Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 21, 2013


Index for Today's Briefing
  • EGYPT
    • Determining our Relationship with Egypt / Reviewing Assistance
    • Working with EU and Other Counterparts
    • Call for Inclusive Political Process
    • Mubarak
    • Egyptians Should not be Arbitrarily Arrested and Tried
  • SYRIA
    • General Dempsey's Letter / Aid to the Moderate Opposition
    • Chemical Weapons / UN Investigative Team
    • Meeting with Russia / Geneva 2
  • AUSTRALIA
    • Death of Australian Citizen
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Bradley Manning Verdict
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
    • Talks / Ambassador Indyk's Role


TRANSCRIPT:

This video is available on YouTube with closed captions.

1:34 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Thanks for your patience.

So I have one item at the top. I have a special guest here today. My dad is sitting in the back. I’ve informed him he cannot ask any questions at the briefing, so if he doesn’t abide by that, you all have free rein to do whatever you like.

But with that, I know there’s a lot going on in the world, so let’s start with what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Can we start with Egypt?

MS. PSAKI: We certainly can.

QUESTION: Obviously, the Administration is working to rethink its relationship and aid and all.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you give us any kind of background information on that? Like – I mean, what is the object of the game? Is the object of the game to figure out what the U.S. can do to influence the Egyptian military government? Is it more of a long-term strategy approach? Is it aid only? Is it --

MS. PSAKI: All of the above. But let me try to answer your question, and if not, you can ask more, of course.

QUESTION: And also, it seems as if there are different players in the Administration that have different ideas about this. And so how deep is the discord?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I certainly am not going to get into anything like that from the podium or anywhere else. I can tell you that the President welcomes all opinions and all views. And with an issue as important and as vital as this, I’m sure they’re having a debate about what steps should be taken moving forward.

As you know, the President and his national security team met yesterday, as they have regular meetings. They discussed Egypt. Of course, our broad goal here is to determine our relationship moving forward. That includes aid, of course. That’s the issue that many people are very interested in, all of you. But there are many, of course, implications of that and there are many factors in that.

We’ve talked about this a bit, but I think given your question, it’s worth mentioning that we have seen our aid to Egypt as something that is vital for national security purposes – our own national security purposes, for regional stability. We believe that the Egyptian people can return to a – or can venture to a long-term, sustainable democracy, a path toward that. And there are several reasons why we have provided aid in the past, including safe passage through the Suez Canal, things that we’re worried about security-wise in terms of specifics - security in the Sinai, security on the Gaza border, the ability to fly over Egyptian airspace.

But as we’ve said many times, obviously, when hundreds of civilians are being killed, as they were last week, you can’t continue with business as usual. We’ve taken steps that we’ve told all of you about – the F-16s a couple of weeks ago, the decision on Bright Star. But the question moving forward is: What is our relationship going to be? What steps should we or shouldn’t we take? And that’s a policy discussion that’s ongoing. So I don’t have any readouts of that, but that’s the goal.

QUESTION: Are there more meetings planned or – and/or is this going to be something to figure out a short-term answer or more of a long-term strategy?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, when you’re discussing an issue as important as our strategic relationship with Egypt, you’re talking about both. You’re talking about the events that happened last week, the events that have happened over the last six weeks; but you’re also talking about what’s in our long-term interests. So there are lots of – that’s why it’s such a complicated situation and certainly a complicated conversation.

QUESTION: So how did the meeting go? I mean, was there anything that came out of the meeting? And are we having more meetings?

MS. PSAKI: There are no announcements coming out of the meeting. Conversations are obviously ongoing. I don’t have any other meetings to read out for you now. But I can assure you that the Secretary speaks regularly with, of course, his counterparts over there. And if there’s a need to call another meeting, they will certainly do that.

QUESTION: Do you know – but if I were to follow --

QUESTION: I’m wondering – how long is the – how long is it going to take for the – for this review to take place? Or is this one of those indefinite reviews?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it certainly is not an indefinite review, given that that infers that it’s going to take forever. But obviously, there are a number of components being discussed. If it were an easy answer, there would have been an easy decision made. But I outlined many of the components there, and just to reiterate: certainly, the fact that we have significant national security interests, that we are focused on the unique role that Egypt plays in regional stability, that we do want to take whatever the appropriate steps are from the outside to make sure the Egyptian people have the best path forward, and for all the security reasons I outlined – those are all certainly part of any discussion.

QUESTION: Just to follow up what Marie was saying yesterday, we’re trying to figure out what is your estimate for the tiny part of money she was referring to. So how big is the tiny part?

MS. PSAKI: I do not have a public number to share with all of you. I would just – if we can take a step back for just a moment, clearly, our review of our assistance and the circumstances on the ground are different than they were in June and May and a year ago. That certainly impacts how we’re looking at this. Everything Marie said yesterday and what I said Monday still stands. There’s not a blanket hold or a hold on assistance, but that review is continuing where applicable.

So – but I don’t have a public number. We are venturing to get you all kind of a snapshot to give you a better sense of the breakdown and certainly do want to provide as much information as possible, but as I’m sure you all know, given the complicated process, sometimes the – questions that seem simple don’t always have easy answers.

QUESTION: But, Jen, the --

QUESTION: Jen, can I follow up on the meeting real quick?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that? I don’t want to dominate, but --

MS. PSAKI: No, go ahead.

