Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 11, 2013


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Secretary Kerry to Travel to Geneva
  • SYRIA
    • Role of UN in Diplomatic Resolution
    • Additional meetings in Geneva
    • Future Discussion of Modalities
    • Role of Russia
    • Engagement with Congress
    • Delivery of Russian Proposal
    • Credibility of Syrian Regime
    • On-going US Military Presence in the Region
    • No Plans for Meetings with Syrian Regime Officials
    • Discussions on Opening of Humanitarian Routes
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS
    • Update on Peace Talks
  • LIBYA
    • Response to Bombing in Benghazi
    • Secretary Message to Department Staff on September 11
    • Communication with Congress / Cooperation with Congress
  • RUSSIA
    • Readout of Secretary Kerry's Call with Foreign Minister Lavrov
  • IRAN
    • Hekmati Letter to Secretary Kerry
    • Detention of Additional U.S. Citizens


TRANSCRIPT:

The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. I have one announcement at the top.

QUESTION: What could it be?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure, Matt. It’s been quite an exciting week. The announcement at the top is Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have agreed to meet in Geneva September 12th and 13th – we will, of course, be leaving later this evening – to discuss matters concerning Syria, including the use of chemical weapons and steps to address these developments.

QUESTION: Did that podium get lower?

MS. PSAKI: It does feel a little bit lower.

QUESTION: You know it does a little automatic --

MS. PSAKI: Does it --

QUESTION: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. A bit of Star Trek --

MS. PSAKI: It’s magic, technology. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Do you want to move it? Do you want --

MS. PSAKI: You can try it out when we’re done.

QUESTION: Well, do you want to move it? Do you want to move it now?

MS. PSAKI: No, I’m fine. I’m fine.

QUESTION: Oh. Okay, then.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you, though.

QUESTION: No problem. Before we get into what the Secretary and Lavrov are going to talk about, I just want to make sure that I completely understand exactly what the Administration is proposing, or wants to do now, wants to see happen.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Based on what the President said last night and what the Secretary said yesterday afternoon, is it correct that the Administration wants to first work with the Russians to get a deal on securing the chemical weapons and taking care of them, and then take that agreement and somehow enshrine it in a UN Security Council resolution – a binding resolution, not a presidential statement – and use that as the basis for going forward? Is that right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, you’re getting a little ahead of where we are in the process.

QUESTION: No, I know, but I’m asking about what your long – what your hope and intention is, based on what the President and the Secretary said yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me start with Geneva as the first step, since that, of course, is where the Secretary is heading. So as you all know, over the last 48 hours I guess it is, the credible threat of U.S. military action has created a diplomatic opportunity to remove the threat of chemical weapons in Syria without the use of force. The Secretary will be heading to Geneva, as I mentioned, later this evening to meet with not only Foreign Minister Lavrov, but we will also be bringing a team of experts to meet with their team of experts and discuss that.

So our goal here is to hear from the Russians about the modalities of their ideas that they have put forward, and to assess whether they will meet our requirement for the final disposition of Assad’s chemical weapons. In this stage of the process, our goal here is to test the seriousness of this proposal, to talk about the specifics of how this would get done, what are the mechanics of identifying, verifying, securing, and ultimately destroying the chemical weapons. And this requires, of course, a willingness from both sides. That’s what we’re focused on here.

At the same time, I would look at this as parallel tracks, or there are three tracks happening at once. One is that. The second is the UN and their efforts that are going to be ongoing in New York. We will not be – the Secretary will not be negotiating or discussing a UN Security Council resolution as part of the next couple of days. That is not our goal here. Those efforts and that work will be done in New York. And then, of course, there is the efforts that we’ve had underway with Congress. And there’s no question, and it doesn’t come as a surprise – in fact, we welcome it, as the President said last night – that they would take into account the events of the last couple of days.

QUESTION: I understand. But are you – are – is it your desire, is it the Administration’s desire, to see any potential, acceptable agreement with Russia on the weapons – is it your desire to have that as part of or at least referenced in a Security – a binding Security Council resolution?

MS. PSAKI: We do – we are working towards, of course, a binding UN Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: That would include – that would be the enforcement mechanism for the agreement with the – because an agreement just between Russia and Syria on this is not going to be good enough for you, is it? I mean --

MS. PSAKI: There’s no question that there has to be an international community engagement here and role. What that is and the form it takes, we’re not quite there yet. But when I say credibility and verifiability, that’s all related to what the outcome would be.

QUESTION: So it is – is it – so is it correct or not that you want to see this – if some kind of acceptable agreement can be reached with the Russians, that you would like to see that as part of a UN resolution?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to litigate what could or couldn’t be in a UN resolution.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’re pursuing that.

