Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 18, 2013


Index for Today's Briefing
  • SYRIA
    • Decisions Made, Moving Forward / Upcoming Conference / Meetings with Russian Counterparts / G8 / Ambassador Ford / Secretary Kerry / Syria's Political Transition
    • A Few Issues Outlined in Communique / Issue of Assad / Conference Preparation Ongoing / Issue of Chemical Weapons Investigation / Improving Ground Situation for the Opposition
  • JORDAN
    • Query on Syrian Airspace
  • SYRIA
    • U.S. Aid Update / Agreement in Communiqué to Pursue a Transitional Governing Body in Syria / U.S. Continues to Consider All Options
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Taliban / U.S. Support / Afghan-led, Afghan-owned Peace and Reconciliation Process / Release of Taliban Statement / Qatari Statement / al-Qaida / Afghan Constitution / End Goal of the Process / Ambassador James Dobbins Travel
    • Taliban Talks / Taliban Detainees / Sergeant Bergdahl / Negotiations
  • PAKISTAN/AFGHANISTAN
    • Secretary Kerry's Phone Call with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif / Taliban Talks / Secretary Kerry's Involvement
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
    • Middle East Peace Process / Secretary Kerry Deeply Engaged with Both Sides
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Passenger Disturbance on International Flight / Former Employee for Department of State
  • LEBANON
    • U.S. Concerned About Overflow of Violence into Lebanon
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Ongoing DS (Diplomatic Security) Case / Department Aware of Investigations
  • IRAN
    • Iranian Election is a Hopeful Sign / U.S. Congratulates the Iranian People
  • DEPARTMENT
    • DS Case / DS Acting Director Starr / OIG Office Looking into Process / Issue Discrimination on Sexual Orientation
  • RUSSIA
    • Query on the Duma's Adoption Ban / U.S. Reaction
  • BRAZIL
    • U.S. Monitoring Events in Brazil


TRANSCRIPT:

The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.

12:18 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Well, I have nothing at the top; my boss took care of that for me. So Nicolas, what is on your mind?

QUESTION: Could we start with Syria?

MS. PSAKI: We certainly can.

QUESTION: I’m sure we have listened very carefully yesterday to the President interview on PBS.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that he was quite skeptical on any U.S. major military action in Syria. So could you tell us five days after the White House announcement what you are going to do in Syria in terms of military support to the opposition?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any new announcements to make, and I certainly don’t want to parse the President’s words, but what I heard him say was that we’ve made some decisions – he has made some decisions after consulting with his national security team on the best choices moving forward. Those were announced last week. And moving forward, he is keeping all options on the table. These decisions aren’t easy.

I heard him say – or I read in the transcript that he said that there wasn’t a silver bullet, and I think that’s a really important point to make here. If the decisions were easy, we would have already made them. He would have already made them. But he is carefully weighing what is in the interests of the future of Syria, what is in the interests of the future of the U.S. role there, and that’s what he’s focused on now and is clearly consulting with his G-8 partners on the ground.

Jill.

QUESTION: A new subject?

MS. PSAKI: Well, do we – let’s finish Syria first.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Any other on Syria? Go.

QUESTION: Yeah, the international conference, if there’s any readout about it. Any expectation that it will be held soon in a couple weeks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe I said last week that we’re targeting July. But again, this is a case where we are – we have a series of meetings. There was one just a few weeks ago. Just next week, Under Secretary Sherman and Acting Assistant Secretary Beth Jones will meet with counterparts from Russia and from the UN to discuss everything from the agenda to the issues that still need to be discussed, invites, et cetera. So that will be happening just next week.

And we’re looking for an opportunity to do this at the right time when we’re not having a conference just to have a conference. We’re having it to bring both sides together and provide an opportunity for both sides to talk.

And I will also note that coming out of the G-8, this is something that the Russians have been clear that they also support. There are areas where we disagree, as we all know, on Syria and other issues, but we do agree that a political transition, the process of pursuing that, is the proper path moving forward in Syria.

QUESTION: Has Ambassador Ford participated in the meetings on Syria or in the G-8 meetings?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe he’s at the G-8 meetings. He is, of course, in close contact with his counterparts on the ground, as he always is as our Ambassador to Syria.

QUESTION: Where is he?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t know where he is at this particular moment, but he has a great deal of travel, he is often underway in all parts of the world, and is very engaged in close contact with his counterparts.

QUESTION: How come Secretary Kerry didn’t go to the G-8, the meetings on Syria at the G-8 since they were so important?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know the White House has done an extensive preview and readout of this, and there are a number of topics they have previewed and read out that were to come up at the G-8. Secretaries sometimes go and sometimes they don’t, and as you know, the Secretary is planning his own big trip. That’s coming up soon. So – but I can assure you he’s in close contact with the President and the national security team about all the discussions that were happening – are happening at the G-8. And as you know, because I talked about it a little bit on Monday, he’s also been in close touch with his counterparts around the world about Syria and our path moving forward.