QUESTION: I mean, this big meeting was called yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And then, okay, gosh, the meeting’s over. Well, now what is everybody doing?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there weren’t any announcements. All I was conveying, Deb, is there are no announcements to make out of the meeting. Obviously, there was a discussion about this and about our relationship with Egypt. The Secretary participated via videoconference, as did members of the – well, the national security team were, of course, meeting. But there’s no announcements to make.

QUESTION: So what, did they all get homework and --

MS. PSAKI: The discussion will be ongoing.

QUESTION: They all got homework to --

MS. PSAKI: Often there’s homework. Often it’s determining when to talk next or who should talk next. I just don’t have anything further to read out from the meeting last night.

QUESTION: But it --

QUESTION: How long did it last?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any kind of specific process answers on that sort of thing. My friends over at the White House may have more specifics.

QUESTION: Would you dismiss the idea that the Administration is in a quandary about what to do?

MS. PSAKI: I would dismiss that idea, because I think it oversimplifies the challenge of the situation on the ground, which is that we clearly have had a decades-long strategic relationship with Egypt, through many ups and downs, as we all can recall. But the events of last week, the events of the last six weeks, certainly do impact as we look to our – to evaluate our relationship moving forward.


One other piece I’ll just – process-wise – add to what I said earlier about the meeting is oftentimes this is an opportunity – these meetings – to discuss what various members of the national security team, including the Secretary, are hearing from their counterparts around the world, what discussions are underway, what decisions have been made by other countries. That’s not the entire discussion. They’re discussing aid as well. But there are a range of issues that there’s an opportunity to discuss when you’re meeting in person.

QUESTION: So is that --

QUESTION: So Jen --

QUESTION: -- is that meeting like a brainstorming session to really exchange ideas? Is that what it is?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t --

QUESTION: And not to make a decision?

MS. PSAKI: No, Said, sometimes – I think I’ve made clear here – and I don’t even think that I need to make clear how complicated the situation is on the ground and all the different variables. I don’t think anybody around the world or here in the United States would want the President and his team to rush to a decision when there’s still discussions ongoing. And when there’s an announcement to be made, we’ll make an announcement.

QUESTION: But this has been going on since the 3rd of July. I mean, it’s been a long time in the making, hasn’t it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think we all know that events on the ground, the events last week, the hundreds of civilians who were killed last week, certainly impact the discussion and impact the review and the conversation about our relationship moving forward.

QUESTION: And finally, on – you keep saying that business can’t be as usual, but in fact, the Egyptians are behaving as if business goes on in usual, or at least they are not deterred, listening to Beblawi, listening to Nabil Fahmy, who was very close and a friend of America – I was listening to him today and so on – they are – they’re comfortable in what they’re doing, they don’t seem to be deterred, and in fact, they’re turning the onus on you.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, what I was referring to was the fact that there have been meetings to discuss our relationship. Those have been impacted by the events of the last week. And clearly, what happens on the ground matters, and that’s part of what we look at and what we evaluate.

QUESTION: Going back to Lesley’s question about a timeline --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and the 585 million that hasn’t been put into the trust yet.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The end of the fiscal year is just over a little bit of a month away.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is that not a timeline? Do you not need to make a decision before September 30th?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, the end of the fiscal year is, of course, a relevant date. But I don’t have a prediction of when money will be obligated. I think the important point here – and I said this on Monday – is that there have been many instances in the past where money has been obligated in different tranches, so that’s not an uncommon step. I understand why everybody is focused on it, but that’s not an uncommon occurrence.

QUESTION: So it could be obligated after the end of the fiscal year, after September 30th?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to double-check on that for you. But obviously, we have a good amount of time between now and September 30th.

QUESTION: Just to follow up, earlier you said that you are looking at what your partners are also doing. The EU is meeting on the same issue today --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and is also doing a review. Would that influence anything what the U.S. does? A coordinated effort to put pressure on the Egyptians is always better than just one.

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we have been working closely with our counterparts, including High Representative Ashton, and there have been joint statements that have been issued related to Egypt over the past couple of weeks. And we – the Secretary speaks with her on a regular basis. Every country is going to make their own decisions. We’re undergoing our own review, just as the EU has and will. And part of that is certainly discussing conversations with counterparts and what other steps are being taken, but just like in any foreign policy issue, every country is going to make their own decision and there are a range of factors that go into that.

QUESTION: Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Change the subject?

QUESTION: Go to Syria?

QUESTION: Syria?

QUESTION: No, no.

MS. PSAKI: Egypt?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. One more on Egypt.

QUESTION: Two more.

MS. PSAKI: Two more on Egypt. Okay.

QUESTION: Three.

MS. PSAKI: Three? All right, go ahead. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Seven. Go ahead.

QUESTION: You mentioned the expression what happens on the ground, and definitely what happens in the ground every day is changing.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So based on that, I mean, most – the things are coming out that almost we can say now there are new realities on the ground, which is less violence but more absence of Muslim Brotherhood, for example. And it was one of the demands that, starting from Secretary Kerry and before that Deputy Secretary Burns, to be inclusive and all this, and the President mentioned about this. How do you see the practicality or the reality of something like this happening while all this leadership are now even not present on the ground?

