1:40 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
So I just have two items for all of you at the top. On September 4th and 5th, so next week, Secretary Kerry will accompany President Obama during his visit to Wales to participate in the summit meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, otherwise known more shortly as NATO. While in Wales, Secretary Kerry will meet with several foreign counterparts to discuss regional issues, including the United States ongoing efforts to support the Iraqi Government and the threat posed by ISIL, as well as attend meetings with President Obama.
I also just want to say a few words about Terri Sutton. I think many of you know her, because she is at the front desk in the Press Office, making all of us laugh every day. She has been – she is retiring after 42 years in the U.S. Government. I know, amazing – a lot of public service. She first began working for the State Department in 1987 at the U.S. Embassy Manila, and later for the Bureau of Personnel and the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs. Terri joined the Press Office in 1999 and over the years has become a Press Office institution. She guided – she has guided, including myself, seven different spokespeople and countless Press Office directors, and we’ll also remember her for, of course, her sense of humor, as I mentioned, but also her dedication to the mission of the Press Office and the State Department, and for her enduring compassion for all of the people who work in it. So we’ll miss her, and I just wanted to note that at the top.
QUESTION: Can I --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can I just note that --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- just on behalf of the press corps, I would like to thank Terri for her humor, kindness, formidable efficiency – (laughter) – calm under and grace under pressure, and great good nature. She’s helped me out personally zillions of times. I think she’s probably done it for everybody else in this room when they have gone to renew their passes or tried to get a pass, and she did it with just – with grace and good humor. She’s also totally unfazed by the grandees of the Department. Once, Colin Powell marched into that office and afterwards told the spokesman at the time, Richard Boucher – he said, “Yeah, I met this woman. She was just really impressive” – (laughter) – “totally unfazed,” and it was, of course, Terri.
She also used to chat in Vietnamese, if I’m not mistaken, with Richard Armitage, who was a man who could intimidate anybody. Anyway – so she’s been wonderful, and on behalf of everybody, I’d like to say thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s very kind of you. (Applause.) And for the purposes of the transcript, there’s applause – unanimous consent, as we like to say in Washington.
Go ahead, Brad.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Yesterday, you decried what you said were incursions and for all intents and purposes an apparent invasion. That looks all too real today, and the action has gotten much more serious, with direct contact between Russian and Ukrainian forces. What are you going to do about it? Because you didn’t really outline anything specific you were going to do yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that what we’re seeing, not just over the last couple of days but certainly weeks and even months, is a pattern of escalating aggression in Ukraine from the Russians and Russian-backed separatists. And it’s clear that Russia has not only stepped up its presence in eastern Ukraine and intervened directly with combat forces – armored vehicles, artillery, and surface-to-air systems – and is actively fighting Ukrainian forces as well as playing a direct supporting role to the separatist proxies and mercenaries. I know you’re aware of that, but I wanted to repeat it.
In terms of what we are considering, we have a range of tools at our disposal. There are ongoing discussions within the Administration. There are – there was an emergency meeting of the OSCE in Vienna today, and the UN Security Council will meet this afternoon in New York. So there are several different channels, all of which the United States is engaged with, that are having discussions about what the options are. We have, of course, put in place a range of sanctions that have had a significant economic impact in Russia. We have additional tools and sanctions that we could certainly choose to put in place. Next week is an opportunity, of course, to discuss this with – at NATO, which I just announced the Secretary will, of course, be attending. It’s not until then. I expect if the Secretary is asked or if it is useful for him to make calls, he will certainly do that through the course of the weekend as well.
QUESTION: Can – among the options, one that this Administration hasn’t entertained yet or hasn’t done yet has been military aid to Ukraine. Is that something you’re willing to consider now that Russia has escalated it this far?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our focus remains on nonlethal assistance. We have provided a range of nonlethal assistance, as has a number of other countries in Europe. We have not ruled out options. Obviously, there are a range of requests that we have and that the National Security Council team can certainly consider, but I have no updates or predictions for you at this point in time.
QUESTION: And then another thing that the foreign minister said today was he asked that Russian assets – it sounded all or almost all – be frozen. Is that something you’re looking at among the range of options you’d consider?
MS. PSAKI: Well, when an – without knowing the specifics – I saw his comments, but without knowing the specifics of his plan or his ask, I should say, I would note that we have frozen some assets. Obviously, when an individual is put on a sanctions list, that’s part of what happens, right? Depends on the specific case. Beyond that, the discussions we’re having are, of course, not only with – through the OSCE and through the UN and through many of our partners around the world, but also with the Ukrainians about what the most effective steps are. So we’ve seen those comments. I don’t have additional details, so I don’t have any analysis for you.
QUESTION: And I’ll just ask one more.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. And then I’ll go to you, Arshad. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Given that yesterday, I think, you said that – we’re basically talking about the same range of options we were several months ago, maybe in different form or in more heightened state, what efficacy have these brought so far? You’ve talked about economic impact, but nothing seems to be changing Putin’s behavior. So what would you hope to accomplish?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Brad, as we’ve increased our sanctions, both the United States and European sanctions, we’ve seen an increasing impact on the Russian economy. And that’s been on not only the exit of capital flow; it’s been on the growth projections. And this is something that could deeply impact the people of Russia. That is certainly not our goal or intention, but President Putin has a choice to make about whether he cares about the economic impact on his people or not. And what we’re seeing – the point I’m making is that these – the impacts have been escalating and increasing, as we have increased them as well. That’s why we continue to do more and why we’re considering doing more.
QUESTION: But just – the people of Ukraine don’t want Vladimir Putin to have a choice. The choice as you’re presenting it is: He can carve up Ukraine and suffer an economic cost, or he could not carve up Ukraine and not suffer that economic cost.
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: But other countries around the world don’t get that choice, that – they don’t have the right to conquer countries at a cost. I mean --
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: -- why haven’t you posed it differently?
MS. PSAKI: To be clear, what I mean by choice is President Putin can determine – could decide, and the Russians could decide to follow their words with actions and work with the Ukrainians to put in place a ceasefire, to take steps to pull back the separatists, to take steps to bring back the military equipment and individuals. That’s a choice they have. If they take that choice, obviously, that would impact the actions that we take and that the Europeans take as well.
QUESTION: But here’s the thing: You talked about how the United States and its partners have imposed escalating sanctions on Russia and how these have increasingly had an impact on capital flight and growth projections and so on. At the same time, you point out that you have seen a pattern of escalating aggression on the part of Russia in Ukraine. So it seems clear that your economic sanctions policy, whatever it may have – impact it may have had on the economy has not had any impact on Russia’s thinking. If anything, by your own words, they have escalated their aggression over time.
What makes you think that any level of economic sanctions is going to get Russia to change its mind on invading and supporting separatists in Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, it’s hard for us to predict what President Putin will do. And I know you’re not asking me to do that, but I think the challenge – or I think one of the factors here is certainly how these sanctions impact the Russian people and impact the economy in Russia and impact how businesses are functioning. And certainly, our preference is not to continue to escalate sanctions. Our preference is for Russia and President Putin to make a decision about pulling back and de-escalating. So again, as this increases, becomes more and more of a significant choice that President Putin has to make about whether the future and the impact on his own country is more important than his desire to take escalatory actions into Ukraine.