QUESTION: Now, on the statement --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) his own big trip that’s coming up soon, can you give us any kind of inkling about what exactly that is going to entail?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, we are still finalizing the details. I know I’ve said that a few times. But I promise as soon as they’re finalized, we will send them out broadly.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you think that that might – is there a chance that that could happen today?

MS. PSAKI: I’m very hopeful of that.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Now which details were that? Which details --

MS. PSAKI: He’s talking about the Secretary’s next travel plans.

QUESTION: Okay. Now on the Syria issue, on the statement out of the G-8, could you – you know the statement came out, correct?

MS. PSAKI: The communique?

QUESTION: The communique.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. Now the communique does not mention the need for the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, but it does mention that al-Qaida types should be forced out of Syria or should leave Syria, correct? Could you comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t had an opportunity to review the entire communique. It’s lengthy.

QUESTION: Right, right.

MS. PSAKI: But I can give you some highlights of it.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: It endorses a Geneva process --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- including the step of pursuing agreement on a transitional governing body in Syria with full executive powers, formed by mutual consent. It calls on all parties to the conflict to allow access to the UN investigation team so that it can investigate reports of use of chemical weapons, and it confirms 1.5 billion in additional contributions to meet the humanitarian needs in Syria and neighboring countries, building on the U.S. announcement just yesterday of over 300 million in additional commitments.

Our position is the same. It has not changed. There’s no role for Bashar al-Assad in Syria. However, there is a future for those in the regime who are willing to accept the end of Assad’s reign and are willing to work for a better future for Syria. That’s been consistently our position publicly, every private conversation as well.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, the President was also very clear yesterday during his conversation with Charlie Rose on this issue, but why the communique does not include that? If you – it is something that you should agree with with the Russians – obviously, you are the two major players in this thing – why wouldn’t the communique include removing Assad from power?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, there is broad agreement about a number of issues I just outlined in the communique. That may not be an issue we agree with our Russian counterparts on. There are a number of Western countries that do agree on that point.

But there is agreement with the Russians and with a number of our partners around the world that there needs to be a path to a political transition, that the status quo is unacceptable, and that what we need to be focused on is stability for the country of Syria and for the Syrian people.

QUESTION: Now, on the issue of the conference, are we likely to – let’s say on the meeting on the 25th of June, which is next Monday, are we likely to know after that meeting time and place and who’s invited? I mean, at least we know Geneva.

MS. PSAKI: We’ll see. I’m sure we’ll read out for you what is decided in that meeting, but I don’t want to prejudge the discussions. But certainly, all of those items will be on the agenda.

QUESTION: I guess my question is that there were enough hurdles overcome where this – actually, this meeting can produce a timetable, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, this is part of the ongoing preparation for a conference. A political transition is the preferred outcome. This is a part of that process, and I don’t want to prejudge what will be decided out of this upcoming meeting.

QUESTION: I’m just curious about the line about the chemical weapons. Does the Administration think there’s still a need for a UN investigation into this, or – and if it does, why? You’ve already satisfied yourself that they have used them. Is this simply for the – are you still hoping to get the Russians on – angry enough at Assad that they’ll be more specific about what – that he needs to go?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, we’re absolutely still focused on that, of course. And as I mentioned, we have briefed the Russians. It’s been discussed in a number of cases. But also, if the UN team is able to get in and do their own investigation, that’s further validity for the findings of the U.S. and others who have come out and stated their own findings.

QUESTION: Jen, is it possible that the arming of the rebels by the U.S. and others will be withheld until some clarity is on this political process, since that’s the favored one?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t – I wouldn’t tie the two together. I believe the President, or the President and his team, as well as the Secretary, have all said that these decisions are going to be made about what is best for the Syrian people and the future of Syria, and taking into account our own national interest here for the U.S. But improving the ground situation for the opposition is – the purpose of that is all a part of getting to a point where we’re moving to a political transition given that it’s everybody’s bottom-line goal here.

QUESTION: Jen, are you aware that five American fighter jets penetrated Syrian airspace – or this morning, based in Jordan?

MS. PSAKI: I have not seen that report, Said. I’ll have to look into it for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Jen, can you update us on the delivery of aid that was pledged in April, or anything since then (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: I did this a little bit yesterday, but let me provide you an update. So just as a repeat, 127 has been delivered; 123 is in the process of congressional notification.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: That can take some time, and components of it are being notified at different times. And then Congress typically has some time to review what has been proposed, and the specifics of the breakdown of the 123 is all being discussed as part of that process. So that is underway right now.

QUESTION: And the new aid that was announced yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have – the $300 million in humanitarian aid?

