Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 23, 2013


Index for Today's Briefing
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
    • Secretary Remains Closely Engaged
    • Parties Remain Committed to Resumption of Final Status Negotiations
  • SYRIA
    • Congressional Approval/Support Regarding Assistance to Syrian Opposition / Congressman Roger's Statement
    • Expanding Scope and Scale of U.S. Assistance
    • Political Solution and Strengthening Opposition is End Goal
    • Syrian Humanitarian Crisis / Secretary's Meetings with International and Humanitarian Organization Representatives
    • Concerns about Extremist Elements in Syria / Al-Nusrah
    • Overflow of Violence outside Syrian Borders / Iraq
  • GREAT LAKES REGION
    • M23 Attacks / Renewed Fighting
    • Secretary to Chair UNSC Meeting focused on Great Lakes
    • U.S. Calls for Rwanda to Withdraw Support to M23 and Adhere to Commitments
  • BENGHAZI
    • Secretary's Focus on Implementing Recommendations of ARB
  • INDIA
    • Vice President Biden's Upcoming Trip to India
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • U.S. Support for a Sovereign, Democratic, and United Afghanistan
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
    • Composition Middle East Peace Team
  • EGYPT
    • Read out of Secretary Kerry's calls with Egyptian FM Fahmy, Interim VP ElBaradei


TRANSCRIPT:

The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.

1:45 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for being patient with the late briefing today. We had a few scheduling items to work through. Let’s start with what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Well, what were the scheduling items?

MS. PSAKI: Hmm?

QUESTION: What were the scheduling items that you had to --

MS. PSAKI: There’s no update on the Secretary’s schedule.

QUESTION: Oh.

MS. PSAKI: I meant on my schedule today.

QUESTION: Ah, I see. Okay. I guess, let’s just start with the Middle East, because I think it’ll be short, because I’m not sure that there’s any – are there any updates at all in terms of how the preparations are – the arrangements are going for bringing the two sides together here in Washington? Any date, any idea of a date?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update for you. As we discussed yesterday, the elements are still being finalized. The Secretary remains closely engaged and has been engaged and in touch with both sides. And we’re working towards the next step.

QUESTION: When – he’s been closely engaged and in touch, so he’s made calls yesterday, today?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to outline the specific calls, but yes, he has been engaged – well, I should say with our team on the ground, he’s been engaged with some officials as well, and our team on the ground has been discussing with officials on the ground as well.

QUESTION: Israeli and Palestinian officials?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So he has been in touch, but you don’t want to say with whom?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a readout of the Secretary’s calls. I meant to broadly convey that we’ve been in touch. He’s been a part of that process as well.

QUESTION: All right. Okay.

QUESTION: Is there a holdup? There seems to be a holdup in the talks.

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely not. As you – just as a reminder, and I know we talked about this yesterday, but the deal came together at the eleventh hour on Friday, and just we are clear that both parties are committed to resuming final status negotiations, and we’re working through the next step in the process.

QUESTION: The reason I ask is because Palestinian sources claim that Mr. Netanyahu is placing more conditions and so on, that they may not be able to meet before they get together in direct negotiations.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know we talked about this a bit yesterday, and I’m not going to get into discussing behind-the-scenes conversations, at the request of all parties involved here. But I can say that nothing has changed since yesterday or Friday, when the Secretary made his announcement.

QUESTION: So would it be safe to assume that some sort of a meeting or engagement will happen perhaps by Sunday or Monday?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t – the Secretary said on Friday in the next week or so, and that’s what we’re working toward.

QUESTION: Can I change subjects?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Do you have another on Middle East peace, Jill? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: No, actually another subject.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said yesterday, on the record, that the Obama Administration – that we are in a position that the Administration can move forward with arming the Syrian rebels. Is that your understanding? Has anything come – passed by your desk that that is about to move forward?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we remain in close consultation, of course, with Congress regarding our assistance of all kinds to the Syrian opposition with the goal of strengthening the cohesion of the opposition and effectiveness of the Supreme Military Council in their efforts to defend themselves. I’m not going to detail our discussions with Congress, but you mentioned, of course, Congressman Rogers’ comments, and I would point everybody to that as to the status of Congress’ support.

QUESTION: So I understand your caution in that this isn’t a go-ahead, that it isn’t – meaning that this is not a thumbs-up by the – by Congress for the Administration to move forward.

MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t intending to convey that. I would point you to his full comments on this exact issue. I just don’t want to speak on behalf of what Congress has or has not approved.

QUESTION: Sorry. When you say you point us to his comments, you’re talking about the written statement that he put out?

MS. PSAKI: Of Congressman Rogers, yes.

QUESTION: Yes. How many sentences was that statement?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an exact word count for you, Matt.

QUESTION: Two. I’m not asking the words; I’m asking sentences. Two – two sentences.

MS. PSAKI: There you go. It was two sentences.

QUESTION: And you – in other words, you’re happy to let Congressman Rogers speak for the Administration?

MS. PSAKI: That’s not at all what I was implying.

QUESTION: Well --

MS. PSAKI: The question was about what Congress has approved and what they have supported. You know we have announced --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- what we have been calling for.