MS. PSAKI: So let me see if I understand your question. Are you asking because there are some people who are no longer in place in the --

QUESTION: Because you are – you push or you ask for or you put something on the tables, including, of course, the release of the President and other people.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But the main thing was that to make a political process, which inclusive Muslim Brothers in particulars, or all people without being --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- exceptions, including mainly Muslim Brother. Now the Muslim Brotherhood in the reality on the scene, almost they are not there. Maybe they are in the streets or whatever, but those who can sit and be part of the – even they said they are not ready to do it – any kind of political process. How do you see or how you understand that this political process, inclusive political process, can take place when the realities are changing on the ground?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not sure if this is answering your question, so let me try here.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: But we’ve long said that it is challenging to have an inclusive process when there are arbitrary detentions and arrests, and that’s why we’ve called for a process for release, because obviously, having all parties partake in an inclusive process includes the Muslim Brotherhood and includes many of the parties who have been subject to arrest. We still feel – and this remains true today – that there is an opportunity, that the window remains open, for a productive, inclusive political process moving forward. We are open to continuing that dialogue. I know that High Representative Ashton has said something similar, and we are hopeful that we can get back on a track to doing that, because we feel that’s what is best for the Egyptian people.

QUESTION: Yeah. This is your general – this is your principal attitude --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But what I’m talking about, the possibility of your attitude or principal position to be applied today on the ground. I mean, is it exactly like when I ask somebody I’m going to meet somebody and he’s not in the room ready?

MS. PSAKI: Are you talking about the arrests --

QUESTION: Muslim Brothers.

MS. PSAKI: -- or people who have been arrested? Is that what you’re referring to?

QUESTION: Yes, who have been arrested, from the bigger leader to the other people and people in jail --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- people in different process. I mean, it’s like the main leadership are not there.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what I just said answers that question, and that obviously, if you’re going to have an inclusive process that includes all parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, it’s challenging to do that when there are arbitrary arrests and people remain detained. And that’s why we’ve called for the release.

QUESTION: So the other question related to the – maybe somehow to what Said was trying to say --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- or say it already, which is like all these, let’s say, announcements or said by the officials in Egypt, not just the military part, even the civilian part --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- of the transition government, talking about Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists, Muslim Brotherhood so and so, and all this political stability instead of fighting terrorism and all these things. Do you have any reaction to that, or it’s you think this is part of the process?

MS. PSAKI: The language being used?

QUESTION: The language used and the attitudes. I mean, it’s not just the language. I mean, it’s not --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve, as you know, condemned all violence. We think there needs to be an inclusive process moving forward that includes all parties. I’m not going to speak to every comment that’s made. But you’re right; our principles have remained the same through this process.

QUESTION: Jen --

MS. PSAKI: Egypt?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the release of former President Mubarak tomorrow?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve spoken to this from here. I’m not sure I have much new for you. This is an eternal – internal, I should say – as long – as we’ve long said with respect to Mubarak, this is an internal Egyptian legal matter. It’s working its way through the legal system there. So beyond that, I would refer you to the Egyptian Government.

QUESTION: Will anyone from this Administration call him tomorrow to congratulate him? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of a planned call.

QUESTION: But isn’t it ironic that the elected president of Egypt is actually in prison and seems to be in prison indefinitely, and Mubarak is getting out? I mean --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve spoken repeatedly – I know I have personally spoken repeatedly about our view on Mr. Morsy, and our position remains the same.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you about ElBaradei. Has anyone been in touch with him? Because now he --

MS. PSAKI: ElBaradei?

QUESTION: Yes. He’s – now he’s being vilified and being accused of breaking the public trust, all kinds of accusations that are – really, I don’t think they are --

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary – and I read this out at the time – spoke with him last week. I’m not aware of a call since then. I know this suit is brought – this is a suit brought by a private individual. But just as we have been clear in our position to arbitrary arrests and detentions, we also do not think Egyptians should be arbitrarily charged and tried. And we think circumstances like this are evidence that Egypt will not be able to move forward if groups or individuals are singled out for having different viewpoints or beliefs.

QUESTION: Okay

MS. PSAKI: Egypt, or are we moving on to Syria?

QUESTION: Yes, Egypt.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Back to Lesley question --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- on the EU.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: The 20 European countries have decided, actually, to restrict exports --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- of security equipment and some arms while maintaining economic aid. Is it something the U.S. welcomes, and is it something the U.S. would be able to do?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as I’ve said before, every country, of course, is going to make their own decisions. We are undergoing our own review, as you all know. The President of the United States has discretion under the Arms Export Control Act to determine if the purchase by or delivery of defense articles and services by any foreign nation would be in our national security interest. So that’s relevant because that’s an applicable comparison to that specific announcement by the EU. That was used with – in regard to the F-16s. A decision has not been made, but that is certainly part of the discussion in terms of our aid moving forward.

QUESTION: Jen, one more on Egypt?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I know you’ve issued some pretty harsh statements against the attacks on Christians in Cairo --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- but I was wondering if you had anything more to add on the recent reports of up to 212 Christian-owned shops and 73 churches that have been destroyed in Cairo.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new. I would just reiterate the condemnation of – that any violence across Egypt, there’s no place for that in Egypt moving forward. I don’t – but I don’t have anything new or specific for you.

QUESTION: Would you say that is an example of ethnic cleansing?

MS. PSAKI: I would not use that term. Syria?

QUESTION: On Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Jen, in the letter that was made public from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today, General Dempsey talks about the opposition in Syria, and this building has taken a lead role in that relationship --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- between the U.S. and the opposition, both armed and political. And in his letter, he said if asked to do so, the U.S. could significantly increase our effort to develop a moderate opposition. That suggests there’s more to be done here. Can you give us a sense of what’s actually in track to go to the SMC and to General Idris, who the Secretary has personally met with and voiced his support for?

And could you address as well the general’s comment that they’re not ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor? Because the Secretary has been very supportive of General Idris.

