Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 17, 2013


Index for Today's Briefing
  • SYRIA/RUSSIA
    • Reports on the Transfer of Weapons Systems
    • Joint Commitment Moving Toward the Peace Conference / Concerns about Aid
  • SYRIA
    • London 11 Meeting in Jordan Next Week
    • Activist Mazen Darwish Detained / Al-Nusrah Front Leader Muhammad Al-Jawlani, a Specially-designated Global Terrorist
  • RUSSIA
    • Continue to Work Closely with Russia on a Number of Issues
  • JAPAN
    • Close and Cooperative Relationship
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Secretary Kerry's Upcoming Trip
  • IRAN
    • Upcoming Elections
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Secretary Kerry and President Karzai's Discussions
  • PAKISTAN
    • Condolences to the Families of Those Killed in Attacks
  • BURMA
    • 20 Political Prisoners Released
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
    • Conversations on Many Levels regarding West Bank Outposts


TRANSCRIPT:

The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.

1:22 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Pretty color, Jill. It’s very bright.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Well, Happy Friday, everyone. I hope everyone has some fun weekend plans. I don’t have anything at the top, so let’s get to what’s on all of your minds.

Can we –

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MS. PSAKI: Brad. Or Jill.

QUESTION: I was going to start with Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: And more news about more arms shipments from Russia and sort of slight astonishment from Foreign Minister Lavrov that anybody would be upset about this. What would you have to say about that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know there were some new reports this morning, so can you specify a little bit more on which specific reports you’re referring to?

QUESTION: There were some reports of a new batch of upgraded Yakhont anti-ship missile systems that are going to be shipped to Syria, which will make it obviously quite difficult for any shipping embargo to be enforced, if there were to be one, for example.

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me take those specific – those specific reports – let me say. So the transfers of such weapon systems from Russia to Syria have been reported in the media several times before. I would point to the fact that the Secretary also referred to his concerns that we – he has expressed publicly and privately to the Russians about their continuing to aid the Syrian regime.

These specific anti – these specific missiles, the Yakhont anti-ship missile, was reported in December of 2011, and I believe in the same report there was a reference to SA-17s, which was previously reported in April 2012. We’ve consistently raised concerns, as I mentioned, but it seems that these cases that were reported this morning have been previously reported.

QUESTION: So the recent deliveries would refer to December of – I mean, you have no indications that there’s been any recent deliveries or there are any deliveries imminent?

MS. PSAKI: We’re not aware of new shipments of these specific missiles.

QUESTION: But that’s different from whether there have been recent deliveries.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not aware of new shipments, so --

QUESTION: No, but that’s not the point. I mean, a shipment could have been made – it could have been announced two years ago and made two weeks ago. That would not be a new shipment, but it would be a recent shipment. So are you aware of any recent shipments of these, regardless of when the agreements to ship them may have been reached?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – to totally clarify what I was saying, or to be clear here, what I was saying is that the reports of these specific missiles – so the Yakhont missile and the SA-17s – have been previously reported. It was previously reported that they have been transferred. In terms of whether new versions – there’s not new – we’re not aware of new shipments of these particular missiles.

QUESTION: And one other – sorry, one other thing, just if I may, on this. Today’s reports referred, I think, to the – one, I think, they – at least the Times, I think, referred to recent shipments. And then secondly, I believe it referred to advanced guidance systems. The reference that you made to December 20th of 2011, was that a reference to these missiles with the advanced guidance systems that the Times referred to?

MS. PSAKI: Well, those were the Yakhont anti-ship missiles. I know there have been a number of missiles that have been reported out there. We’ve seen those same reports, the S-300s. I don’t have anything specific for you on those reports. I was just referring to the fact that the new reports this morning were – have been previously reported.

QUESTION: But --

QUESTION: But you mean (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: I was just saying that they have been previously reported, so an indication that they are new or referring to something new does not jive with our knowledge.

QUESTION: But Jen, that doesn’t answer the question of whether the United States is concerned about any type of transfer because – let’s say that there were transfers before. Now Lavrov is justifying the contracts, and he could – in the future, a day from now, they could deliver the remainder of that contract. So is the U.S. concerned about any transfers on any contract, whether it’s an old one or a new one?