QUESTION: So based on Congressman Rogers’ statement, presuming that it is correct, and I don’t think anyone is suggesting that it’s not correct, the Administration is now moving forward with what exactly?

MS. PSAKI: I still am not in a position to outline the specifics, just as we were not several weeks ago when this was announced.

QUESTION: What – okay. But can you say at least that you are now able to expand and enhance – or whatever the two words were that you were using before – that now whatever the secret thing is that you can’t talk about is now going to go ahead?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it seems that that’s what Congressman Rogers’ comment was speaking to.

QUESTION: So that is – okay. So the Administration is now moving ahead, or is now able to, based on what Congressman Rogers said, move ahead with this new assistance that you’re not able to speak about?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t speak on timeline or specifics, but it’s safe to make that assumption.

QUESTION: What can we expect after this from the Administration?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what you’re asking.

QUESTION: After this statement, what – will we be able to see any steps on the ground?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t outline that for you. But again, we outline – we announced just a few weeks ago, the same day that – or the same week, I should say – that we announced about our findings on chemical weapons used – the plans to expand the scope and scale. Of course, we’ve been working with Congress on that, and beyond that I’d point you to his comments. But beyond that, I can’t speak to specifics of what you may or may not see on the ground.

QUESTION: But Jen, we know that the Secretary wants this stuff to move forward quickly. I mean, the – it’s showing on the ground that the Assad regime’s forces are gaining ground, and you admitted that yesterday. Would you say that there is caution that this – that there is caution from the White House to move forward? What is it going to take to actually – I mean, if Congress is now saying it’s fine to move ahead, what stands in the way then?

MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t actually at all pointing to anything suggesting something was standing in the way. As you know, we are – we always closely consult with Congress on any forms of aid. That’s true across the board, whether it’s related to Syria or to other countries. We all support – and you heard the White House say this around the time of the announcement about chemical weapons – not only this expansion of the scale and scope, but also the process of continuing to consider a range of additional options to us. That’s ongoing, and those discussions are ongoing as well.

QUESTION: But Jen, set us straight here because we’re getting a lot of comments by the Administration, both on the record and off the record --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- behind the scenes, basically indicating that the opposition are on life support, that these weapons may not do much of anything, that Assad could be in power for a very long time, or, as was indicated at the White House, in power in a certain part of the country which would indicate the civil war continues. So where are we, just in terms of the realistic evaluation of what’s going on here? Because it sounds very, very bad for the opposition.

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me – there’s a couple questions in there, which is totally fine. So let me --

QUESTION: Like five. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Let me try to take them on, and if I don’t get to one, I’m sure you’ll let me know. First, let me be clear that the U.S. position that Assad has lost all legitimacy and must step aside has not changed. The Assad family spent decades co-opting the institutions of the Syrian state and terrorizing the Syrian people, but Assad’s rule will come to an end. We’re not under any illusions that this conflict will be resolved easily, but with the support of the United States and the international community, the Syrian people will have a chance to forge their own future.

In terms of where things are on the ground, we’ve spoken about this a bit. You’re right, we are concerned – and the Secretary has spoken to this – about the influx of Hezbollah, of Iran, of assistance from those countries and how that has bolstered the regime. We are continuing to focus on how we can bolster the opposition, so part of that is expanding the scope and scale of aid on the ground, and I promise you I wish I could speak more to that, but I just can’t detail it. And beyond that we continue to consider – the President has asked his national security team, as you know, weeks ago to continue to consider additional options, and those discussions are ongoing.

But – and let me just make this last point – it does still remain the Secretary’s belief and the belief of the Administration that a political solution and strengthening the opposition on the ground to work towards that as the end goal here, not a military solution, and so that’s what our focus is on.

QUESTION: Right. But the strategy of the Administration seems to be to let everyone else, Europeans or the Gulf states, provide the weapons, provide the support for the opposition, and the U.S. does pretty much what minimally must be done. But essentially you’re letting other people arm them and hoping that this somehow will miraculously bring everything to the table, to have a political solution.

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s never been about just the role of the United States. There are several players who have a stake in the – not only the security, but the stability of Syria. That’s why we’ve had so many meetings to discuss with the London 11 and with the Secretary’s counterparts from the region – different countries make different choices about what aid they’re going to provide – but part of what you’ve seen progressively here is increasing aid to the SMC. Different countries have provided different things. We – the United States has played a role in that as well and will continue to, but we are a slice of the pie; we’re not the entire pie. We are focused on stability, but we are working with our regional counterparts to continue to coordinate and increase aid.

QUESTION: Jen, yesterday the envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi spoke at an event in town.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And he agrees with you. He says there is no military solution; there must be a political solution, but he basically put the blame squarely on the opposition, on the fragmentation of the opposition as the main obstacle for holding any kind of peace conference. Do you agree with him?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to look more closely at his comments. There’s no question – and you know the United States is focused on continuing to help the opposition. We talked a little bit about the ground piece but also on the political front. They obviously elected leadership recently. There’s more that they can continue to do to strengthen their position as well, and we’re very focused on that.

But there are a number of factors determining when a conference would be and how to move to that stage, and the opposition being strengthened is certainly part of it, but discussing the agenda and discussing the participants and all of these pieces are also factors.