QUESTION: But given that it hasn’t worked so far, why should it work in the future?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Arshad, as you’ve seen, there have been times where there has been some engagement, there has been some pullback, there has been ups and downs in this process, what we’ve seen. There’s been an escalatory – escalatory actions that have certainly grown over time, as you referenced.
QUESTION: But you said --
MS. PSAKI: And I said, and I said as well. We think that this is the most effective tool, the best tool. A military solution is not what we think is the appropriate approach, and so we’re taking every tool we can to see if we can reach a conclusion here through diplomatic means.
QUESTION: So you said – sorry, just a couple more on this – you said that the NATO summit in Wales would provide an occasion to discuss this issue.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And I think German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that the Europeans plan to discuss the possibility of additional sanctions. Is it reasonable, then, to assume that the United States will not impose any additional sanctions until it’s consulted next week with its partners at the NATO meeting?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to make a prediction. Obviously, we have that ability to. We’ve done it in lockstep with the Europeans at every point in this process, and I expect that will continue. That doesn’t mean it’s taken place on the exact same day or in the exact same form, but I don’t have any predictions for you on the timing of any additional sanctions or if there will be additional sanctions.
QUESTION: And if Russia’s – yesterday you used the word “incursions,” but I think even a NATO spokesman is quoted today as saying that they estimate that there are a thousand Russian military personnel operating in eastern Ukraine now. I mean, is there nothing more the West can do beyond economic sanctions that so far have been completely ineffective to try to prevent one country from invading and destabilizing another?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, we have a range of tools at our disposal. I think beyond the economic sanctions we’ve also provided a great deal of nonlethal assistance that has included some equipment that’s been helpful as well to the Ukrainians. We’ve also been working closely with them on the political front. We’ve been engaged with our European partners on that effort. So it hasn’t been one step or one lever we’ve been pulling; we’ve been working on several different tracks.
QUESTION: Why shouldn’t the Russians conclude that since you’re clearly not willing to do anything militarily to try to stop this and you’re not even willing to arm with lethal assistance the Ukrainians, that they can essentially continue to destabilize eastern Ukraine with impunity, just as they invaded and subsequently annexed Crimea and that there is no significant short, medium, or long-term effect on them?
MS. PSAKI: The United States and the international community has been clear through actions that we will not hold back in putting place punitive measures that we do feel will have an impact over the long term. And we’ve seen some impacts over the course – not just economic impacts at time, but impacts in behavior at times as well. Now obviously, this is not going to be resolved until Russia pulls back their presence, until separatists pull back, until arms are no longer going into Ukraine. But we’re going to take a range of steps. We’re continuing to work at this. This will be a discussion with the international community. But it hasn’t changed the fact that our preference in our priority and our focus is on nonlethal assistance and is on a diplomatic path forward.
QUESTION: Jen --
QUESTION: What is the size of the invasion force? Do you know? Do you have any idea of the size of the invasion force? Because somebody was saying like there were four or eight armored personnel carriers and so on, but maybe you have a better idea.
MS. PSAKI: There have been a range of numbers out there of – and different numbers out there. I don’t have anything to confirm for you.
QUESTION: But it’s not a massive invasion. I mean, it’s not of the size of a division or something like this.
MS. PSAKI: There are many ways to define that, Said. I would just say there are a range of numbers out there. I don’t have anything new from the United States specifically to confirm for you.
QUESTION: And I have just a quick follow-up on the military assistance. Do you know if Ukraine’s armament, are they strictly Russian or locally produced? Or do they get any kind of military aid from other countries in Western Europe?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an accounting of their military equipment. I would point you to them to ask them that.
QUESTION: Like saying if you start supplying them with Western arms or American arms, they would probably need a great deal of training, wouldn’t they?
MS. PSAKI: Well, any time, broadly speaking, that you – it depends on what the equipment is and what the – any country has and what it’s required. You know with Iraq, they’re specific.
MS. PSAKI: But again, I’m not going to get into a hypothetical because that isn’t a decision that’s been made.
Roz, did you have a question?
QUESTION: Yeah. I wanted to talk about military options, since you said that nothing has been taken off the table. Given that Ukraine is not a member of NATO, what is the U.S.’s security relationship with Ukraine? Is there a security agreement between the two countries? Mutual defense? What’s the status, the legal status of the U.S.’s obligation to Ukraine? Are you able to say?
MS. PSAKI: I really would point you to the Department of Defense. Obviously, they’re not a NATO ally. We have been clearly very supportive of their efforts, been helping them in a range of manners that I have just outlined for all of you. But Article 5, of course, applies to NATO allies, of which they’re not one.
That being said, that doesn’t mean that we only support countries who are NATO allies. It doesn’t mean we only support countries where we have an exact specific international obligation to. So I don’t have any legal definition for you, but I think our – the range of assistance we’ve provided speaks to our commitment to the future of Ukraine.
QUESTION: Does the fact that there is no bilateral security agreement restrict necessarily what the U.S. Government can do?
MS. PSAKI: I’d – Roz, for legal questions on military assistance, I’d point you to the Department of Defense.
QUESTION: You have given Ukraine security assurances in the past. When they gave up their nuclear weapons in the 1990s --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- and their nuclear material, you talked about, in a document that was legally binding, ensuring their territorial and security integrity.
MS. PSAKI: Yes, we have.
QUESTION: But --
QUESTION: So how do you put that into practice?
QUESTION: -- right now it’s not happening. I mean, their territory has been clearly violated and they’re losing territory control, both politically and militarily.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the steps Russia has taken – I don’t think we’ve held our fire on our concerns about that, nor have we held back on providing assistance in a range of capacities to Ukraine. There’s not a new – I’m, of course, familiar with the history. But to Roz’s question, there’s not a new military arrangement; you’d be aware of that, certainly. But for any legal historical questions on military assistance, I’d point you to the Department of Defense.
QUESTION: But there is an implied promise under those guarantees after Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal. What is the U.S. required to do?
MS. PSAKI: Again, Roz, I don’t think I’m going to have more for you on this.
Do we have any more on Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: From the podium, you’ve referred to Russia’s actions as a direct intervention. Yesterday, you called it an incursion, but Ukraine is already calling it an invasion. So why haven’t you referred to it as an invasion?
MS. PSAKI: Well Ali, I think our focus is more on what Russia is doing, what we’re going to do about it than what we’re calling it. What they’re doing is an incursion, as you said. It’s a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. It is an issue that regardless of what it’s called, Russia’s actions need to stop. There’s not a legal – there’s no new set of obligations based on that kind of terminology. So we’re just more focused on what they’re doing and what we’re going to do about it.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just following up on what Arshad mentioned, the fact that NATO has identified a thousand Russian troops, is it correct that the United States does not agree with that assessment right now of that number of troops?
MS. PSAKI: We have no reason to doubt their assessment. We just don’t have any independent confirmation or additional details from here.
QUESTION: A few moments ago, you indicated that the United States and its European allies are awaiting a choice by Mr. Putin – a better choice. I wonder if, from where you sit, this insertion of combat forces, surface-to-air missile systems, artillery batteries and the like doesn’t, in fact, constitute Mr. Putin’s choice. Hasn’t he made his choice, in effect?
MS. PSAKI: Well, at no point have we been “awaiting a choice.” There’s always been a choice and an off ramp that has existed from the beginning of this conflict. So certainly, as I’ve noted a couple of times, we are concerned about the pattern of escalating aggression that we’ve seen not just over the past couple of days but weeks and months. This is not a new pattern of behavior, I think is the important point here.