MS. PSAKI: And the Secretary has also been clear that we need to continue to work with the moderate opposition to make sure that they are as strong as possible both on the ground and politically. I don’t think there’s anything new in terms of decisions made that you aren’t aware of. You may be asking about what has been specifically delivered. Obviously, it has not changed, that the expansion of the scale and scope of aid that we announced a couple of months ago. I can’t discuss the specifics of that, and I’m not going to give a laundry list of that.

QUESTION: The opposition says they haven’t received those items.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more specific for you from here on that.

QUESTION: Are they mistaken?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything more specific for you, given the circumstances. I will say that strengthening the SMC, making sure working with them we speak with them on a regular if not daily basis, our team does, about what their needs are on the ground, about what they’re seeing on the ground, about what aid and assistance would be most useful to them. And it’s absolutely a priority of the Secretary’s to make sure we’re working with them on what they need. And as the President has said, as the Secretary has said, all options remain on the table. That – aside from boots on the ground, just to be clear – that continues to be the case. Discussions about what the appropriate steps are are ongoing in the Administration.

QUESTION: But does the Secretary agree with the assessment that the opposition’s just not ready, and specifically that the moderate opposition on the ground, not the political opposition, as well?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to do an analysis of General Dempsey’s comments. I would refer you to him for that and what he meant and what he was implying by them. I can convey – obviously we know, and we’ve said many times – that the regime, given the assistance and the influx of foreign fighters from Iran, from Hezbollah, had made some progress. We still don’t have – don’t believe that they can maintain that or keep that over the course of time. That hasn’t changed. But the facts are – we have stated that from here in the past.

Continuing to work with the opposition, including the SMC, including General Idris, is a priority of the Secretary’s and one that he is very focused on, and he works with his team closely on a daily basis, as well as his counterparts at DOD, as well as the White House, as well as officials around the Administration.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary spoken to General Idris since this was made public or since these alleged chemical weapons attacks took place?

MS. PSAKI: From the alleged – allegations from this morning?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: No.

QUESTION: Has anybody in this building been in touch with --

MS. PSAKI: But our team speaks with him on a daily – on almost a daily basis. I can check with you if there has been a specific call for him – with him today.

QUESTION: And when you say the team, do you mean Ambassador Ford, or is that somebody else?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly he is somebody who speaks with them on a regular basis, but there are a number of officials who work on Syria issues within the Administration, as you know.

QUESTION: Speaking of which --

QUESTION: Do you have any clearer picture on the chemical weapons?

MS. PSAKI: Let’s let Jill go first --

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MS. PSAKI: -- and then we’ll go to you, Said.

QUESTION: Well, coincidentally, I had the very same question.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, you’re aligned.

QUESTION: And I – yes. Amazing. Absolutely incredible. So I presume – I mean, we’ve seen what the White House said.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What does the State Department have to say, and what is the State Department doing right now with this push to have the UN inspectors who are on the ground go in and, hopefully, look at where this happened?

MS. PSAKI: Well, a couple of things. And let me just reiterate, because I think it’s important to the statement that came out from the White House today, the United States is deeply concerned by reports that hundreds of Syrian civilians have been killed in an attack by Syrian Government forces, including by the use of chemical weapons, near Damascus earlier today. As a part of that statement, we as an Administration – which we, of course, agree with – formally requested that the United Nations urgently investigate this new allegation. As you all know, the UN investigative team is currently in Syria. They’re prepared to do so. There have been reports that Sellstrom has been in touch with the regime about this. I don’t have an update for you on that specifically, but that’s something we’re continuing to call for and we’d be very supportive of.

For – and as we’ve said many times in the past, for the UN’s efforts to be credible, they must have immediate access to witnesses and affected individuals and have the ability to examine and collect physical evidence without any interference.

Also as part of that statement, we called for urgent consultations in the UN Security Council to discuss these allegations. My understanding is that that meeting has been or is being scheduled for the next – within the next 24 hours, and that’s an opportunity to, certainly, discuss these reports and these allegations.

Our focus here is, after all of these months of litigating whether the UN team can get in, there’s no reason – so this is an opportunity to shine the light on this issue – that the Syrian regime should not allow the UN investigative team into Syria. If they have nothing to hide, they should be providing the team with unfettered access. That’s something we will continue to call for publicly and we will convey privately in every opportunity.

And the last point I’ll make – and there may be more questions, of course – is that there should be no country that stands by or accepts the credible use or the potential credible use of chemical weapons. And every country should be supporting the effort by the UN investigative team to go in and look at as many cases as they can possibly look at. And we believe there’s a moral imperative to allow that to happen.

QUESTION: Could I follow up? The Russians are saying that this looks like a provocation. They cite the use of chemical weapons in – on the morning of the 21st, homemade rocket fired by the terrorists, undefined poisonous substance. So in essence they’re saying that the opposition forces carried this out. They – what do you say to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we would support any investigation of any report of credible use of chemical weapons, regardless of the source. But that being said, if there’s nothing to hide, the Syrian regime should allow these – unfettered access to this investigating – investigative team. And any country should support the efforts to do just that.

QUESTION: So that reference that you had before to any other country should not stand by, is that Russia? Is that who you’re talking about?

MS. PSAKI: It’s any country. So if they’re a country --

QUESTION: But there is, Jen --

MS. PSAKI: I’ll leave you to your own conclusions.

QUESTION: Jen, just to follow up on this --

MS. PSAKI: Any country.

