Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 30, 2013


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Sentencing of Mansour Arbabsiar / Plot to Assassinate Saudi Ambassador
    • Release of Country Reports on Terrorism 2012
    • Correspondents' Welcome to Spokesperson Jen Psaki
  • SYRIA
    • Geneva 2 Conference / Opposition Decision Not to Attend Conference / Working on Dual Track
    • Receipt of Russian Arms / U.S. Concern
    • Ambassador Ford's Efforts
    • Opposition Leadership / General Idris
    • Russian Involvement / Options / Iranian Involvement
    • Support for Opposition
    • Condemnation of Hezbollah
    • Foreign Fighters / Overflow of Violence to other Countries / Lebanon / Sectarian Violence
    • Under Secretary Wendy Sherman and Acting Assistant Secretary Beth Jones Travel to Geneva
  • MEXICO
    • Maldonado Case / Consular Staff Visits / Contact with Family / Health and Welfare / Legal Process / Contact with Mexican Authorities
  • SYRIA
    • Austin Tice Case
  • BURMA
    • Two-Child Limit Policy for Rohingya Muslims / U.S. Concern
  • BANGLADESH
    • Factory Conditions
  • PAKISTAN
    • Concern for Human Rights
  • GEORGIA
    • Installation of Fences
  • NORTH KOREA
    • Six-Party Talks / International Obligations
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
    • Settlements / Construction in East Jerusalem / Counterproductive
    • Moving Process Forward
  • CHINA
    • Sovereignty over Islands
    • Human Rights / Upholding Rule of Law
  • LIBYA
    • Benghazi / Chairman Issa's Subpoena / Status of Specific State Department Employees / Secretary Kerry's Involvement / ARB
  • VENEZUELA
    • Peace Process with the FARC / Negotiations
    • Injured Defense Attaché Personnel / Investigation into Details / U.S. Embassy Travel Recommendations
  • SYRIA
    • Pledge of $250 Million in Nonlethal Aid
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Release of Country Reports on Terrorism 2012
  • EGYPT
    • NGO Laws / Legislative Restrictions
  • SYRIA
    • Assad's Statement on Russian Arms
  • PAKISTAN
    • TTP and Reconciliation Process / U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Interest
    • Ambassador James Dobbin's Travel to Pakistan / Meetings
  • WESTERN HEMISPHERE
    • OAS Meeting in Guatemala / Secretary Kerry's Trip
  • SYRIA
    • Chemical Weapons / UN Investigative Team


TRANSCRIPT:

The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.

1:14 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Good afternoon. I have two items for you at the top, and then we will get to what is on your minds. First, I wanted to highlight for all of you the announcement of Manssor Arbabsiar’s sentencing. He plotted the murder – the – he plotted with members – he plotted the murder – excuse me – of the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States, as we all know, while the Ambassador was on American soil back in 2011. His sentence sends a message to those who would harm the United States that their actions will not be tolerated and that they will suffer serious consequences. We congratulate the law enforcement officers who uncovered this plot and brought him to justice, and we thank our international partners, whose assistance made this possible.

I just also wanted to give you one more heads up of something that will be released later this afternoon. Later this afternoon, the State Department will release its annual congressionally mandated report, the Country Reports on Terrorism for 2012. This report provides the Department of State’s annual assessment of trends and events and international terrorism that occurred during the previous calendar year. It is intended to provide a snapshot of the year 2012 and focus attention on the continuing threat that international terrorism poses to the national security interests of the United States and its partners and what the international community is doing in response.

The report – there will be a fact sheet, and the full report will be posted online. It includes a strategic assessment, country-by-country breakdowns of counterterrorism efforts, sanctions on state sponsors of terrorism, terrorist safe havens, and foreign terrorist organizations, and an analysis. And it will be posted on State.gov. And to the degree you have questions, the Bureau of Counterterrorism’s public affairs officer will be thrilled to answer those for all of you.

So with that, Matt.

QUESTION: I’m sure she will. Listen, Jen, before we start any questions, it occurs to me that this is – that your first briefing I missed, and you have never gotten a proper – or may not have gotten a proper welcome to the podium from the correspondents.

MS. PSAKI: Well, thank you, Matt.

QUESTION: So on behalf of them, welcome aboard. And let’s hope this is the beginning of a – if not a beautiful, at least a collegial and productive, hopefully informative discourse that we’ll having from --

MS. PSAKI: I hope so.

QUESTION: So with that in mind, I won’t ask you to expound on the finer points of the Taiwan Relations Act and how it relates to the One-China policy, nor –

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to address as needed.

QUESTION: I will. Okay. Nor will I ask you about Transnistria policy, but I do have one hypothetical question I’d like to ask, and that is: If and when contact is made with extraterrestrials, would the State Department take the lead on the U.S. Government’s behalf in dealing with these? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Well, this is quite an initiation by Matt Lee. And I do have to say that some of my predecessors, who will remain nameless, left me some boxing gloves – I’ve left them upstairs – for solely this purpose, but I’ll bring them on other days. I am not an expert on the – who oversees extraterrestrials, but I’m happy to take that question, of course.

QUESTION: Okay. Please take that question. All right. Let’s get into the news of the day. How badly does it impact the Administration’s plans to have this – or to at least be part of this –Syria peace conference with the opposition saying it’s refusing to go? And how badly does it impact your hopes for increasing the leverage on the Assad regime with Assad’s announcement today that he has, in fact, received these Russian S-300 missiles?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say, Matt, that obviously this is challenging, and if there were easy answers, we would be using them and abiding by them right now. As the Secretary has said many times before, but most recently on his trip, there – the alternative to working on the dual paths that we are focused on – and that is of course planning the conference, working with international partners in the UN to do that, to work towards a transitional government while also increasing aid to the opposition – would be more bloodshed and lead down a path that I don’t think anybody wants.

To get to your more specific questions, we understand, of course – well, I did this a little bit yesterday, but let me just repeat this a bit. We saw, of course, the comments made by the opposition. We share their deep concerns over the situation going on in Syria and condemn in the strongest terms the active role publicly acknowledged by both Hassan Nasrallah and Bashir al-Assad that Hezbollah militants have taken an active role in the fighting there and other parts of Syria. We understand certainly with all of the bloodshed and tragedy that emotions are running very high. That is natural, given all that they have been through.

But we are encouraging and we encourage publicly the opposition not to derail from its stated commitment of working towards a political solution as outlined in the coalition’s own media note yesterday. And we are urging them both on the ground – as you know, Ambassador Robert Ford is on the ground and other staff there are working with them – to move forward on the agenda they’ve laid out for themselves in Istanbul, which is deciding expansion leadership and finally on participation. So that’s where our focus is.

QUESTION: So you share their concerns, but you don’t think they should boycott? Is that --

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, you know there’s multiple steps in this process, Matt. So you did kind of address – or you posed the question on the delay, which we talked about a little bit yesterday. Of course, we’d love to be having it – if it was possible for this Geneva 2 conference to happen tomorrow, the Secretary would be on a plane tonight. But we know that there are steps that need to happen, and that is what they’re focused on there. So we are working with them as the opposition’s membership and leadership discuss ways to expand their membership, and we expect that when they make those final decisions, we’ll be able to work with those leaderships and those leadership members and move forward in planning the Geneva conference.

