1:29 p.m. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy New Year.
QUESTION: Happy New Year.
MS. PSAKI: Everybody had a nice holiday. Two AP folks. Well, happy New Year.
QUESTION: Happy New Year.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have anything at the top. I know there are a lot of topics on all of your minds, so why don’t we get straight to it?
QUESTION: Right. So there was quite a bit that happened over the holiday season, but I want to focus on – first, at least – on the Middle East and on the Palestinian move to join the ICC. You or the building has said that you don’t think it’s a – you think it’s counterproductive, it’s not a good move, and it will have implications for aid. I’m just wondering what those implications are, what you’re planning to do to respond, and when we might see that – such a response.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, since we haven’t had the opportunity to all be together, let me just repeat that we’re deeply troubled by the Palestinian action regarding the ICC. Hard as it is, all sides need to find a way to work constructively and cooperatively together to lower tensions, reject violence, and find a path forward. This action is entirely counterproductive and does nothing to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a sovereign and independent state. It badly damages the atmosphere with the very people with whom they ultimately need to make peace.
The Secretary has been closely engaged with the parties, as have the leadership on the ground, and the focus right now is to continue to encourage both sides – we’ll reiterate that we strongly oppose actions taken by both parties; obviously, I talked a little bit about the ICC action, but there are others we can talk about from the other side – and to reiterate that constructive engagement and lowering tensions is the only way to move forward to a more peaceful environment.
Now, as you noted, and as I think my colleague said last week, obviously there could be implications on assistance. There are a range of ways that could take place. Congress has a great deal of power in that regard, and that has been historically true. They are obviously watching closely what happens. I’m not going to get ahead of any action they may take. As you know, the Secretary of State also has a range of authorities, but I don’t have anything to preview for all of you today.
QUESTION: So it’s our understanding that the law written into the 2014 appropriations law, which then has been carried over – at least the language – carried over into the what was called the Cromnibus for fiscal 2015, says that aid to the Palestinians must be suspended, and there’s no waiver for it, if they initiate or support a case against Israel at the ICC. It doesn’t say anything about just – about the Palestinians joining it. So I’m wondering from your answer, are you saying that short of being legally required by the law to cut off aid, if the Palestinians initiate or support the case, that you might take action against the Palestinians with regard to aid simply for them joining the ICC?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we continually review our assistance to – around the world – to ensure it complies with the law. That certainly is the case as it relates to assistance to the Palestinians. I’d have to check on – specifically, I think you’re referring to the legal language in the bill, as I understand it, on waiver authority. I don’t believe that applies here, which is what you also just conveyed.
I don’t have anything else to preview for you. The next step would be Congress deciding what step or action they may take as it relates to assistance.
QUESTION: Well, are you saying that the Administration would not act against the Palestinians in terms of aid unless the law absolutely required it to do so?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get – obviously, we constantly review our actions, our assistance. Right now, our focus and the Secretary’s focus is on engaging with both parties. I don’t have anything else to preview for you.
QUESTION: All right. And then on the engagement, can you just say what the --
QUESTION: Actually, can I stick with the money?
QUESTION: Well --
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Oh --
QUESTION: I’d like to know though – the money apparently has come up in conversations the Secretary has had with both the Palestinians and the Israelis. Can you enlighten us as to who he’s spoken to and when about what’s going on or what your plans are going forward?
MS. PSAKI: He’s been engaged with both parties, as has our team been on the ground. Really I should say we’ve been engaged with both parties. He’s been a part of some of those conversations and some others have been through our ambassador and through our consul general on the ground. I don’t have anything else more to preview for you or outline for the specifics. Did you have an aid question?
QUESTION: Yeah. You said, and as you pointed out it was previously stated by your colleague over the holidays, that the decision to join the ICC could have implications for U.S. assistance to the Palestinians. Could continued Israeli settlement activity, which you say is a unilateral act and which you don’t like, also have implications for U.S. assistance to Israel?
MS. PSAKI: Well, these actions are actions that would be taken by Congress, so I suggest you direct your question to them.
QUESTION: No, I mean, you were just very careful in answering Matt’s questions to not take a position on whether or not you would act vis-a-vis assistance to the Palestinians only if required to do so by law, i.e. by Congress. You’ve clearly, in your previous answers – and you also pointed out that the Secretary of State has some authority and jurisdiction and flexibility here. So --
MS. PSAKI: Depending on the case, as you well know.
QUESTION: Right. So – but is what you are saying is that it could have implications solely as a function of congressional action?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t --
QUESTION: Or could it have implications as a result of the authority that the Secretary of State himself and the Administration have?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what I was referring to there is waiver authority, which when Congress takes an action, obviously, there are occasions and certain laws where the Secretary can use waiver authority. I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of that. I was just giving you the broad overview of the law.
QUESTION: So the implications or the consequences that the Palestinian action could have with regard to U.S. assistance to the Palestinians, from your point of view, solely relate to congressional requirements in that regard?
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t state that. Obviously --
QUESTION: I’m asking, I’m asking.
MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t stating that. What I said was we constantly review our assistance; I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of that assistance. We clearly do see a benefit in the U.S. assistance that we do provide and have provided to the Palestinian Authority. It’s played a valuable role in promoting stability and prosperity, not just for Palestinians but for the region.
QUESTION: Well, I guess the fundamental question is: Why, if it is not solely related to congressional action, to the legal framework within which you operate, if it is perhaps also a function of the Administration’s authority and policy decisions on their own, why shouldn’t unilateral Israeli actions also potentially be subject to diminution in U.S. assistance?
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: Why should it only be the Palestinian --
MS. PSAKI: -- let me try to unwind this a little bit.
MS. PSAKI: Overall, as you know, funding goes through Congress. They make decisions about what funding they will move forward on and not. That is the case here as well. So what I’m implying there, and you all know, is they are also watching and will make decisions accordingly. There are steps, depending on what it is, that the Secretary of State can take. But overall, the first step would be Congress.
QUESTION: So – but it – I don’t understand why you won’t then address hard-on the straightforward question, which is whether the consequences for the Palestinians or the Israelis are solely a function of what Congress does.
MS. PSAKI: I think I conveyed that we review it and there are a range of steps that we can take. But there’s a lot of different components and technical details here, so I’m just not going to go through every specific. And more importantly --
QUESTION: But I’m not asking you to.
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish.
MS. PSAKI: More importantly, our focus right now is on engaging with both parties. I’m not going to stand here from the podium and preview or discuss internal discussions if we were having them because there’s no benefit in that.
QUESTION: Right. But there is a question of whether or not there’s a double standard vis-a-vis the treatment of unilateral actions by either of the two parties to this dispute.
MS. PSAKI: But we’re talking about what’s legally required in a congressional bill as it relates to the Palestinian funding.