QUESTION: The 300, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: That, of course, will go through a process of working with Congress, but also determining the best way to get it on the ground. So it doesn’t usually happen overnight, but we try to do it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Jen, if you look at that statement, though, the communiqué, it is very weak. I mean, basically there’s nothing in there. There’s nothing – there’s no mention of Assad. Why did the United States sign onto it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our position has been the same. We do feel – still think it is significant that there was agreement in the communique about pursuing a transitional governing body in Syria with full executive powers formed by mutual consent. That is the basis, and the fundamental basis, of a political transition. So we felt that was a significant agreement. There is still a disagreement, as we all know, that we have with the Russians on some issues. But having an international body like the G-8 signify that they agree on the path forward we felt was significant.

QUESTION: Jen, just to clarify, if there will be any hope about this UN investigation which will be going on on the ground, shall we assume that you will be waiting for the result of this investigation before taking any other action, like arming the rebels?

MS. PSAKI: I would not draw that conclusion. We’re continuing to consider, the President is continuing to consider all options. But of course, having the UN go and investigate and being allowed into Syria would certainly be a significant step.

QUESTION: Change topics?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think someone else – Jill, go ahead.

QUESTION: The Taliban.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Secretary in fact just said, “Good news, very pleased with what’s taken place.” So what’s the good news? I mean, what realistically does the U.S. expect, hope from these talks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just start by saying we’ve long said that this conflict will likely – excuse me – not be won on the battlefield, and that is why we support this office. But neither do we plan to let up on our fight against international terrorism in Afghanistan, or our support to Afghan forces who will very soon be in the lead for operations throughout the country. Our military and diplomatic efforts continue to be mutually reinforcing. Just wanted to say that at the topic.

But this is something that – as President Obama reaffirmed with President Karzai in Januaray, an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process is the surest way to end violence and ensure lasting stability in Afghanistan and the region. And as you know, the Secretary, on his second trip as Secretary of State, also went to Afghanistan and also reaffirmed the belief that this was an important step. These statements represent an important first step toward reconciliation, the outcome of which must be that the Taliban and other insurgent groups break ties with al-Qaida and violence and accept Afghanistan’s constitution, including its protections for women and minorities.

But it’s important because it is a first step that hasn’t happened until today. And so, of course, that’s why it’s a significant announcement. Let me just review – because I know people are following this closely, but – what has happened today. So today the Taliban has released a statement that said two things: that they oppose the use of Afghan soil to threaten other countries, and they support an Afghan peace process. The U.S., of course, acknowledges, as is evidenced by our briefings and the Secretary’s comments, these statements for which we have long called and which fulfill the requirements for the Taliban to open an office in Doha for the purpose of negotiations with the Afghan Government.

The Qataris have also issued a statement announcing the opening of an office with the name Political Office of the Afghan Taliban. The statement also laid out the narrow purpose of this office. And finally, we would note that Qatar recognizes the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as the legitimate Government of Afghanistan, and they enjoy full diplomatic relations.

QUESTION: What does it mean, a “narrow purpose of this office”?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s going to what I was stating, that this is a part of a step, this is an important first step. But again, there are – we’ve always said Afghan-led, Afghans talking to Afghans is an important part of our transition. But it doesn’t – it’s not the end of our transition, so this is starting the process.

QUESTION: And when you look at their statement, there is that line, “will not allow anyone to use the Afghan land to threaten anyone.” So that’s the line that you’re talking about.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: That’s not talking directly about the – about al-Qaida, but ultimately the U.S. wants them to very directly cut their links publicly with al-Qaida, correct?

MS. PSAKI: That is the end goal, yes.

QUESTION: So this is enough?

MS. PSAKI: This is an important statement. This allows us to get the process started. And as you know, there are some end goals in this process.

QUESTION: So just to be clear on Jill’s point, the Taliban are not required to disown, disavow, or disassociate themselves publicly with al-Qaida to have --

MS. PSAKI: That is a part of the end goal of the process.

QUESTION: Right. But to begin the process, to talk with them, they don’t have to do that? This is not a precondition for them participating?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Where in their statement does it talk about respecting the rights of women in the Afghan constitution?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that is respecting the constitution, which is an end goal of the process, is – has that included in it.

QUESTION: So that’s up for negotiation?

MS. PSAKI: No, it certainly is not. That’s something that we feel is vital.

QUESTION: Well, then, if that – but if it’s not – I don’t get it. If they haven’t agreed to respect the constitution, then it must mean that it’s up for negotiation.

MS. PSAKI: It’s not up for negotiation. That is the end goal of the process. This is just a beginning. The opening of the office is just a beginning of the process.

QUESTION: Okay. But, I mean, they have to come to that conclusion.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Well, then I don’t get why you’re so happy because they – I mean, they’re --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t – don’t indicate my --

QUESTION: Well, the Secretary said – I mean, “It’s good news, we’re very pleased at what’s taken place,” and I’m not sure I get – if they haven’t agreed to do the things that you want them to do, except for these – this one statement with the two parts of it – and – but that those are still the end goal of the – I’m not – it must mean that these are things that are up for negotiation. Otherwise --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe – they’re not up for negotiation. Those are – those were defined as the end goal of the process.