QUESTION: He said that the elements for a resolution, for a peaceful conference are there from last year, from the 30th of June, Geneva 1, 2012, and that the Russian and the American points of view are getting closer all the time. There’s a good understanding and – on who should represent whom. What are you doing in terms of bringing or pressuring the different groups of the Syrian opposition together so they can actually have a viable presentation at any conference?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re continuing to work very closely with them on several levels, Said, to strengthen their unity and strengthen their positioning on the ground.

QUESTION: Okay, and lastly, he also suggested that this could be – the example of Afghanistan could be used as an example. They held the Loya Jirga; they only had 35 people but they were able to go from there and actually have them represent the Afghanistan people. Would that be like a good model, a good standard to use?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of that example being used. Obviously, we’re working closely with their specific situation and their challenges and opportunities as well with the opposition.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just staying with the Syrian opposition, I believe there’s a group of members of the Syrian Opposition Coalition traveling to New York to meet with the UN on Friday. Since the Secretary’s going to be in town on Thursday --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- do you know if he’s planning to stay through to meet with them on Friday?

MS. PSAKI: He will be there on the day on Thursday. I don't have any updates on his schedule yet. That’s still coming together on what it will entail. So I don’t have anything on a meeting at this point.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: And could you give us an update on how his meeting went today with the various aid groups --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- why it was decided to convene the meeting and what the purpose of it was?

MS. PSAKI: I can, and I believe we sent a note out. But let me reiterate what was in that note here so you all have that. Obviously, the Secretary feels that the humanitarian component of what we’re seeing in Syria is incredibly important. We’ve talked quite a bit in here about the aid we’ve provided; we’re the largest donor, as you all know, nearly a billion dollars in humanitarian assistance. And we’ve expressed concern repeatedly on occasions like Qusayr and others where humanitarian assistance wasn’t able to get in.

But he met today with leaders of several United Nations agencies and other international humanitarian organizations to reinforce the unwavering U.S. commitment to addressing the Syria – Syrian humanitarian crisis, to hear from these leaders about the crucial work their organizations are doing to respond to the needs of the Syrian people, and to discuss ways to address challenges in delivering aid.

The Secretary thanked the leaders for their tireless efforts and the work of their respective organizations. They included – participants included the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Program, the United Nations Relief and Works Agencies for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the International Organization for Migration, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the World Health Organization.

Before meeting with Secretary Kerry, the leaders of the humanitarian agencies also met with USAID Administrator Raj Shah underscoring the United States ongoing efforts focused on addressing the humanitarian crisis.

QUESTION: Well, that’s two minutes we’re – none of us are ever going to get back.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Jo asked the question, and humanitarian assistance is important.

QUESTION: An announcement has been made --

QUESTION: But I mean, out of these meetings, is he actually going to take what he heard today and maybe reshape or refocus U.S. strategy? I mean I think part of the problem is that obviously UN aid groups are dealing with a daily crisis of a number of people fleeing from the fighting in Syria, but there’s also – as we saw in Zaatari camp, there’s also millions of people – 1.8 million – who have been out of the country for some time and have settled. So I’m wondering how he’s going to take the information he got today to use it to reshape or maybe refocus U.S. policy.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can’t predict for you whether – what it will reshape. I can tell you that the reason why he went to the refugee camp last week and the reason why he’s meeting with representatives from these organizations is to hear their feedback and to hear about what’s happening on the ground and hear about the challenges, what’s working, and what’s not working, and certainly as a part of interagency discussions on the steps ahead and the steps forward, he will of course bring that information back to his Administration counterparts.

QUESTION: Any new announcements of – during this meeting or not?

MS. PSAKI: No there was not.

QUESTION: And one more on Congress. What role has the State Department played to convince Congress to arm rebels?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can say broadly that the Secretary has been very engaged in briefing Congress and providing them with an update on not only our strategy, but also aid of all kinds, and he, as somebody who was in the Senate for 29 years, knows that coordinating and explaining and working with our counterparts over in Congress is a very important part of the process.

QUESTION: Just to clarify (inaudible) the consultation, does the Administration need any authorization from the Congress to arm the rebels?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to get into any more specifics on that.

QUESTION: I want to take you back to your pie analogy.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: You said that we are a slice of the pie, not the whole pie. Are –

MS. PSAKI: Do you not like pie?

QUESTION: What pie – no, no. I love pie. What’s the – but what is that – when – I mean are the Russians a slice of the pie as well? Are the Iranians a slice of the pie as well? Or is that a separate pie? What pie is it that we are a slice of that –

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to break down the pie for you.

QUESTION: Can you?

MS. PSAKI: It can be –

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: -- peach if you’d like or apple or –

QUESTION: No, but –

MS. PSAKI: -- strawberry.

QUESTION: That’s not what I mean.

MS. PSAKI: I am –

QUESTION: What is the pie –

MS. PSAKI: What I was –

QUESTION: -- analogy? What does it refer to?

MS. PSAKI: The analogy I was using, Matt, was that there are many countries in the region who are providing aid –

QUESTION: To the opposition.

MS. PSAKI: -- to the opposition.