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely, and I appreciate your question. And the Secretary himself said this just two weeks ago. We remain concerned about any aid that is being provided to help the Syrian regime by the Russians or anyone else, including any form of missiles. That’s a concern we’ve expressed publicly and the Secretary and others have expressed privately as well.

QUESTION: Wasn’t the --

QUESTION: So you don’t take his point that this is just a contract, we have to fulfill old contracts, and that’s just the way it is?

MS. PSAKI: Look, I don’t want to get into that level of specificity in the contracts. I’m not familiar with the specifics of a contract. But let me just convey, to be fully clear: We are always concerned, we remain concerned, about any transfer of weapons or assistance to the Syrian regime.

On a larger picture, though, and the Secretary has spoken to this as well, we continue to work with the Russians in planning the international conference and in working to get both sides back to the table to work toward a political transition at the same time we’re doing that.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, and maybe I’m being obtuse, but I – are you aware of any recent shipments of Yakhont missiles by Russia to Syria?

MS. PSAKI: We’re not aware of new shipments.

QUESTION: But you keep saying “new,” and I worry that you are deliberately choosing a word that does not address my specific question, because “new” could be interpreted as something that was previously announced, and therefore it is not new; in other words, it’s not an additional thing. But I’m interested not in whether it was previously announced, but rather whether it was recently delivered. So can you address the question of recency?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the point I was raising, Arshad, is that previously it was reported that the transfers were made. We’re not aware of new – any new information or new --

QUESTION: So you’re not aware of any transfers since December 20th, 2011?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have any new information beyond what I just laid out for you.

QUESTION: But it’s sort of odd that you’re not able to address – I mean, you’re saying you’re not aware of any new transfers. That either means that there’s nothing since ’11, or it doesn’t.

MS. PSAKI: What I’m conveying to you here is that the transfers of these weapons have been previously announced. In terms of the timing of that, I don’t have anything more specific for you.

QUESTION: So you (inaudible) --

MS. PSAKI: But the notion that this is new information – it has been previously reported. Beyond that, I just don’t have anything more for you.

QUESTION: So it’s possible that there were, indeed, recent deliveries of these; you just don’t know?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to speculate on that.

QUESTION: You don’t know?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to speculate on that.

QUESTION: So do you know the answer to that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more information for you.

QUESTION: But do you know the answer to whether there were any recent deliveries?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything additional for you, Arshad. I don’t --

QUESTION: I can see that.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, great. Any more on Syria?

QUESTION: What has been the response from the Russians when Secretary Kerry has publicly and privately expressed these concerns about continued aid? Has there been what you would characterize as any kind of satisfactory response? And within the weeks leading up to a peace summit, would any continued fulfillment of existing contracts still be seen as a Russian commitment to a peace summit? Would it disrupt the plans for this June summit?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me take the first one first. The Secretary – I’m not going to speak on behalf of the Russians, and obviously, you can call them and reach out to them about their take on that. Clearly, and obviously, the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov standing next to each other just a few days ago and stating their joint commitment to moving towards the conference, moving towards a political transition, is evidence that we’re both committed on both sides to doing that.

Of course, there are concerns at the same time simultaneously about any aid being provided to the regime, and that remains the case. But we can still move forward on the track towards the conference because we share a commitment to moving toward a political transition, and that has been the case.

QUESTION: Would it be fair to say, then, that the response has not been satisfactory from the Russians so far specifically on these expressions of concern regarding aid, including weapons?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to parse that. We are pleased that the Russians have shown an openness to work with the Secretary, work with us, work with allies around the world, to move toward planning a conference and bringing both sides back to the table. That’s a very important step. At the same time, we’re also working on a multilateral approach to continue to help the opposition and continue to aid them with what they need. And that is going on, of course, on the other side as well.

QUESTION: So there was no request for an embargo on arms deliveries leading up to the peace conference?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into any specifics of internal conversations.

Is it on Syria?

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: My name is Joseph Howly --

MS. PSAKI: Hi, Joseph.