So it’s not – and again, because there’s ongoing discussions in the Administration and with our NATO partners and with the UN and with the OSCE, it’s clear no one’s waiting to have discussions, but there’s long been an off ramp that President Putin could choose.
QUESTION: Since you have been saying for several months that Mr. Putin and the Russian Federation will be made to absorb greater costs if they continue to escalate the situation, and since you have identified a steady pattern of escalation, and since the forms of escalation haven’t themselves been novel but rather within the range you might have expected, why isn’t – why isn’t that you cannot very swiftly begin imposing those costs now that he has continued to escalate the situation in your view?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve imposed a range of costs over the course of the last several months. We at first did individual sanctions, we did visa bans, we escalated it and did increased sanctions in the form of targeted banks and different companies that would impact Russia in a more significant way, and we worked with our European partners. Those are all being implemented. So our consequences and costs have increased over the course of time, just as theirs have.
QUESTION: But now that we have seen a marked escalation from where you sit in the form of infiltration of combat forces, military systems, and direct fighting by the Russian forces inside the territory of Ukraine, that, it would seem, marks a significant new escalation of the kind that you have been vowing for months now to punish with swift, harsher costs. Why are those costs not immediately deployed?
MS. PSAKI: Well, James, I think factually I think it’s important to remember that we’ve had concerns for weeks now about Russia’s crossing over the border, about the provisions and assistance that they’ve been providing to the separatists.
QUESTION: That speaks to my point then. You’ve had weeks then to --
MS. PSAKI: And --
QUESTION: -- inflict these added costs.
MS. PSAKI: And we’ve put in place sanctions and additional sanctions and increased that over the course of time. That discussion is constantly ongoing not only within the Administration, but as you know, the UN has a meeting this afternoon. There was an emergency OSCE meeting. This will be discussed through international fora as well. So I don’t have anything to predict for you, but these discussions are ongoing and these emergency meetings are being pulled together in part because of the range of actions that are being take – or taking place.
QUESTION: Two final questions. You’ve been very kind. Insofar as the U.S. seems to imply that the imposition of costs could become so great at some point that Mr. Putin will be compelled or feel compelled to make a different set of choices, it would seem that the United States regards Vladimir Putin as a rational actor on the world stage, one that can be directed to make certain rational choices in response to external stimuli. Is that so? Do we regard Vladimir Putin as a rational actor on the world stage?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I welcome and appreciate the opportunity to give further definitions to Mr. Putin, but I’m not going to bite that – bite that. But I will say that President Putin is somebody who’s clearly made choices that are illegal, that are escalatory, that are against the international accepted approach to dealing with your neighbors, and that’s why we have put costs in place. Now, we can’t predict his actions nor can we get into his brain and understand his motivations, so I’m not going to do psychoanalysis. But we’re watching this closely because we don’t know what he will do, and what we’re responding to are the actions that are being taken and the events that we’re seeing, and that’s why we’ve put these costs in place.
QUESTION: One related and final separate question. Is it the view of the United States Government that Mr. Putin, within his own system, holds all the power he would need to hold in order to make what you regard as the correct choices, or in fact, do you regard that Mr. Putin is an actor within a system, in his own system, facing constraints of one kind or another from institutional blocs or other forces within the Russian Federation, or does he operate with complete autonomy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think our view is that if President Putin wanted to go down a different path, he has the power to do that.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- my colleague’s line of questioning?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Given that the goal of sanctions and the other tools that you have and can use is to change President Putin’s behavior, wouldn’t it be smarter to use those tools while he’s in the midst of the action and not weeks afterward, like you did in Crimea, like you did after he started supporting separatist activity in Donetsk and Luhansk? If the goal is to change his behavior, he’s doing it now. Why wait and have internal discussions for many days and weeks when you could make that choice more easy for him now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the discussions are ongoing. They don’t stop and start. There are discussions that happen within the Administration and with the UN and other international bodies about what the next steps would be, should they be needed. I wouldn’t – I would dispute the notion that every time we’ve announced sanctions, it’s been days or weeks after a specific event. I think it’s been faster than that in most occasions. But also, we’ve seen a series of events, so there isn’t just two events that we’re looking at that we’re then responding to.
QUESTION: But I think it’s surprising that you have – I mean, it’s incongruous for us, I think, to hear you decrying what is for all intents and purposes an invasion or whatever you – an intervention, and you’re still saying more steps if they are needed. How can you say at this point they are not needed if the goal was to avert such activity and he’s now done it, shouldn’t he incur more costs?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, Brad. But I don’t want to make a prediction of a decision that hasn’t yet been made, so I was trying to be careful in my diplomatic speak from the podium.
QUESTION: Can we say that you would expect more action against Russia after this, even if the form and nature of that hasn’t been decided?
MS. PSAKI: I would just say that obviously discussions are ongoing about what additional steps we may or may not decide to take.
QUESTION: Can I ask one last one?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks, Jen. Given the actions that have occurred to this point, given the reactions and the costs that have been imposed to this point, and given the continued pattern of escalatory behavior that you discern, shouldn’t the United States Government as a simple matter of rational analysis be prepared to acknowledge that there may, in fact, be no set of economic sanctions that can be imposed that would deter Mr. Putin from his present course?
MS. PSAKI: I think we have to see what options are effective, what more we can do – not just the United States but with the European community. As I mentioned before, our focus is on nonlethal assistance and obviously using diplomatic tools, but we haven’t ruled out other options either.
QUESTION: But you cannot rule out that there may, in fact, be no set of economic sanctions that will achieve what you’re seeking them to achieve, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we can’t --
QUESTION: As a matter of rational analysis, that’s plausible, correct?
MS. PSAKI: We can’t predict what will provoke President Putin to change his behavior. However, our view is that a significant impact on the economy in his own country, a country that he says he loves, should have an impact.
QUESTION: One small thing.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I made a mistake in something I said. I said that a NATO spokesman had said that there were about a thousand. In fact, it was an unnamed NATO officer who said there were well over a thousand Russian soldiers in Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Okay, appreciate that. Thank you for noting that.
QUESTION: Move to Syria?
MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Ukraine?
QUESTION: I have just one last one.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: In terms of the multiple tools the U.S. has to influence Moscow, has the United States ever considered making an agreement with Russia to de-escalate that involves an ironclad declaration that Ukraine will not be part of NATO?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any more details to discuss with you. I would say our focus is more on encouraging Russia and Ukraine to have a discussion about where things should go moving forward. But broadly speaking, a decision about who should be a member of NATO is not for the United States to make; it’s for NATO countries to make together. So I would encourage you to note that.
QUESTION: But surely, if the United States makes the argument or makes a promise or an assurance that that wouldn’t be the case, that they wouldn’t be a NATO member, that would go a long way. It’s not as if the United States isn’t an influential member of that group.
MS. PSAKI: We certainly are a vital member of NATO, but we don’t have anything more on that question.
QUESTION: I thought it was the policy of the U.S. Government that Ukraine will be a member of NATO and that that was the formulation that was agreed to at a NATO summit – now I’m embarrassed to say I’m forgetting the year, but it was during the administration of George W. Bush that that’s your policy, Ukraine will be a member of NATO.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s a process. As you know, there are many countries that have to take steps in order to meet the requirements that NATO lays out. So that’s what I was referring to.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Today apparently 34 members of the UN peacekeeping force have been kidnapped by al-Nusrah, Jabhat al-Nusrah. Do you have any comment on that, and do you know anything about their status?