QUESTION: Right, but – okay, but you still think there should be a conference? You don’t think that the opposition should boycott now or once it gets its leadership house in order; is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: No, that’s correct. We think that this is --

QUESTION: You think they should go?

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: This is an important part of the process. Again, it’s dual track. We want to continue to increase our aid to the opposition. That was an agreement that was made in Amman, as you know, just a week ago with other members of the London 11. But we think this is an important vehicle to moving towards a political transition.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just on the missiles?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. So we of course – we’ve spoken about this a bit as well, but we have seen the reports, both comments by the Syrian regime of receipt of those as well as by the Russian Government. We can’t comment on specifics of that, but we have expressed, and I’ll express again today, our concerns about Russia’s continued support for the Syrian regime through finances, through the provision of arms, and we – that is a concern that the Secretary has expressed to the Foreign Minister as recently as just a couple of days ago.

At the same time, because your question was about how this will impact Russia, we shouldn’t lose sight of the context here. They have an important role to play. We could have continued meetings with the London 11 and talk about areas where we agree and how we’re going to continue to agree with the opposition, but the point here is working with countries like Russia who have supported the regime, who have ties to the regime, to see if we can get both sides back to the table. And that’s the special role that they can play in this process and why we feel it’s important to continue to partner with them.

QUESTION: So you don’t think the receipt of the missiles hurts the efforts to put more pressure on Assad?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, receipt of any – or any arms that are being provided to the regime by Russia or by any country is something that of course is of concern to us, and that is why we are working so hard with our international partners to help the opposition. But we’re hopeful that this conference can be an opportunity to move the transitional government forward.

QUESTION: Jen, on the lead, is --

MS. PSAKI: Syria?

QUESTION: Yeah, Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: On the lead – on the – from the American side, you’re saying that Ambassador Ford has taken the lead; correct? On --

MS. PSAKI: He is on the ground and he is the Ambassador to Syria.

QUESTION: In organizing – he’s on the ground and he’s taking the lead on Geneva. Now, is it focused at this state on deciding who is going to attend the conference, or is it discussing issues of substance?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a couple of different components going on at the same time, Said, so Ambassador Ford is in Istanbul and he’s working with the opposition. Their focus is on, of course, electing new leadership, on expanding their membership. There are several options that are – they’re working through. There has not been a final deal. I know there’s been some reports on that. There has not been, but they’re working toward that, so that’s happening on the ground in Istanbul.

At the same time, the United States, Russia, the UN, we’re working together and planning for a conference. Ambassador Ford is certainly a part of that as well.

QUESTION: Okay. So when and – if and when it is decided who’s going to attend, the invitation itself will come from the United Nations; correct?

MS. PSAKI: That’s right.

QUESTION: Okay. And finally, on Ambassador Ford, it is said that he’s leaving in about a month or so. Could you tell us how that will impact whatever role you are playing in this process?

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. Well, let me first say – I mentioned he was in Istanbul working his tail off there on – with the opposition. And every day, he works on behalf of the Syrian people and on behalf of the Administration and the Secretary’s efforts in Syria. The Secretary spoke with him, I think, as recently as this morning. So they have a very close working relationship, and the Secretary is very grateful for all the hard work he has done to date.

He has been – let me give you a little context. I know many of you know this, but he’s been in this position for two and a half years, including over a year on the ground at the Embassy in Syria. As a member of the Foreign Service, he’s technically nearing the end of his current rotation later this summer. But in terms of what is next, it would be premature to report that he has formally made a decision to leave, and we don’t have any additional announcements at this time.

QUESTION: As a follow-up to who will represent at the conference, this invitation was sent directly to SNC, or, for example, FSA, the Free Syrian Army, can’t send a representative directly to the conference?

MS. PSAKI: Well, part of that is being worked through in Istanbul right now, so there’s multiple steps to this. I call it a two-step, to use a Texas term here, but one is the step of the opposition electing leadership. They’re working through several options of how to expand that leadership to have a broad representation. They first need to do that, and then we’ll work through who would be represented at the conference, and certainly, to go back to Matt’s earlier point, we feel that’s an important component.

QUESTION: Because Ambassador Ford crossed the border a couple of weeks ago – just before Senator McCain, actually – and he met with the aide of the Salam Idris there, Colonel Abdul-Jabbar al-Aqidi. And according to the Syrian sources, he accepted to attend the conference himself.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to speak to any speculation about who would or wouldn’t attend. Of course, General Idris is a key component of the future of the Syrian opposition. He is head of the SMC. We’ve – the Secretary has been personally impressed with him in his occasions of meeting him in Istanbul. And even in Istanbul, let me just remind you, just a couple of weeks ago, the group there voted or decided to make sure all military aid is going through him. So I can’t speak to and I don’t want to speculate on who will be a part of it, and certainly wouldn’t want to do that on behalf of the opposition, but I will just reaffirm that he is an important part of the individuals being discussed.

Margaret.

QUESTION: Jen, there’s a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry saying today that part of the concern about going ahead with the peace talks were these comments that all options in the U.S. remain on the table, but specifically, the idea of a no-fly zone and that being recently brought up created unfavorable conditions. Was this brought up in the meeting with Lavrov and Kerry earlier this week, and is there a U.S. – is the response from the State Department about whether the White House position is impacting the diplomacy here?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me start with the nature of the question. There have been reports for some time, but we’ve also long said that all options remain on the table. The Secretary and the President have said that does not include boots on the ground.

But in terms of options being considered, whether that’s a no-fly zone or other options that you all have talked about in your reporting, I’m not going to speak to or speculate on internal or external conversations going on on that. I will say that reports over the past 48 hours have really shown nothing new. There’s always been an effort to consider and analyze what all of the options would be, and there hasn’t been any further decision made.

QUESTION: But the Russians are saying the fact that those options are on the table is creating an era that is not favorable to actually going ahead with Geneva, an unfavorable atmosphere.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I haven’t seen that specific comment, but I would point you to the fact that the Secretary and the Foreign Minister, who are two of the point people on planning this, have stood together two, three times in just the last couple of weeks stating their shared commitment to moving forward toward a conference. For us – and you’d have to speak to them about their tracks – but there is a dual track here. There is planning towards – of course, our preference is for a political transition. Of course, we are hopeful that this will be the opportunity to start that process. The Russians agree with that, but we do disagree on some components, including their efforts to provide aid to the Syrian regime. It’s no surprise they don’t agree with our efforts to help the opposition.

QUESTION: And that statement today, does that impact those plans to go to the next step you talked about yesterday in Geneva with --

MS. PSAKI: With Under Secretary Sherman?

QUESTION: Sherman and – right.

MS. PSAKI: Not to my knowledge at all.

QUESTION: Jen, has the U.S. verified independently that the arms shipment has actually arrived in Assad’s hands? And the Russians say that they have not delivered the hardware for the missiles. Has anything – have you got anything on that?

Also, we understand that there are Russian banks saying that they’re increasingly nervous about dealing with Assad and that they might not be – that there are still second and third payments going to be made. Are any international banks involved in this payment or transfer?

