regarding Iran’s role in terms of feeding the al-Qaida-affiliated groups and ISIL within Syria?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any particular update, but did you have a question about a specific report or --
QUESTION: Yes. I asked this question last week --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- regarding U.S. Treasury report in February that operatives in Tehran helping fighters and funds to go into Syria, these affiliated groups. But I couldn’t get any kind of clear answer from your department here.
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s why we designated them. But – sorry, what was your specific question about it?
QUESTION: My question is the role of this Iranian Government with this ISIL or other affiliated – al-Qaida-affiliated groups in Syria.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any particular update. Obviously, you’re familiar with the reports and some that we’ve confirmed about Iran’s role in Iraq currently. But beyond that, I don’t have any particular update.
QUESTION: I have one more. Speaking of terrorist organizations, there is PKK and PYD. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and by the EU. But at the same time, they have been fighting against ISIL for number of months now. Do you have any kind of consideration or reconsideration regarding their status as a terrorist organization?
MS. PSAKI: Our position on their status as a foreign terrorist organization hasn’t changed. As you know, we release a country report on terrorism every year. A review of FTO designation is conducted every five years, as required by statute. If circumstances warrant, an FTO designation can be reviewed before five-year review is required, but I don’t have any particular updates or anything to read out for you in this case.
QUESTION: Jen, do you have any updates on support to the moderate Syrian opposition that may or may not have been expedited by the United States Government in light of this threat? Marie talked about the FSA as a partner to the U.S. I’m wondering how we’re helping out our partner.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think beyond what we’ve announced over the course of the last several months, we’re waiting for Congress to take action. Obviously, they’re adjourned at this point in time. I can see if there are any other updates beyond that and beyond the announcements that you know we have made.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary reached out to the new head who has replaced al-Jarba as head of the SOC?
MS. PSAKI: I can check and see if they’ve had contact or when their last contact was. I mean, it’s been some time now, but I can see if there’s any update on that.
QUESTION: Back to --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
QUESTION: Back to ISIL. There’s a hacker group that’s calling itself Lizard Squad. They took down a number of online gaming networks, and they caused an American Airlines plane to be diverted yesterday. They say that they’re doing what they’re doing in the name of ISIS. Is this something that the State Department is concerned about, or do they believe – do you believe that there’s any actual credible link between them and ISIS, or are they more just interested in their cause?
MS. PSAKI: It sounds like a very interesting report that I have not read yet, so let me check and see. And so your question is whether we think there’s a legitimate connection between ISIL and this --
QUESTION: This Lizard Squad.
MS. PSAKI: The Lizard Squad.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Noted. We will check and see if we can get you something after the briefing.
Nicolas. And then – go ahead.
QUESTION: One more on Syria.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Given the fact that the U.S. and Syria have still diplomatic relationship, do you have recently – did you have any contact with the Syrian regime, and is the Secretary prepared to talk to his Syrian counterpart?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve long had that ability and have been in contact in the past, as you know. I don’t have anything to read out for you or predict for you. I can check along with Margaret’s question and see if there’s anything to add on that front, but not that I’m aware of.
And I think it’s important that – to note here that this – the shared concern about ISIL does not indicate a change in our view and concerns about the Assad regime and the horrific acts that they have done against their own people.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. verified or disproven Iran’s claim that it shot down a drone over its territory?
MS. PSAKI: Let me see if I have anything on that. I’m not sure I do. I don’t have anything to update you on that front. My apologies.
Should we go to a new topic?
MS. PSAKI: Gaza, sure, and --
MS. PSAKI: Gaza then China, does that work?
QUESTION: I want to go to Ukraine as well.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, no problem. We’ll do all of them. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Very quickly, on Friday, there were – hopes were up that we were heading towards some sort of an international effort for – to broker a ceasefire. The EU, United – I mean, the United Kingdom and France and Germany and was possibly the United States with possible U.S. involvement. But these hopes were dashed, I guess, by this morning, and can you tell us if there is any effort by the Secretary of State or by the United States to actually bring about a ceasefire?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. One, let me say that the Secretary has remained engaged with the Israelis, the Palestinians, with a range of countries that have a stake in seeing a peaceful outcome. That has been the case over the course of the last several days and he spent quite a few hours on the phone working on this particular issue. In addition, we’ve also been working with our counterparts from the Arab world and Europeans as well in the UN, working through the UN Security Council to see if there’s a process that can be taken in conjunction with efforts that the Egyptians are leading on the ground to bring about an end to a ceasefire as well.