MS. PSAKI: I do have a comment. I unfortunately don’t have an update on their status. If that changes, I am sure we can certainly get that to all of you. Just give me one moment here. And I believe we’re going to be putting a statement out. We certainly condemn the detainment of the individuals from UNDOF. It’s obviously something that we will work closely with the United Nations on to help them as they work to address. This is a force that is responsible for peacekeeping around the world, and certainly we don’t think they should be a target of these type of efforts.
QUESTION: Seeing how that area, in particular the Golan Heights, between Syria and Israel is really fluid and volatile and so on and there are different forces and probable conflicts could erupt at any moment with different players, are there any actions that the United States can take to ensure that this does not – the situation – all hell does not break loose in that area?
MS. PSAKI: The situation does not --
QUESTION: Yeah, I mean between Israel and --
QUESTION: The armistice.
QUESTION: -- there are so many different players. You have the factions, you have ISIS, you have Jabhat al-Nusrah, you have the Syrian army, you have the Israelis, and conceivably everybody could be shooting at everybody out there.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Said, as you’ve seen by the discussions we’ve had in here over the past several days, our focus is on taking steps to return security and stability to the region. And I mentioned the efforts that are underway to build a coalition to fight against the threat of ISIL, to fight against some of the extremist groups who are – who have a presence in these neighborhoods, in these countries, and that’s what we’re discussing with countries in the region.
QUESTION: Okay. And also yesterday, it was confirmed that some upwards of 150 Syrian soldiers were actually executed by ISIS. Does that add some sort of an urgency to perhaps U.S. interference in the area, or does it sort of discourage you from doing so?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s been no lack of evidence of the brutality of ISIL over the past several weeks and months. So with each incident, certainly it adds to the deck of brutality that they have put together. But it’s not – it doesn’t change our approach. We have had this ongoing approach that’s going to continue to increase over the coming days and weeks.
QUESTION: So conversely, is it possible that an alliance of some sort, whether implicit or explicit, between Syria and the United States could take shape in fighting ISIS?
MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed, Said, since I answered this question yesterday or every day this week.
Go ahead, Ali. Oh – on Syria?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Is the U.S. waiting until the NATO summit to make a decision on airstrikes against IS in Syria? And you just talked to us – well, just about efforts to build a coalition. Have you asked the UK to help? Would you like the UK to help in any military action in Iraq or Syria?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of steps. A coalition is not a military coalition. It’s a coalition to take on the threat from ISIL. So there are several components or several roles that countries can play – humanitarian assistance, diplomatic assistance, and of course certainly we’re in discussions with the UK about what role that they can play. It’s a decision each country will certainly make.
QUESTION: And are you waiting ‘til NATO to make a decision? There’s been some reports that you’re waiting ‘til the summit.
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t read into a timeline of NATO. There’s discussions that are ongoing within the Administration. As you all have seen, there’s a meeting of the National Security Council this afternoon. The Secretary will participate via video conference in that meeting. I don’t expect any news or announcements to come out of that. The discussions will be ongoing. But we – there’s no set deadline or timeline. We want to get this right and make a decision that is right strategically for the United States.
QUESTION: So why is the Secretary participating by video conference? Is he no longer in Washington?
MS. PSAKI: He’s not in Washington, so he’s participating via video conference.
QUESTION: And are you making progress in getting other countries to join this coalition that you’re seeking to build?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly. I think the discussions – and I expect the Secretary will spend a great deal of time on the phone as a part of this effort – he’ll be engaged, as I mentioned at the top, in a meeting with his counterparts; that Secretary Hagel will also be engaged with meetings with his counterparts. And of course, the President will be as well next week. So there’s discussions that are ongoing about what role many countries can play, but we certainly think that the coalition is building.
QUESTION: Can you read out his recent calls, please?
MS. PSAKI: I will see if there’s more. I don’t have a new list to read out for you. I’ll see if there’s more we can do after the briefing.
QUESTION: All right. Thanks.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, James.
QUESTION: We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the series of critical moments whereby President Obama called for there to be airstrikes against the Assad regime in response to chemicals weapons usage, then desisted from that and then worked with the Russian Federation and others to dispose of Syria’s declared stockpile of chemical weapons. I know that the Administration, in looking back on that moment, would cite the disposal of the declared stockpile as the most significant outcome.
But as I’m sure you’re aware, there are others who cite different and long-ranging effects that flowed from that set of decisions by the President and the way they were announced. Here we are a year later, and instead of contemplating airstrikes against the Assad regime, we are contemplating airstrikes in Syria against ISIL.
Is there some rational way to look at that whole set of events and come to the conclusion that it was the President’s failure to carry through on the airstrikes that seemed imminent at the time that has now led us to be dealing with ISIS a year later in the way that we are?
MS. PSAKI: I would completely disagree with your last conclusion, though I did appreciate your history of what happened over the last year. I’m sure everyone did.
QUESTION: It was faithful, was it not?
MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) I would disagree with the faithfulness, but we can agree to disagree on that. Last year, the President made clear that he did make a decision to strike, that he wanted to go to Congress. The two are not conflicting. It wasn’t a change of decision about what to do. It was a change of decision about tactically how to do it. Also at the time --
QUESTION: Or how lawfully to do it. The tactic would have remained the same, which is planes with bombs.
MS. PSAKI: Fair point, how to pursue the path in the United States to get to that point. At the time that was done, that decision was made in response to the horrific chemical weapons – use of chemical weapons last August. We view the outcome as one that is superior to having targeted a few sites or targeted, in response to that, a couple of places where you would not have eliminated all of the chemical weapons and the stockpile that was in Syria. We’re in a different place now because the threat of ISIL has increased over the course of time. It’s increased over the last six months. We’ve seen an increase in the use of Western passports, and there are several events that we certainly could point to in that regard, and the strength of ISIL has built.
This is a threat that we look at as one that threatens Western interests, that could threaten the interests of the United States, and so it’s a different scenario than what we were looking at a year ago.
QUESTION: If you speak to ambassadors from Middle East allies and Persian Gulf allies in this town, they will tell you that the way that whole episode unfolded had a very bad effect around the world, and particularly in that region, because from where they sit, it suggested that the United States doesn’t enforce its redlines and that it projected weakness, which is in turn provocative, and that we’re seeing that play out in that region and elsewhere around the world. You disagree?
MS. PSAKI: I would disagree. I understand, and we’ve had the discussion in here about views at the time, but I would also note that it was Congress that decided not to support the President’s decision. We’re at a point now where we’re working with these same countries to address the threat from ISIL and take on this threat that poses – is of concern to them, is of concern to the United States and Western countries. And I would say in our discussions with them, that’s really the focus.