QUESTION: And Congress can apply whatever conditions it wishes or does not wish to, to either side, and there are no conditions that I’m aware of imposed on the state of Israel. So I get that. What I still don’t understand, though, is why you are not able to state categorically – if what you’re saying is right, that all you’re talking about here is congressional action – why you won’t say, “Look, we’ll do whatever the law obliges us to, but that’s it. We’re not looking at other things with regard to the money.”
MS. PSAKI: Because, Arshad, I’m not going to preview or discuss internal discussions. I conveyed to you what our focus is on, and beyond that I don’t have anything further to add.
QUESTION: One other one on this, if I may.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary sought to dissuade the Palestinian Authority from undertaking all of the subsequent steps, of which I think there are two, regarding the deposit of the instrument, the document under which they sign the Rome Statute, et cetera? Is the Secretary making an effort, given how concerned you are about this, to dissuade the Palestinians from moving forward? Because as I understand it, there is at least a 60-day or so period during which they would need to make additional actions. Are you trying to forestall them, forestall that, trying to prevent them from doing that?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve certainly conveyed at high levels our view on the ICC action, and obviously, we’d like to prevent it from moving forward.
QUESTION: Jen, can I just find out when was the last time that the Secretary spoke with either the Palestinian president and/or Prime Minister Netanyahu?
MS. PSAKI: He spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu over the weekend. We’ve been engaged from our team on the ground with President Abbas. I don’t have an exact day on that, but it’s been recently.
QUESTION: And just so that – I want to make sure that I’ve understood this correctly.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: In the specific case of the Palestinian Authority going to the ICC – seeking to join the ICC, does the Secretary have a waiver for that or not? Matt seems to suggest he doesn’t, but can he exercise a waiver to any congressional action that’s taken as a result of that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what Matt is referring to is specifically how the law is written, which I’d encourage anyone to look at --
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, I’ve been --
MS. PSAKI: -- which is stating about action at the ICC --
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: Not – okay.
MS. PSAKI: And in terms of whether a waiver would apply there, I’d have to check with our team. I don’t believe it would in this case, but I’m happy to check with them and see.
QUESTION: And on the actual specifics, at what point would the – would any action, congressional action, kick in? Just joining, or would it have to be actual action?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, Congress has the ability to act in many ways about assistance. Beyond that, I would point you to them and those who work on the appropriations committee and fund these type of programs.
QUESTION: Okay. And I just wondered if you had any reaction to the news yesterday of Israel freezing some millions of dollars, about $127 million in tax revenues which they had been due to transfer to the Palestinian Authority, as a response to the move by the Palestinians?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, we obviously saw the announcement yesterday. We call on both sides to avoid actions that raise tensions and make it more difficult to return to direct negotiations. Obviously, that would – this action would qualify in that category.
As we’ve said consistently, the path to a two-state solution with a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the two sides. And certainly, we’ve been – this is one of the topics we’ve been engaging with the parties on.
QUESTION: So you’re opposed to this. You’re opposed to the idea of the Israelis freezing the taxes --
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re opposed to any actions that raise tensions, and obviously, this is one that raises tensions.
QUESTION: Can you just elaborate a little on what the discussions between the Secretary and the Israeli prime minister have been about? I mean, you’ve spoken about a law that has congressional restrictions on funding. That’s U.S. law, and we’re talking about a Palestinian action. So what does the discussions back and forth with the Israeli prime minister pertain to?
MS. PSAKI: Broadly speaking, Brad, I mean, the discussions are about where we go from here. And obviously, the Secretary reiterates our strong opposition to actions that both parties have taken, the desire to see a reduction in tensions. Beyond that, I’m just not going to outline their private conversations more specifically.
QUESTION: Are you talking to the Israelis about possible U.S. consequences for the Palestinians?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to outline it more specifically than what I’ve just done.
QUESTION: But I don’t --
MS. PSAKI: They speak on a frequent basis.
QUESTION: But I don’t quite under – well, more frequently sometimes than others.
MS. PSAKI: True.
QUESTION: I don’t quite understand the Israeli role in what seems to be a Palestinian action and U.S. law. How does Israel figure into that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Brad, just to be clear, I mean, the reason I answered the ICC question was that it was the first question that was asked. But there are obviously steps that have been taken by both sides that have warranted conversations with both sides, and it will require both sides taking actions to reduce the tensions. So it’s not just about specific day-by-day steps; it’s about the larger picture and how to move forward.
QUESTION: And what, in this case, would he have cautioned Israel against or --
MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly, freezing tax revenues is just one step. But obviously, this is an ongoing discussion and one that they have on a regular basis, and they’re talking about the larger picture.
QUESTION: So are you asking the Israelis to unfreeze the tax revenues now?
MS. PSAKI: We’re certainly conveying, Said, that this is a step that is one that raises tensions, as others do. And I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Okay. Now tell me on the money, if once Congress --
MS. PSAKI: On tax revenues or us?
QUESTION: No, on the aid.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Once Congress decide to cut off aid, how is that – does that affect whatever in the pipeline now? How does it – how does it work out?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to address a hypothetical. Obviously, that decision hasn’t been made. As I mentioned, with waiver authority I don’t believe it applies in this case, but I’m happy to discuss with our legal team and see if we can get you a more specific answer.
QUESTION: I wanted to just quickly follow up on a couple of things. Now, on the principle of the ICC, why not allow both the Palestinians and the Israelis to go to the ICC to file criminal charges against their own – whoever they accuse?
MS. PSAKI: Because we think the most productive path forward, Said, would be direct negotiations to address the issues that have been challenging for decades.
QUESTION: But in your opinion – allow me, indulge me, if (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: In your opinion, these negotiations that have been conducted over a period of 21, 22 years and so on, they really have not borne fruit, so to speak. Shouldn’t there be another alternative such as the United Nations, to which you are a party and to which you have advocated many issues, through the Security Council and through the United Nations, similar issues? Why is this --
MS. PSAKI: We’ve been pretty clear that unilateral action, in our view, is not the right path forward.
QUESTION: Why is the Palestinian action through the United Nation is a unilateral action? In fact, it’s an international action, isn’t it?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve been very consistent in this – in our position on this, Said. I don’t think I need to repeat it. There’s a lot going on in the world. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. (Inaudible) with a couple of issues.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Also, there was – I know that Jeff addressed it last week on the attack on – by settlers on the – at the consulate. Have you issued a statement on that? Was there a statement issued by the State Department?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve provided a comment to many people who have asked. I’m happy to repeat it if you’d like me to.
QUESTION: Are you likely to issue a statement on that?
MS. PSAKI: I think we often respond to reporter inquiries. If you’d like, I can do that from here now, Said.
QUESTION: Do you know if there’s anything more to say about that?