QUESTION: All right. So you’re hoping that the Afghans will convince the Taliban, their brethren, to respect the constitution and the rights of minorities and women in their conversations, which means that that is up for negotiation?

MS. PSAKI: It’s not up for negotiation. That is the end goal of the process of reconciliation. This is a first step in the process. I’m not overestimating or overstating what it means, but certainly, a first step is one farther step than we had just a few days ago.

QUESTION: But do they say in the statement that they renounce terrorism?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have the statement in front of me. We’re happy to get that around to everybody. But they – as Jill stated, the statement did state that they oppose the use of Afghan soil to threaten other countries, and they support an Afghan-led peace process.

QUESTION: And then there was – there’s some – I think some official said on background that there would be a meeting – a U.S.-Taliban meeting in the coming days.

MS. PSAKI: Let me give you --

QUESTION: Do you have any --

MS. PSAKI: It’s not yet scheduled. We’re in the process of scheduling it, but --

QUESTION: Is that – would that be Jim Dobbins?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. Let me give you an update on his travel schedule as well to help you along those lines.

Ambassador James Dobbins, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, will be departing today for travel to Ankara, Turkey; to Doha, Qatar, and with onward travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan currently planned. The trip is primarily focused on reconciliation efforts. He will have meetings with a number of officials at each stop, and we’ll be reading those out, of course, after they conclude.

QUESTION: Do you know who from the Taliban is (1) going to be staffing this office, and (2) who he – Mr. Dobbins, Ambassador Dobbins – will see?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the meetings are still being scheduled, so I don’t have any update on who he’ll meet with and I don’t have the names yet of who will be participating at it.

QUESTION: All right. And presumably, just – and I just want to make sure of this, that this meeting, when – it will be in Doha, right? I mean, that’s why he’s going to Doha? Or will it be someplace else?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s where the office is, but again, he’ll have meetings throughout his travel, and he has onward travel planned to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

QUESTION: No, no, but – so he might meet with the Taliban in Afghanistan or Pakistan --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any --

QUESTION: -- or Turkey?

MS. PSAKI: -- specifics on his planned meetings. I just didn’t want to understate who he’ll be meeting with and where.

QUESTION: Okay. All right.

MS. PSAKI: Jill.

QUESTION: And again, these are the first formal talks, right?

MS. PSAKI: With the --

QUESTION: With the Taliban.

MS. PSAKI: Afghan-Afghan, yes.

QUESTION: Right. Between the United States formally --

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, there was a time ago where we did talk with them.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: But this is, of course, a different step forward.

QUESTION: Were those considered formal talks, though, before? I mean, how historic is this? Is this the first formal talks for this --

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to look back and see how we defined them at the time, but this is certainly part of a process which is being led by Afghans speaking to Afghans as part of their efforts to move forward on a reconciliation process. The U.S., of course, has a stake here, and we believe it is important for the Taliban to begin, of course, meaningful discussions as soon as possible, both with the Afghans and with us. And the main dialogue we want to support is among Afghans, but there are some issues we, the U.S., want to discuss with the Taliban directly, most notably our concerns about Taliban connections to international terrorism.

And we are in Afghanistan, as you all know, because the attack against the United States on 9/11 was planned there by al-Qaida under shelter offered by the Taliban. An important focus for our meetings moving forward with the Taliban will be the need for them to completely and verifiably break with terrorism. So that is, of course, a priority of the U.S. as we look to proceed with our negotiations.

QUESTION: Jen?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: When were with Secretary Kerry in Kabul back in March, he stood next to President Karzai, and President Karzai said that they had already started talking informally with the Taliban members. He laid out some of the end goals that you’ve enumerated here. Again, what has changed in the diplomacy between March and now in this press release?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are several components. Obviously, this is an Afghan-led process, so I would point you to them on why these talks and why – are proceeding now, or the Taliban of course --

QUESTION: Well, you have the confidence now to do something we weren’t confident enough to do in March, so is there something on the way?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, this is something that the President, President Obama, that Secretary Kerry have all said is an important step forward. We wanted to have the appropriate conditions to do just that. Again, there are several players in this, most importantly the Afghans themselves. And so they have decided to move forward with this. Obviously, the U.S. has a stake and has a role here, but again, it’s led by the Afghans.

QUESTION: But there wasn’t a specific gesture of goodwill or anything other than this Taliban announcement?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything further to read out for you on that point.

QUESTION: Jen, it is Afghan-led, but then it is correct that the United States will be the first people who will meet --

MS. PSAKI: Correct, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But why is that? Why wouldn’t the first meeting be between the Afghans?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I mentioned a bit of the U.S. stake here and the issues we feel are vitally important to discuss. That will certainly be a part of that process. This is an Afghan process moving forward, and certainly will be Afghan-led and Afghan-focused moving forward. But as I mentioned, the U.S. has a stake. Obviously, the State Department, the White House, and others have been engaged in this process, the Secretary has been, and so that may be the order of meetings.