QUESTION: One last one, if you don’t mind.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Again we have heard this phrase “a range of tools” that we have at our disposal in combatting the threat posed by ISIS. Some of it is kinetic, aimed at taking out their leadership; some of it is diplomatic; and some of it is financial. And to the extent that international finance represents one of the tools that we can use to bring to bear against ISIS, how effective is that? Another way of asking the same question is: How integrated into the international finance system is ISIS, and can we truly use our typical tools that OFAC and others at Treasury would use against a state actor or a more established terrorist group against ISIS?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there have been – it’s a good question and one that we address a bit but Treasury really has the lead on. There have been occasions where we have, as you know, designated members of terrorist organizations where we did feel it was effective. There’s also – when you take that step, you’re also preventing the flow of finances through a range of countries, whether it’s the United States or other countries.
We know where they get their money from kidnappings and ransom and means of other ways; they have to have their money in some places. These are all steps, of course, that Treasury looks at as they make these decisions. But I think as you mentioned in the beginning, it’s not just financial tools, it’s not just potential military action; we’re looking at every step that we think could be effective. But certainly, their financing is one of the areas that has strengthened them over the past several months.
QUESTION: Jen, who drew the redline on behalf of the United States Government regarding the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria?
MS. PSAKI: Are you asking me a rhetorical question or --
QUESTION: Well, I think you know that it was the President who drew that redline.
MS. PSAKI: Correct. I think we all know.
QUESTION: You were blaming Congress a moment ago, however, for the failure to enforce that redline because --
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct.
QUESTION: -- you said the President had decided to do it and Congress – he then decided to go to Congress to seek their approval to do so. Is it your view that he required Congress’s legal decision to do – legal authority – he required legal authority from Congress to enforce that redline?
MS. PSAKI: Look, Arshad, I’m not going to go back and kind of account for or give the history of why the decision was made at the time. We did a great deal of that at the time. The President made the decision to go to Congress. It was a decision he made, the national security team supported. I don’t think the two things are conflicting in terms of who set the redline, who made the decision, and how the decision didn’t happen. That’s a factual account of what happened last year.
QUESTION: Well, the reason I ask it is that I don’t believe that it was the President’s position last year that Congress – that he needed legal authority from Congress to conduct airstrikes against Syria following its use of chemical weapons. I don’t think he – he argued that. I don’t think the Administration lawyers believed that. And when he made the decision to do so prior to his decision to go to Congress, he clearly didn’t think it was necessary because he had made the decision to do it, and the Secretary went out and argued in favor of it, and there was no talk of seeking congressional authorization.
And so I think to go back to James’s question, the question is really: Is it a good policy for the President to set redlines that he has the authority to enforce but apparently does not have the political support of the Congress to enforce? I mean, it was his redline; maybe he shouldn’t be setting redlines if he can’t bring his Congress with him, or maybe he should try to enforce them without Congress’s political but not legal support.
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, in any scenario, even as we consider options moving forward, we’d always do so within the legal – with legal justification, of course. In the specific case last year, I would remind you all the President is the commander-in-chief, the President is the leader of the country, the President sets the foreign policy agenda of the United States of America. So he is outlining for Congress, as he did last year, what steps he thinks we need to take, what steps we should take that he’s determined in consultation with the national security team and often with members of Congress in order to address either the threats we face or global – our global interests in the world.
Now, if Congress makes a determination for whatever reason they’re not going to abide by that, that’s something that’s a separate question aside from whether or not the commander-in-chief should be able to set the agenda on the foreign policy agenda of the United States.
QUESTION: One more on this, if I may – and I know we went over this a little bit the other day.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: As you’re aware, another part of the U.S. Government said that the United States, as a matter of policy, does not recognize Assad as the leader of Syria. And I just want to make sure that we’re clear on one thing, which is that it was my understanding that the United States and Russia helped broker the agreement under which the Government of Syria signed on to the Chemical Weapons Convention and then subsequently, working with OPCW, gave up its declared stocks of chemical weapons. And I just want to make sure that, as a matter of policy, the U.S. Government does indeed believe that there is a Government of Syria and that, in fact, the representatives of President Assad were indeed the ones who signed on to the Chemical Weapons Convention and then worked with OPCW to meet their obligations under that.
MS. PSAKI: Yes, that is correct, your version. And we’ve said since – as you know, because you’ve been covering this closely – since August 2011 that President Assad has lost all legitimacy, and we certainly didn’t recognize the legitimacy of the election. But that doesn’t change the current government’s international obligations; it doesn’t change the recognition of the Assad regime as the Government of Syria.
QUESTION: Can I just finish up on ISIL fundraising and financing?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: It is safe to say that this is probably the best-funded terrorist organization in modern times. We have heard a lot about the sources of its financing, whether it’s seized oil fields or compulsory tribute and so forth. Is it the view of the United States Government that the means by which ISIL finances itself make it a tougher target for us to use our financial tools on?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, one of their major means of financing is through kidnapping and ransom and some of these terrorist activities that have led to our growing concern about their actions and their roles. I think – I’m not an expert on this, but the larger question is, where is that financing and that money being held? I can go back to Treasury and ask them if there’s more clarification or more we can offer on that specific question.
QUESTION: Really what I’m getting at is how viable a tool it is for us if their money is not tied up with the international system. Are they off the grid to the point where it places them beyond the reach of our financial tools? That’s what I’m asking.
MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand your question. I just want to check and see if that’s our view, if we believe they’re outside of the financial tools. There are individuals we have designated in the past. We have – so we have a record of that, but in terms of a totality, I would just have to check with our financial experts.
QUESTION: I have a Syria-related question.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: It’s – it should be simple. Do you have more information on the reports of the second American who was killed? Can you identify him by name, where he’s from, et cetera?
MS. PSAKI: As we’ve noted, I think, in notes to all of you, we’re, of course, aware of media reporting from many of your organizations, social media activity indicating that a second U.S. citizen associated with ISIL has been killed at Syria. At this point, I don’t have any new information to provide to all of you or to confirm from here.
QUESTION: So you don’t --
QUESTION: There’s also --
QUESTION: -- you don’t know if that’s true yet, or you haven’t identified --
MS. PSAKI: We have – we don’t have any details to confirm. That’s correct.
QUESTION: So can you confirm whether he’s a – like the news said, a Somali-American from Minnesota also and so on?
MS. PSAKI: I know there have been a range of reports and information out there.
QUESTION: He was with friends with Douglas --
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, the United States Government goes through a process to confirm details. If there’s more we can provide, I’m sure we’ll send a note to all of you.
QUESTION: One more on that line. The Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications – they have that Twitter account, Think Again Turn Away. They tweeted a picture of this individual saying he wasted his life getting killed fighting for ISIS. So if you’re saying that there is no confirmation that this is the guy, what would lead them to tweet that, if it hasn’t been confirmed by the State Department and the U.S. Government?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Ali, I think what I outlined for you is our official U.S. position. I don’t know the context of the tweet. I’d have to take a look at it and see what the thinking was or the reasoning for putting that out there.
QUESTION: One more?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. On --
QUESTION: Going back --
MS. PSAKI: On ISIL?
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Going back to financing.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I just wanted to confirm that you think there are or there is any government or governments who are financing them, training them, or arming them, or – in any way, the ISIS.
MS. PSAKI: We do not think governments are financing. There are individuals, of course, but not governments at this point.
QUESTION: Jen, can I ask just one more on Syria before we move on?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, sure.
QUESTION: The – there was a statement put out a few hours ago, and you just reiterated from the podium that we shouldn’t expect any decisions to be announced on Syria today. I’m just wondering, why the desire to be so explicit about indicating that there won’t be a decision made today? Why the desire to manage expectations so much?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important for everyone to know that, of course, these decisions require discussion, they require analysis, and I think we’re trying to be as transparent with all of you as we could be.