QUESTION: -- from Sky News Arabia. Regarding the international peace conference on Syria, the idea suggested by Russia and the United States, would you mind, would you agree, if Iran participated?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve talked about this. Welcome to the briefing room this week. Good to see you. We’ve talked about this quite a bit this week. I don’t have anything new for you on the conference today. The planning is underway. I mentioned yesterday that the P-3 political representatives were here yesterday, so that would be the U.S., UK, and France. They had a meeting. There’s going to be a meeting next week that the Secretary will be participating in in Jordan. But in terms of the participants and the agenda for the conference, that’s being worked out with our partners and with the UN, and we’ll continue to work on that every day.

QUESTION: And what about the meeting of Friends of Syria that’s going to happen in Jordan? Secretary Kerry is going to participate --

MS. PSAKI: Yes, he will be participating.

QUESTION: -- but the opposition, the Syrian opposition, said it’s not going to participate. So how this would help the Syrian opposition, and would you be there if still this would be the opinion for this opposition?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the purpose of the meeting in Jordan next week is to work with our partners, work with the London 11 that we’ve worked with in the past to help the opposition in planning for the conference. The Syrian opposition, as you may know, also has their own conference next week that will take place in Istanbul that has a broad agenda, including their plans to expand their membership and leadership. And they’ll be deciding there whether they’ll be participating moving forward. We certainly hope they will. We’ve been in close contact with them – Ambassador Ford and others have been. But I would send you to them for any further comment.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have a date and venue for the peace conference yet?

MS. PSAKI: The Geneva – the next Geneva 1, follow-up to Geneva 1 --

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: -- I should call it? We need a good name for it. I don’t have a date yet. We’re still in discussions with the UN and other partners about the timing of that, and we continue to shoot for early June.

QUESTION: Geneva, right? It will take place in Geneva?

MS. PSAKI: We don’t have any specifics on the location. Any announcement would come from the UN.

QUESTION: Really? The President --

QUESTION: On Google --

QUESTION: The President said Geneva yesterday. Did he screw up magnificently?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s a follow-up to Geneva 1.

QUESTION: He said talks in Geneva.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Well, when we have a formal announcement to make, it will come from the UN, so I’ll let you all wait for that.

QUESTION: So you’re saying he was incorrect or what?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not saying that, Brad. I’m just telling --

QUESTION: I just don’t understand why you hide information --

MS. PSAKI: I’m just --

QUESTION: -- when the President of the United States has given the name of the city.

MS. PSAKI: I’m just suggesting you wait for a formal announcement for all the details.

QUESTION: Okay. So the President, when he says something, it’s not formal enough for you? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Brad, thank you.

QUESTION: The Secretary said last Friday that it’s going to be in Geneva when he did the Google chat. I have a question: Do you have a reaction to the Syrian activist Mazen Darwish? It’s reported that he’s being scheduled to appear before the Syrian anti-terrorist court on May 19.

MS. PSAKI: We do, and thank you for your question. We’re deeply concerned about the well-being of Syrian activist Mazen Darwish, Director for the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, and several of his colleagues who were detained by Syrian air force intelligence over a year ago for the center’s work to promote and protect human rights in Syria.

Just to give folks a little bit of background in case you haven’t heard of this particular case, Mazen and two of his colleagues are scheduled to appear before the anti-terrorism court in Damascus on Sunday, May 19th. We feel this is clearly part of the regime’s continued attempts to repress freedom of expression and silence those who peacefully advocate for democracy and human rights. And finally, I would also note that the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, of which he is the Director, is the only Syrian NGO to be granted consultative status by the United Nation Economic and Social Council.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: One more thing on Syria --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: The Secretary himself in Rome referred to it as Geneva 2, so the exchange you had with Brad I think makes all of us think it’s not going to be in Geneva. Would you steer us away from that?

MS. PSAKI: I will stop being too cute about this. There will be a formal announcement. The obvious location for it is Geneva. It has been said by many people that it will be in Geneva. Because it is not our announcement to make, it is the UN’s announcement, I just wanted to refer to the official announcement.

QUESTION: Okay, okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: When is the announcement (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any timing for you on that. Obviously, there are a number of pieces, including the date and particulars like that that would need to be decided before any announcement would be made.