MS. PSAKI: A lot of those questions sound like they’re for the Russians. But we don’t – I don’t – just don’t have any new information for you today on the S-300s or delivery or not. I would just point you to the public comments that have – made by both parties on that front.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Both Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov agreed on a political transition when they met. Supplying those missiles to the Syrian regime would be a breaching for that agreement or a negative, would affect any agreement with the United States negatively?

MS. PSAKI: To move forward on a planned international conference?

QUESTION: Yes. Or the political transition that they both agreed on.

MS. PSAKI: No. This is – there have been reports – I know there have been new reports in the past couple of days about the timing and delivery of which, again, I don’t have anything new for you on. But this – there have been – long been reports for the past couple of weeks about this potential delivery. The Secretary has discussed this with the Foreign Minister. It is something that, of course, is concerning. The Secretary has expressed that. But at the same time, we recognize that the role the Russians play here are as an important partner in helping bring the regime and components of that to the table. And there is an agreement – there is an area where they do agree, which is that a political transition and moving toward that should be the process that we’re pursuing.

QUESTION: Do you think the Russians are playing, like they want the United States just to be on the side so they agreed with them on this so there won’t be any interference from the United States in what’s happening in Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to speculate on what their motivations are. It sounds like there are a lot of questions for the Russians today. But again, we are not claiming to agree with the Russians on every issue, and not even every issue on Syria, but we see them as an important partner on moving to a conference and moving to a political transition. And there’s no reason we have to believe that they don’t want to be a partner in that.

Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: I just want to clarify three very brief things. One is this continued reference to all options are on the table, and then you specifically removed one, so it’s not correct to say all options are on the table.

MS. PSAKI: I should perhaps change the phrasing.

QUESTION: All but one option is on the --

MS. PSAKI: All but one. Thank you, Matt. (Laughter.) It’s a grammatical fact check there.

QUESTION: All right. Two – yeah. Second, you mentioned something that while you express to the Russians your opposition to them supplying the regime with assistance, that they’re telling you that they’re opposed to you supplying the opposition?

MS. PSAKI: No, I think there was – I said – I think the question was posed about a comment they had made about opposition to what we were doing, so I said I wouldn’t be surprised.

QUESTION: Are – okay. But are the Russians opposed to you providing food and medicine to the opposition?

MS. PSAKI: Not that they have expressed. And in fact, the Secretary and the Foreign Minister talked about their shared belief in more humanitarian assistance just a couple of days ago.

QUESTION: Are you aware that the Russians have provided any humanitarian assistance to the opposition or to refugees of either persuasion?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any information on that, unfortunately, for you.

QUESTION: All right. And then the last one: Just, you are saying that Russian participation in this conference is absolutely critical even though they are playing a negative role in the whole – in the overall scheme of things because they’re supplying material support to the regime. If that’s the case, why is it that you guys are opposed to Iran participating, because they – I mean, they’re doing the same thing?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn’t categorize them in the same way, actually. Russia, while we don’t agree with, of course, their decision to provide arms to the regime, they have shown themselves to be an interested party and an interested partner in working towards a political transition. We have seen no evidence that Iran would like to move towards a political transition and would like to see the bloodshed end. And so that is the difference between the two. But again, there hasn’t been a decision made about who will participate in the conference. Russia is obviously a leading partner in the planning of the process.

QUESTION: But in fact, Iran, Jen, did organize a couple of meetings, one in Tehran and one in Cairo, intended for the very same thing. I mean, they did show intent and they showed good effort to actually have some sort of a peaceful resolution to the bloodshed that --

MS. PSAKI: Well, they did make the effort to put a meeting together. But it’s hard to see, given their motivations, which we don’t know but we – from everything we’ve seen, it doesn’t seem that it has worked toward – on working towards a political transition, to see how those are productive or moving the ball forward.

QUESTION: But wouldn’t it be wise --

QUESTION: Well, why isn’t that the case with the Russians then? Because supplying – saying that you’re going to give them or sell them these missiles, and them – and then Assad saying that he’s gotten them, I mean, that’s --

MS. PSAKI: Well, Russia has embraced Geneva 1. They have said they want to move towards a political transition. Iran has not.

QUESTION: But they’ve also said Geneva 1 – they have a fundamental disagreement with you guys over Geneva 1 and what it says and whether it means that Assad has to go or not. So it seems as though – I’m not sure how you can say that the Russians – that you’re – how do you know that the motivations of the Russians here are pure if everything that they are doing – actions, not words – would seem to undercut the idea that they’re interested in a real political negotiation and transition?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, they have shown a willingness to help plan this conference and help bring parties to the table. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with them on every issue. And if we sat just at a table with people we agreed with, that wouldn’t be particularly productive. So that’s why we feel that Russia is an important partner here.

QUESTION: But Iran has not? Iran hasn’t expressed interest in coming to the table or --

MS. PSAKI: Iran has shown no evidence that they are interested in a political transition, that they are interested in moving in a positive direction in this case.

QUESTION: Do you know when the last time it was that the Russians were at the table for an international conference on Syria?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me.

QUESTION: Well, I believe it was the first Geneva meeting. That was almost a year ago.

MS. PSAKI: You’re right.

QUESTION: So they haven’t been at the – so you haven’t invited them to the table, or they have refused to come?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think --

QUESTION: I mean, you – all you’ve been doing since Geneva 1 is exactly what you said is not productive, which is sitting around the table talking to people who you agree with; correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, the – I think there was a – we felt and many other international partners have said that the meetings that the Secretary had in Russia just a few weeks ago did – were effective in breaking a little bit of the stalemate and moving forward on trying to implement Geneva 1. Do we know it’s going to be successful? No. But is it worth making the effort and trying, and trying to bring both sides to the table? Absolutely, and that’s why we’re focused on it.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Sorry, (inaudible) seeing eye-to-eye on --

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just take – Said, we’ll get to you. I always call on you. Let’s just take one at a time here.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, do you believe that – there’s a lot of analysts that are playing down these missiles, that they don’t – they won’t really have an effect. Do you – does the U.S. – or have you come to some kind of judgment that the missiles could, in fact, advance Assad’s hands on the battleground?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of analysis of the effectiveness, but any aid that is being provided to the regime – military aid, financial aid – is still of concern to the United States.

QUESTION: Jen?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. You said that the U.S. will increase aid to the opposition. Senator McCain, who visited Syria, is saying that the opposition is running out of arms and ammunitions. Are you worried about the future of the opposition, and what are you planning to do?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I did see the comments of Senator McCain, and he is a well-respected senator, certainly entitled to his viewpoints. This is an issue where, again, I will go with Matt’s grammatical correction: All options but one are on the table. This is a decision the President is still considering. It is his decision to make.

We have increased aid – nonlethal aid, which we doubled recently, as you know, to $250 million – and we have encouraged our partners, both the London 11 and international partners, to continue to increase their aid. Every country is going to make their own decisions. We have supported, of course, the decision by the EU. And we will just continue to take this day by day. If there’s a new decision that has been made that we’re ready to announce, I’m happy to share that with all of you.