QUESTION: On the issue of Afghan-led, is that – does that mean that if Karzai, for whatever reason, decides not to go to these talks, that he can veto these talks between the United States and the Taliban?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure I would speculate on that. Obviously, everybody is engaged --

QUESTION: No. I mean, explain to us what --

MS. PSAKI: -- in moving this forward, Said. That’s where our focus is. As I mentioned, Ambassador Dobbins has some travel. We’ve seen some statements across the region, and we’re hopeful that these talks will move forward.

QUESTION: Is there any specific reason that – why Qatar has been chosen as a venue for these negotiations?

QUESTION: They’re always a venue for --

MS. PSAKI: Why the office is in Doha?

QUESTION: Yeah. Because of pick of Taliban or you were involved with the decision process?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not actually certain of the history there. I’m happy to look into that for you.

QUESTION: Because there were two different states who were competing to be venue. One was Istanbul.

QUESTION: Let her guess what the other country was. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point you to the government of – that is funny, I don't know how to figure it out – I would point you to the Government of Qatar on this, but I’m happy to check if there’s any more – anything I can enumerate for all of you.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you, does this mean that the U.S. now regards the Taliban as a legitimate fighting group, a legitimate enemy, unlike enemy – before, it was – they were kind of – they were classified enemy combatants, or as non – they were non-state actors, obviously, but that they – but they weren’t regarded as legal enemies. Does this mean that that is now over? And then as a corollary to that, does the Administration believe that the Taliban have legitimate concerns about the way things are in Afghanistan right now, in terms of governance? Or do you think that President Karzai’s government – or regardless of who the president is – that the government that exists there right now is best for the Afghan people?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me answer the first question first, as makes sense in order. This is the beginning of the process. There are steps that need to be taken. Obviously, I’ve outlined the U.S. stake here and what needs to happen. But we’re not going to judge the outcome.

As you know, we are – still have troops on the ground in Afghanistan. We still – our goal in Afghanistan continues to be to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida to ensure that the country can never again be a safe haven for terrorists. We’re doing both at the same time, talking and winding down our fighting in the country.

On the second question – and just repeat your second question for me again.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just curious to know if the Administration thinks that the Taliban have legitimate concerns about the way that Afghanistan is being run.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I mean, the Taliban are obviously a key component here, and that’s why we believe that they should be – begin their negotiations and why this is an important step in that process.

QUESTION: Okay. But according to you, these are negotiations, but what is not negotiable in these negotiations is respect for the current constitution.

MS. PSAKI: Well, that is the end goal, the end plan, what we would like to see at the end of these negotiations. And that has been --

QUESTION: So then --

MS. PSAKI: -- that has been outlined and been clear for some time.

QUESTION: Okay. But then you don’t believe that the Taliban have legitimate concerns that need to be addressed in negotiations, or you do believe that they have legitimate concerns that can be – that should be addressed in negotiations? And if they do, what are those legitimate concerns in the view of the Administration?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ll let them outline their own concerns, Matt. But I mean, moving toward a reconciliation – our end goal here --

QUESTION: I understand that. But either you think that their concerns have merit or you don’t.

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously we feel that a reconciliation process between all parties is important. I’m not going to validate one set of concerns over another. But in order to move toward a more stable Afghanistan, we feel this is an important part of the process.

QUESTION: I’m going to carry on with what Matt’s question is about – negotiating, the legality of it. I mean, in the eyes of the U.S., is Taliban a terrorist group?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not sure how they’re defined at this particular moment.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: But the important thing here is that we’ve long said that moving toward a reconciliation process, of which they are a key part – the President has said this, the Secretary has said this – is an important part of moving towards a more stable Afghanistan. That’s why we support these efforts. That’s why we’ve been so engaged, why the Secretary has been so engaged, at every level of the government.

QUESTION: And how will the negotiations – I mean, surely the release of Bergdahl will be part of that, as well as surely the Taliban are going to be demanding the release of the Guantanamo Bay Taliban commanders. What is the response going to be on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say the United States – and you asked me this question sort of but – has not made the decision at this point to transfer any Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay, though, of course, we expect the Taliban to raise this issue. As we’ve long said, we’ll make any such decisions in consultation with Congress and according to U.S. law. And as we talked about yesterday, we, of course, very committed to closing Guantanamo.

On the question of other issues we will raise, I talked about a number of them, but absolutely we will want to talk with the Taliban about the safe return of Sergeant Bergdahl. He has been gone far too long, and we continue to call for and work towards his safe and immediate release.