QUESTION: Jen, I wanted to ask a follow-up on yesterday’s designation of Syrian Air by the Treasury. It was made because you believe that it has been used to ferry weapons into Syria, and I understand that grounds; but on the other hand, it’s also quite a vital service within Syria itself for helping people within Syria to move around now that the roads have become very dangerous. I wondered if perhaps in this case such a designation could be seen as a little harsh when it might actually have a reverse effect and hit the people that you’re actually trying to help.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. And I appreciate your question. Because it’s a Treasury designation, I would point you to them for the specifics of the reasoning and the pieces weighed there.

QUESTION: But there’s nothing you can add from the State side of it?

MS. PSAKI: I just am not going to weigh in on a Treasury designation.

QUESTION: Can you weigh in on the State designation --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- of the leader of al-Nusrah Front? Because al-Nusrah was already designated by State some time ago, but specifically the leader being designated as a global terrorist, there’s a note about having recently pledged loyalty to the leader of al-Qaida. Was that the prompt for the designation, or was there something else?

MS. PSAKI: Well, just so everybody’s aware – and we sent out an extensive Media Note on this yesterday, so if anybody didn’t receive it, we’re happy to provide it. But the Department of State did – has designated al-Nusrah Front leader Mohammad Al-Jawlani as a specially-designated global terrorist. The consequences of this designation includes a general prohibition against engaging in transactions involving Jawlani and the freezing of all property and interests – in his property, and that that is in the United States or comes within the United States.

As you mentioned, Margaret, but let me just repeat, he’s considered the leader of al-Nusrah Front and has stated in videos that his ultimate goal is the overflow of the Syrian regime and the institution of Sharia law throughout the country. These public validations – declarations validate what we’ve long felt, known, that al-Nusrah Front is the Syrian arm of the AQI franchise, and this designation is something that confirms that further. I’m not going to get into the specifics of how those are decided, but clearly he’s somebody who there is great concern about, which warranted this specific step.

QUESTION: And has there been a change in the nature of the violence or anything that is related to this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have anything specific for you on the reasons why now. I’m happy to connect you with someone who can speak to that more in depth. Obviously, as somebody who is the leader of al-Nusrah Front, as somebody who has – we’ve long expressed concerns about the actions of that group. This was a step that seemed like a natural next step.

QUESTION: Can I ask about that? Does the U.S. Government have any reason to believe that this individual has any assets in the United States or under U.S. jurisdiction that could be frozen?

MS. PSAKI: That’s a good question, Arshad. I’m happy – I’m going to have to take the question and look further into it. I don’t know off the top of my head what his assets are in the United States.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) follow on terrorism. May 2nd was the second anniversary of the death of Usama bin Ladin, and my question is now here. A number of offices have been opened by the Taliban, like in Qatar and other places. Where do we stand now as far as terrorism is concerned around the globe after this Usama bin Ladin’s death? (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: That’s a quite a broad question. I will tell you that we remain committed to fighting it. The Secretary is doing everything he can on that part. The President speaks about this frequently, and I’d point you to his strong remarks in the past month.

QUESTION: When does the Global Terrorism report come out? It might be something to point to as well in the future. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Brad. I’m happy to do that.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: About terrorism, but it’s another spot. I mean, Egypt. I asked this question yesterday about --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: A few days ago it was reported that a terror plot or plan was there to target different embassies, and they specifically mentioned the American Embassy and then French Embassy. I don’t know if you have something to say about it.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we work closely with our partners around the world on security issues, and of course keeping our people safe. We don’t speak on specifics of those, for obvious reasons. And so I would refer you to the Government of Egypt for any other specifics.

QUESTION: So my other question is related to somehow something happened last weekend. An American citizen was stabbed next to the American Embassy, as a matter of fact. Do you have anything going on and any involvement from FBI or anybody is involved to the investigation what’s going on in that part of the world?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more specific for you on that. I think we may have spoken to it at the time, which our plan was to get you yesterday. And if we haven’t, I’m happy to do that following the briefing.

Go ahead, Jill.