QUESTION: Will you talk to your partners to provide the opposition with arms since they are running out of arms and ammunitions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve consistently said that every country makes their own decisions and have supported decisions by other countries to make those.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: But why --

QUESTION: On the question about helping the opposition, will that pledge of support to the opposition go through if there is not political participation by the opposition in Geneva?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first let me say that it’s not tied to Geneva either way or not. So we are still considering options to continue to increase our aid, as are these other partners, irrespective of the timing of Geneva. In terms of – I don’t want to speculate ahead. We are hopeful that the opposition will vote to elect leadership and to come to a conclusion on how many – how they will expand their membership, and that’s what we’re focused on right now.

QUESTION: Can you just give us a read on what’s happening in Qusayr, this building’s view, since your condemnation of Hezbollah yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I mean, I talked about it a bit yesterday, so I would point you to that. But --

QUESTION: But has there been any reaction to the condemnation? Has it made any difference on the ground to have these strong words from the U.S.?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, this is just comments we made just 24 hours ago. We don’t overestimate the impact of that, but felt it was important for the international community to know how strongly we felt. I know there have been comments made around the world about concerns about Hezbollah. That’s why we made them. But we’re working on multiple tracks here. It’s not just about making comments.

QUESTION: How about not overestimate? Why don’t you just estimate? What do you think the impact on Hezbollah is of you condemning anything that they do, whether it’s this or anything else?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d kind of point you --

QUESTION: I would say --

MS. PSAKI: -- to your good contacts at Hezbollah, Matt.

QUESTION: -- the estimate would be about zero.

MS. PSAKI: Good contacts at Hezbollah I’m sure you have.

QUESTION: Or the last time that Hezbollah ever did anything you wanted them to --

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt --

QUESTION: -- was never.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, this is – obviously, the increased violence as of late has been of grave concern. That’s why we’ve talked about it.

QUESTION: Right. It was just your use of “overestimate.”

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Let me to go Guy because he’s just been – he’s been raising his hand frantically in the back.

QUESTION: Just building on this discussion about Hezbollah, a Lebanese newspaper today said that the al-Nusrah Front is threatening a terrorist war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. At the same time, the death toll from sectarian attacks in Iraq, where the Nusrah Front has its origins, has risen to more than 1,000 actually over, I think, the last 60 days. With those two things in mind, how serious is the danger of this escalating sectarian conflict in Syria welling over into neighboring countries? What advice does the United States have for the rebel groups it supports in Syria? Specifically, should they refrain from targeting Hezbollah fighters outside of Syria?

MS. PSAKI: There were a few questions wrapped into there, but --

QUESTION: Sure. Well, the last one.

MS. PSAKI: -- let me say we’re very concerned about foreign fighters, whether they’re in Syria, or the overflow of violence into neighboring countries. And that’s something we’ve expressed frequently here and we’ve been very clear about our concerns over the regional instability caused by this crisis in Syria. We continue to encourage all parties to avoid action that would jeopardize other countries in neighboring areas. Lebanon, of course, is a country that we have great concern in terms of their involvement. So the advice that we would give is, of course, to cease activity for foreign fighters for other countries who are engaging over the borders in what’s happening in Syria.

QUESTION: So specifically, Sunni radicals in Syria should refrain from targeting Shiite radicals elsewhere?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve always been concerned about sectarian violence and any that’s raised along those terms.

Let me go to you in the back because you’ve been --

QUESTION: Thank you. On Hezbollah, while you were condemning in strongest term, Hezbollah leaders yesterday were bragging about their victories on the ground. And according to different sources, now they’ve taken about 80 percent of Qusayr. First of all, are you – would you be able to confirm it is almost – the town seems to be falling to the regime?

And second, you mentioned the head of the SMC, Salim Idris. He has given interviews yesterday, and he is saying that there is an imminent danger of massacres happening in Qusayr if the town falls – 20,000 to 30,000 people. Since you are in contact with Salim Idris, has he asked anything from you directly, and what’s your response to that?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t venture to comment on behalf of him on what he has or hasn’t asked for. In terms of what’s going on on the ground, I mean, we’ve all seen the same reports. I’m happy to get a better update for you on kind of our analysis on that, which we can get you later today or tomorrow.

Oh, any more on Syria?

QUESTION: I have a follow-up on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you believe the Israelis that the EU miscalculated by lifting the arms embargo, in that it gave the green light to the Russians to deliver the missiles?

MS. PSAKI: We don’t. We’ve talked about the – we’ve applauded the actions in the EU. We continue to support the decision that they made. We’ve spoken to that over the last couple of days.

QUESTION: Why do you think it’s appropriate for the EU to lift an arms embargo but not for the U.S.?

MS. PSAKI: Well, every country or set of countries makes their own decision. So --

QUESTION: But you’re applauding a decision that they’ve made that appears to have led to this sequence of events, but saying that you haven’t made your mind up. I just wondered if you attempted at all to dissuade the Europeans from going down that route, were there any conversations about timing or – because it doesn’t appear to have helped, from what’s happened.

MS. PSAKI: Well, they just took action about two days ago. It doesn’t mean they’re immediately arming. In fact, they laid out some details on the timeline of that, which I would defer to.

In terms of our actions, we have provided a great deal of aid. We are working very closely with the opposition. We are still considering options; the President is still doing that. We haven’t made a decision yet. But again, we support efforts by countries around the world, by our international allies, to continue to help the opposition, and that’s something that is frequently discussed at meetings about this issue.

Do we have any more on Syria?

QUESTION: Yeah. On Russia.

QUESTION: I do.

QUESTION: Still on Syria, if I may.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Since it is really fundamental that you see eye-to-eye with the Russians on their interpretation of Geneva 1 so you can go on to Geneva 2, but obviously you don’t, can you tell us what kind of progress you’ve made on at least seeing what is – what type of transition and all these things that does actually warrant a Geneva 2?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, it’s a good question, but part of it – the answer is that it’s in process, and that’s the reason the Secretary met with the Foreign Minister last Monday. You’re right, there are disagreements, but there is also a fundamental agreement on the importance of a political transition. That’s what we’re focused on.

I mentioned this yesterday and we put out the exact dates, so just so everybody has that: Under Secretary Sherman and Acting Assistant Secretary Beth Jones will be meeting with representatives from Russia and the UN on June 5th, which is next week, which is something that the Secretary and Foreign Minister discussed as being an important step. And I expect they’ll continue the conversation. And the questions of the agenda and participants and all of those good questions you all have will be discussed as part of that, and we’ll continue discussing day-by-day.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you still have a hope that there will be Geneva 2 after the statement made by the opposition?

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. We understand that what they’re going through, which is trying to elect leadership and trying to expand their membership, is not an easy task and it’s taking a little bit of time. We’re working with them in as productive a way as possible, but we are focused on moving forward on Geneva 2 and that conference and are still in the planning stages for that.

QUESTION: New subject?

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Syria?