QUESTION: But isn’t it – hasn’t it been like a daunting – the track record on the chemical weapons is not only daunting, it’s very murky, because every time there is an accusation, then it goes away, it withers away somehow, and it’s off the spotlight. How do you independently – can confirm or dispel or deny the fact that chemical weapons were used by any party? I mean, aside from the President – the statement on June 13th, there was nothing. Is there anything that you could share with us on this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, we have since that time been in close contact, of course, with our counterparts. As you know, we’ve shared information through the process. And for months – and I expressed this at the beginning of our back-and-forth here on Syria – we’ve called for unfettered access for the UN investigative team. That’s a body who can go in and investigate what’s happening on the ground. We want them to have access to as many sites as where there is credible evidence. Certainly this is a report from this morning. If there’s nothing to hide, they should be allowed in to investigate what’s happening on the ground.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: So in Syria the onus is on the Syrian Government to prove that it has not used chemical weapons, and not the opposition?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s – the onus is on the Syrian regime to allow the UN investigative team access.

QUESTION: Jen --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- the White House statement didn’t mention the redline that the President drew in the past. Is the redline still there?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we talked about the redline and how it had been crossed a couple of months ago. Now we’re focused on, obviously, new reports here. I’m not – been in this business long enough not to draw new redlines, so I’m certainly not going to do that today, but our focus is on, as I’ve stated a couple of times, pushing for, calling for, encouraging in public and private conversations, access for the UN investigative team to look at all credible reports.

QUESTION: And why do you think the White House didn’t mention the redline?

MS. PSAKI: Because they’ve talked about it – they talked about it a couple of months ago. I’d refer you to them on that specifically.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on this particular issue, I have couple of questions.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: One of them is just to follow up previous question about this redline. So every time there is a alleged use of chemical weapon, that means that the Assad regime crosses this redline again? Or do you have any --

MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not talking about redlines. I’m not having a debate or conversation about redlines or I’m not setting redlines. Let’s talk – not talk about red today. (Laughter.) I am talking – we’re – we’ve talked about that, we’ve litigated that, the White House has made announcements about that a couple of months ago. What our focus is on now is looking at all reports, making sure – pushing for the UN investigative team to have access. That’s what we think the appropriate step is.

QUESTION: Speaking of redline actually, a year ago – (laughter) – President Obama talk about the redline for the first time When you look at back year, for a year, do you think U.S. has been able to use its deterrence, or have the U.S. deterrence dealt a heavy blow by basically not backing what President Obama promised to do?

MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly, when we announced a couple of months ago that that had been crossed, we made announcements about an expansion of the scale and scope of aid and also reiterated the fact that additional assistance, additional – all options remained on the table. That discussion is ongoing. And we’re looking at events on the ground every single day, just like we look at events in countries around the world.

QUESTION: Jen?

QUESTION: In this particular White House statement, there is no reference to the Syrian Government responsibility. So does it mean that you basically don’t know who did it and it could be the opposition or the regime?

MS. PSAKI: Actually, there is. I’m happy to read it to you. “For the UN’s efforts to be credible, they must have immediate access to witnesses and affected individuals, and have the ability to examine and collect physical evidence without any interference or manipulation from the Syrian Government.”

QUESTION: But not – you’re not blaming the Syrian Government. I just wanted to make --

MS. PSAKI: I’m just referencing exactly how it was used in the statement. The onus is on them to provide unfettered access to the UN investigative team.

QUESTION: Jen, I was – I wanted to ask you, given it took a while for this Administration to consider if they were chemical weapons before --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- what kinds of things would you be looking at now to feel comfortable in declaring that this was a chemical attack and so on? And number two, there is a meeting on Syria between Wendy Sherman and the Russians.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: When is that meeting and will this be discussed?

MS. PSAKI: It is next week. The focus is on Geneva. I don’t have anything more specifically, but obviously, they’ll discuss a range of issues related to Syria. To be completely clear, and just to make sure everybody understands this, we’re deeply concerned by reports. I don’t have any corroborated evidence at this point – we don’t – on the numbers or the use. We’re focused on doing due diligence, and we think the UN investigative team is the right mechanism for doing that. So they will be going in. We’re hopeful they’ll be able to gain access. And in terms of their methods and methodologies, I would refer you to them in terms of how they make a determination.

QUESTION: Will Brahimi be at that meeting?

MS. PSAKI: The meeting next week?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on that.

QUESTION: And do you have an exact date for that meeting?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t yet, but I’ll check on that after and see if there’s an update on it.

QUESTION: You mentioned that the head of the UN team was in touch with the Syrian Government. Did he ask for anything in particular?

MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen reports of that. I’d certainly refer you to him specifically. Obviously, gaining access is a part of all – what all of our focus is.

QUESTION: But you don’t know if he did, in fact, ask for --

MS. PSAKI: I’ve just seen reports that – I’ve just seen reports.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

QUESTION: No.

QUESTION: One more on Syria.

QUESTION: Just one more.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Jill.

QUESTION: On the – the Russians are giving that date as August 28th. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: I’ll have to check.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I have nothing to refute that. I just didn’t have a date coming down here.

QUESTION: All right. Just one more thing, because if you look at what the Foreign Ministry of Russia is saying --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- they say that these attacks were a pretext for putting forth demands to the UN Security Council to side with opponents of the regime and to subvert, undermine the possibility of convening Geneva. Now, I know that this is very early in the game, but even early in the game, can you make any comment on their understanding of what’s going on here?

MS. PSAKI: I’m trying to unravel in my head what exactly they meant by that, so let me try. One, the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov have spoken repeatedly and regularly about their shared commitment to Geneva. We know we have differences of opinion on some issues around Syria, but both the United States and Russia can play a vital role in convening both sides. We’re continuing to work on that. That has not changed. That’s why we’re doing this meeting next week, and a part of their conversation when they had the 2+2 just two weeks ago was on this and their shared belief that now is the time to move this forward.