QUESTION: Is it because there’s still such a gulf remaining between members of the National Security Council and other key staff that such a decision is so far from being announced that there’s an impulse there to punt it so much in a statement?
MS. PSAKI: Not at all, Ali. I think in these cases, there are a range of factors that you have to look at and discuss. And ultimately, the President has a prerogative to make decisions. But I would remind you that while he always has contingency plans, you have to have discussions about the pros and cons, about the benefits of taking action, about what kinds of actions you would take. There are implications for any step that we would take. I would also remind you that the President has already decided to do strikes to address the threat of ISIL. We’ve seen that – of course, dozens that have happened across Iraq – and we have to have a discussion about how to do this right, not based on somebody’s outside timeline.
QUESTION: One more on Syria?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: In terms of building a coalition to address the threat of the Islamic State, what type of multilateral support is the U.S. looking for? Is it simply political support for U.S. airstrikes or other types of materiel assistance that would be helpful to stopping ISIS in some way?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I talked about this a little bit yesterday, but what we’re looking to do is to reach out to countries and build an international coalition of countries not just from Europe or from the Arab world, but from Asia, any country that shares the concern about the threat that ISIL is posing. There are a range of ways that countries can contribute. That can be humanitarian, that can be military, that can be political, it can be financial. And so what we want to do is take on this threat over the long term. It’s not a one-day or a two-day issue. This is something that we have seen ISIL gain strength over the past couple of months, and we know in order to combat it, we need a strong, long-term regional coalition.
QUESTION: And Secretary Kerry is going to be the point man for building that, and the NATO summit is going to be key in terms of on the sidelines and things like that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say Secretary Kerry will be very engaged. Obviously, he is the chief diplomat of the United States, but Secretary Hagel will also be closely engaged, President Obama. I think this will be all hands on deck in the weeks ahead.
QUESTION: To Gaza?
QUESTION: Will this be a big topic at the NATO summit?
MS. PSAKI: I certainly expect this will be a big topic of discussion. As I mentioned in my announcement at the top, the Secretary will be chairing a meeting with foreign ministers there to discuss --
QUESTION: Will NATO be part of this coalition?
MS. PSAKI: It’s not officially through that capacity, but certainly many of the NATO members are – have concerns about these issues as well.
QUESTION: Jen, just a --
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just – mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- change of subject?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re going to do Gaza and then we can do – if that works.
QUESTION: Okay. Very quickly, the Palestinians are saying that there is a large amount of unexploded ordnance and – like mines or unexploded bombs and so on in the alleys, under the rubble – Israeli ordnance. And they are going to seek help and expertise, and they probably come to the United States or Europe and so on. Would you provide such a help in this case if they come to you?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check. Obviously, Said, we’re – are certainly remain focused on the safety and security of the region. I’m not aware of that specific request. I will check with our team and see if there’s more to share with all of you.
QUESTION: Okay. Also there may have been a meeting – or there’s allegedly a meeting that took place between the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Could you confirm that? The – it was actually sponsored by the U.S.?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of such a meeting, but I would point you to both of them for confirmation of that.
QUESTION: And a related question: The – an American – young American seminary student went missing last week. And today, I think the Israeli police saying that they found his – what may be his body. They don’t know for sure. Do you have any information on that?
MS. PSAKI: I do have a little bit of information, not a great deal. We’re aware of the reports that a body has been found. We don’t have further information or confirmation of specific details at this point in time.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that he is from New Jersey? He’s an American?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have additional details to confirm.
QUESTION: And lastly, do you have any more information on the young American teenager that is in Israeli custody, Abu Khdeir?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are two, so is there one who you are asking specifically about? Or --
QUESTION: Well, tell us about both. I mean, (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: All right. I just opened myself up to that.
QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Let me give you an update on both of them. So 15-year-old Mohamed Abu Nie --
MS. PSAKI: -- he – we understand that he has been sentenced to serve 60 days, which means he could be released on September 1st or earlier. If true, we would welcome such news. But a consular officer was unable to attend his August 28th hearing today, of course, and so – the embassy that was in frequent contact with the family and the lawyer, so that information is coming through them, so I would encourage you to contact them for specific confirmation. But certainly, we would welcome that news, if accurate.
QUESTION: Why was the consular officer unable to attend the hearing? Because I thought you had said earlier that the consular officer had met with him a number of times and planned to attend his court proceedings.
MS. PSAKI: That is true. I don’t have any other details on why. I can check and see if there’s more we can clarify on that front.
QUESTION: Also --
QUESTION: Did the Israelis explain to you why they would sentence or hold in prison a 15-year-old boy for 60 days? What did he do?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we understand he faced charges or faces charges of rock throwing, attacking police, carrying a knife, and leading protests. That is what the charges were. Beyond that, I don’t have any other --
QUESTION: Have you been able to establish whether these charges were real, correct?
MS. PSAKI: That would not be for the United States to determine. But obviously, this is a case that we’ve been watching closely, given that he is a U.S. citizen.
QUESTION: And considering that he is a minor, 15-year-old, you wouldn’t – I mean, has, let’s say, someone from the consulate --
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think that’s why we’ve been so engaged and we’ve visited him multiple times and we’ve been in close contact with the family – our Embassy on the ground has been.
QUESTION: Was there a second individual you wanted to relate some information on?
MS. PSAKI: Sorry, yes. Let me see. I don’t know that I actually have anything new, but let me just provide you what we have. There also was a separate individual, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, who is a U.S. citizen who was arrested on July 28th, so about a month ago. The last consular office visit was August 14th. We remain in contact with his family and his lawyer. We were concerned in this case that our consulate general in Jerusalem was not notified of his arrest by the Government of Israel, as well as some targeting we’ve seen of family members. We’ve certainly raised his arrest, as we have the other incident. There’s no new updates on that at this point in time.
QUESTION: Going back to the casualty count during the conflict between --
QUESTION: Can you check on why the consular officer wasn’t able to attend that hearing --
MS. PSAKI: Yes, absolutely.
QUESTION: -- and if they were prevented by – for any reason from doing so?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. We will check.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Regarding casualties, in particular the several hundred children who were killed during the conflict, human rights groups are alleging that Israel may have violated the UN’s Convention of the Rights of the Child as well as other Geneva Convention protections for children. Does the U.S. share this concern? And if so, has it expressed its concerns to Israel about the deaths of children inside Gaza during the conflict? What recommendations is it making to Israel to try to make whole the losses that families in Gaza may have suffered because of their children’s deaths?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, I think throughout this conflict we repeatedly voiced our concern for civilians, including children. And we also made clear that we thought that Israel should take additional steps to prevent and reduce – prevent really is the most important term here – civilian casualties. So those are conversations, those are comments we’ve made publicly. They were also made privately. And in terms of where we go moving forward, there’ll be a discussion, as you know, when the representatives get together in the coming weeks to discuss where we go from here and how to rebuild Gaza, how to address these key issues that have been challenging the region for quite some time. And we feel that’s the appropriate venue to have a discussion.