QUESTION: So this pie is the pot of or the group of people, countries, whatever who are providing aid, and it does not include the people who are supporting the other side, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I was answering a question –

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- about aid to the opposition.

QUESTION: Fair enough.

MS. PSAKI: We can come up with another food analogy if you’d like.

QUESTION: No, no, no, no. That’s fine. I just wanted to make sure I understood that that’s what you were talking about. Your first answer to – your answer to Jill’s first question, I noticed that you did not repeat the “Assad’s days are numbered” line. I’m wondering if that has now been stripped of the talking points.

MS. PSAKI: No. I think I said his – he must step aside. That hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Yeah. But that’s still different than “his days are numbered,” right?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to repeat “his days are numbered.”

QUESTION: Okay. So that’s still an operative line?

MS. PSAKI: He’s lost all legitimacy.

QUESTION: Okay. But “his days are numbered” is still an operative line. Does the date August 18th – in relation to Syria, does the date August 18th, 2011 mean anything to you? I know you weren’t in this job.

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure you’re going to tell me what it means.

QUESTION: Exactly. That is the day that the President said exactly what you just said.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Assad has lost legitimacy, and he has to go. That very afternoon, that very morning, actually, was when Administration officials first started saying that Assad’s days were numbered. That was 706 days ago. That is one year and a little over 11 months. Since that date, August 18th, 2011, it’s clear that – I don’t think when people were saying – and correct me if I’m wrong – that Assad’s days are numbered, that you thought that it was going to be this long. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, that was before my time.

QUESTION: Okay. So you can’t – and that’s fair enough. You can’t speak to it, but I’m just wondering: Does the Administration think that it has – that it miscalculated or it has been miscalculating for the last 706 days? Because 93 – more than 93,000 people are dead, and that clearly can’t be what you want or what you intended to be a result of your policy.

MS. PSAKI: Well –

QUESTION: I’m not suggesting that the United States is any way actually to blame for all these people dying, but do you think that the policy to this point has been – you’ve miscalculated on it?

MS. PSAKI: No. Obviously, we’re continuing to consider doing more. I know we talked about this yesterday, but there’s important context here about what’s happened over the last year and a half, including the opposition forming a group, electing leadership, taking steps forward. We know that takes time, we know the situation on the ground is complex, we remain horrified by the brutality of the Assad regime. That’s why we’ve continued to increase our aid and why we’re taking steps to aid the opposition, and that’s an ongoing discussion within the Administration.

QUESTION: But do you think that your policy up and to this point has had the desired effect?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, obviously this –

QUESTION: I mean if your goal is to get Assad to leave, to change his calculation –

MS. PSAKI: We remain focused on that, Matt.

QUESTION: I understand that, but it has not – do you think it has been a success to this point?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, our focus is on ending –

QUESTION: I understand that, but –

MS. PSAKI: -- his reign.

QUESTION: I understand that, but your focus has been on ending his reign for 706 days.

MS. PSAKI: That’s true. It’s a complicated situation on the ground.

QUESTION: I get that, but clearly a decision was made back several weeks ago when the announcement of the chemical weapons went out – came out – what you just talked about – to change strategy, to expand and enhance the scope and size of it. So is that an admission, or is that – does that – is that a reflection of the Administration deciding that what it had been doing up until that point was not effective?

MS. PSAKI: I think we talked about at the time that obviously the findings on chemical weapons as well as the situation on the ground and the influx of Hezbollah and fighters from Iran was – were all of great concern, and there was the decision made for all of those reasons that we needed to do more. We’re continuing to consider doing more, so I don’t have any announcements today, but that is a discussion that’s ongoing.

QUESTION: But the Administration is satisfied with the results or with what – how its policy has – up to this point has played out on the ground in Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, we’re continuing to consider more options because we know more needs to be done, and obviously the situation on the ground is of great concern to us, and that’s why we’re so focused –

QUESTION: It’s unacceptable, in fact, isn’t it?

MS. PSAKI: It is.

QUESTION: On the prospect for a peace conference, (inaudible) – right now suggested that Iran should be part of any peace conference on Syria. Do you concur?

MS. PSAKI: This isn’t a decision that’s been made yet in terms of attendees and who would be invited. It’s obviously a discussion that’s happening – continues to happen between the UN and the U.S. and Russia and others, and we know people have varying opinions, but there isn’t a decision that’s been made yet.

QUESTION: Okay. So the consideration of Iran as a party to this peace conference is being accorded serious consideration, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, it’s – there are many issues that are being discussed, including attendees.

QUESTION: Jen, speaking of Russia –

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- they are saying that right now, when you talk about violence and brutality, they say that the opposition have been holding, as I read, 200 human shields or some type of hostages. I believe they are Kurds. Are you aware of anything like that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously – I haven’t seen those specific remarks. As you know, our focus is on working with the legitimate opposition, and we remain concerned about the extremist elements, and in the past, there have been efforts by some to kind of combine the two in terms of what’s talked about and what the concerns are. We share concerns about the extremist elements, as all of you know. We have been, of course, following reports, and I talked about this a little bit yesterday, that Syrian Kurds – I’m sorry – are fighting with ISIS in the Raqqah province. We also know from just a week or two ago that ISIS has killed a senior FSA commander, and clearly that’s something that we’ve been monitoring closely. But again, there are unambiguous distinctions between the moderate opposition, the legitimate opposition groups, and extremist elements, and as you all know, we’ve designated al-Nusrah because we have those concerns. There are other groups that we, of course, have concerns about as well.