So we remain very closely engaged in this. The Secretary does, Frank Lowenstein does, a range of important and high-level officials here at the State Department and around the Administration.
QUESTION: So you’re saying that there is an ongoing effort outside the Egyptian negotiations or the Cairo negotiations for a ceasefire?
MS. PSAKI: No, I was not saying that. I was saying that we remain closely engaged with both parties as well as the Egyptians. Egyptians count as a counterpart that has a stake in the outcome. They’ve obviously been leading this effort on the ground. The UN effort would be complementary of that, but we’ve certainly been working with our partners in the Arab world and as well as Europeans on that as well at the same time.
QUESTION: Mahmoud Abbas today said – the Palestinian Authority president said today that if the Cairo talks fail, which is like – he gave, like, a couple days – then they will go to the United Nations and they would actually seek some sort of a timetable to end the occupation. Would you be supportive of that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think we believe – we support President Abbas’s objective to achieve a two-state solution, but we believe that if the Palestinians resort to the ICC, it will badly damage the atmosphere with the very people with whom they ultimately need to make peace. And so our focus remains on achieving a sustainable ceasefire, not by resorting to unilateral actions in international fora. And that’s why we remain focused on the efforts the Egyptians are leading and also working with our counterparts in the UN.
QUESTION: The Israeli raids seem to be intensifying with every passing day rather than ebbing, so to speak. They’re not abating. And as a result, you have – I mean, a very badly deteriorating humanitarian situation, apartment buildings being blown out to smithereen, people are not – or kids are not able to go to school on time and so on. Are you concerned that the situation may actually even get worse than it is today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly that’s our hope that it doesn’t. We remain very focused on this because we believe that ending the violence now, bringing about a sustainable ceasefire, will of course bring an end to the civilian casualties, bring an end to the fear that many people in the region live under. So certainly, we’re aware. We all watch the news reports. We talk to counterparts in the region about what’s happening on the ground. And that’s why the Secretary has logged several hours, why we’ve had officials in the region working closely on these issues with their counterparts as well.
QUESTION: Uh-huh. Yeah, China.
MS. PSAKI: China, okay.
QUESTION: On Chinese fighter jet encounter, as you know, J-11B, which is a Chinese jet fighter, intercept U.S. Navy plane Poseidon in South China Sea. I forgot the date, but --
MS. PSAKI: I think it may have been Thursday or Friday.
MS. PSAKI: Friday.
QUESTION: Okay. And the United States has raised its concern very strongly through diplomatic channel with Chinese. Could you explain in more detail what kind of language did you – did the United States raise a concern to the Chinese official?
MS. PSAKI: What kind of language?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we raised – both State and Department of Defense officials both expressed strong concern to the Chinese about the unsafe and unprofessional intercept last week which posed a risk to the safety and well-being of the air crews and was inconsistent with customary international law. We again, as I noted, have relayed that through multiple channels and certainly strongly, given the level of our concern. I also think my counterpart over at DOD also spoke to this, and certainly, they would be the appropriate entity to read it out further.
QUESTION: And as we know well, the Chinese official denied – they said the United – U.S. aircraft intercepted. How do you respond this?
MS. PSAKI: I would think I would stand by the concerns we expressed and the statements made by my DOD counterpart.
QUESTION: And at the same time – one more thing (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: According to the Pentagon official, they said this is not a first thing, first time, but same kind of dangerous situation has occurred from March to May. So – but did United States make concern known to China at that time, before this time?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve spoke to when we’ve addressed – when we have expressed concerns, whether it was the ADIZ – obviously that’s a slightly different issue, but – about actions that China is taking. We express those to them through diplomatic channels and also publicly when we have them.
QUESTION: So United States raise the concern before March or May or April at that time?
MS. PSAKI: No, I was – broadly speaking, there have been incidents, which I think my colleague was speaking to, not maybe identical to this, but that we have addressed and raised in the past about the importance of safety and security and – with the Chinese, and actions they’ve taken. And so we’ve raised them directly and we’ve spoken about them publicly on those occasions. I don’t have any other expressions of concern to read out for you.
Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: Jen, how can you justify the U.S. action like this is not provocative to Chinese?
MS. PSAKI: Which specific action?
QUESTION: This specific in-close reconnaissance is not provocative to Chinese?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think our concern was about the Chinese intercept and how it closely flew to our aircraft. So I’m not sure how that’s provocative on our part, but maybe you can explain further.