In terms of use or being able to go in and investigate that, our view should be one shared by all countries, which is that if there’s nothing to hide, then the UN team should be able to go in and investigate all credible incidents. That’s what we continue to call for, and we’re hopeful that others will agree with us.

QUESTION: And what do you expect from the UN Security Council informal meeting this afternoon?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to make a prediction. Obviously, any time that the UN meets it’s an opportunity for important countries to work together and address serious challenges, including, of course, what’s going on on the ground in Syria. But I don’t want to make a prediction of what will come out of it.

QUESTION: Jen, new subject?

QUESTION: I have --

MS. PSAKI: Well, let’s finish Syria.

QUESTION: -- one more on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: The earlier questions about the General Dempsey – in those remarks, General Dempsey also said that Syrian rebels wouldn’t back U.S. interests if they replace the Assad regime. Is this your assessment right now?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just – I don’t want to do any more analysis. I would refer you to the Department of Defense for what he meant by his comments --

QUESTION: Sure. Let me ask --

MS. PSAKI: -- and what he was trying to convey.

QUESTION: Let me ask this way, then.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you think that if the Syrian rebels would win, that would be for the U.S. interests?

MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly, we’ve supported the opposition – the moderate opposition – and we think that it’s best for the Syrian people for Assad to go. That has not changed. So our position has been the same.

QUESTION: But --

QUESTION: But Jen, on that, like one of the – the premise for Geneva is that both sides can sit down together and the political opposition will be there ready to represent themselves --

MS. PSAKI: Uh-huh. Yep, you’re right.

QUESTION: -- and their interests. So you can’t comment on what General Dempsey is thinking, but clearly, he disagrees with the assessment of this building, which is that the opposition is ready to even move forward with Geneva. If they can’t represent themselves and their own interests, how could they possibly attend a peace conference?

MS. PSAKI: Well, what I will say about that is that we continue to work with the opposition to make sure they have a strong, viable representation to attend Geneva. That’s part of our conversation with them. It’s certainly part of what would need to happen and be determined before we would have a conference.

QUESTION: Do you reject that assessment of the opposition?

MS. PSAKI: I am not going to do any more analysis of General Dempsey. I’d point you to the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: But that’s not the Secretary’s view; it’s fair to say that?

MS. PSAKI: We’re continuing – I don’t think this is conflicting here. We’re continuing to work with the opposition. Obviously, they haven’t announced who would attend a Geneva conference. We’re continuing to work with them on that. We think we can get to a point – we think Geneva is the right mechanism, the right opportunity to have this discussion, and that’s why we’re having the meeting next week with the Russians.

QUESTION: Can I just --

QUESTION: Do you have any date for the Geneva?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Do you have any date for the Geneva that you have been referring to?

MS. PSAKI: Well, next week, which is I think what we’ve been talking about a bit here, Under Secretary Wendy Sherman will be meeting with Russian counterparts to discuss the agenda, discuss a lot of the outstanding issues, so no, I don’t have a date. That’s part of the discussion next week.

QUESTION: As a conclusion, do you agree with General Dempsey’s statement about --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more.

Dana.

QUESTION: Jen, on – I just wanted to get a clarification --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- on the timeline given the question that Margaret asked.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So a year ago or so --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- President Obama said that use of chemical weapons would be a redline --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- then in June he said he crossed the red --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that they’ve crossed the redline --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and that we’re expanding aid --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and then in the last two months, the opposition has said, “We haven’t received the aid.” I understand that for security purposes, you can’t give specifics.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But right now, the only – I mean, do you have – can you give anything? Can you say that it’s in the pipeline? Because so far, you’ve said that this is – that something’s happening. But the only people that would be able to verify that’s true have said that it’s not.

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything more for you on it. I understand why you’re asking. That’s not what I’m questioning. I just – there’s nothing more I can detail for you from here.

QUESTION: Do you --

QUESTION: Sorry, Jen, but there was – there were reports, intelligence reports, that say there are 10,000 foreign fighters, and they’re not talking about Hezbollah and --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- Shia groups. They’re talking about al-Qaida types that have infiltrated into Syria, and we have seen pictures of these types using all kinds of antitank equipment and so on --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- supplied by your ally, the Saudis, and so on. So the arms are flowing in. Are you talking to them about weapons falling in the wrong hands, about what was talked about, elements that may assume power in Syria in the future?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, certainly, as we’ve been from – said from the beginning, we’ve been concerned about the extremist elements that have been – affiliated themselves with the opposition. That’s why we’ve taken a number of steps to do everything possible to ensure that the aid is going to the SMC and the moderate opposition.

Dana and others were asking me about U.S. aid, so that’s what I was speaking to, and certainly, I would never be in a position to speak to what other aid has been delivered from other countries. But as you know, every country makes different decisions, and they’ve delivered and made decisions about different forms of aid to Syria.

QUESTION: But what about the U.S. aid to Syria?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything – any more than what I just said to Dana.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: Middle East peace?

QUESTION: -- on Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. Regarding the Geneva 2 meeting --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- yesterday, I think, was the Syrian news agency had quoted Lakhdar Brahimi that Iran has been or will be invited to the meeting. Have you heard that now?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen that report, but I’m not aware of a decision being made.

QUESTION: New subject?

QUESTION: No, last one?

MS. PSAKI: One more on Syria?