QUESTION: Do you have any –

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Chairman Rogers’ statement yesterday, does that in any way help the Administration in its decision on how it’s going to move forward? Because one of the big things was that there was this division in Congress about – and the concerns that the weapons would get into the wrong hands. But does this now alleviate some of those concerns within the Administration, and does it help its decision?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t combine the two together. The factor continues – the factor that is a deciding factor continues to be making decisions based on U.S. national interests as well as our assessment of what can make a difference on the ground in Syria. Now as you know, we talk with General Idris and the SMC on a daily basis. We’re obviously closely following the events on the ground, and beyond that, that’s really what the focus is, but we are still considering all options aside from boots on the ground, of course.

QUESTION: But surely it’s not in the U.S. national interests for 93,000 people to be – to have been killed, is it?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, I think I’ve been clear about how horrified we are about those steps, but there’s a question about what aid can be –

QUESTION: But do you –

MS. PSAKI: -- provided and what makes sense to provide.

QUESTION: I understand that, but do you believe the United States can make a difference? Does the Administration believe that it could make a difference in the situation in Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re certainly hopeful that we can help move both sides –

QUESTION: And would you say that –

MS. PSAKI: -- to a political transition.

QUESTION: Would you say that you have made a difference thus far?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think the nearly $1 billion in humanitarian assistance –

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: -- we’ve provided, a great deal of nonlethal aid, other types of aid we’ve provided have certainly –

QUESTION: Do you believe that the death toll would be even higher had you not done –

MS. PSAKI: I can’t –

QUESTION: -- what you have done?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t make a calculation on that, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, then I’m not sure I understand how the policy is advancing the U.S. national interest if you can’t point to any – if everything that’s going on – if what’s going on on the ground is unacceptable, which is what you just said --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and it’s not in the U.S. national interest for the slaughter to continue, then how is it you can defend the policy up to this point as not having been a miscalculation?

MS. PSAKI: Because it’s an incredibly complex situation. We’ve made decisions day by day, week by week, month by month, and increased our aid over time, and decisions are still being considered.

QUESTION: Okay. So is that new line, “It’s an incredibly complex and difficult situation,” is the new refrain every time that there’s – every time you’re not making a decision --

MS. PSAKI: I think I’m stating --

QUESTION: -- whether it’s Egypt, Syria, or anything like --

MS. PSAKI: -- what we all know as fact, Matt, what we all know as fact.

QUESTION: Mr. Brahimi said yesterday that the Secretary was going to meet shortly with the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. Do you know of any meeting like that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. They have – as you know, they talk regularly. I don’t have an update on their last conversation as of now, and I’m not aware of a planned meeting, but certainly, that is something that we will always consider.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

QUESTION: No, back to the – Jill’s question, Jen.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any update about the involvement of al-Nusrah at the clash yesterday in northern Syria?

MS. PSAKI: I do not have any update beyond what I talked about yesterday.

QUESTION: Do you believe that only ISIS is fighting with the Kurds in – right now in northern Syria?

MS. PSAKI: That’s what we’ve seen on the ground, and beyond that, we continue to remain focused on providing aid, of course, to the legitimate opposition. We are concerned about al-Nusrah, as you know, but beyond that, I don’t have any update or link to tell you about.

QUESTION: For Iraq?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Yesterday, al-Qaida claimed responsibility for breaking through the two prisons in Taji and Abu Ghraib.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And my question to you is: Do you feel that the influx of arms and the flow of arms to Jabhat al-Nusrah and the lives that are fighting in Syria and now moving into Iraq is undermining American national interests and security interests in the region?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re always concerned, of course, about the overflow of violence and any impact that would have, but I wouldn’t draw that conclusion. We’re still, of course, watching events on the ground. Let me just say, Said --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- first that, of course, we’re deeply concerned by the attacks and by the levels of violence in Iraq. We understand the Government of Iraq has recaptured a number of prisoners who escaped and is in pursuit of others to return them to captivity. The Government of Iraq is investigating the circumstances surrounding the prison breaks and we would refer you to it for further detail. But the Government of Iraq remains an essential partner in the common fight against al-Qaida. We have an ongoing dialogue to help facilitate its capacity, and we’re focused on that.

QUESTION: My question, I guess, is that the unrestricted flow of arms into the Syrian rebels finds its way into Iraq, and I wanted you to – perhaps if you were considering that this may be --

MS. PSAKI: I just can’t – sorry, go ahead. Continue.

QUESTION: -- may be something that undermines America’s strategic interest in the long term.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m just not going to speculate on all of that. This is something that the Government of Iraq is investigating, and we’ll be following it closely.

QUESTION: Jen, the ISIS is a terrorist organization, I mean, according to your designation decision, right?

MS. PSAKI: There is – they’ve renamed themselves, as you know, but beyond that, this ISIS has not been designated.