MS. PSAKI: There isn’t anything new to add, no.
QUESTION: So the investigation is – do you know if there was --
MS. PSAKI: We’re still working with Israeli authorities on their investigation.
QUESTION: Do you know if the video had been – the statement or what Jeff said last week said that you were providing or offering to provide the Israeli authorities with videotape of the incident. Presumably, that was taken by U.S. officials who were in this convoy. Is that correct? And do you know if that’s actually been turned over to the --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on that. We – I’m happy to check and see if there’s any update on it.
QUESTION: And then just one – just two --
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish this and then we can go.
QUESTION: Just two very briefly: So on the tax money, why shouldn’t Israel withhold tax money if the Palestinians take a step to file – bring war crimes charges against them and – at the ICC?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what we’re trying to avoid here, Matt, is a back-and-forth tit-for-tat, and we’re trying to focus --
QUESTION: Well, it’s a little late.
MS. PSAKI: -- the direction in a more positive direction. So --
QUESTION: It’s a little – I mean, it’s a little late for that. If the Palestinians follow through with their threat to go ahead and file this – these charges, would you still call for the Israelis to release this money?
MS. PSAKI: I think I made clear that we view any actions that reduce – that increase tensions as being unproductive, and that is the case on both sides.
QUESTION: But there’s a question of which is the spark that leads to the other side --
MS. PSAKI: I can’t speak to what the spark is. Obviously, there have been actions by both sides in the past couple of months that may not be cause and effect, but still are unproductive.
QUESTION: And then the last thing you said, as it regards to U.S. aid to the Palestinians, you said that it played a big role in providing stability and prosperity for not only the Palestinians, but for the region. And I’m just wondering if you had really – if that – how stable and prosperous is the West Bank and Gaza, and how stable and prosperous is the whole region? It seems to me not prosperous and not stable at all.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, obviously, that’s one of the reasons why we’ve been providing assistance, to try to provide additional stability. But clearly, we’ve seen a benefit of that, and that was the point I was making.
QUESTION: You’ve seen the benefit in the region from aid to the Palestinians?
MS. PSAKI: Matt, I think the point is this is one of the most tumultuous places in the world. We all know that. This is --
QUESTION: Right. So throwing money at it, though, hasn’t necessarily made it more stable or prosperous, right?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you can’t disprove a negative, so if we hadn’t provided assistance, I’d like to see the AP analysis and see what that would mean.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you think that Israel is within its right to withhold that money, considering that’s really Palestinian money?
MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve addressed this, Said. Do we have any more on Israel? Go ahead, Pam.
QUESTION: Yes. Broadly speaking, the unilateral action by the Palestinians – first with the UN resolution, now the ICC bid – seems to indicate a higher level of Palestinian frustration. What is the United States doing, what steps is the U.S. taking to perhaps rethink its policy on engagement with Israel’s and the Palestinians because of these increased tensions?
MS. PSAKI: Well, when you say “rethink our policy of engagement,” can you spell that out a little bit more? What do you mean by that?
QUESTION: Is the U.S. considering any new strategies to move the process forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think our view is that, as I mentioned in the beginning, that engagement with the parties is something that needs to continue. They need to make the choices themselves about what steps they’re going to take, but reducing tensions, taking steps to de-escalate continues to be the only path forward. Obviously, we’re not at a point now where we are having a discussion about a peace process, but we continue to believe that that’s the only way to address these issues over the long term.
QUESTION: Do you still consider it feasible that you could have some sort of a track going on in terms of the negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis between now and the election? Is the United States in a position to actually get something like this going?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, as I’ve said many times in response to similar questions you’ve asked, there – it’s obviously up to the parties. We certainly understand there’s an election going on in Israel. We don’t have any prediction of the future, but what we’re talking about is the long term and how to resolve the issues over the long term.
On this or a new topic?
QUESTION: I want to change topic.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just a quick one: Can you give us your response to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s comment to 60 Minutes, which aired yesterday, that President Obama might wish to re-examine his deadlines for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from that country?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would also note that in his interview, President Ghani also said that “deadlines focus the mind.” Obviously, as the President has noted on a number of occasions, we remain committed to our Afghan allies even as we draw down our troop presence in a responsible way. As you all know, in May he outlined the post-2014 U.S. military presence and the two narrow missions on which our forces would focus – to train, advise, and assist the Afghan national security forces as part of the NATO Resolute Support mission. We’ll continue work closely with the NATO and Afghan Government as we ensure that the Afghan forces have the capabilities and training necessary to preserve the gains we’ve made over the last 13 years. Clearly, we of course saw the comments. We’ll continue to engage with the parties, but beyond that, I don’t have anything to preview for you.
QUESTION: Is the President open to re-examining his stated policy from May 27th of last year?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the White House on that, Arshad.
QUESTION: One other one: In that speech, he explicitly said that there would be about 9,800 --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- U.S. troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. And as we all know, it’s in fact about 10 percent higher --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- because of the failure of Europeans to come up with their troops. Does that not suggest a certain flexibility in the President’s views on this? I mean, he’s been willing to go up once.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn’t lead that to make a prediction of the future. Just with any policy – as you know, because you covered this closely – that wasn’t – that was a delay in drawing down existing troops. And it was a temporary measure given a range of factors, including the delay of the BSA signing and a range of steps. And clearly, when the Secretary was at NATO and at the Afghan conference, that discussion with our partners about how to backfill that was a big part of it. So I think that reflected a need to address the situation at the time and the fact that there was a gap because of a range of factors. Beyond that, I don’t have any other predictions on the President’s actions.
QUESTION: Well, I guess what I’m trying to figure out is whether you might choose to delay a drawdown – I mean, you’re supposed to be at approximately half of 9,800 by the end of this year --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- whether it is conceivable that the President would respond to circumstances on the ground, gaps that may appear, and therefore slow the drawdown.
MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand your line of questioning. I’m just not going to get ahead of or speak on behalf of the President’s decision making.
MS. PSAKI: Let’s – any more on Afghanistan? But let’s finish that and we can go to Turkey, okay?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Are you worried about the delay in the cabinet formation in Afghanistan?
MS. PSAKI: Well, forming a government takes time. We know that here as well, and President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah have been clear that they want to make merit-based nominations of qualified people. We also welcome their announcement to nominate four women to the cabinet. We look forward to a cabinet of qualified individuals who will serve the best interests of the Afghan people. We know they’re working hard on it, and certainly we are hoping they’ll continue to move forward.
QUESTION: Is that delay having any impact on your relationship with the new Afghan Government?
MS. PSAKI: With our relationship? No, I would not characterize it that way.
QUESTION: Staying in the region.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, and then we’ll go to Turkey. That was sort of a trick, but we’ll go to Turkey next. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any trip announcements to make today.