QUESTION: Jen, I know you don’t like to, obviously, comment about CIA affairs. However, we know that for the past week there’s been a big spy scandal brewing in Moscow. And just wanted to know – it’s been very, very public, and obviously deliberately so, on the part of the Russians to splash it all over the Russian media. Is this – is the State Department commenting to the Russians? Is the Ambassador talking about this? Is there a concern that this is turning into some type of almost public vendetta?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Jill, no surprise, and you prefaced at the beginning, I don’t have anything further to add to what Patrick has said from the podium here about the specific case. I will say broadly that over the years we have worked closely with Russia on a number of issues, including combating terrorism, including on economic issues. You’re very familiar with what we did to implement the New START Treaty, to work on North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan. You’ve seen the Secretary meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov – I think actually it’s more than any other foreign minister at this point, they’ve worked together. So we still feel that we have a very positive relationship and one that we can continue to work together on areas where we agree.

There are still areas, of course, where we disagree, but I’m not going to weigh in further on the impact here. I would just tell you that we continue to work with Russia on a number of broad global cooperative issues across the board.

QUESTION: Same subject. Has the alleged spy left Russia yet?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: I think you said earlier in the week that you abide by your Vienna Convention obligations. Seventy-two hours would be up now, so have you abided by those obligations and pulled him out of the country, or is he still there?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have an update for you on that.

QUESTION: And then there was a report today that the FSB spokesman outed a CIA station chief in Moscow.

MS. PSAKI: I have not seen that report, but I don’t expect I would have anything for you. I would point you to our friends at the CIA.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: So, this week a senior adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a sudden visit to North Korea, and this trip has just ended on Friday. So the U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies didn’t receive advance notice of this trip, and also said we need to make efforts in future to ensure good communications. Does it mean there’s no good enough communications between Japan and the U.S.? How – any comments on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me say broadly that we have a very close and cooperative relationship with the Government of Japan. We work with them closely on a number of issues. The Secretary was just there just a couple of weeks ago.

On this particular issue, I don’t think I can add much more to what Ambassador Davies said about not having prior knowledge. He is in Japan right now. I expect he will speak to his meetings and his visit as he’s departing tomorrow, and so I would point you to that.

QUESTION: So he’s going to mention more things in this meeting.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would – he will give a summary of his visit to Japan, and he expected that he would receive a little bit more information on this. I don’t know if he has or hasn’t, but I would point you to whatever he says on that when he’s leaving.

QUESTION: Because there’s a – I mean, some U.S. meetings say that Japan’s secret trip to North Korea disrupt united stance against North Korea. So how do you – any comments --

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, it’s hard for me to speak to a trip that I don’t know the purpose of or the details of, so I’d point you to the Government of Japan for an answer to that question. Our approach to North Korea has been the same. We remain committed to working with our partners to put necessary pressure on. That’s why the Secretary was there just a couple of weeks ago and why one of the reasons the ambassador is in the region now.

QUESTION: Do you mean --

QUESTION: Can I ask on trips that I think you may know something about the details and purpose of?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Certain parts of the Secretary’s trip have already been announced. He, in Rome, told us that he would be in Jerusalem and Ramallah the – I think he said the 20th and the 21st, and you’ve confirmed that he will attend the meeting in Jordan, although you didn’t know when.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are you now in a position to do a trip announcement? It becomes very hard to write about the trip if one doesn’t know sort of where all he’s going.

MS. PSAKI: Understandably so. Those are two major components of the trip. As you know, he’ll also be going to Ethiopia to participate in the AU celebration there a week from Saturday. We will have a trip announcement with all the final details out later this afternoon, so I would point you to that. And of course, happy to address questions once that’s out.