QUESTION: Yes, but because the ISIS is the merger of the al-Nusrah and --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- the ISI, and both are terrorist organization, but ISIS can be another one? I mean --

MS. PSAKI: It has not been officially named, no.

QUESTION: And are you – but you said that you are monitoring the situation closely because --

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- of this murder, that – I mean --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- they were killed last week.

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Yes, we are.

QUESTION: New subject?

MS. PSAKI: Let me get to Scott. He’s just been raising his hand in the back.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on yesterday’s question about the Thursday UN meeting on the Great Lakes and --

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- what you might be able to tell us about the violence in Congo that has driven refugees, to Goma specifically, between the Congolese forces and the M23?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: What’s your understanding of that situation?

MS. PSAKI: I can give you an update on that. Thanks for your patience. Let’s see here. I just want to make sure I give you the most up-to-date here, Scott.

Well, let me say first that we, of course, condemn M23’s latest round of attacks on the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s military. M23’s renewed fighting seriously undermines regional and international efforts to peacefully resolve the situation in eastern D.R.C. The Secretary, as you mentioned, is going to be heading to New York on Thursday to chair a meeting of the National Security Council focused on the Congo and focused on the situation in the Great Lakes. I expect I’ll have more to say on that tomorrow in terms of the agenda and what he’s hoping to accomplish while he’s there.

QUESTION: Has the Obama Administration approached its allies in Kigali about their support for the M23?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any update for you on that in terms of contacts.

QUESTION: Well, it’s the allegation of Human Rights Watch that the Rwandan military is directly supporting the M23 both in training --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and in the recruitment of demobilized Rwandan soldiers. Is that a view that is shared by the United States?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we believe there is a credible body of evidence that supports the key findings of the Human Rights Watch report, including support by senior Rwandan officials to the M23 and of Rwandan military personnel in the D.R.C. We call upon Rwanda to immediately end any support to the M23, withdraw military personnel from eastern D.R.C., and follow through on its commitments under the framework.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that President Kagame is aware of that, or is this just being done by some senior Rwandan officials?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more specifics on it for you.

QUESTION: I just want --

QUESTION: Call on the senior Rwandan officials to stop – et cetera, et cetera, et cetera – I’m not trying to – I just don’t remember exactly what it was --

MS. PSAKI: To end its --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: -- to end any support to the M23.

QUESTION: Right. Or what?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s what we’re calling for, Matt.

QUESTION: Just out of the goodness of their hearts they should stop doing this, because they’re nice guys?

MS. PSAKI: That’s not at all what I’m suggesting. That’s what we feel needs to happen.

QUESTION: Well, what’s the – I understand. And then how are you prepared to make the case that – how are you prepared to punish them or use leverage to – what kind of leverage are you using to make your case here?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any leverage to outline for you today.

QUESTION: In other words, none. It’s kind of just an empty appeal, an empty call.

MS. PSAKI: Well, it was a very powerful case made in the Human Rights Watch report.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure it was – raised the eyebrows of others as well. So we’re continuing to call on them to take action.

QUESTION: Do you know if this – if the view that you just expressed is shared over at the White House?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, it is.

QUESTION: It is shared at the White House.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Then why has this Administration not done anything to pressure President Kagame into ending the support for M23?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I don’t have any context to outline for you. This is a position that’s shared broadly in the Administration. Obviously, the Human Rights Watch report is something that we – I just stated we agree with and we share the concerns with it. But beyond that, I don’t have much more for you.

QUESTION: Jen, can I ask – in the past --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- the Administration, and particularly from this podium, you’ve been quite careful to not single out any of the (inaudible) players in that region.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is it – what is it in the Human Rights Watch report that has led you to this conclusion today that you can specifically call on Rwanda to end any support for the M23?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Human Rights Watch report was specific about support by senior Rwandan officials to the M23 and Rwandan military personnel in the D.R.C. That’s something, obviously, that raises concerns for us. And that’s why we are calling for Rwanda to immediately end any support to the M23. So it was specific about that issue.

QUESTION: And you believe, generally, that the Human Rights Watch has produced a credible and --

MS. PSAKI: We believe there’s a credible body of evidence presented in the report.

QUESTION: That the – then the – that that – of their report that they compiled that they put together. So in other words, you take them seriously, you take this organization – you respect this organization as a credible rapporteur on human rights issues?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I know where you’re going with this --

QUESTION: Do you?

MS. PSAKI: -- and I’m speaking specifically to this report --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- and our agreement with the credible body of evidence --

QUESTION: So – so --

MS. PSAKI: -- in this report.

QUESTION: So any concern they might have about other cases – individuals stranded in Russian airports, for example – you wouldn’t necessarily agree with.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not making a sweeping claim here, Matt. I’m speaking to this specific report.

QUESTION: Can I return to that question?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Was so you’re saying that the military believe that the military is supporting these armed rebel – the M23, and that it’s not that Kagame himself does not have a role?

MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t speaking to Kagame himself. I don’t have anything more on that.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I’m speaking specifically to support by senior Rwandan officials to the M23.

QUESTION: So it’s officials within the military.

MS. PSAKI: And of military personnel.