QUESTION: But can you comment on the state of relations between the two countries, and what does this strategic dialogue address?
MS. PSAKI: Well, broadly speaking, we continue to work closely with Pakistan on a range of issues, including counterterrorism and our security relationship. But unfortunately, I don’t have any trip announcements to make today.
QUESTION: And on the --
QUESTION: Jen, on counterterrorism, there were reports in some Indian press that the Secretary has signed a certification saying that Pakistan is fully cooperating with the U.S. under the term – under the provision – counterterrorism cooperation – under the provisions of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act. I understand that’s not correct.
MS. PSAKI: That is correct that it’s not correct.
QUESTION: So can you explain how multiple Indian news agencies, outlets got this wrong?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t know if can explain that, but I can tell you what the facts are. Congress has not been notified of a request. Congress has not approved a request. I think in some of the reporting, it also suggested this implied an approval of progress made. In the past – while I’m not going to get ahead of any requests we’ll make, and obviously there’ll be additional funding, I’m sure – but in the past the Department of State has employed the national interest waiver provided for in legislation, in part because all the criteria needed to – that is required to be met hasn’t been met. We obviously have that ability in the future as well.
QUESTION: Your waiver ability?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: But the wavier – there has not been any recent waiver or any recent certification?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the last – let’s see. The last certification to Congress was made under the KLB bill. With regard to Pakistani CT cooperation, the last review took place in 2013.
QUESTION: And they got a – they were fully certified, or there was a waiver --
MS. PSAKI: A waiver was used in lieu of certification, yes.
QUESTION: Do you know if there – does it say in there whether there has ever been a certification?
MS. PSAKI: I can certainly check that for you.
QUESTION: I mean --
MS. PSAKI: It doesn’t mean – and just to be – let me just add to this. It doesn’t mean that there are – there isn’t progress being made. There is just a range of requirements in order to be fully certified.
QUESTION: No, I understand that. But you don’t know off the top – at least from what you have there, whether the full – a full certification, rather than a waiver, has ever been used?
MS. PSAKI: We can check on that, Matt, I’m sure.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: So there was no waiver last year at any point? Because I think they’re usually 12-month period --
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s a bunch of different kinds of funding, as you know. So there’s the Kerry-Lugar-Berman funding; there’s also separate appropriations funding. I’m happy to check on the appropriations funding, if there was a waiver for that. Is that your question?
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) If that’s a separate issue.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Can I just ask as well, whilst we’re on India --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- there was --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, can we finish this and then – oh, well, let’s just --
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, India and Pakistan. It’s the --
MS. PSAKI: Is it about the funding?
MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: When was the last time when Secretary gave the waiver under KLB?
MS. PSAKI: Gave a waiver? Well, there was a waiver in 2013.
QUESTION: 2013. There was none in 2014?
MS. PSAKI: On KLB.
QUESTION: On KLB.
MS. PSAKI: That was the last on KLB, yes.
QUESTION: And you said that there was no – Congress has not been notified on this, on the --
MS. PSAKI: Has not been notified of a request for funding, and obviously they haven’t approved funding, as some of the reports suggested.
QUESTION: So on December 30, there was a press statement issued by the Pakistan Ministry of Finance Affairs after the finance minister met the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, in which the ambassador is quoted as saying that the State Department has notified the Congress about releasing 532 million of U.S. aid to Pakistan in the KLB. Can you just clarify on that part?
MS. PSAKI: Congress hasn’t been notified of a new funding – amount of funding, and they haven’t approved funding. So other than that, I don’t have any other clarification.
QUESTION: So what about that amount of $532 million? Has that been released to Pakistan in – this week?
MS. PSAKI: There hasn’t been a new amount of funding notified to Congress, so no.
QUESTION: So when was the last time Pakistan was given – disbursed with the funds under KLB?
MS. PSAKI: Under KLB? Well, the last review took place in 2013.
QUESTION: So after that, no fund has been released to Pakistan?
MS. PSAKI: There are different kinds of funding. As you know --
QUESTION: But I’m talking about the --
MS. PSAKI: Under KLB?
MS. PSAKI: My understanding is 2013. We can check and see there’s anything since then.
QUESTION: I have one question --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- in the region.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: There has been a flare-up in tensions between Pakistan and India. And today, the reports say that four Pakistani civilians were killed in Sialkot sector in the Indian firing. Are you concerned that this kind of tension can divert Pakistani attention from its counterterrorism actions on Afghan border?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation of that. Obviously, we would certainly – our thoughts would go out to the families of any lives who have been lost. We certainly remain concerned and watch over tensions along the border, and we encourage dialogue between the countries. Let’s go back to you.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: That was my question about the border tensions. But the peace talks that were supposed to be happening between India and Pakistan were called off in August by India, and I just wondered what the U.S. position is on that, whether you wanted to see them come back – come to some negotiations.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly support dialogue between the countries. There have been some steps over the past year that you know, where there have been more positive exchanges. Obviously, there’s more work that needs to be done.
QUESTION: On Pakistan, is there any concern that some of the new initiatives that Pakistan’s talked about putting into place to fight the Taliban, particularly the military courts – is there any concern over what that could mean for democracy?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more specifics on that. I’m happy to talk to our team and see if we have concerns we want to express.
QUESTION: Can I change topics?
MS. PSAKI: Let’s – any more on Pakistan? And we – I promised we’d go to Turkey.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Jen. A Turkish official – a senior foreign ministry official has told Reuters that Turkey and the United States are going to reach an agreement on the train and equip program of the Syrian rebels in Turkey by the end of this month. Can you confirm that and give us more details about that program?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, we appreciate that Turkey has agreed long ago – several – a while ago, I should say, to host the train and equip program for moderate Syrian opposition forces, and we have been working closely with them. I don’t have any prediction on the timing of final details. I’d – it’s really a question for the Department of Defense.
QUESTION: Yeah. He has also said that it’s going to be in different stage. At this stage there will be 1,500 to 2,000 Syrian opposition fighters to be trained and equipped and – in Syria. I mean, I’d like here to ask some – to come to the basics, really. What --
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going – I’m not in a position to outline the basics or any more details. It’s a Department of Defense program, so --
QUESTION: But what is the ultimate goal in training and equipping, like, 1,500 to 2,000 Syrian forces?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are several components, broadly speaking, of our effort to degrade and defeat ISIL. And obviously, a train and equip program that several countries would participate in is part of that. But it doesn’t take the place of actions we continue to take in terms of from the air, actions we’re continuing to take working with governments on the ground – all of the different lines of effort. So it’s one component. The train and equip program is one component.
QUESTION: So it’s not to topple Assad, it’s just to degrade and defeat ISIS?