QUESTION: I have a question. The Prime Minister Abe this morning – we saw the interview with Foreign Affair magazine. He compared Yasakuni Shrine to U.S. Arlington Cemetery. He said U.S. should understand the purpose for his visit to Yasakuni Shrine because Obama – President – U.S. President did the same thing. I wonder, do you have any comment? Do you agree this kind of comparison?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen those comments and maybe because we were kind of getting ready to come down here. I’m happy to take a look at them. I know we’ve spoken to his visit several weeks ago from the podium in the past, but I’ll have to get back to you on that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Japan’s mayor’s sex slaves remarks, and you said they were outrageous and offensive yesterday. How do you see the recent Japanese right-wing activities, because some South Korea media say that Japan’s far-right politicians have lost their minds? Any comments --

MS. PSAKI: I spoke to this pretty extensively yesterday, so I would point you to my remarks yesterday when I called the comments offensive and outrageous. And we still feel the same way, but beyond that I don’t know that I have much more analysis for you. I’d refer you to the Government of Japan.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Egypt?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Today, actually right now, thousands of Egyptians are protesting again President Mohamed Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood in Tahrir Square. I would like to know if you have any comment about that.

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen those reports, so I’d have to look closer at the details. Of course, we always support the freedom of and the rights of people to peacefully protest. We encourage them to do that peacefully. So let me take a closer look at that.

QUESTION: And on Taiwan today, I know my colleague and I have been asking this for a week, and State Department are reluctant to make any comment before the investigation coming out. But both sides from Taiwan and Philippine just released their investigation unilaterally. So far, what U.S. has learned? And seems like there is very two different version of the story.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I haven’t had an opportunity to review the reports that have come out. This continues to be an issue, and we have actually spoken to it pretty extensively from the podium and called it a tragic death. We’ve encouraged, of course, the Philippine Government to continue with their investigation and to pursue all avenues for that. This is an issue that we encourage both sides to work through together. That remains our position, and we’re happy to take a closer look at the reports that have come out.

QUESTION: And yesterday you mentioned you didn’t know that Philippine refused to cooperate with Taiwan to have a joint investigation. Do you have any follow-up?

MS. PSAKI: I think I said I would take a closer look at it. This is an issue where, again, it’s up to the Government of the Philippines, to the Taiwan authorities, to work through together. Obviously, we regret the tragic death of this fishing boat master. We’ve said that a couple times from here. That, of course, remains the case. I’d also point you to the fact that, Joe Yun, our Acting Assistant Secretary, expressed his condolences to the family for this unfortunate loss of life when he was on Capitol Hill. So we’ve repeatedly expressed that. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have anything new for you on this today.

QUESTION: He said that he didn’t know what really happened. But so far, there is so many information already provided. So U.S. doesn’t still --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we didn’t want to weigh in on an investigation that the Philippine Government was going to take underway. I haven’t seen their report on the investigation, but again, we’ll take a closer look at that.

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: A follow-up. If the two sides they don’t want to work together, will the U.S. get involved? And if the U.S. doesn’t want to get involved, what will your reaction be if China propose to be the mediator?

MS. PSAKI: There’s a lot of hypotheticals there, which I’m not going to weight into. But we encourage – continue to encourage both sides to work together. We’ve been in touch with both the Government of the Philippines as well as the Taiwan authorities. We hope they will work together. We continue to encourage that. And beyond that I’m not going to get ahead of where things are.

Jo, go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, can I change the subject? It would seem that in Iran the Guardians Council, which is vetting the candidates for the upcoming elections next month, have decided and have ruled that women cannot contest, they cannot stand as candidates. I wondered what the United States reaction is to that, considering that 50 person of the population in Iran is women – are women.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t take positions on any candidates, as you know, and we hope that the upcoming elections will be free, fair, and transparent and will represent the will of the Iranian people. So we wouldn’t weight into decisions made by the government. Of course, broadly, we hope that women around the world participate in politics and elected office, but beyond that I don’t think I have anything specific for you.

QUESTION: Taking the word “fair” – if you’re being fair, it would seem to exclude 50 percent of the population from an election, would already mean that it is not a fair election.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t weigh in on to the candidates and the candidates that are chosen through the process in Iran. Of course, of course, broadly speaking we do want women to participate in elections around the world and rise up in elected office.

QUESTION: Just not in Iran?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not suggesting that, Arshad. I’m just suggesting that we leave it to the process that happens in Iran for them to pick their candidates.