QUESTION: Can you address the differences still existing between you and the Russians on Geneva 2?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’m going to outline that from here. We’ve spoken about our position; they speak about their position. That will be part of the discussion. But regardless, Russia plays an – can play an important role in bringing representatives of the regime to the table, and we agree that the best mechanism for moving toward a political transition would be a conference in Syria, and that’s why we’re continuing to discuss it.

QUESTION: Well, there are a lot of reports saying that the U.S. position on Iran coming or not, about the opposition having a unified delegation or not, who will represent who --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- is just wasting time because you are concerned about what the opposition could or would not do in Syria if they win or not. It’s just a way of lengthening the conflict.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not having a conference just to have a conference. We wanted to be a vehicle for moving the discussion and the progress on a political transition forward, so obviously, there are challenging issues to work through. We’ve been pretty clear that we don’t feel Iran has played a constructive role. There’s been an influx of fighters, Hezbollah and others, in support of the regime. So we haven’t – we’ve made no secret of that, but obviously, the discussion of who would participate and what would be on the agenda is an important component of what needs to be determined before there’s a conference.

QUESTION: But other countries that are supporting the opposition are invited, so where’s the logic here?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are some countries that have supported the opposition that have had a stake, but we’re still determining some players and the fullest of participation. I think most people understand why there are some challenging issues that need to be worked through, and we’re continuing to discuss and work through them.

QUESTION: Will Brahimi participate in the next week meeting?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we, of course, continue to coordinate closely with him. I would refer you to him on his plans, but we’re in regular close contact with him. And beyond that, I don’t have any update on his participation.

QUESTION: I thought you he said he was not attending.

QUESTION: No, he’s not.

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Syria?

QUESTION: Just one single question --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- on the redline. The reason I am asking – (laughter) – and many people are asking out there, and sincerely curious, that – if the U.S. still has the same assessment on the redline, that is going to take a game-changing step? Or, since it has been a year, if the U.S. has now a new assessment and it doesn’t consider --

MS. PSAKI: The announcement we made a couple of months ago still stands. That’s why we expanded our scale and scope of aid, why we’ve continued to discuss additional options, why all options remain on the table, aside from boots on the ground. So your --

QUESTION: But you are not following through your promise, then. That’s what --

MS. PSAKI: That’s not true at all. I’m not going to --

QUESTION: But you are not changing the balance on the ground.

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. Let me finish. I’m not going to outline for you what – a laundry list of what we’re doing. But we’ve talked about it in the past, we’ve talked about why we can’t talk about it in the past. In terms of – our focus remains on strengthening the opposition, whether that’s the opposition on the ground or the political opposition. We feel that we have made some progress and more work needs to be done, but we’re clearly working to move forward on Geneva. We continue to remain in close contact with the SMC. I think you’re combining a bunch of things and not actually asking questions about the reality of what the situation is on the ground and what we’re working on.

QUESTION: Actually, it’s pretty clear what I am asking. I’m just asking --

MS. PSAKI: It’s not clear, but try again. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- it’s just a game-changing step that means the – changing the balance of the power in favor of the opposition? And whatever you have been referencing here for months, they have not the factors or things that are changing the balance of power, and is it not the promise that President Obama or this Administration given? This is my question, and I don’t get the answer, because the factors you have been giving are not things that change the balance.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as we announced a couple of months ago, the decisions we made to expand the scale and scope of aid, which, again, I’m not going to outline, was made in part because of the redline being crossed, and certainly the situation on the ground. Our efforts every single day are focused on how we can strengthen the opposition, the moderate opposition, whether that’s working with the SMC or working with the political leaders in the opposition. We know in recent months they’ve elected leadership. We’re working with them to encourage them to have appropriate representation at a Geneva conference. That’s where our focus remains. All options still remain on the table aside from boots on the ground, and those discussions are ongoing.

Syria?

QUESTION: Another subject?

QUESTION: Another subject?

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Please, please.

QUESTION: This killing of the Australian baseball player?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I know you had a statement yesterday, but --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- it really is picking up a lot of steam. There’s a lot of anger and, really, devastation in Australia about this, some politicians just saying that they ought to boycott the United States, coming to the United States. What is the State Department’s level of concern right now, and what, if anything, is the State Department doing to reach out to the Australians, reach out to the public, and try to deal with this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, we are in close touch with any of our counterparts through appropriate diplomatic channels. As we said yesterday, but given the tragedy that occurred, it’s worth repeating: The American people are certainly shocked at this utterly senseless and tragic loss. We know local authorities are committed to bringing those responsible to justice. That is certainly something that’s working its way and will through its legal system. That’s not related to the State Department, but is a relevant point. And we respect, of course, the right of all Australians to express their views on any issue, including this one. Obviously, it’s a tragedy. The loss of a child, the loss of a loved one – that’s always a tragedy, and we’re looking – we know local authorities are working on it, and we’ll certainly be in touch, remain in touch with counterparts as appropriate on the ground.

QUESTION: And is the Secretary himself doing anything?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls to read out for you from the Secretary.

QUESTION: Turkey?

MS. PSAKI: Let’s – go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Do you have a response to the sentencing today of Bradley Manning?

MS. PSAKI: I know that my colleagues off – across the street may have said something about this, so let me just reiterate that. We’ve seen the sentence announced today by the court in the court martial of Bradley Manning. We have made clear that leaking or divulging classified information is a serious matter. The Secretary respects the court’s decision and diligence in this complex trial, and more broadly, respects the integrity of the process.