MS. PSAKI: That has long been the focus of the program, yes. And we certainly expect that the moderate opposition may use their training and equipment to continue to fight against the Assad regime, but our focus of our effort to degrade and defeat ISIL continues to be on that.
QUESTION: So you’re saying, basically, Turkey has agreed to train and equip Syrian opposition fighters – forces --
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s long been --
QUESTION: -- to defeat and – to fight ISIS instead of Assad?
MS. PSAKI: It’s long been public – please don’t take words out of my mouth – it’s long been public that they have been supportive of a train and equip program and agreed to host it. The question is what are the specific details. We’re continuing to have a discussion with them. The Department of Defense is the lead agency on that, and I’d encourage you to ask them more specifics about the program.
QUESTION: So you’re saying that they can train under the notion that ISIL, ISIS is the focus, but then use the weapons to actually fight Assad instead?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly expect – and we’ve said this many times before, Brad – that in our efforts to boost up the military capability of the moderate opposition, that yes, we want – we are focused on taking on ISIL. But we fully expect that they would use that to continue to pursue their goals of fighting the Assad regime as well.
QUESTION: But what if they don’t help with ISIS or ISIL?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the train and equip program, as you know, is one that we’ve supported for some time now. Of course, taking on ISIL is part of our objective, but they can be --
QUESTION: Well, you supported it for some time, but it hasn’t actually started, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s been a whole implementation process that’s been ongoing, Brad.
QUESTION: Can we stick with Syria and --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I wondered if you had any reaction to the news today that Lebanon has started imposing visa restrictions for the first time, I believe ever in the history of the two countries, to try, I guess, to limit the flood of refugees into Lebanon from Syria.
MS. PSAKI: We do. We are very concerned new visa requirements for Syrians entering Lebanon will create additional challenges for refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict. We encourage the Government of Lebanon to coordinate closely with the UN in the development of criteria to ensure those feeling violence and persecution are able to cross into Lebanon. We will continue to strongly encourage the governments of the region to provide refuge and – refuge for asylum seekers in accordance with international principles. We remain very grateful to the governments of the – and the people of Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq for hosting more than 3 million refugees from Syria in total, and we recognize this is a tremendous challenge for their economies and public services.
QUESTION: Is there any additional aid? I know that the United States has been the prime donor of aid to the refugees, but is there any additional aid or any way that you can help? I mean, what about taking some of these refugees into the United States? I mean, obviously, they wouldn’t come here initially. They’d have to go to another country first, but --
MS. PSAKI: Well, so we’ve – the United States, as you know, has contributed more than $3 billion in humanitarian assistance, including a great deal to many of the neighboring countries. There was an announcement, I think, over the last week about the United States and refugees. We’ve received referrals of more than 10,000 Syrians for permanent resettlement from the UNHCR in 2014 and are receiving roughly 1,000 referrals of Syrians per month. The U.S. resettlement process takes some time. It takes between 18 and 24 months to complete security checks, medical screening, and in-person interviews. And because we’ve only begun these – to receive referrals in the past few months, we expect to welcome as many as 1,000 to 2,000 Syrians in 2015 and higher numbers in 2016.
We have – overall, the United States has resettled nearly 70,000 refugees over the last fiscal year, more refugees than the rest of the world combined. I don’t think it’s as simple as that, as you know, because there are millions of refugees, and so it certainly is a challenge that many of the countries in the region are bearing the burden of. We continue, as I noted, to resettle more refugees than most of the world, and we will continue to do that. We have just started receiving referrals of Syrians.
QUESTION: And have you been in touch, has anyone from this building or anyone on the ground been in touch with the Lebanese Government to voice your concerns about this – the visa restrictions?
MS. PSAKI: I’m certain we’ve been in touch on the ground. As you know, this has been a growing burden on Lebanon for some time now, and so it’s been an ongoing discussion. The Secretary certainly discussed it with them when he was there last year, and certainly, our ambassador on the ground has. I can check and see if there have been any recent discussions over the past couple of days.
QUESTION: But these concerns – the program really has only started today, so you’ve already voiced concerns to the Lebanese Government about this, have you? Or --
MS. PSAKI: I will check and see if there’s more specifics on that, sure.
QUESTION: Have you told the Lebanese Government to reconsider the – this decision?
MS. PSAKI: I think that’s the question Jo just asked. It may be hard to hear, but she just asked the same question.
Any more on Lebanon? Okay. Go ahead, Elliot.
QUESTION: Thanks. A couple on Japan, quick ones. I was wondering if you saw Prime Minister Abe’s opening – year-opening press conference where he said that Japan would be issuing a statement on the 70th anniversary of World War II expressing remorse for Japan’s actions. I was wondering if you had a response.
MS. PSAKI: We did see President – Prime Minister Abe’s remarks. As you know and we’ve stated many times from here, the apologies – our view is that the apologies extended by previous Prime Minister Murayama and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Kono marked important chapters in Japan’s efforts to improve relations with its neighbors. As we’ve indicated many times, we encourage Japan to continue to work with its neighbors to resolve concerns over history in an amicable way through dialogue.
QUESTION: Will you be encouraging the Japanese to include specific language in the statement that reconciles historical differences with its neighbors?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, as I mentioned, there’s been a statement that’s been issued already. Beyond that, I don’t have anything to preview for you.
QUESTION: Well, the statement is going to be made later this year. I was wondering what --
MS. PSAKI: I understand. I mean, there’s been a statement previously issued.
MS. PSAKI: Beyond that, I don’t have anything to convey. I can check and see if there’s more to add.
QUESTION: On Gambia?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the charges against two men who tried to attempt a coup against the Gambian Government? And also, the fact that in the criminal complaint, Gambia is considered a friendly nation when they have one of the worst human rights records in Africa?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Department of Justice issued an extensive press release with a great number of details, so I would certainly point you to that, as well as any questions you have about the language in there. Of course, as – with any country, including Gambia, we have – when we have concerns about human rights issues, we express them, but in terms of the phrasing in their press release, I’d point you to them.
QUESTION: So have you had recent conversations with the Gambian Government about their human rights record?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I can check and see if there’s more specifics to offer for you. I can assure you that as it relates to any concerns we have about human rights issues, we raise them, and that’s true here as well.
MS. PSAKI: On Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The Kurdish officials are engaged in an effort to gain international recognition for the massacre of the Yezidis by ISIS as genocide. Do you – I mean, I know President Obama used the word genocide in his --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- first address to authorize military action on Mount Sinjar. Does the United States believe that what ISIS ended up doing on that mountain or in Sinjar town, in general*, constitute genocide?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point you to what the President has already said. I don’t have any new definitions for you.
QUESTION: Is it --
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, what happened there was horrific. It was barbaric. We took very quick action to help address the situation. I’m not going to put new labels on it today.