QUESTION: Do these talks have the backing of members of Congress, considering they want to block the transfer of those – the release of those Taliban commanders? I mean, is – would Congress not see it – I guess I could ask them, but would they not see this as negotiating with the enemy in a way?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are several steps in this process we anticipate, of course. We’re at the beginning of the journey here, so to speak. And of course, consulting with Congress on every step will be a big part of this process, and we will venture to do that in the weeks ahead. And any decision and any part of the negotiation we will be in consultation with them.

QUESTION: I guess I’m just not clear on this whole negotiation, but you have a set endpoint. This is not a surrender, clearly. You don’t believe that there’s a – clearly a military victory here, so it’s not like Germany or Japan after the Second World War. So there is, in fact, a negotiation that has to go on.

But if you’ve already decided on what the end goal, the terms – obviously the end – the overreaching end goal is to have Afghanistan at peace and not a threat to anybody around it. But you – up and to that point there has to be negotiation to make it worthwhile for the Taliban. And if you don’t – if you say that – if you’ve already set out what the end goal is in terms of them having to respect the existing constitution exactly the way it’s written with the protections for minorities and women, then I don’t get how it’s a negotiation. Either you think that these are points that can be negotiated, that the Taliban have legitimate concerns that have merit and can be addressed in a negotiation, or you don’t.

MS. PSAKI: Well, our outcome and what we would like to see here, as you mentioned, has not been secret. We’ve laid this out very clearly, publicly and privately.

QUESTION: Well, I’m not saying that it is secret. I just don’t understand what they’re negotiating.

MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re negotiating how to reconcile their efforts on both sides.

QUESTION: Yeah. But the Taliban come in and the Afghans say you have to respect the constitution and every single thing that it means, and the Taliban say well, we don’t like this part or we don’t like this part. And that – but you’re saying that can’t be negotiated. So I --

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, clearly there are stakes from both sides that are prompting them to move back to the process here. I’m sure they will all have lots to say about that.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: But we feel it’s an important step forward.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to who exactly is going to be negotiating? Is it Ambassador Dobbins?

MS. PSAKI: He will be a part of that process, of course, as the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He, of course, has a team, but that is the purpose of his travel, is to focus on reconciliation efforts.

QUESTION: Sorry. He’s going to be part of the Afghan-to-Afghan talks?

MS. PSAKI: No, no. He is a part of the U.S. having meetings with the Taliban, being a part of this process, of which we obviously have a stake.

QUESTION: Right. I understand.

MS. PSAKI: He is the primary person leading that effort.

QUESTION: But do you have anything to negotiate with the Taliban?

MS. PSAKI: No. That would be up to the Afghans to – if they wanted the U.S. to have a role in that. But it is Afghans talking to Afghans. As I said, the U.S. has our own stakes and our own issues that we want to discuss here moving forward.

QUESTION: And that would be mainly the release of Bergdahl and --

MS. PSAKI: Certainly he would be a part of that, as well as some of the issues I outlined earlier about the need for them to completely and verifiably break with terrorism.

QUESTION: But those issues are negotiable?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we’re going to sit down with the Taliban and discuss them. That’s part of what the – what Ambassador Dobbins will be doing.

QUESTION: But I don’t understand – okay, I don’t understand how you negotiate that. If you tell them they have to renounce terrorism, what’s the negotiation there?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Matt --

QUESTION: There’s not any – there’s no room for – you have to release our guy and you have to renounce terrorism, and that’s it. That doesn’t seem to me – there’s no negotiation. That’s ultimatum.

MS. PSAKI: All sides are coming to this with their own stakes.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure they will have plenty to say. Those are what the U.S. is hoping to accomplish through the process.

QUESTION: Okay. And just to make it clear, Dobbins is not going to be in the Afghan-to-Afghan talks? Or is he?

MS. PSAKI: No. It would be up to the Afghans if they --

QUESTION: If they want him there.

MS. PSAKI: -- want us to participate. But he’s having meetings primarily focused on the reconciliation efforts.

QUESTION: Gotcha. And at part of his trip right now, does that currently entail attending or observing an Afghan-Taliban --

MS. PSAKI: This is so new, the meetings are still being scheduled. But I will – as we have updates, we’re happy to provide them.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Yeah, Jen, some of the wires are already reporting it’s happening on Thursday, that meeting. Can you tell us – if you can’t confirm that date, maybe you can – can you tell us at least what the access will be?

MS. PSAKI: The media access? I’d have --

QUESTION: Yeah. Will there be debriefs? Will there be any information shared from them?

MS. PSAKI: We will be reading out meetings as they complete. And I actually didn’t have – the meetings were still being scheduled as I came down here, so maybe they happened rapidly. But I’m happy to check if Thursday is accurate, and we can confirm that for all of you, if so, following the briefing.

QUESTION: Can we change topic?

QUESTION: Taliban?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: When Secretary spoke with the Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was this an issue of discussion? Did he discuss with him this Taliban statement?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of. That wasn’t the focus of the call. It was the issues that I outlined in terms of Pakistan participation, which I’m betting is where you’re getting at here. This is really a question, of course, for the Afghan Government. We’ve long said that we appreciate Pakistan’s public statements in support of Afghan-led reconciliation. We’ll continue to closely coordinate with Pakistan in support of these efforts.