QUESTION: I have one –

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, Nicole.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on Matt and Dana’s question about Iran’s participation and talks. They have actually explicitly expressed interest in a peaceful and political solution to the conflict – Iran’s ambassador to the UN. And they have recently held their own conference inside Iran about a Syria solution. Given that the U.S. does engage with Iran diplomatically, at least on the nuclear program, why not include them in Geneva 2 or in any talks on Syria? They’re a neighbor and they’re clearly a very interested party.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have been concerned about their efforts to provide money and fighters and all forms of financing to Hezbollah and other forms of assistance and statements they’ve made about what their goals are in Syria. A decision hasn’t been made about whether they will or won’t participate; that’s one that will be made in cooperation with the UN. And as soon as we know more we’ll be able to tell you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: New subject.

MS. PSAKI: New subject.

QUESTION: One more on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Let’s go to Paul here in the front because he’s been very patient.

QUESTION: Everybody seems to be getting in to see Maldonado, including CNN. Have you been in to see her yet?

MS. PSAKI: I did. I saw the interview. I do have an update for all of you on that note. Consular staff visited Ms. Maldonado, I had mentioned yesterday, on May 24th. They also were able to visit her yesterday and have had regular phone contact with her. And I just want to reiterate that we’ve been in close contact with her family, she’s been in close contact with her family, and she’s had access in person but also on the phone to consular representatives throughout this process.

QUESTION: What kind of conditions did you observe? And to kind of take this back, who called whom when the State Department came in to represent her? Did her family call – reach out to the State Department, or was that your initiative to her?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of specificity in terms of who initiated the call. You – CNN did an interview with her today, so you can probably speak better to the conditions. But I did see in that interview that she spoke that she was being treated fairly. And again, our Consular office officials have seen that as well – have been in touch with her as well.

QUESTION: But did you representatives have anything reportable to us firsthand about their visit with her?

MS. PSAKI: Nothing that – we don’t typically read out a report on visits along those lines. They are check-ins to make sure we are making ourselves available and helpful as is as appropriate.

QUESTION: Was the court hearing coming up discussed?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level. Again, I’m not going to read out the conversation they had, but I just wanted to make sure you knew that we were able to contact with her yesterday.

QUESTION: Another subject?

QUESTION: Sorry. Does the U.S. believe that she is experiencing due process under the law and that the Mexican officials are treating her fairly?

MS. PSAKI: She has spoken to this herself, so I would point you to her comments. We are seeing the legal process through. The next step, just so everybody is aware, is that the judge will review the case on Friday, May 31st, which is tomorrow. We have been in contact with appropriate – excuse me – Mexican authorities. I can’t speculate on what will come out of there. I would send you to Mexican authorities for that.

QUESTION: A new subject, ma’am?

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Mexico?

QUESTION: New subject?

QUESTION: On the subject of hostages.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Austin Tice, an American journalist, former Georgetown law graduate and Marine Corps officer, has been held in Syria, his whereabouts unknown since August 13th; rumored he is being held by the Assad regime. Do you have any updates?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t, unfortunately. This is an issue that we are greatly concerned about, the Secretary is very aware of and concerned about. I don’t have any recent updates on that. If there’s anything to tell you, we’ll get you that after the briefing.

QUESTION: There is also James Foley, another journalist.

MS. PSAKI: You’re right. I don’t have any update on either one, but you are right on that as well.

QUESTION: How about negotiating at all? Are you negotiating?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any updates for you.

QUESTION: New topic (inaudible).

QUESTION: Well, can I just ask a quick follow-up --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- on Austin Tice? His parents put out a statement today asking that when the Geneva talks happen, that his case be something that is considered. Is that something that’s been discussed?

MS. PSAKI: I have not seen that statement. I’m not sure that people discussing this have, so I don’t have an update on that for you today.

QUESTION: Another subject?

MS. PSAKI: Okay, Goyal. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, madam. A couple questions on South Asia, but before that if I may go to Burma please.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Burmese Government has announced that they have a new policy for the first time, that one-child policy only for the Muslims, not for the rest of the country. Any comments?

MS. PSAKI: I do. And I think Patrick may have spoken to this the other day, so let me just reiterate that we are deeply concerned about reports that local officials in Burma’s Rakhine state plan to enforce a two-child limit for Rohingya Muslims. And we are opposed, of course, as you know, to coercive and discriminatory birth limitation policies in this and in any other case, and we have pressed senior Burmese Government officials to abolish this local order. We urge the Government of Burma to eliminate all such policies without delay.

QUESTION: And going to Bangladesh, U.S. and Bangladesh officials were meeting in Dhaka, and they had high-level official meetings. My question is: Have they discussed anything about the future of the Bangladesh – the factories burned, especially garment factories and small businesses and all that? Are they going to rebuild them or any safety concerns among those things?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I believe you’re referring to Under Secretary Sherman’s recent visit there.

QUESTION: Yes, ma’am.

MS. PSAKI: They may have put out a readout on that. Let me venture to get that for you. I will tell you that officials are, of course, in touch with officials in Bangladesh about concerns about conditions in the factories there, and that is something that we have been discussing since these tragic events happened, and long before, in fact.

QUESTION: And finally, one more, on Pakistan. Before Pakistan’s new prime minister takes over next week, yesterday, a group of Pakistanis, for the first time, they had demonstrated against Pakistan about the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, human rights and injustice in that part of the Kashmir. And what they are asking the State Department that now time has come that they should speak also about the injustice and human rights inside occupied-Pakistan Kashmir. And one of their leaders was killed in Islamabad – Rawalpindi, because of his outspoken about these human rights concerns.

MS. PSAKI: Well, thank you for that, Goyal. We are, of course, always concerned about human rights allegations. I don’t have anything new for you on this in particular today. But if we do, we will venture to get that to you.

QUESTION: Thank you, madam. Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we stay in Asia?

QUESTION: Georgia?

MS. PSAKI: Georgia.

QUESTION: Yeah. I wonder if you have any comments or about the tension in Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone, where the Russian troops installed metal fences deeper inside the Georgian-controlled area. And according to local news, some residents were arrested today by Russian troops.

MS. PSAKI: I have not seen the reports of those who were arrested. I will say on the reports of the installation of fences, I think is what you’re referring to, the European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia has verified that fences and barbed wire are being installed along the administrative boundary line for the South Ossetia region of Georgia. We share Georgia’s concern that these fences are contrary to international law and the 2008 ceasefire agreement with Russia, and we remain committed to supporting Russia[1]’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On North Korea.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. North Korean authorities conversations, yes, has announced that no denuclearizations unless pass measures to resume Six-Party Talks. As to what actions should the United States take to North Korea?

MS. PSAKI: If I understand your question correctly, you’re asking what actions we are going to take or we’re taking regarding Six-Party Talks?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Or is it hooked to a specific recent news event?

QUESTION: Yeah. U.S. have – demanding any preconditions for the resume the Six-Party Talks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our position has been longstanding on this issue. The North Koreans know what they need to do. They need to abide by their international obligations, including the 2005 joint statement around the Six-Party Talks, and that is the step that needs to be taken. The Secretary, as you know, was just a couple of weeks ago in South Korea and Japan and China, and discussed this very issue with our partners there. And we remain committed to working with our partners in the region to put necessary pressure on but also encourage them to take the steps they know they can take.

QUESTION: May I return to the theme of over or underestimating the influence that the United – the Administration has and comments that it makes about other – return to that?