QUESTION: But wouldn’t recognizing the slaughter as genocide, like, boost U.S. efforts to degrade and defeat ISIS, like in this --
MS. PSAKI: I think the actions we took at the time, including military action, coordinating the world’s significant humanitarian action, spoke to our concerns and how strongly we felt about it.
QUESTION: Just one more question, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The KRG also appointed Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, a woman from Sinjar, actually, as its representative in Washington. She arrived here yesterday. What do you – do you have anything to say on that decision by the KRG – a woman from Sinjar to be in Washington?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly support women in prominent positions as a government. I don’t think I have more specifics. Are you asking of their – do you have another specific question?
QUESTION: Do you welcome the decision?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details for you.
Oh, let’s go – go ahead, to the middle.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Under the Administration’s deal to normalize relations with the Castro regime, 53 Cuban political prisoners are set to be released. Do we know who they are and where they are now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, when the announcement was made in December, of course, the United States shared the names of individuals jailed in Cuba on charges related to their political activities. We’re not going to outline who those individuals were. We shared them with the Cuban Government. Obviously, it’s a topic that we will remain engaged with them with, but I don’t expect we’ll be releasing a public list.
QUESTION: There’s a prominent dissident group in Cuba, the Ladies in White; they’ve been protesting the new policy. And they say the list is so secretive that no one knows who’s on there. Is there a lack of transparency?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we know who’s on there, and the Cuban Government knows who’s on there, and we’ve given a specific number. Obviously, there are a range of steps that both sides will need to continue to work together to take over the coming weeks. One of the reasons why we felt so strongly about changing our policy is that this – the old policy was not just broken on the economic front, but it was making it impossible for civil society and people to operate and kind of live and communicate in Cuba. So there’s a range of benefits, not just the release of the prisoners, which, obviously, we see as something that’s positive and we’ll continue to discuss and press; but there are other steps that will help, I think, groups like you mentioned, and we think it will take some time but over the coming months.
QUESTION: Jen, are you saying that you don’t – you cannot confirm if Cuba has actually released a single one of these 53?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to confirm for you publicly, no.
QUESTION: Well, hold on. Hold on a second. Can we – I mean, is it – what’s happening? Are they out? Are they not out? Have some of them gotten out and others are – we’re not asking for – I’m not asking for names. It would be nice to have them, but where are they?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more updates to provide for you, Matt.
QUESTION: So you don’t know or you cannot tell us if --
MS. PSAKI: It’s not that I don’t know; I don’t have any updates to provide for you.
QUESTION: I don’t – okay.
QUESTION: So you do know.
QUESTION: So you know that they have not been released. Is that what you’re saying?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not what I’m saying. I will see if there’s more – anything more publicly we can share.
QUESTION: It would seem to me that if you come out and announce that the Cubans have agreed to free 53, then you should be able to say whether or not you know that the 53 have actually been released or not. That would seem --
MS. PSAKI: It’s always easier for me when we can provide more details publicly, as you know, but I will see if there’s more we can provide.
QUESTION: Right. Do you know if there has been a date yet set for the migration/beginning of normalization talks that Assistant Secretary Jacobson is going to go to Havana for?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re likely to happen later this month. I think we’re still working on finalizing the dates. Hopefully, we’ll have that in the coming days.
QUESTION: And the recent arrests and then releases and re-arrests of dissidents, despite the promise to free 53 political prisoners, won’t have any effect on the timing of that or on the entire idea of normalization, or will it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, I mean, as I mentioned, I mean, one of the reasons why we moved forward with the change in policy is because we want to empower Cuban citizens to give them greater ability to promote positive change going forward. And a critical focus of our announced actions include continued strong focus on improved human rights conditions, of which we know that the situation in Cuba remains poor. There are limits on fundamental freedoms. There are – including freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. This will certainly be part of our ongoing dialogue.
QUESTION: Right. But --
MS. PSAKI: But no, it hasn’t impacted the timing of the next round of discussions, no.
QUESTION: Well, the problem that I’m having with this, though, is that you say that the last 50 years of policy has been broken because it didn’t do anything. But then you announce that it’s changed, and within a week or two weeks of the announcement that you’re going to change your – fundamentally change, alter the relationship that you’ve had with Cuba, not only can you not confirm that the 53 people that they said they would – the political prisoners – said that they would release, you can’t confirm that they have been released; but one of the very first things the Cubans do afterwards is continue to arrest dissidents. So if the policy was broken for 50 years, the change in policy doesn’t seem to have fixed it.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, our view was never that the changes would take place and be implemented with a matter – in a matter of weeks. This has, as you noted, been decades of a broken policy.
QUESTION: Yeah. But --
MS. PSAKI: It’s going to take a long time to change it.
QUESTION: Okay, all right. So is the release of the 53 confirmable publicly from you a prerequisite for Assistant Secretary Jacobson going down there and having these talks to start normalization?
MS. PSAKI: A prerequisite? No, this is a --
QUESTION: So the Cubans don’t have to actually --
MS. PSAKI: These are --
QUESTION: -- do anything?
MS. PSAKI: Matt, no. This is something they have agreed to. I would point you to them for any updates on the number of people or if people have been released. There are migration talks that have been scheduled for some time. Obviously, this is a different, a unique – or not unique, but a different set of circumstances given the announcements in December.
QUESTION: Well, I’m sure that these prisoners would like to migrate out of their jail cells, right? So is that not – the Cubans don’t actually have to follow through on their promise to release the 53 in order for the --
MS. PSAKI: That’s part of what was agreed to, Matt. I don’t have any other announcements on that front to make. Anything more on Cuba?
MS. PSAKI: Cuba?
QUESTION: On the dissidents who were arrested, re-arrested --
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
QUESTION: Arrested, temporarily detained, and then arrested again.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: At what level did the U.S. raise this with the Cuban Government?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on that. I can see if there’s more we have to offer.
QUESTION: Did you raise it all, given that you said human rights, I think just a minute ago, would be part of your ongoing dialogue?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more to offer for you, Brad. I’ll see if there’s more to offer.
QUESTION: Well, can I get to Libya?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let’s finish Cuba and then we can go. Cuba, Pam? Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Actually two questions. First of all, if you can clarify the issue that Matt raised with the dissidents concerning those that are still imprisoned in the wake of our overtures to normalize relations with Cuba. Yes, there’s a meeting later on in January, but have there been any new U.S. discussions with Cuba at – to this point regarding the status of these dissidents, especially these who’ve been recently detained?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to read out for you in terms of private diplomatic conversations, no.