QUESTION: So usually when the U.S. makes that kind of statement, I mean, it does affect aid to these countries.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I mean, would there be some – would the Secretary be rolling out some kind of plan or warn Rwanda during the Congo – during the Security Council meeting that if they continue doing that, you could withhold aid? Because last year – I just brought up the story on July the 1st – the U.S. called on Rwanda to stop supporting. And they clearly have not.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So this would be the second one in a year --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that you’d actually warned. Does it have implications for aid?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on next steps. Obviously, this is of concern. But beyond that, I don’t have any update for all of you.

QUESTION: It might be worth looking at, because Lesley’s absolutely right.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You did call for this to happen --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- it didn’t happen. And one of the – and potentially you might want to look at whether one of the reasons that it didn’t happen was that because you didn’t threaten them with anything, you didn’t use any leverage. You just issued this empty call that has no teeth behind it.

MS. PSAKI: We will take that all into consideration.

QUESTION: Jen, there’s – as you know, there’s a protest on Capitol Hill today comprised of former Special Forces personnel joined by some GOP lawmakers, and they’re calling for the State Department to support and facilitate the public testimony of Benghazi survivors. Do you have a comment on that? Will you support and facilitate testimony by survivors of the Benghazi attacks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know we’ve talked about this a bit in here. We have provided more than 25,000 pages of documents. We have participated in – I believe the number is nine hearings. We have had countless conversations and been closely coordinating with Congress and have been very responsive to their requests. But as you know, there’s also been a thorough investigation by independent leaders who have thoroughly looked at all of the events, done an unclassified report that everybody should access to outlining that. So --

QUESTION: And that ARB just dealt with the security of the facility, or the complex. Did – today Jay Carney said that DC has been wracked with phony scandals. Would you say this Benghazi attack would – does that rank in his characterization of a phony scandal?

MS. PSAKI: I will leave that to my colleague, Jay, to speak to. But I can say that the Secretary’s focus is on implementing the recommendations of the ARB. As you know, there was a hearing just last week on embassy security. That’s something that we are very focused on. And his focus is on keeping personnel safe around the world and moving forward with learning from the recommendations were made – that were made.

QUESTION: Now the ARB did just focus on security. Would you support a special counsel to investigate a perceived alleged cover-up with the Benghazi attacks?

MS. PSAKI: Again, this has been thoroughly investigated beyond the ARB. We’ve participated in – I believe the number is nine hearings. We’ve given 25,000 pages. We’ve been very responsive to letters that we’ve received, and answering all the questions that we can answer coming from Congress.

QUESTION: Those 25,000 pages – would you say that that accounts for all of the relevant documents that there are that you’ve been able – that have been uncovered to date? That’s – is that the whole thing?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s a pretty expansive – it depends on how it’s defined. So I don’t want to define it, but it’s a pretty expansive number of documents. And just as a reminder, the folks doing the ARB investigation had access to all the information and all the individuals that they wanted.

QUESTION: Is there, to your knowledge, a document that is a smoking gun that would prove the conspiracy theorists right?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think so, Matt.

QUESTION: Of the 25,000, not --

MS. PSAKI: I have not read all 25,000 documents, but --

QUESTION: Well, clearly --

MS. PSAKI: -- my point is this has been --

QUESTION: -- skeptics are not happy yet. So --

MS. PSAKI: -- thoroughly investigated.

QUESTION: -- this smoking gun document is not among the 25,000 that were turned over.

MS. PSAKI: I --

QUESTION: And if it wasn’t – if I’m correct in assuming that, is – does this smoking gun document actually exist?

MS. PSAKI: Well, all I can say is this has been thoroughly investigated by many sources, including many members of Congress, including an independent commission looking at this. And we continue to be cooperative on any requests that come in.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Secretary Clinton? Why didn’t they speak to Secretary Clinton?

MS. PSAKI: I think this has been heavily litigated.

QUESTION: I’ve got one real brief one on the --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- if you’re all done with this.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Just on North Korea, have you seen the satellite imagery which suggests that the North Koreans have stopped building or at least suspended construction on this big new rocket launcher of theirs?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen the reports. I don’t have anything independent for you on it, though.

QUESTION: Well, is it – do you – can you say if it’s the U.S. Government’s understanding that this is – that construction on this thing, for whatever reason – I’m not asking you to give a reason --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- or your analysis for the reason, but is that something that you agree with, this assessment that there has been a suspension at least in the construction of this thing?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check back in on whether we have an independent assessment that I can talk about.

QUESTION: All right. Well, do you know at least if you’re looking into it?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on it for you.

QUESTION: So all --

MS. PSAKI: But I’m happy to double back with our team and talk to them.

QUESTION: The only thing they said was that you’re aware of the report? That’s it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I am aware of the report, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: But I don’t have any further update. I’m happy to speak with our team on this and see if there’s an update for all of you.

QUESTION: I have a couple questions on South Asia.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: India first.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: If Secretary is in touch in – directly or indirectly with the Vice President’s visit to India, because since Secretary was a visitor to India before the Vice President?

MS. PSAKI: He did, and the Secretary and the Vice President have a longstanding, close relationship that goes back literally decades, from working together in the Senate. I know they see each other frequently and I’m certain that the Vice President’s upcoming trip to India and the Secretary’s trip to India were a topic of conversation in between the two trips.