QUESTION: But I mean why – it seems astounding that this Department – I mean, what if they decided to exclude, as this country once did, not merely women but black people? Would that be acceptable to you? That’s just their choice; they do it any way they want and you’re not going to stand up for democratic rights?

MS. PSAKI: I think we pretty broadly stand up for democratic rights from this building.

QUESTION: Just not for Iranian women, apparently.

MS. PSAKI: That’s not at all what I was conveying. I think there are two separate issues here. Of course, we want women to participate in processes around the world, whether that is participating in voting or being elected to office. Of course. More specifically, in terms of how candidates are selected, we don’t weigh in on specific candidates, of course, as the Government of Iran is picking them. But broadly, yes, we would like women to be participating at every level.

QUESTION: Including in Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Including around the world.

QUESTION: But – no but --

QUESTION: This is not a process. This is a clear case of gender discrimination, no? Isn’t that a difference between a vetting procedure and just saying, “All women no”? I mean, you’ve got to take a stand on something like that.

MS. PSAKI: Again, Brad, I think I made pretty clear – I don’t know that I have much more to add – that of course we have long supported women being elected to office in the United States and around the world and participating in the process. We want this to be free and fair. There’s a lot of ways to, of course, define that. But again, we don’t select or play a role in selecting who the candidates are. We can take a look through the process, and happy to comment once it’s completed.

Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: India? Can you confirm that Home Minister of India Mr. Sushil Kumar Shinde should be here on Monday for the next two days to have talks on terrorism and cooperation between India and U.S.? And also, he may be asking the U.S. again access to Mr. Rana, who was involved in the Mumbai attacks.

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen reports of him visiting. I would – and he was an official from India?

QUESTION: May 20th through 22nd. And Indian televisions, Indian reports are there.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. I have not seen that. I don’t know that he has meetings here. We’re happy to check on that for you and for others if you all are interested.


Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just back to Japan and DPRK. Just let me reconfirm one things. I read the Ambassador Davies remark in Japan. The United States has not been informed about Japan’s Prime Minister senior advisor trip to North Korea --

MS. PSAKI: Well, Ambassador Davies spoke to this just a couple of days ago. Obviously we’re well aware now. I would point you to his comments. I don’t have anything further to add to that. As I mentioned a little bit yesterday, since Ambassador Davies is there in Japan and having several meetings, it’s possible that he will get more of a briefing on this visit. I don’t want to predict what he will know by tomorrow, but I would expect that he’ll make some comments as he’s leaving the country.

QUESTION: Does the United States know this thing before or after that? Do you --

MS. PSAKI: Again, I think Ambassador Davies comments made clear on that point.


Go ahead.

QUESTION: You tell me not only that Ambassador Davies but everybody in this building, including Secretary Kerry and the White House, nobody knows about this trip beforehand, right?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have any further details on the trip, other than what I’ve already said in terms of what we knew and didn’t know.


Walitz, do you have something?

QUESTION: Afghanistan.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: President Karzai’s office issued a brief statement today that he spoke to Secretary Kerry. Do you have any details on the readout, what were the issues they discussed?

MS. PSAKI: I do, I do.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: So Secretary Kerry spoke this morning with President Karzai. They discussed our joint progress on the bilateral security agreement, border issues, and the status of the ongoing peace process. Secretary Kerry also affirmed that he and President Karzai remain committed to the same strategy and the same goal of a stable, sovereign Afghanistan, responsible for its own security and able to ensure that it can never again be a safe haven for terrorists.

QUESTION: Do you know when this BSA will be signed? What’s the status on that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specific update on that. Again, it’s obviously something that we continue to work on, work very closely on at many levels with the Government of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: A little bit on Pakistan.

MS. PSAKI: Oh.

QUESTION: There were bomb blasts outside two mosques inside Pakistan. Fifteen people were killed and more than 100 injured. Do you have anything to say?

MS. PSAKI: I do. And thank you. I appreciate your question. We offer the families of all those killed in today’s attacks our deepest – or attack, I should say, I apologize – our deepest condolences and wish those injured a speedy recovery. We remain concerned about extremist violence of all kinds. Violence against innocent civilians is an assault on the values of the people of Pakistan and a threat to a prosperous future of all citizens.

Go ahead. Burma?