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely.

QUESTION: The Israelis this morning announced another 300 unit – settlement – or units to be built in east Jerusalem. I’m wondering if you have a reaction or a comment on that.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Matt. We did see those reports. As we have said many times, and the Secretary has expressed publicly and privately, Israelis must recognize that continued construction in east Jerusalem is counterproductive to the cause of peace and that an independent Palestine must be viable with real borders that have to be drawn. We believe it is important for both sides to take actions to build the trust and confidence on which a lasting peace must be built.

QUESTION: Do you know if there was any contact today – I mean, the Secretary was just there when? When was it?

MS. PSAKI: He was just there the end of last week. It’s all running into together.

QUESTION: End of last week.

MS. PSAKI: Yes. He was. Sorry. Friday, last Friday.

QUESTION: And did the settlement issue or the construction in east Jerusalem issue, plus West Bank settlements – did that come up in his conversations with the Israelis?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware if it came up in the last conversation he had with them. It has come up recently in the past couple of weeks as some of these reports have surfaced.

QUESTION: Okay. And then do you know if there has been any contact between the Embassy or this building and Israel post – Israeli officials post this latest announcement?

MS. PSAKI: I’ll have to check on that for you. I’m happy to do that post-briefing.

QUESTION: Jennifer, on that same point, there’s also --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- another settlement, 797 housing units in Gilo, as a matter of fact. And so – and they were issued by the Minister of Housing, Ariel, and this was done in the last three days. So right after the Secretary’s visit – I would be remiss to think that the Secretary does not get sort of alarmed by these activities immediately after his visit, and in fact, immediately after every visit.

MS. PSAKI: Well, of course he has expressed concerns publicly and privately to Israeli officials and he stated publicly what our position and – our longstanding position is on this particular issue. At the same time – and we talked about this, Said, a little bit yesterday – he believes we’re at a pivotal time and that we need to focus on each side making tough choices in order to move a process or the possibility of negotiations forward, and that’s what our focus is on.

QUESTION: Okay. I mean, what do you want the Palestinians to do, because obviously they’re not doing any activities – not at the UN, not elsewhere – that are deemed provocative while the Israelis keep taking the land. So you keep saying both sides, both sides. Why in this very case can’t you just say on the Israeli side they must stop or they must cease activity?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, it will require both sides to decide they want to get back to the negotiating table. They all have issues that I would defer to them to point out for you, and we’re familiar with many of them. But that’s a decision. The point I was making is that it’s not the Americans or the U.S. who can force this process forward.

QUESTION: Okay. Maybe I should rephrase the question. Is there anything in particular that you want the Palestinians to do immediately or to cease doing immediately?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, they’ve had a lot of private conversations. The Secretary most recently met with President Abbas on Monday. I don’t want to outline the specifics of those. These negotiations and discussions are quiet for a reason. But they do know what both sides would like and how to move the process – move forward to the negotiating table, and we are – encourage them to do that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Asia. A couple days ago, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang traveled to Germany, Potsdam, and he stressed the significance of Potsdam Declaration, which demands Japan to return all territories stole from China. My question is: Does the United States recognize the legal effectiveness of Potsdam Declaration?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our position on this is longstanding. As you know, we don’t take a position on the ultimate sovereignty over the islands. We call on both parties to manage their differences through peaceful means, and that continues to be the case as it was last week and last year.

QUESTION: But my question is not on your position on the islands. I understand your position. But do you recognize the Potsdam Declaration, the Cairo Declaration, is legally effective?

MS. PSAKI: I’m familiar with that, but I also just wanted to restate, since what you’re getting to is where do we stand on these issues, and I just repeated what our position is, which continues to be our position.

QUESTION: But why can’t you--

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up. Why can’t you say yes or no to the question? Because United States drafted and signed both declarations.

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, but the most important issue here is what is our position on these islands, which is what you’re getting at, and so our position is longstanding and the same as it has been for quite some time.

QUESTION: But the island issue aside, do you recognize --

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything more for you on this. I appreciate your persistence, though. It’s admirable.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the date of the Potsdam Declaration, Jen?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. 19 – I’ll have to get back to you on that. I could guess, but I don’t think that’s in my interests.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jen. Do you have anything on the lifting of the house arrest of a high-profile Chinese activist – I mean, Chinese rights lawyer Zheng Enchong? Apparently he met with a U.S. diplomat on May 23rd.

MS. PSAKI: So we regularly meet with individuals in every country where we work, including China, and we continue to urge China to uphold the rule of law and to abide by their commitment to protect individual human rights. I can’t speak to the intentions of this specific meeting and would refer you to the Chinese Government for any more detail.

QUESTION: Is that paving the way for next week’s meeting between Obama and Xi Jinping?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t draw that conclusion. Again, I think it’s important to note that in China, just like many countries, we frequently meet with individuals, and my understanding is that was just a natural part of this process.

QUESTION: Is his release related to the meeting with a U.S. diplomat or there’s – it’s something else?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Do you think Chinese – is there more indication that China is making good gesture to release more dissidents before the meeting between U.S.-China leaders summit next week?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly encourage China to continue to release dissidents, but I don’t have any means or I’m not going to venture to evaluate or give a grade to that from here.

QUESTION: Got three brief – very brief Benghazi questions.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Two of which have to do with the Hill. One, are you aware if the Department has responded to Chairman Issa’s subpoenas? Subpoena?

MS. PSAKI: We – so let me take that one first, if that’s okay. Or do you want to give them all three?

QUESTION: No, no, no. That’s fine.

MS. PSAKI: So we are aware and have received, of course, that information. As I said yesterday, we’re reviewing the subpoena and determining --

QUESTION: You’re still reviewing?

MS. PSAKI: -- the appropriate next steps.

QUESTION: Okay. So the answer is – but you haven’t even responded or you have responded saying, “We’re reviewing this”?

MS. PSAKI: That is a – let me venture to find out the more level of specificity for you in terms of whether there’s been contact.

QUESTION: All right. Well --

MS. PSAKI: But I can confirm for you that we, of course, have received it, and we are reviewing it right now.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, it’s my understanding, though, that it’s a subpoena; you can’t really pick and choose how to decide, you are compelled to turn over this stuff. So are you – does the review suggest that the State Department thinks that it can somehow not comply with it?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just conveying that it’s being reviewed, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to add anything further.

QUESTION: Okay. You’re aware of this letter that Congressman – also Chairman – Royce has sent inquiring as to the status of the four individuals who the ARB singled out in their classified version. Do you have an answer to – well, one, have you responded to him, and two, can you – if you have or if you haven’t, can you give us any update on what those – on what their status is --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we just received the letter yesterday, so I’m not aware of a formal response at this time, although that is something that we do do in response to letters, of course. I have seen the content of the letter. There’s no real mystery here. We talk – we’ve talked about this. I have talked about this from the podium, so let me walk you through a couple of status issues. One is the Secretary is briefed regularly by his senior staff and is focused on not only continuing the ongoing cooperation with Congress, but on implementing the ARB recommendations and coming to a conclusion on the status of these four individuals. He has publicly made that clear that he considers – and that he’s considering a number of factors.