QUESTION: And one more question. What are your reactions to the threats coming from Senators Rubio and Menendez who say they’ll refuse to confirm any new U.S. ambassador to Cuba?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to prejudge a potential confirmation process. I think most people would agree that what the Interests Section now – does now and the U.S. embassy would do in the future is critically important for Americans and Cubans alike. It includes things like uncensored internet access. It includes visas for thousands of Cubans every year, nonimmigrant visas for many thousands, immigrant visas for 20,000 Cubans a year. U.S. engagement will be critical when appropriate and will include continued strong support for improved human rights conditions, as I’ve outlined. So we’ll let the process play out. Obviously, we’ll make a strong case for why a change in our presence there is warranted.
MS. PSAKI: Venezuela? Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: President Maduro made the declaration that he would be willing to exchange the opposition leader jailed, Leopoldo Lopez, for the Puerto Rican accused in the United States and convicted of bombing attempts. Your reaction first to that kind of an offer; and secondly, does this imply that Leopoldo Lopez, if Maduro says he can exchange him at any time, that he is truly a political prisoner?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve seen reports about President Maduro’s comments in the press rather than through diplomatic channels. There’s no comparison in our view between these cases. I’m sure that comes as no surprise to you. We’ve repeatedly called for the release of all political prisoners, a call that has been echoed by many international and multilateral entities. You have President Maduro proposes exiling opposition figures rather than having a discussion about the real concerns and problems facing Venezuela.
As it relates to this specific case, we – it is unfortunate that someone – Leopoldo Lopez, who should be presumed innocent – is being sentenced on national television by Venezuela’s president without the conclusion of a trial. Otherwise, for all judicial questions about Oscar Lopez Rivera’s case, would refer you to the Department of Justice.
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry – Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: There were reports over the weekend giving reference to some diplomats and arguing that U.S. and Iran has agreed on a formula that requires Iran to ship off some of the nuclear arm materials to Russia. Do you have any input on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any comment one way or another on the reports about details of the negotiations. I would also point you to the fact that I think that’s been denied by both sides, so – or at least by the Iranian side.
QUESTION: On the Iranian side?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have a date --
QUESTION: You’re pointing out an Iranian rejection, but not giving an – a U.S. position?
MS. PSAKI: It’s --
QUESTION: Since when does the U.S. – an Iranian rejection hold any weight with the U.S.?
MS. PSAKI: It’s not related to – it’s not involving the United States directly. So --
QUESTION: Sorry, but --
QUESTION: Do you have --
QUESTION: Sorry. So what is the U.S. response to the report?
MS. PSAKI: I just said I don’t have any comment one way or the other on the report.
QUESTION: But it’s not a denial.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more comment on the report.
QUESTION: But it directly, directly deals with the United States since the United States is negotiating the --
MS. PSAKI: Sure, but there were specific reports. I don’t have anything more specific about it.
QUESTION: So where are we in the negotiations? There were some talks back in December. What’s the next step?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we expect further meetings to take place in mid-January. As you know, we typically allow the EU to announce the timing of that. I don’t have any more specifics on that.
QUESTION: Switching the topic to Taiwan --
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish Iran and then we can – Iran? Or --
QUESTION: On Iran. On Iran. There’s been a lot of reports that with the new Republican Senate they’re going to push through new Iran sanctions. Is there – what’s the State Department’s position on that?
MS. PSAKI: Our position hasn’t changed. We obviously don’t think that that would be productive or the right step. We want to give the negotiators room to have the negotiations. That remains our position.
QUESTION: Yes. The Republic of China, Taiwan. The national flag was raised at Twin Oaks a few days ago during the New Year ceremony. I’m just wondering: Is United States aware of this event in advance? And did you get any formal or informal protest from the People’s Republic of China – that China?
MS. PSAKI: We did not know about the January 1st flag-raising at Twin Oaks in advance. The ceremony is not consistent with U.S. policy. We remain fully committed to the U.S. One China Policy, based on the three communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act. No U.S. Government personnel attended the event in any capacity.
QUESTION: So can we say that is a stronger relationship – mutual trust between the Taiwan and the U.S. relationship? Can we say that?
MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed as it relates to our relationship.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. I should probably know more about this. You are objecting to a private ceremony at which there was – that some people raised the Taiwanese flag?
MS. PSAKI: We just said the ceremony is not consistent with our policy. That’s it.
QUESTION: Well, so what? I mean --
MS. PSAKI: She asked what our position was on it. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, I don’t get why you’re --
QUESTION: I mean, if I raise the flag of Narnia over my house, that’s going to be inconsistent with U.S. policy?
MS. PSAKI: We may talk about you, but I don’t know if I’ll have a U.S. Government comment on it.
QUESTION: Well, was the U.S. Government involved in any way, shape, or form in this --
MS. PSAKI: No, we were not.
QUESTION: -- displaying of the flag?
MS. PSAKI: We didn’t attend. We didn’t know about it. That’s our specific comment on --
QUESTION: Can you not raise the Taiwan flag in the United States? Is that what you’re saying? Sorry, I don’t know much about --
QUESTION: It’s probably illegal.
QUESTION: But did you get any formal or informal protest from China?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more. I’d point you to the Chinese on that.
QUESTION: Can I ask on Libya?
MS. PSAKI: On Libya? Okay, Libya. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Go on.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Go on. Okay. Well, I wanted to ask about the peace talks that were due to start today under the guidance of the UN, and they’ve had to be canceled so – or postponed again. I just wondered if you had a position on that, and – yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the UN announced, as you mentioned, today that efforts continue to – are continuing to restart the peace talks that were originally scheduled for December 9th. At this point, we don’t know when the talks will be scheduled. We have long expressed our strong support for the UN-led dialogue. We think it’s the appropriate format for these discussions to take place, and we believe the situation in Libya can only be resolved through political and not military means. So we certainly continue to support the UN’s efforts, including their efforts to restart the talks.
QUESTION: Did you see one of governments is calling for arms to try and resolve the situation and push back the militias?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our view continues to be that we believe that dialogue, and not military means – a political solution is the right way forward.
Libya? Any more on Libya? Libya? Go ahead. Why don’t you go ahead?
QUESTION: My question is about --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: My question is about December 17 corruption operation in Turkey. After the operation, parliamentary commission established to look into claims of graft. And today, this commission voted not to refer former cabinet ministers to a top court for trial. Commission has 40 members, and 9 of them from AKP. All AKP members voted no. And do you have any comment on this?
MS. PSAKI: I think this sounds like an internal matter for Turkey, so I don’t have a specific comment.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: One is the Egypt --
MS. PSAKI: That’s quite a setup.
QUESTION: Yeah. In Egypt, this bath house case is going on. This seems to be – is an internal Egyptian matter, is it not?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are following the case closely. I don’t have any specifics. Broadly speaking, we certainly condemn any violence or discrimination against individuals based on their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Beyond that, I don’t have any more specifics.