QUESTION: Yeah. As you said, this is a routine patrol or – but as – in China’s view, this is in-close reconnaissance, which is to spy Chinese maybe submarine or other military activities. So how can you justify this kind of routine patrol is not provocative to the Chinese side?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we viewed it as routine, and that’s why we expressed the concern.
QUESTION: And the similar actions like this patrol or your military in close surveillance activities, why this kind of activities is constructive to the U.S.-China military relation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important to note that obviously we work with China on a range of issues. And the Secretary was there just a couple of months ago having the S&ED meetings and talking about security issues and working together on them. When there are concerns, we express them. And that’s a sign of strength in a relationship. And here there was one by our military counterparts over at the Department of Defense. We express that through both State and DOD channels. It doesn’t mean that we don’t still work with China on a range of issues. We will continue to.
QUESTION: But how can these kind of actions help the trust, to build the trust between the two countries?
MS. PSAKI: The kind of action --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not sure what you’re referring to.
QUESTION: I’m referring to this in-close plane reconnaissance or surveillance in South China Sea which is like around 200 miles close to Chinese territory.
MS. PSAKI: I just am not going to speak to that. I will just convey that obviously this was specific case where we had concerns about a step that was taken by China. We expressed them. It doesn’t mean we can’t move on with our relationship. We will, we do, and we have a range of issues we’ll continue to work on together on.
QUESTION: Will this incident change your plan or your military actions in that area in the future?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to my defense colleagues. Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: Is it the U.S. position because this is international water, so the U.S. surveillance is not any – violate the international law?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more to outline for you on this particular topic. But go ahead, Elliot.
QUESTION: I wanted to go to a different topic, if anyone had more.
QUESTION: Yeah, Ukraine. On the convoys.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: First, the one that had gone over the border and had returned. Do you have any information on if that was actually, in fact, aid, as the Russians claimed, or if there was any arms or any other kind of contraband being smuggled in?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t know what Russia brought into Ukraine, who it went to, and what Russia took out of Ukraine. We do know that Russia sent in a convoy of well over 200 trucks without the permission of the Ukrainian Government. We also know that Russia continues to fuel the conflict with weapons, training personnel, and material. It’s also not clear that all the trucks and drivers departed. But in terms of those – that level of specificity, we don’t have that at this point in time.
QUESTION: Okay. And then Foreign Minister Lavrov has announced that a second aid convoy would be heading to Ukraine in the coming days. Given what’s happened over the weekend, do you have any – what’s your position on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are certainly concerned about Russian plans for a second aid convoy. Any new mission done without the explicit permission of Ukraine would not – be yet another provocative measure that would only escalate a situation President Putin claims he wants to resolve. So you can’t say one thing and do another and expect the international community to believe that there is legitimate or credible intention behind your words. So in this case, certainly we’d be concerned about a second action. I know that in the statements we put out last week about the first convoy, we expressed the plans for consequences and, obviously, those discussions continue to be ongoing.
QUESTION: Related to Russia, actually, the Government of Japan confirmed today that Prime Minister Abe is set to meet with President Putin sometime this fall. Does the U.S. State Department have any objections to that meeting?
MS. PSAKI: I would not say that we have any objections. We are in frequent contact with the Government of Japan, as well as our other G-7 partners, and we’re cooperating closely with them. I think, beyond that, I would refer you to the Government of Japan. I think they just announced this today about his plans for the meeting and intentions and goals for it as well.
QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on --
QUESTION: Yeah, on the convoy.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Now, they were held up at the border for about two weeks – I don’t know how long, maybe that long – and the Russians are accusing the Ukrainians of stalling, that they actually – they only inspected something like 34 trucks or 25 trucks, whatever it is, from the 200, and then they finally pushed through. So if there is some sort of an international body that can inspect these trucks, can see what – will they be allowed in, accompanied by the Red Cross?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – Said, I mean, we’ve consistently said that assistance needs to be coordinated and delivered with the permission of the Ukrainian Government. Obviously, that wasn’t the case here. So I’m not going to speculate on what future steps are. Certainly, humanitarian assistance and – of aid is something we strongly support, but the context here and the owners of this assistance is incredibly important, given that this is a country that has continued to assist the separatists with the flow of weapons, with financing, with personnel, with material, and I think that context is one of the big reasons that gives us strong concern here, and certainly gives the Ukrainians concern.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. So you would – you would accept the Ukrainians taking the trucks and taking it to that area of conflict that is not under their control?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think any assistance needs to be coordinated through the Red Cross, with the support of the Ukrainian Government. I’m not going to outline from here for you what those circumstances, what those conditions would be.