QUESTION: Was there any kind of advice from the Secretary to the Vice President’s visit since he had been advocates of the issues in the region, as far as this visit of this Vice President?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m certain he discussed --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: I’m certain he discussed his trip and how much he enjoyed his time there, and beyond that I’m not going to outline any private conversation.

QUESTION: And on Afghanistan quickly --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- the groups – Taliban groups fighting from Pakistan in Syria, what they are calling now is that they will be fighting in Afghanistan after U.S. leaves because they are watching all these statements and announcements and all that U.S. might leave early from Afghanistan. What do you have to say? Because even President Karzai also had a concern about these groups fighting in and around Afghanistan.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would just refute the claim. This is an issue where, of course, we are continuing to support a fully sovereign, democratic and united Afghanistan. We’ve been clear in public and private, as have many of our allies and partners in the broader international community, that as Afghans stand up, we won’t – they won’t stand alone. As you know, the President is still making a decision about troop presence. I don’t have any update for you on that, but this is something we have many people focused on.

Let’s do just one more, and we’re going to do in the back here, because she’s been so patient.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you have any update about the whereabouts of Mr. Robert Seldon Lady, specifically after he was expelled by Panama, the 19? Is he back in Washington or in the States? And are you preparing in any way to a possible request of extradition?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know that my colleague, Marie, spoke about this last week. I don’t have any update beyond that for you.

QUESTION: Well, but do you have any reason to know where – what the whereabouts are of a private U.S. citizen who is in this country?

MS. PSAKI: We would not, but I know that there was a question about whether he was back in the United States last week, which she spoke to.

QUESTION: Jen, do you have any update on the Panama-North Korean ships --

MS. PSAKI: I do not have any update for you.

QUESTION: Do the U.S. have any meeting with the Cuban Government regarding this --

MS. PSAKI: No, I don’t have any update for you. I know it was discussed last week, and the UN is obviously a part of that process. But beyond that, I don’t have any update.

QUESTION: Can I ask one on peace process?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: There are some press reports suggesting that Secretary Kerry will assign a special envoy for the peace process. Do you have any comment on that? I mean, Martin Indyk’s name was --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we spoke about this a bit yesterday, so I’d certainly point you to that. Beyond that, I don’t have any other update. I know Jo was asking yesterday about what he was looking for. We obviously know these are extremely difficult issues that require tough, frank conversations with the parties, and he’s putting together a team with that in mind. But there hasn’t been any update since yesterday.

QUESTION: Turkish Foreign Minister said today that he will speak with Secretary Kerry today on this peace process.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to share with us about the expectation that the U.S. Administration – of U.S. Administration from Turkey on this peace process that --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. Obviously, there are many regional partners who the Secretary will be speaking with and providing updates on. But beyond that, I don’t.

Let me actually just tell you – give you one more readout before we finish here. The Secretary --

QUESTION: Could you also tell us how the review is going into the events in Egypt? Maybe you can tack it on to this readout?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to, Matt. The – Secretary Kerry spoke yesterday with interim Egyptian Foreign Minister Fahmy. He also spoke with interim Vice President ElBaradei. That was actually a call that happened yesterday as well. They spoke about a wide range of issues, including the transition in Egypt and other regional issues. The Secretary also spoke with the Foreign Minister – with the interim Foreign Minister I should say, on July 18th after the cabinet was sworn in.

Secretary Kerry in both conversations reiterated the United States support for the Egyptian people during this important time and our support for a transition to an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government in Egypt. He expressed concerns about levels of arrests and crackdown on the media, and they agreed to be in regular touch throughout the transition process.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on Secretary’s meeting this afternoon with U.A.E. Foreign Minister?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything in advance, but I’m sure we’ll – we can have a readout for you on that later today or tomorrow.

QUESTION: In his talks yesterday, did the Secretary again voice any concern about the whereabouts of former President Morsy?

MS. PSAKI: Well, he did express concerns about the levels of arrests and certainly our belief is that all those who have been detained should be treated with due process and with respect for the rule of law. And clearly, this process should respect the security and safety of Mr. Morsy.

QUESTION: But you didn’t ask about his whereabouts? Are you aware of his whereabouts?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update for you on that. I don’t have any more for you on the Secretary’s calls.

QUESTION: And are the days numbered for the coup review?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I don’t have any update on that either.

QUESTION: So that will be coming out roughly around the same time Assad leaves.

MS. PSAKI: We are – we – everything we do is focused on hastening Egypt’s return to a democratically elected government. That’s where our focus is.

QUESTION: So it’s no longer on deciding what happened back on July 3rd?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt --

QUESTION: That’s not a focus?

MS. PSAKI: -- that will be consistent with our legal requirements and our national security interests. But beyond that, I don’t have any update for you on our policy as it relates to Egypt.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary speak with Davutoglu too, Jen?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Did the Secretary speak with the Foreign Minister Davutoglu over the weekend?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t – let me just double check for you here. Not over the weekend, but you’re right, he was scheduled to speak with him today, but I don’t have an update on that call for you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:33 p.m.)

DPB # 124

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - July 23, 2013]