QUESTION: Would that be a separate breakout discussion on compensation for wartime casualties, or --
MS. PSAKI: No, I’m not making a prediction of that, nor am I speaking to that. What I’m conveying is that there is a path forward that the Egyptians will be the lead on to determine how to have long-lasting peace in this area, and that’s what the focus of our efforts are on.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. recommending or cautioning the Palestinians against trying to raise this particular issue in any international body or venue?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve been clear about our view that there are steps that can be taken or conversations that can be had through a range of channels and that going through international bodies at this point in time is not, perhaps, the most productive step.
QUESTION: When the war began, we heard both on the record and as a formal matter and also informally from the Israelis and the Israeli Defense Force that they only expected the conflict to last for a short time, insofar as it would be necessary for them to address this network of underground tunnels. That was many weeks ago and many casualties ago. More recently we have seen the Israeli Defense Forces target senior Hamas commanders and leadership. Is it the fact that the Israelis have expanded their war aims?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think from the beginning the cause of concern was not initially just the tunnels. It was the rocket attacks coming into Israel from Hamas and Gaza. So the tunnels were part of the concern; yes, you’re correct that the tunnels and the destruction of them was part of – was one of the impacts on the conclusion at one stage of Israel’s actions. But as you’ve seen over the past couple of weeks, since the tunnels were concluded there were also – there was also a resumption of additional attacks that Israel has every right to defend themselves against. And that includes responding to those who are responsible for the attacks.
QUESTION: So you don’t regard that the Israelis have in fact expanded their war aims at any particular point; their war aims have remained fairly consistent, from your understanding?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – obviously, responding to the actions of a terrorist organization is an objective that we certainly supported. And the indiscriminate attacks from Hamas, whether they were by terrorists through tunnels or whether they were through attacks being launched or rockets being launched, Israel – we’ve long said they have the right to defend themselves. There of course have been points in this discussion as – one of them I noted with Roz, which was about the need to take into account the impact on civilian casualties and how you can go about preventing them.
QUESTION: It just seems as though at the outset of things we heard that this would be wrapped up fairly swiftly given what the war aims were. And it hasn’t wrapped up that swiftly. And to hear you from this podium now, it seems as though your explanation for the endurance of this conflict is simply that additional rocket fire has occurred.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re talking about two different things, or this is how I’m hearing what you’re saying. One is the conclusion of the destruction of the tunnels, which is one process, and that is addressing the actions of a terrorist organization, given terrorists were coming through the tunnels. The second are the indiscriminate rocket attacks. And certainly in Israel’s view, the destruction of the tunnels, as they have stated many times, had a specific set amount of time that it would take. But they are not in control, nor do they control when the rocket attacks are coming in. And so obviously, our objective is seeing an end to all of the violence and the bloodshed and the back-and-forth that we’ve seen. But I don’t know that they could make a prediction about an end of that particular component.
QUESTION: So if the Israelis always had the same aims, which was to neutralize the rocket attacks as well as the tunnels and address this terrorist threat, why has the conflict taken so much longer than they initially thought it would?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d have to look, to be honest, James, at what you’re specifically referring to. I know I’ve seen comments where they’ve – they’ve made about their aspiration to end the conflict. That certainly is consistent with ours about their desire to see an – to destroy the tunnels that terrorists have been going through. But beyond that, I’m not sure exactly what you’re referring to.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary of State ever imagine this conflict would go on this long?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the Secretary would have loved to have seen the conflict end weeks ago, but --
QUESTION: But did he imagine it was really going to go on this long?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I --
QUESTION: Did he foresee it?
MS. PSAKI: I think, James, that we’ve – this is a – this is a part of the world where we’ve seen many, over the course of years, incidents of rocket attacks and violence, and so the Secretary has been around for quite some time in public office and is certainly familiar with the ups and downs in these cases. But his desire was to see a sustainable ceasefire, and that’s where we are at this point in time, we hope.
QUESTION: Last one. Was the Secretary of State ever in receipt of any assurances from the Israelis as to how long this conflict would take, or was it always open-ended, determined by the mission?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the discussion from the Secretary’s point of view is how quickly can we end this conflict. With every day that continues, the more we risk civilian deaths and more people who are living under fear and – the fear of rocket attacks or violence. But again, I think there – these two factors are – they impact each other. When you have rocket attacks coming in from Hamas, even if you’d like to see an end from the – of the conflict, Israel has the right to defend themselves and respond.
QUESTION: So in other words, the Secretary never received from the Israelis some estimated timeframe during which they thought they could wrap this up?
MS. PSAKI: I think the Israelis said publicly and certainly privately what their view was on the tunnels, and you saw that process wrap up several weeks ago. But the piece that it would be impossible for them to predict is what – when there would be rocket attacks and what they would be required to respond to. I’m certain that their preference would have – be to not have additional rocket attacks.
QUESTION: Jen, just a follow-up on the massive amount of destruction and the efforts, of course, to reconstruct and aid. And these things happen every so often. Will the United States support as a deterrent against this happening with frequency in the future – will it support that the combatants themselves actually pay for the destruction that they inflicted on the other?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think, one, I got you an update because I thought you might ask about this.
QUESTION: Well, of course, I will ask.
MS. PSAKI: The international community has at this point pledged more than $150 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East, which issued a revised appeal for 295 million for Gaza on August 26th. So this includes a range of assistance the United States has provided. Fifteen million went into that specific fund out of a total of 47. That will continue. We will continue to work with UNRWA and work with the international community to address this humanitarian crisis.
QUESTION: I mean, this is exactly the point. The international community is expected to foot the bill while, in fact, we know exactly who’s causing this destruction. I mean, why not say that, “Hamas, you have to pay for what you have done,” and Israel, “Israel, you have to reconstruct what you have destroyed in Gaza”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I know this is a favorite question of yours but --
QUESTION: It’s not a favorite question --
MS. PSAKI: This is – let me --
QUESTION: -- but this cannot not go on forever.
MS. PSAKI: I’m laying out for you what the United States position is and what our focus is on, and that’s what I just stated.
QUESTION: Hello, I’m back.
MS. PSAKI: Welcome back. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You were never gone. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: It’s a Thursday in August.
QUESTION: I was not too far.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Always in our hearts.
QUESTION: Jen, on Syria --
MS. PSAKI: Oh sorry, I thought you had a question. But we got a little --
QUESTION: On the assistance to the UNRWA --
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: -- this is before the ceasefire, right?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, that’s correct.
QUESTION: Yeah. Are you planning, considering giving new aids after the ceasefire? Because the Secretary said that as soon as the ceasefire hold, we should speed the humanitarian assistance.
MS. PSAKI: We’re continuing – this has been an ongoing effort, so there hasn’t been a pause. This is an effort that the Secretary’s been very engaged in, as has the UN, to continue to ask for and receive commitments to – contributions from the international community to this.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, so Libya. Can we go back to Libya, and if you could bring us some clarity about what’s happened in recent days? We have conflicting reports about these strikes against the militias. Abu Dhabi continues to remain silent, and Egypt denied to have a hand on this.
MS. PSAKI: Well, without going into too many details, I had inaccurate information just two days ago, I believe, when I spoke to this. And my comments were intended to refer to countries that have been reportedly involved and not to speak to whether they were involved or their kind of involvement. So I would point you to any of the countries that have been reportedly involved and speak to them about what they’d like to say.
QUESTION: One just quick one. And forgive me, I didn’t draw this to your attention in advance.