Go ahead, Scott.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Congressman Jim McGovern was denied entry to Bahrain late last week as part of a trip with Human Rights First. That obviously follows closely Mr. Malinowski’s issues there, so do you have a view on that? Have you communicated with the government in Bahrain? Was the State Department involved in making the Congressman’s – or helping arrange his travel?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have raised this issue with the Government of Bahrain. For the specific details, I’d certainly refer you to Congressman McGovern’s office. I believe they’ve been engaging with reporters on this.
Our view is that the Government of Bahrain has much to do in order to meet its own commitments to reform. It’s unfortunate that they have not taken advantage of opportunities to hear from outside observers. There are steps that the government has taken in the right direction, including establishing an ombudsman office in the ministry of interior, reestablishing the national institution on human rights, rescinding the national security agency’s arrest capabilities, training police on human rights standards.
But there are still remaining concerns we have: lack of accountability, for instance, of abuse by security forces; ongoing harassment and imprisonment of persons exercising their rights of freedom of expression; continuing reports of ill-treatment and torture in detention facilities. And obviously, there’s more that they can do to show the international community that they want to keep taking steps forward when it comes to reform.
On Assistant Secretary Malinowski, he has received an invitation to return to Bahrain. There’s a trip that’s currently being planned. I don’t have details on that yet at this point in time.
QUESTION: Is it your view that some of those steps that Bahrain could make that would be useful would be allowing members of Congress, like Representative McGovern, to visit and meet with the civil society groups that he and the Human Rights First delegation were planning --
MS. PSAKI: Certainly allowing international observers in to see some of the progress that’s been made, and certainly have discussed their plans for reform as an important component of what they can do to show the international community that they are serious about moving forward. I don’t have all of the circumstances of Congressman McGovern’s trip and how far down the line it was planned, and so I would encourage you to ask them about those specifics.
QUESTION: Are you upset that a small country that the United States basically protects and keeps a huge naval base in their country and gives it cover – that actually it can snub or thumb its nose at the United States, especially not allowing members of Congress or other people to go in and look at and meet with whomever they want to meet?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think we expressed clearly at the time when Assistant Secretary Malinowski returned what our views were on that. We’ve – we’ll have those conversations through private diplomatic channels. He has been invited to – back to visit the country. We’ll plan a trip for him to do that. And beyond that, they remain an important partner. Doesn’t mean we don’t have concerns, as I’ve just expressed, where they need to take more steps to put more reforms in place.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any updates. Obviously, our UK partners would, of course, be the appropriate entity that would probably speak to that. I’m sure you saw this yesterday, that the ambassador did speak yesterday about these efforts. But we’re not exactly – we’re not in a position yet to say exactly who the man in the video is yet. We’re actively, of course, working with our British counterparts on that.
QUESTION: Do you have a pretty good feeling that the killer has been identified?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not in a position to lay out any more details for you.
Nicolas, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: When you said today that you are not aware of other Americans held by al-Nusrah Front – so it mean that – I mean, it could be – I mean, there could be Americans held by ISIS or the Syrian regime, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. So do you have any update on the – Mr. Tice?
MS. PSAKI: I do not have an update on him. Obviously, his safety, well-being – his return to his family is at the top of our minds, and it’s a case that we continue to work on, just as we have been working on many of these other cases over the course of the last couple of years. And when I mentioned the outreach the Secretary and other senior members of the Administration have done to about two dozen countries, that has included questions about assistance and seeking the return of all of the Americans who are being held in Syria.
QUESTION: Jen, does the freeing Mr. Curtis change your view of al-Nusrah?
MS. PSAKI: I think --
QUESTION: I mean, there are – ISIL kills hostages, Nusrah doesn’t; Nusrah frees them, or --
MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) That was like – it was multimedia going on at one point.
I – al-Nusrah remains a designated foreign terrorist organization. They have been guilty of horrific acts against a range of individuals. Our concerns about that have not changed. They’re a different organization than ISIL, and the reason it’s important to point that out – one of the reasons, I should say – is that there aren’t other Americans that we’re aware of that are being held by al-Nusrah. So we wanted to make sure that point was made.
QUESTION: Yes, but does this change your perception of it? Would you be more sensitive to the --
MS. PSAKI: I think I just stated they’re a foreign terrorist organization and we have remaining concerns about the horrific actions that they’ve taken.
Ali, go ahead.