QUESTION: And on – since the Taliban will be having talks with both the U.S. and Afghan Government, would U.S. be open to the idea of Taliban having talks with other neighboring countries like India or Iran? Because India had never had any talks or relations with the Taliban. Iran did had some.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re going to get ahead of the announcement today. And as – if there are updates to provide, we’re happy to provide them.

QUESTION: And several Taliban leaders are on a most-wanted list. Is the U.S. moving ahead in delisting them? That has been one of the conditions for the Taliban.

MS. PSAKI: Again, this is just the first step in the process. There is a journey to go here. So it’s significant because we are taking a step in the process, but there need to be negotiations, there need to be discussions. The U.S. will have some, Afghans will have some, but I’m not going to get ahead of what the end results will be.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you anticipate Secretary Kerry taking a direct role at any point in this process, or will it mostly be led on the ground by Ambassador Dobbins?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Secretary Kerry is deeply – has been deeply engaged in this effort and has – cares deeply about the outcome. In terms of what his involvement will be moving forward beyond this next trip, I don’t want to get ahead of where we are in the process.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I want to ask you about the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Yesterday there were statements made by – or the day before yesterday – the Minister of Housing, Naftali Bennet, saying that there is no chance whatsoever for a Palestinian state. And then the Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, came out and said this is actually official Israeli declaration of the death of the two-state solution. Could you comment on both comments?

MS. PSAKI: I’ll have to have you repeat the second one. Go ahead.

QUESTION: The second one – the Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said that statement was an official Israeli Government statement, and it announces the death of the peace process and the two-state solution.

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say on the first statement that we’ve always known that people would have opposing points of views, whether they’re in the government or outside the government. That is not a surprise. The Secretary himself has spoken of that. That doesn’t represent the belief and the positions of the majority of the Israeli people, who of course support moving towards a peace process. And in terms of both sides talking back and forth, there are discussions that are happening. The Secretary has been deeply engaged with both sides. As you know, he speaks with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas and Minister Livni on a regular basis. Those have been private for a reason, but I would caution you against reading into public comments back and forth that don’t reflect what’s happening behind the scenes.

QUESTION: So, are there any plans for the Secretary to travel to the region?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on that yet; I hope to have an update. As you know, he is hoping to and planning to return to the region, where he hopes to hold a series of productive meetings with Israeli, Palestinians, and Jordanian leaders. But these – the specifics of that I hope to have soon for you, believe me.

QUESTION: Jen. Sorry. So you don’t believe that the comments that the Housing Minister made to reflect the opinion of the – I think you said the majority of the Israeli people?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Where exactly did you get your information about what the majority of the Israeli people want? This is a – I mean, they may want peace, but the majority of the Israeli are at least enough to elect a government, to twice put in place a Prime Minister who has been one of the most hostile to a peace process in many, many years. So --

MS. PSAKI: What I was referring to, Matt, was the fact that most people would like peace in Israel. And that is simply what I was stating. And so that one official’s comments don’t reflect the will of all people in the country.

QUESTION: Well, I don’t think that what – the official didn’t say that they didn’t want peace. He just said that there shouldn’t be a Palestinian state, or the Palestinian state was impossible. I’m – you think – is it your – is it the Administration’s opinion the majority of the Israeli people want to see a Palestinian state?

MS. PSAKI: I think the people know what needs to happen in order for there to be a peaceful outcome here. I wasn’t intending to get into every aspect of the negotiation, just to convey that the majority of the Israeli people do want peace.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Still on Middle East peace?

QUESTION: No, no, another subject.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Can you – what can you tell us about this unruly passenger on that international flight (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: I can confirm for you that he is a former employee for the Department of State, and he ended his time at the Department of State in 2006.

QUESTION: Is there any further detail about him, that he was acting very strangely?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of. And it’s unlikely that would be any update, coming, of course, from the State Department, since he is no longer an employee.

QUESTION: And I’m sorry, what did he do? What was his job?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on that specifically. He was an employee of the Department of State up until 2006.

QUESTION: Jen. On Lebanon, there were clashes today in south Lebanon between Hezbollah and a Sunni group. Do you have anything on this?

MS. PSAKI: We, of course, have seen those reports, as we have unfortunately many times in this briefing room. We are very concerned about the overflow. I would express our concern about the overflow of violence into Lebanon, the increase in sectarian – of sectarian violence around this conflict, and this is certainly an example of that.