QUESTION: So a court case in Egypt is different than a court case in Turkey?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any more specifics on his – I think it was very detailed about the findings of a court case.
QUESTION: Got you.
MS. PSAKI: It’s different from reports of discrimination.
QUESTION: Fair enough. So in – on Egypt, have you raised this with the Egyptians?
MS. PSAKI: I can check and see, Matt. I’m happy to, from our Embassy.
MS. PSAKI: Spoken about.
QUESTION: -- deep concern about in the past when he was detained has now been charged.
MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen the reports. As we’ve previously said, we remain deeply concerned about this case and about his continued detention. We did release a statement last week as well I would point you all to. As we consistently have said, opposition parties that peacefully voice criticism of the government play a vital role in inclusive, pluralistic states and societies. We’re concerned this action will inflame tensions. We strongly urge the Government of Bahrain to follow due process in this – in all cases and to resolve this case as quickly and transparently as possible. We remain engaged on this case at high levels of the Government of Bahrain.
MS. PSAKI: Ukraine? Sure.
Bahrain or Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Let’s go to Ukraine, and then we can go to you, Pam.
QUESTION: Can I just ask on Ukraine – I believe there’s going to be a meeting – international talks in Kazakhstan on January the 15th, at which it’s hoped that President – Ukrainian President Poroshenko will meet Russian President Putin. I believe Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is also going to be there, and French President Hollande. Is there any U.S. involvement in this at all, or is this some – or will you have at least an observer, or is it purely a European-led issue?
MS. PSAKI: There are no plans for U.S. participation in talks proposed for January 15th that you referenced. Our view is certainly that any opportunity to take further steps forward to fulfill – for Russia and the separatists to fulfill their Minsk commitments, and ultimately move closer toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, is positive. But we will see what happens in the discussions.
QUESTION: So Hollande – President Hollande is saying that he believes that if there’s progress made at these talks, that the sanctions should be lifted. Obviously, there’s been a certain amount of pain within Europe because of the sanctions that have been imposed by the Europeans and the United States. Does this concur with the American view on the next steps in sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you noted, President Hollande said that sanctions would be lifted if, quote, “progress is made” toward a lasting peace. This has been our position, as well as the position of our European and other partners from the very beginning. If Russia and the separatists implement the commitments each party made in Minsk, we’ll be in a position to begin a rollback of some of the sanctions. But there can be no rollback until there is tangible progress on the ground.
As always, we appreciate the cooperation of our European partners in implementing the sanctions, and we expect we’ll continue to work lockstep with them moving forward.
QUESTION: What does that look like, tangible progress? I know you’ve outlined various things, but what would you like to see as a first step?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are very specific steps that are in the Minsk agreement, as you know. I mean, we can provide those to all of you – you’re pulling back troops. There’s a range of steps that are included in there, and I don’t want to forget some and mention others. So tangible progress on those steps is what we’re referring to. It’s not just simply words. It’s actions.
QUESTION: May I ask one more (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Okay. And then we’ll go to Pam. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: I had seen that. I believe I have something for – on that for you, but why don’t we send it to you right after the briefing? I’m sorry, I must have left it on my desk.
Go ahead, Pam.
QUESTION: Jen, in recent days, there has been an increase in ceasefire violations – cross-border shootings – between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. First of all, what is the State Department’s reaction? And secondly, does the U.S. plan any type of response beyond calling for both sides to exercise restraint?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are troubled by reports of ceasefire violations, as well as casualties in recent days. These incidents do not correspond to the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents’ commitments to reach a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As an OSCE Minsk Group co-chair country, we do continue to urge, as you noted or previewed, both sides at the highest levels to engage in negotiations that could lead to a peace agreement and adopt measures to reduce the likelihood of such events along the line of contact and along the border. That continues to be our focus.
MS. PSAKI: Turkey, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Over the weekend, Turkey authorized the building of the first church in republic’s history, and the church will be financed partly by government funds. And as far as I see, State Department’s international religious freedom reports have been criticizing Turkey’s blockage on building the only church so far. So do you welcome this authorization?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to look more specifically into the building of the church, so I’m happy to talk to our team about that.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Over the past couple weeks, the government or the FBI, a different agency, has blamed North Koreans for the Sony hack. It’s become – even as alternative theories have been raised – some of them semi-compelling, at least to lay people – the Administration has stayed firm in its allegation that North Korea was behind the attack. And then on – when was it – Friday, we saw the Treasury sanctions.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is that it, or is that just step one? And my second question on this is: Are you still as convinced as you were – and by “you,” I mean this building, the State Department – that the FBI is correct in its assessment that North Korea was behind it?
MS. PSAKI: So this – let me take the second one first, just because it’s a little shorter. As the FBI made clear, we are confident – we remain confident – that the North Korean Government is responsible for this destructive attack. As my colleague noted last week – but it’s worth reiterating, because some of you weren’t here celebrating New Year’s Eve with us – there’s a certain amount of evidence that the FBI made public; there’s a certain amount they did not, that we’re not going to. But they remain confident and we remain confident in their findings.
In terms of whether this is the only thing, one, I would say the executive order itself, which the President signed – and obviously, there was a limited number of announcements on three entities and 10 individuals – is a broad and powerful tool, one that we intend to continue using as appropriate, especially given the FBI’s ongoing investigation. I would also note that the new executive order is the first aspect of our response, so there are ongoing discussions about other options.
QUESTION: So there will be – or there may be more (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Sure, right. I --
QUESTION: So this is --
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, I’m not going to preview it, but that certainly is our expectation.
QUESTION: And I know you guys are loath to answer these kinds of questions, but I’m going to have ask --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Is there any practical impact that the latest designations have on these 10 entities and three individuals? And specifically for these three – on the three individuals, have they ever traveled to the United States before? Have they ever sought to travel to the United States before? Is this not the equivalent of saying, “Go to your room,” except that “your room” is North Korea and every other country on the planet except for the United States?
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Well, the focus of – I can give a broad answer. You’re right; we’re not going to get into specifics. Some of it is best directed to Treasury. Our focus here was targeting individuals and entities that would have the most profound impact on the North Korean Government given the series of actions. This is, again, one step – one announcement – in a broadly defined executive order, and one step in what could be additional steps. Beyond that, I don’t have anything more on the individuals, but --
QUESTION: Okay. Well, you say that it’s designed to impact – or have the most profound impact on the – the most profound in this case is what? I mean, it doesn’t seem to be profound at all. It seems to be the opposite of profound, because it doesn’t seem to have any practical impact, as these companies never do business in the United States, and these people never traveled here or even evinced an interest in wanting to travel here. Isn’t that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Matt, there are a range of steps. I could point you to the Treasury Department. They put out a fact sheet. I would point you to them on more specifics on the impact.
All right. Thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:34 p.m.)