As we’ve talked about a little bit before, career Foreign Service employees are entitled to due process and legal protections under the Foreign Service Act with respect to any potential disciplinary action, and Secretary Kerry, as he said in his budget testimony, there are a set of rules and standards that govern personnel actions such as these, and any actions must be considered with a full understanding of options.

So in terms of what the status is, he continues to review with all those factors --

QUESTION: Okay. Still pending?

MS. PSAKI: -- and will make a decision soon.

QUESTION: The very short answer is that they’re --

MS. PSAKI: That is, but I wanted to provide all of the essential context there.

QUESTION: Okay. And then lastly – the last one on this is the RNC has – says that it has filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking – seeking emails between the Department and the President’s election campaign, with which you had some dealings, I think. One, do you know – have you received this request? And two, do you intend to – well, do you intend to search out, find any emails that might have gone back and forth between the campaign and this building --

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: -- and send them along to the RNC?

MS. PSAKI: We have seen the reports. I didn’t have the opportunity to speak to our legal team about whether we received this specific request formally yet, and I’m sure it is something they will look closely at, but I don’t have any update on that at this time for you.

QUESTION: But you’re not – you would not – this building would not be averse to turning over emails that it might have sent or might have been exchanged with you or other people, you in your previous job --

MS. PSAKI: I can assure you I did not have any emails with the State Department while I was at the campaign, but this is a larger question.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to speculate further because we haven’t taken a look at the formal request yet.

QUESTION: Okay. And you don’t know if you’ve gotten it yet?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t know if we’ve received the formal request yet, but we have seen --

QUESTION: The formal FOIA?

MS. PSAKI: Exactly, exactly.

QUESTION: Jen, on Venezuela?

MS. PSAKI: On Venezuela, sure.

QUESTION: Maybe you’ve seen reports of tensions between Venezuela and Colombia after Enrique Capriles, the losing presidential candidate, visited President Santos. Do you have a comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I have seen those, but I just don’t have a comment from here on that.

QUESTION: Besides bi-national relations, Venezuela threatened to withdraw from its role of the peace process with the FARC that Colombia has been having, which you have supported. Would you have a concern in that happening, maybe Venezuela derailing the process?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to speculate on that. Let me just say broadly, to your point, that, as we’ve said previously, we welcome and support efforts by President Santos and the Colombian people to pursue the lasting peace and security that Colombia deserves. We don’t – the United States is not a party to these negotiations, so we refer you to both parties to discuss further.

QUESTION: And even more broadly than – there’s been reports about infighting between the Chavistas in Venezuela. After this thing with Colombia, do you feel that there’s instability or a threat of instability coming from Venezuela?

MS. PSAKI: I just haven’t seen those reports that you’re referencing, so I’ll have to look a little more closely at them.

QUESTION: Great, thanks.

QUESTION: Staying in Venezuela?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. Your colleagues from the Embassy in Caracas, what’s the latest on the investigation? Is it correct or are these stories correct that this may have been a fight between the two of them and not between some disgruntled other patron or employee of the establishment in question?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything on that for you. There is an investigation looking into the details of what happened here. I just want to reaffirm that there’s no indication that either of these individuals were involved in any illegal activity, but I refer to, of course, the authorities on the ground who the Embassy is working closely with to make a final conclusion.

QUESTION: Sorry, when you say that there’s an investigation, you’re referring to the Venezuelan criminal investigation?

MS. PSAKI: I’m referring to not an investigation of their wrongdoing; an investigation of the details of what happened.

QUESTION: Is there – the incident, no, but is there – are you aware if there’s an investigation by either the State Department, because these people came under Chief of Mission status, or the Defense Department into what they were doing?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of that, but Embassy officials are working closely with Venezuelan authorities on working toward achieving the details and figuring out the details.

QUESTION: Yes, but I think you said you were going to take the question as to whether they were in a zone that was recommended to keep out of. Anything on that?

MS. PSAKI: I think we sent something out, so let me just repeat this for you, the Embassy’s travel policy, which we put out publicly, as you know, and is broadly applicable to all citizens living in any particular country or community. It’s divided into three zones, so yellow, orange, and red. The area in question was an orange zone, and the Embassy recommended that – recommends that U.S. direct hire personnel and their families assigned to U.S. Embassy in Caracas do not travel to orange zones between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.

QUESTION: On Turkey, Jen --

QUESTION: But recommends, is not a --

MS. PSAKI: Recommends, exactly. But that is the information that we provided, which was a question that was asked yesterday.

QUESTION: But – okay.

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Venezuela, just – okay.

QUESTION: On Turkey?

MS. PSAKI: Venezuela?

QUESTION: Back to – no, sorry. Back to Syria very quickly. What has happened to the $60 million that the United States pledged to the Syrian Opposition Coalition? Has it been delivered, and if so, how has it been spent?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not just 60 million. We’ve pledged 250 in nonlethal aid, so it’s increased a bit since that number. I would have to get you an update on the delivery. A lot of this is working through a congressional process. We have had some deliveries of food and other aid in recent weeks, but in terms of specific components of that, I’d have to look into it further.

QUESTION: And what is the Plan B if the Syrian opposition can’t resolve their leadership or membership issues? I mean, how long will the United States continue to support them?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that is a hypothetical at this stage. We are working closely with the opposition, as are many international partners, to encourage them to resolve issues like the leadership, like expanding their membership. That’s why Ambassador Ford is on the ground. So we’ll continue to focus on that and continue to increase and provide aid on the outside.

QUESTION: On Turkey.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: And it’s related to the terrorism report that you will release today also.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You had stated that you are applauding the efforts of both sides to find a peaceful solution to PKK violence over the last decades, but some Kurdish circles in Turkey are expecting from U.S. to remove PKK from the terrorist organization list. Are you concerned?

MS. PSAKI: This report – and I would send you to the report, which is about 200 pages long, so have your coffee first – but it does – is not a mechanism --

QUESTION: Whoa, whoa, whoa. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: It’s long. It’s long. That’s what I was saying.

QUESTION: Well, it’s scintillating reading, keeps you up at night, page-turning.

MS. PSAKI: Matt --

QUESTION: You’d better not have – boy, the CT Bureau --

MS. PSAKI: -- I hope you write that as your AP headline. I encourage you to.

QUESTION: -- is not going to be happy with you. They did a lot of work into that thing.

MS. PSAKI: Of course. That’s my point. It’s a long, long report, so everybody should take the time to read it, and it will be out shortly. I don’t want to – I encourage you to look through that. We have a fact sheet and lots of specifics. This is not a mechanism for changing – for updating whether countries are state sponsors of terror, so I wouldn’t look for that in there. It states what the existing status is, but I don’t believe there have been changes from last year. I believe it’s also country-specific, but I would point you to the report, and as I mentioned, as you have questions about it when you look in there, you can certainly contact our office.

QUESTION: But for the future, are you considering this as such a step to support the process or – I mean, is it considerable? This is my question. Are you considering to remove PKK from the terrorist organization list?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to get into any what we’re considering, what we’re not considering. I just wanted to convey to you that this report is not a mechanism for that.