QUESTION: As you know, a long-serving DS agent has filed a lawsuit against Hillary Clinton in her official capacity as the Secretary of State. And discovery evidence in that case that was obtained by Fox News suggests that two high-ranking DS officials gave sworn testimony that was evasive, at best, or maybe even knowingly false, at worst. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me give everybody a bit more of the context here. One, this is an ongoing case, which of course we wouldn’t speak to, but you’re also referring to a few lines, as I understand it, from a multi-hour, closed-door deposition, which I have – is likely taken out of context. And of course, given its ongoing litigation, we wouldn’t speak to it further, but clearly we are aware of investigations that have gone on, that are going on. As I’ve stated many times from here, we are fully supportive of those and take every accusation seriously.

Let me just say one more thing on the larger context of the last two weeks. We deeply regret the inappropriate release of Department employee names, especially given the privacy, due process, and fundamental fairness rights and interests of all employees. Public trial by innuendo is hardly appropriate or helpful to ensuring a fair and partial adjudication, and we hope that those reacting to sensationalized reporting, many of whom should know well the rights afforded to those accused of mixed conduct from personal and professional interactions with law enforcement, will not trample those rights in a rush to judge.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Iran, please?

MS. PSAKI: Iran? Sure.

QUESTION: The newly elected President Rouhani spoke yesterday I think about the need to heal old and deep wounds with the United States. Do you have any comment?

MS. PSAKI: Can you – I’m sorry – can you say that one more time? I couldn’t hear you over --

QUESTION: He spoke about the need to heal the old and deep wounds with the United States. Do you have any comment?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I spoke to this a bit yesterday and said that, of course, his election is a potentially hopefully sign. We congratulate the Iranian people for demonstrating the courage to make their voices heard in this election, but we’ll see what happens moving forward, and time will tell.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the previous thing – your statement on the deeply regretting the release of the names?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there any action that you can or are taking about the fact that this – that these documents came to light or were publicized or were given out?

MS. PSAKI: I’ll have to check with our legal team on that.

QUESTION: Yeah. So it’s two parts.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: One is, is there anything you can do. And two, if there is, are you doing it?

MS. PSAKI: Okay. I’m happy to check on that for you, Matt.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Does Secretary Kerry still have full faith and confidence in DS Director Starr and Executive Director Mahaffey?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, these individuals – I don’t – I think – but Mr. Starr has been – is Acting Director. He works closely with him, knows him well. He takes every issue and every allegation of misconduct seriously. But let me just remind you of something I said a few – I guess 10 days ago. There are thousands – I guess almost 2,000 – DS agents serving in some of the most difficult places around the world. They go through a rigorous process to get into their positions, and leadership in Diplomatic Security overseas, all of these individuals who are proudly serving around the world. If there is an allegation of misconduct, of which I’m not aware of for those two individuals, we would certainly take a look at that, as we would in any case. But again, bringing up names and litigating people’s reputations in the press is something that has been concerning to us to date.

QUESTION: Sorry. Litigating people’s reputations?

MS. PSAKI: Discussing, Matt. Litigating, I don’t mean in a legal court room. I mean, in the public forum.

QUESTION: Well, you could make the argument that if these allegations are false and were proven to be false, then it’s doing – it’s more than litigating. It’s – it may border on libel. But I – is it – can you – are we still where we were before, that some of the cases – some of the cases that were in that memo are still being investigated? Or have they all been closed?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on that. But the larger point and why I can’t speak to the specific cases is that, as we mentioned, the OIG office, and as they have said, are looking broadly into the process related to these cases. We welcome that and we look forward to their report.

QUESTION: But are there any of those allegations that are in that memo that you can say were – are false?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to specific cases, given there’s an ongoing --

QUESTION: I’m not asking for a specific --

MS. PSAKI: -- investigation looking into. There are certainly a range of inaccuracies that were in that initial memo, as I’ve spoken to from here before.

QUESTION: Okay. And is there any update on when that outside investigation or --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I would point you to the IG’s office for that, because they are conducting their review.

Okay. Thanks. Oops, sorry, go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: I’ve got two very brief ones. One, does the Administration take any position or have any feelings about this move by the Duma to ban adoption by gay couples?

MS. PSAKI: I believe – let me see – this happened about a week ago, is that right?

QUESTION: Yeah, but it’s – I think it’s moving ahead. Did you already answer it? If you already have, then --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe I have. Let me see if I have something for you. Of course, we remain – the United States, of course, opposes any legislation that discriminates against people due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. We place great importance on the protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender persons around the world.

QUESTION: All right. So that – and that applies – that statement applies domestically, as well, right?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly, Matt, you’re familiar with what our federal situation – what our state laws are here.

QUESTION: I’m familiar with the Defense of Marriage Act, yes. So anyway.

Okay. And then the second brief one was Brazil.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment, concern about the growing protests in Brazil?

MS. PSAKI: I do, just give me one moment here. Well, we of course are monitoring the events in Brazil, as would be expected. Peaceful demonstrations, as are going on there, are part of what democracy is all about. Citizens expressing their views and engaging government leaders about the issues that matter to them is what is, of course, taking place in this case.

Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:16 p.m.)

DPB # 101

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - June 18, 2013]