QUESTION: Quick question on a much lighter note.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: The British Embassy in the U.S. apologized over Twitter for its tweet sort of commemorating the 200th anniversary of the burning of the White House. I just wanted to know if the State Department accepts its apology and if you have any further comment on it.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would note a couple of things. One, this was a lighthearted get-together. We have an important and abiding relationship with the United Kingdom. Perhaps those who were concerned about it didn’t understand British humor, which, I think, is what they have stated. But I certainly don’t – we don’t take any offense to it. And I would also note that the President himself has made lighthearted comments about the War of 1812 – little do we discuss that in here; that’s too bad – and the progress of the relationship since then.
QUESTION: Which happened in 1814.
QUESTION: Jen, could I just go back to the --
MS. PSAKI: There you go. Oh look, Said the historian.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: There are some reports that are citing officials who are concerned that the pilots involved in these kinds of incidents may be “going rogue” or may not be under the control of their commanders. Is that a concern that you’re aware of?
MS. PSAKI: Elliot, I’d point you to the Department of Defense or other Administration officials on that. I can check if there’s more we can say on that. That’s not a concern I’ve been made aware of.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just to clarify on an earlier question, the – in response to the Chinese statement that these kinds of incidents are being caused by excessive U.S. surveillance flights in the region, what would be your direct response to that?
MS. PSAKI: I would say that we would disagree with that. We operate in a transparent manner and we make other countries, including China, aware of our plans. This was a case where we were concerned about, as my colleagues at the Department of Defense outlined, the proximity and the lack of transparency that took place in this case, and that’s why we expressed concerns through multiple channels.
QUESTION: When you say made them aware of their – your plans, are you – do you notify the Chinese when you plan specific surveillance flights or --
MS. PSAKI: I was referring, broadly speaking, to our engagement in the zone, in the air zone.
QUESTION: Okay. Fair enough.
QUESTION: So does this actually include it? Does this actually include it? Have you notified China?
MS. PSAKI: I am just not going to have any more details on this particular topic.
QUESTION: And finally --
MS. PSAKI: We’re going to move on. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask if you notified the identified --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more. If there’s more to share with all of you, I will make it available.
QUESTION: Just one more.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Is it okay if China send their fighter jets to Hawaii transparently? Is that okay with you?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speculate on steps that are taken. This was a specific incident we expressed concerns about. We expressed them directly to the Chinese. I think I’m going to leave it at that.
Go ahead in the back.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Last Saturday, there was a rally against Futenma relocation in front of Marine Corps air base Camp Schwab. And three dozen people, including local mayor, attended the rally, and they actually plan to do bigger one and consistently later. Then on the other hand, there was a latest poll by local newspaper and TV, and that says 80 percent of the people in Okinawa opposed to the current relocation plan, and 15 percent support. So – and then actually, this increased seven point since the Government of Japan started the (inaudible) survey toward the construction.
So my questions are: How do your respond to these polls or, like, movement? And another question is: So I understand that the State Department already said it is pleased that the survey has started, but so – but I’m wondering if the new – I mean, the FRF – Futenma replacement facility – will be constructed. Do you think it is going to be politically sustainable in local?
MS. PSAKI: Well, my colleagues at the Department of Defense really have the lead on this, but the progress that’s been made is really the result of meaningful, sustained work between the United States and Japan. The relocation, as you know from the history, was done – there are steps that will be beneficial, including reducing our footprint in the most populated part of Okinawa, enabling the return of significant land back to the people of Okinawa, while sustaining U.S. military capabilities vital to the alliance.
So those are, of course, some of the reasons I’m sure that you’re familiar with. In terms of the politics in Japan, I’m going to let the Government of Japan speak to that. I’m not going to speculate on that.
QUESTION: Just going back --
MS. PSAKI: Lucas, go ahead.
QUESTION: -- to Libya real quick.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Since the briefing started, sources have confirmed that the UAE was involved in the airstrikes in Libya, and I was just going to ask: Do you support those kind of strikes against Islamist militants in Libya?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to have anything more to add on this particular topic.
QUESTION: Yeah. But is there any difference in the UAE striking Islamist militants in Libya and the United States, for example, attacking Taliban forces in Afghanistan?
MS. PSAKI: Every circumstance is different, Lucas. If there’s more to say on this, we will make it available to all of you.
QUESTION: Very quickly, how do you sort out through who’s who in Libya? Because apparently, some reports are saying that Qatar is actually bombing certain people and then UAE is bombing opposites and so on. How do you sort out through all this?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not in a position to lay out any more details for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Do we have any? Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: Still staying on Libya, has anyone in the Administration been in touch with General Hiftar in connection with the airstrikes that have been taking place?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:05 p.m.)
DPB # 147