QUESTION: There have been some observers who comment that the sentence he received was more than any of the sentences meted out to those who perpetrated acts of wrongdoing that he exposed. Do you have any comment on that (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. We respect the legal process. I just reiterated the fact that the Secretary respects the process that was underway.

QUESTION: Who’s across the street?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: The White House.

QUESTION: Who’s across the street?

MS. PSAKI: Oh. The White House.

QUESTION: Oh.

MS. PSAKI: So it’s too colloquial of a turn. I apologize for that.

QUESTION: Mideast peace, please.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure.

QUESTION: I thought you meant “across the river.”

QUESTION: Palestinian official --

MS. PSAKI: Across the river. That’s more accurate; you’re right.

QUESTION: A Palestinian official today described negotiations as, quote, “treading water” because the Israelis are keeping Ambassador Indyk out of discussions, and warned talks could collapse if he doesn’t get in there. I’m wondering if you have any take on that, anything to comment on him trying to insert himself into that. Is he being kept away by the Israelis? Where do we stand?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me be clear here: The goal is for talks between the two parties. The United States cannot determine the end result here. It’s up to the two parties to determine that. Ambassador Indyk and his team are playing a facilitating role for the talks. That’s what he’s been doing. He’s maintaining an intense schedule of meetings with leaders and the negotiating teams, and at this point, the Secretary’s thought is that it’s important for the parties have an opportunity to engage in direct bilateral discussions. That’s exactly what they’re doing.

As we’ve said from the beginning, there will be some meetings that Ambassador Indyk will be in; there will be some that he’s not in. He’s there to play a facilitator role. He’s not – his goal is not to check the box of every meeting he can attend. He wants to see a positive end result, and that’s up to the two parties to determine.

QUESTION: Has he been --

QUESTION: If the Palestinians asked for further participation from him, is that something that could be entertained?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly it’s up to both parties to determine what’s appropriate and what’s helpful. That’s what a facilitator does.

QUESTION: Has he been prevented – was there an occasion where he was prevented from facilitating?

MS. PSAKI: Well, a facilitator role --

QUESTION: I understand that, but --

MS. PSAKI: -- has a number of meanings. So this is – I’m trying to answer your question. He’s had an aggressive set of meetings and engagements with both parties, and he’ll participate with the talks when appropriate or when it’s helpful. But his goal, as all of our goal is, as the Secretary’s goal is, is direct bilateral talks between both parties and to reach an agreement on final status negotiations.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

QUESTION: So, wait. There should be consensus on whether he could facilitate this or not by the two parties, or should one party be able to say: We need your facilitating capabilities?

MS. PSAKI: Well, a – what I was trying to get at, Said, is a facilitator has a range of meanings.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: He’s had a long list, a busy schedule of meetings on the ground with representatives from both parties. That will continue. That’s part of being a facilitator. Beyond that, I don’t have any specifics to read out for you.

QUESTION: Well, the reason I’m asking is because the Palestinians claim that they were disallowed his facilitating capabilities. I mean, they asked for it, and the Israelis said: No, you cannot facilitate.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as part of the process, there will be occasions when Ambassador Indyk participates in the talks. But again, our goal here, which we shouldn’t lose sight of, is not how many meetings Ambassador Indyk is a part of. It is both parties working through these difficult issues. That’s what our focus is on.

QUESTION: Explain to us, if you would, if there is a point – like, they come to a glitch or they come to a hurdle along the way, and they need the help of Envoy Indyk, do they both have to agree that this is a hurdle that needs to be addressed this way in order for him to participate?

MS. PSAKI: Said, I don’t want to get into a hypothetical with you, as fun as that is always. But again, it’s up to both parties. They are talks between the two parties. Our goal is for them to work through the difficult issues. Ambassador Indyk is there to play the role of facilitator, which has a range of meanings. It’s not just about attending meetings with the parties together.

QUESTION: And finally --

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

MS. PSAKI: I have to wrap this up shortly here.

QUESTION: On this one, if the two parties don’t agree on his participation, who will decide that he should participate or not?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into a hypothetical.

QUESTION: It’s not a hypothetical.

MS. PSAKI: He’s there to play a facilitating role. I’m just conveying that I think there was an over-focus on what meetings he attends or doesn’t attend. I promise you Ambassador Indyk has – is a tough cookie and is not worried about that. He’s focused on getting to the – continuing with the discussion of final status issues, and we are certainly encouraged by the continued bilateral talks.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

QUESTION: Just very quick on Turkey.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Have you been talking to Turkish --

QUESTION: Could I ask – could I follow-up? When is the next round? Are you aware of the next round? When is the next round?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I don’t have any update for you. As you know, the next – and we’re not referring to it specifically as rounds. The meetings have continued.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: As you know, direct bilateral talks occurred yesterday in Jerusalem. Those happened. I don’t have any update for you on meetings in Jericho.

QUESTION: Since the remarks yesterday --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, have you been talking to Turkish officials? Because they basically – some of the officials said that it’s taken out of context what Prime Minister said.

MS. PSAKI: I know officials have been in touch on the ground. The Secretary has not been in touch with the Foreign Minister.

QUESTION: And one on Cuba, real quick?

MS. PSAKI: One more. Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have a readout about this Travel Warning over the recent outbreak of cholera on the island?

MS. PSAKI: I think I do have something on this.

QUESTION: Folks in Miami --

MS. PSAKI: I may actually – I’m sorry, Lucas. I may have to check into that for you, so let me do that and we’ll get something to you or anyone else who’s interested in that.

Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:25 p.m.)

DPB # 142

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - August 21, 2013]