QUESTION: Yeah. So as I’m sure you’ve seen, there are reports that the Myanmar authorities have released 23 political prisoners. This is on the eve of the departure of the President for his visit to Washington. Three questions: One, what’s your reaction to the release? Two, would you not prefer that all of the political prisoners, which activist groups say number in the hundreds, be released immediately? And three, activist groups say that – and I think they’re right – that there is a pattern of the Myanmar authorities releasing prisoners at sort of strategic times before sanctions decisions come up, before important visits. Wouldn’t you rather not have this piecemealed process and just see them all freed?

MS. PSAKI: Well, thank you, Arshad. We do welcome the reports that approximately 20 political prisoners were released today. We talked about this a little bit yesterday, so that leads the number to, I believe, over 850 now. So we continue to urge the government to work through the political prisoner review committee, which was specially put in place to address remaining cases. And of course, we encourage them to release all political prisoners unconditionally.

And I spoke to this a little yesterday, but let me just add there’s, of course, been great progress made and a number of positive reforms in Burma, including the release of these prisoners, including the easing of restrictions. But part of the discussion next week I’m sure will be about continued progress that needs to be made.

QUESTION: And the 850 number refers to the number that have been released so far?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: And do you have an estimate of the number that remain imprisoned?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I don’t have one here. I’m happy to look further into that for you.

QUESTION: And what about the argument that rights activists make, that this is a very kind of cynical process and that people get let out before there are sort of diplomatic visits, things that are – it’s good for the optics? Do you see it that way?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to speak to that specifically, but I can say that of course we want all prisoners to be released unconditionally, and that would be a wonderful step. We can’t underestimate the fact that Burma has made great progress in the last couple of years. Yes, there’s still more work to do, but the progress they’ve made has been significant and they’ve put in place an ambitious reform agenda, and we encourage them to keep doing more.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Oh, I got one more. I’m sorry. Yesterday, I think I had asked if you – I think you had said that you would be happy to check whether the Secretary or anybody from the building had spoken to the Israeli Government about the four outposts that are apparently going to be legalized. Have they?

MS. PSAKI: We have addressed it through many channels here and it’s raised regularly. I don’t have anything specific on the Secretary specifically.

QUESTION: But on this specific issue?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. On this specific case of the recent reports we discussed yesterday.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: And I did check on that for you.

QUESTION: And was it done at the Embassy or high level or was it the acting assistant secretary or --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to get into that level of detail. It was just --

QUESTION: Why not?

MS. PSAKI: It was just raised at a high level here.

QUESTION: At a high level?

MS. PSAKI: At a high level, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And high level means like an ambassador or up or --

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to be specific. But this is something the Secretary has raised repeatedly in public and private. But I did follow up on your specific question.

QUESTION: No, no. Thank you. There is a reason why it’s interesting though. I mean, my specific question was actually about Secretary Kerry. So he did not raise it then?

MS. PSAKI: I’ll have to just double-check on that for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Please do. The reason we ask, and it’s not to be pesky --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, no. Not at all.

QUESTION: -- but it’s because the level at which something gets raised conveys something. So when the President raises an issue, it means one thing. When the Secretary raises it, it means something. When the assistant secretary or the acting assistant secretary raises it, it means something. When a third secretary makes a phone call about it, it means something else.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I certainly understand.

QUESTION: So if you could tell us where --

MS. PSAKI: And it is – and our position on these issues has been no secret, either, so --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Great. One thing I would just like to add, many of you know Jonathan Lalley, who’s standing over there with blond hair and hiding behind the post. But today is his last day. He’s going over to the White House. They’ve stolen him. But he has been just an incredible asset. I’ve only been here two and a half months, but he has helped me navigate through this entire building, every aspect of getting ready to talk to all of you. And I am just so grateful for him. And I’ve only been here two and a half months, so there are many people who appreciate him many more. He will be – the White House will be well served by him, and I just wanted to thank him. And we’ll embarrass him and just give him a little – (applause).

Okay. Thank you, everyone.

QUESTION: We appreciate him too, and congratulations, Jonathan.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:03 p.m.)

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - May 17, 2013]