MS. PSAKI: No, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: I have seen that, Arshad. Well, as you know, we don’t vet U.S. citizens’ travel, and he is a private U.S. citizen. I will confirm for you, of course, that he’s not traveling as a representative of the United States. We don’t have any additional information beyond what’s publicly available at this point – as you referenced, his attendance at a wrestling match. Broadly speaking, we recommend strongly against all travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea.
QUESTION: Because of --
MS. PSAKI: Security concerns.
QUESTION: And the fact that they get arrested periodically and detained for endless periods?
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of reasons in our Travel Warning I would point you to.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, you’re welcome.
Any more on his particular topic?
Okay, Nicolas, go ahead. And then we’ll go to Scott.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: How did you take the further postpone of the inauguration of the president? Would the Secretary need to return to Kabul to convince these two would-be presidents to find a settlement?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I have no planned travel to outline for you. SRAP – our SRAP Dan Feldman was just in Kabul working with the candidates, working with the UN. We hope this process can be completed in a timely manner. I would certainly direct you to the UN for information on possible timing, given they are overseeing this. We also, of course, would note that both candidates have agreed to accept the results of the audit and that the winner of the election will serve as president and will immediately form a government of national unity. But certainly, we are continuing to support the process, which the UN has the lead on. The audit process has been ongoing, and I would point you to the UN on the expected timing for the conclusion.
QUESTION: Jen, Abdullah Abdullah withdrew, is calling it a sham. He said this audit is a sham. Any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I spoke to this yesterday, and I think what you’re talking about is his participation of his observers --
QUESTION: Right, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: -- in the audit. He did not send observers to the election audit sites yesterday. At the request of the UN, Dr. Ghani agreed to withdraw his observers team. However, the IEC continued to conduct the audit and adjudication under the close supervision of the UN with international and Afghan observers. That process is continuing.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. still confident that a BSA can be signed and that post-2014 planning can go ahead?
MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed in our view, Roz. You’re familiar with the positions of the two different candidates who continue to support the signing of a BSA.
QUESTION: Is there any anticipation that there might have to be a change in the execution of the mission, given the constant delays over now three, going into the fourth month since the election?
MS. PSAKI: We’re continuing to work on the process. I have no predictions or announcements or planning to read out for you.
Go ahead, Scott.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Since your statement overnight, have you learned anything more of the circumstances surrounding the beating of Mr. Nasibov? And in your statement, you spoke of the need for the government to create an environment of fundamental freedoms. Is it the assessment of the United States that the lack of that environment has contributed to the circumstances that allowed for the beating of this civil rights leader?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t have any new information, although I would note that this is not the first statement that we’ve put out recently about concerns about treatment in Azerbaijan about – from members of civil society or the media.
To speak to your second question, we are deeply concerned by recent restrictions on peaceful civil society activities in Azerbaijan. We are increasingly concerned that the government is not living up to its international human rights commitments and obligations. And we’ve seen, as I mentioned, a couple of incidents that have – are raising our level of concern in this case. So we urge Azerbaijan to respect the universal rights of its citizens, ensure they are afforded all fair trial guarantees to which all citizens are entitled, and allow them to freely express their views. And of course, Azerbaijan would be best served and best able to contribute to their own stability and prosperity if they were to put in place better steps in this regard.
QUESTION: Is there something the United States might do and/or encourage others to do to bring about that situation if the Azerbaijani authorities were not to heed your advice?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have anything specific to outline for you other than to say that we, of course, work closely with our European allies and other counterparts who have concerns about human rights issues around the world, and that would certainly be the case here was well.
QUESTION: I have a couple. Equatorial Guinea ambassador – there was an incident regarding his daughter. Do you have anything to say about that? And is any action planned by this department, or are you talking to the government there about recalling him or having him transferred or --
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re certainly aware of the incident that occurred at the residence of the ambassador of Equatorial Guinea to the U.S. earlier this week. We’re deeply concerned by the alleged assault. We have been in close touch with local authorities regarding the welfare of the victim and possible charges against the alleged perpetrator. We’re not at liberty to discuss too many more details given this is really a legal law enforcement case.
I will say broadly speaking, while I can’t get into the specific details of this case, in general where diplomats are involved in alleged criminal activities and the prosecutor’s office informs the State Department that it would prosecute but for immunity, the Department requests the government of the diplomat waive his or her diplomatic immunity to permit prosecution in U.S. courts. If the government declines to waive immunity, the State Department requires the diplomat to depart the United States.
Obviously, these are events that happened just earlier this week allegedly, and we will remain in close touch with our law enforcement colleagues.
QUESTION: Are you able to say whether the local police agency contacted you before about prior incidents at the home?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any more details to share at this point in time.
Did you have another on this, Brad?
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
MS. PSAKI: North Korea.
QUESTION: North Korea.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: According to the report in Seoul, in South Korea, recently the White House and the State Department and intelligence community of the United States visited Pyongyang by (inaudible) aircraft by being very secretly. Are you aware of this report and can you confirm this?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of the reports you’re discussing, nor do I have any confirmation of them.
QUESTION: Regardless of this, are you in the United States are considering direct private dialogue talks with North Korea?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of or I’ve heard of.
QUESTION: Jen, I’d go back to the Middle East. Ha’aretz is reporting that Abbas said that he was going to meet with Secretary Kerry next week. Do you know anything about this? Just now.
MS. PSAKI: I – the schedule is still coming together and we’re certainly going to NATO --
QUESTION: Is it likely?
MS. PSAKI: -- but in terms of additional steps, I’m not aware of a planned meeting. But certainly, he often meets with him when he travels.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any more information about the supposedly dire situation they’re in and what the United States might be planning?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I have a little bit on information. We are very concerned about the dire conditions for the mainly Turkmen population in Amirli as well as the ongoing humanitarian situation throughout northern and central Iraq. We’re focused on reviewing options to assess how we can best help alleviate the situation in Amirli. Our embassy and military personnel at our joint operation centers in Iraq are already working closely with the Iraqi Government to share information and discuss ways to provide relief to those in need, and certainly we’re having ongoing internal discussions as well.
QUESTION: Two questions on South Asia, please.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: One quickly. I don’t know how much are you or State Department is following the situation in Pakistan, and two, hundreds of local American Pakistanis held a demonstration at the Pakistan embassy on Tuesday this week and demanding that U.S. should intervene for a fair and free new elections. And they were just demonstrating against the present government of Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not aware of those specific protests. I can say we have been carefully monitoring the demonstrations in Islamabad. We continue to urge all sides to refrain from violence, exercise restraint, respect the rule of law. Peaceful protest and freedom of expression are, of course, important aspects of democracy, and that’s certainly a message we’re conveying.
QUESTION: And second, as far as India and Pakistan is concerned, there have been some fightings going on on the border on and off, fighting for the last two, three weeks. And now it has become a little heavier, a number of deaths both sides. And then Pakistan requested India to meet at the flag – the ceremony or whatever they call, peace place. They met. But again, at the same time, Pakistan was fighting against India so far and then – what I’m asking: Are you aware of these ongoing fightings and meetings were canceled and now again a ongoing situation?
MS. PSAKI: I think we certainly encourage dialogue between the countries. Obviously, we watch events around the world closely, but I would point you to their countries for additional details.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have anything at all on the ongoing search for the missing schoolgirls?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t, unfortunately, have any update for all of you.
All right. Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:58 p.m.)