QUESTION: Well, just on – Lebanon’s parliament will extend its term tomorrow for 18 month. How do you view this step?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I have not actually seen those reports, so I will have to get back to you on that. I apologize for that, and I’m sure we can do that shortly following the briefing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Said.

QUESTION: Under Secretary Sherman met with the Tunisian Defense Minister today. Can you give us a readout about this meeting?

MS. PSAKI: I have not – I know – I believe I was aware of the meeting. I don’t think we’ve put out a readout, but I will check in with her office and see if there’s anything to add for you on that.

QUESTION: On Tunisia, did you yesterday talk about any reaction or did you give any reaction to the sentencing of the Tunisians?

MS. PSAKI: We did.

QUESTION: Oh, you did?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: We did.

QUESTION: Is there any – did you have a chance to review the NGO laws in Egypt and --

MS. PSAKI: We did.

QUESTION: -- do you have any something to say about it?

MS. PSAKI: Thank you for the question. We did, and I did that immediately following the briefing yesterday on your request.

So the status of the NGO law, which I’m sure you’re aware, but just so everybody is, it was – it was submitted to the Shura Council. We’re currently reviewing the latest draft. As you know and as we stated yesterday, we’ve long had longstanding concerns regarding the restrictive nature of previous drafts, and we have urged the government in consultations with civil society to revise the draft in accordance with Egypt’s international obligations. We would like to see Egypt and the NGOs there operate in a transparent and accountable manner; and legislative restrictions, which we feel are still a part of this latest draft, on the activities of NGOs would damage not only Egypt’s international image but also the ability of NGOs to provide the necessary assistance to the people in the country.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, let me do two more here.

QUESTION: Back to Syria real quick?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: There are some reports out that President Assad was actually lying about Russian missiles coming to his country. Do you have anything to say about that?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t speculate on that, whether he was telling the truth or lying. I am still in the same place; I just don’t have any new information for you on that. We’ve seen the same reports you have aside from that recent one, of course.

QUESTION: So perhaps the Russians know that if they do follow through and deliver the missiles that would seriously damage negotiations?

MS. PSAKI: Perhaps the Russians believe that or --

QUESTION: Maybe that’s why they didn’t deliver the missiles, you think?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t want to speculate on that. I would send you to the Russians to comment further.

QUESTION: Can I do one more Syria?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) verify that these actually have been delivered. I mean, it could all be a lie, as he was saying. It’s – Assad and the Russians are not happy with the EU have eased their restrictions. And --

QUESTION: True, because that wouldn’t be the first time that a Baath party leader has misled people about the extent of his defenses, right? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Maybe this time it won’t go – since the one option is off the table, I guess we don’t have to worry about a repeat of that one. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me take this question since it seems to be a question. This is a case where I just don’t have any new information for it – on it for you today. And I just wouldn’t want to speculate if we will in the future.

Okay, let’s see. I said two more, but I’ll actually do two more now. So go ahead, Lalit.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. The TTP is now confirming that a second-in-command of Wali-ur Rehman Mehsud has died in a drone attack. Can you confirm now?

MS. PSAKI: I cannot. We have seen --

QUESTION: Still not?

MS. PSAKI: We have seen those reports, but I don’t have any new or independent confirmation from here.

QUESTION: Its spokesman also has said that it’s suspending talks with the Pakistan Government. Do you think it’s setback to the reconciliation process, the peace process, which you were hoping to in Pakistan?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we would direct you to the parties involved to comment more specifically on that. More broadly, the United States and Pakistan continue to have, of course, a vital shared strategic interest in moving that process forward. But beyond that, I don’t have anything further for you.

QUESTION: TPP --

MS. PSAKI: Let me just do the – oh, sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: TTP has also announced that its Khan Said is his new deputy. Do you have any information on him? Is he in the Rewards for Justice program?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I know we put out some – I know we put out some Rewards for Justice information broadly per the question asked yesterday --

QUESTION: But is this individual?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any information on that.

QUESTION: And finally on – do you have any readout on special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan’s meetings in Pakistan and Afghanistan last two days?

MS. PSAKI: So I do, and I appreciate the question. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador James Dobbins, traveled to Pakistan May 29th through 30th. This was his first trip to the country in his new capacity. He met with Foreign Secretary Jilani, with Chief of Army Staff Kayani, and with President of the PML Sharif. He spoke by phone with President Zardari, who was in Karachi at the time.

He offered congratulations to the people of Pakistan on the historic May 11th elections and underscored the United States commitment to working with the next democratically elected government to build a strong, mutually beneficial bilateral relationship. And during his engagements, Mr. – Ambassador Dobbins discussed a range of bilateral and regional issues, including advancing shared counterterrorism objectives, increasing economic opportunity, strengthening civilian democracy and civil society, and supporting Afghan-owned and Afghan-led – an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led reconciliation process.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Actually the last – or two more. So two more. Right there. I know, I’m such a pushover.

QUESTION: About the OAS meeting upcoming in Guatemala --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Secretary of State John Kerry will attend it for the first time since 2010. It’s a visit. What’s the purpose? What’s the message behind it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe we put out a Media Note announcing that the Secretary will lead the delegation, so I would point you to that. It is an opportunity for him to visit with a number of leaders in the region, some who he hasn’t had an opportunity to meet with yet, to discuss issues like regional cooperation on economic issues, on drugs. And that will be a part of what he’ll be discussing at that trip, and I’m sure as we get closer we’ll have more specifics to share with you.

QUESTION: That’s pretty close.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, actual – hmm?

QUESTION: It’s pretty close.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, fair enough. I did share quite a few details there. But we did have a Media Note we sent out --

QUESTION: This is his first trip to Latin America, correct, or has he been before?

MS. PSAKI: That is correct, yes. Though he has met with a number of Latin American leaders here at the State Department.

Last one.

QUESTION: You were asked (inaudible) yesterday that was in Syria. And I don’t expect any new status today either, so my question is – if there is that will be good news – but my question is: What people are supposed to wait from the government? Are you going to come out with the report and then going to argue that this has happened? Or what is the process are we supposed to wait?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s tough for me to speculate, if not impossible for me to speculate, looking into the future that if we were to find use that would satisfy what we’ve been talking about, how we would publicly discuss that. This is something that we are continuing to focus on. Yesterday, I think we spoke a little bit about recent claims by other countries. We’re not going to evaluate that, of course, in public. But we do speak regularly with our allies and partners about this issue and do provide relevant information to the UN investigative team.

And let me just finish off here by reiterating what I said yesterday, which is that we have learned from past history that we need to do our due diligence, to feel comfortable with the facts on the ground, and that is what the President and the Secretary and all of our team is focused on.

QUESTION: At the same time, every day we have seen these videos are coming out from Syria. At the same time, we are seeing the British bringing new stuff, or French, Le Monde, brings new video. Aren’t you concerned that this process is going – as it’s going very slowly, you are encouraging Syrian regime or anyone who’s using these weapons to continue to use, because you basically just walk the walk – talk the talk?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we are concerned about any potential use. That’s why we’re focused on working with the UN and through a multilateral process with our partners in the region to get down to the facts.

Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:22 p.m.)

DPB #88


[1] Georgia

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - May 30, 2013]