QUESTION: Then let’s leave --

MS. PSAKI: We’re focused on day-by-day here.

QUESTION: Then let’s leave that out of it for a second --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- and just talk about the UN resolution.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: What do you want this resolution to have in it?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more to tell you about what we would like to see --

QUESTION: But do you – all right. But you do want a resolution?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. That’s what we’re pushing for, absolutely.

QUESTION: Yes. Why do you want – why is it – I guess I’m asking – this is a major and significant change from last week and from even on Monday, because the Russians have still said that they don’t want a resolution. And on Friday, your Ambassador to the UN said it would be – what did she say – “It is naive to think that Russia is on the verge of changing its position and allowing the UN Security Council to assume its rightful role as the enforcer of international peace and security. In short, the Security Council the world needs to deal with this urgent crisis is not the Security Council we have.” Now that was Samantha Power on Friday, not John Bolton in 2003, and frankly it makes her – she kind of sounded more – makes him sound kind of moderate, those lines. Why is it that you now think that the Russians, even after Lavrov and Putin said they don’t want a resolution, will go for one?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: And this is when Lavrov and Putin said this yesterday, after the whole – their whole thing about getting a deal with the Syrians.

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I can’t obviously predict what the Russians will or will not – I understand – I saw their comments yesterday. Let me take the first part first, the reference to the speech. There’s no question that in the last 36 hours events have changed. And leadership is having the flexibility to seize opportunities when there’s potential for them. We’re not naive about the challenges. We don’t think this will be easy. But that’s why we’re going to Geneva, and these events of the last 36 hours happened post the speeches that you’re quoting.

QUESTION: I understand. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But the problem here – and maybe you don’t – maybe I’m misunderstanding what the Russian position is – the Russians have said that they’re willing to push the Syrians for a deal on the chemical – on their chemical weapons --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- an agreement on that. They have not said that they’re willing to have this go to the UN or they’re willing even to have a UN Security Council resolution.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Your Ambassador to the UN and the National Security Advisor, the former UN ambassador, have both said, essentially, it’s a waste of time at the – the President said that, essentially. So I don’t get why it is now even – I don’t get why it is now that you think that such an endeavor would be productive.

MS. PSAKI: Well, a couple of things. One is a lot of those comments from our Ambassador to the UN and Susan Rice and the President came before the last two days. I understand you’re also referring to the comments of the Russians.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I can’t predict what they’ll be willing to support. But what has changed is that on Monday, when Foreign Minister Lavrov came out and made his statement, that was a more serious statement that showed a greater willingness to engage on this than we had seen in the past.

QUESTION: But his statement said nothing about the UN.

MS. PSAKI: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Or any kind of an enforcement mechanism, right?

MS. PSAKI: That’s correct. And those negotiations and discussions will happen at the UN with appropriate UN counterparts. But there’s no question that was a positive step and an indication of more of an openness than what we had even 72 hours ago.

QUESTION: All right. Well, assuming that the UN Ambassador and the former – the current National Security Advisor, former UN Ambassador speak for the Administration, is it still the Administration’s view that it was – it is naive to think that the Russians are on the verge of changing their minds in the Security Council, and that then it’s not realistic – the first was Power, this is Rice – it’s not realistic that it’s going to happen?

MS. PSAKI: Well I --

QUESTION: Is that still the position of the Administration?

MS. PSAKI: I read and watched both of their speeches.

QUESTION: Right. But is that still the position of the Administration --

MS. PSAKI: Matt, the --

QUESTION: -- given the fact that the Russians have not said anything or made any sign that they’re willing to allow the Security Council --

MS. PSAKI: You are correct, and I’m not implying that they have. But things have changed in the last 36 hours. We’re working towards a goal here of working with them. I can’t predict what will or won’t come out of the UN Security Council. I know they have a meeting later this afternoon. And beyond that, everyone in the Administration who gave those speeches are all working towards the same effort.

QUESTION: Okay. But I can – I’m a big fan of the Emerson line that “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” but I – aren’t you, by going back to the UN, guilty of the naivete that Ambassador Power discussed on Friday?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: I don’t see how what the Russians have said changes anything at the UN, and I don’t see how it can be acceptable for you for there just to some kind of a buddy-buddy agreement between Putin and Assad on the chemical weapons if there’s no enforcement, as --

MS. PSAKI: I just said we’re fully supportive of and pushing for a resolution. What I’m --

QUESTION: I know. But why isn’t that – why doesn’t that make --

MS. PSAKI: Let me just finish.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: What I’m also conveying is that we don’t conduct diplomacy and foreign policy with inflexibility, just to say the things we said last week, when events on the ground change and when a greater opportunity presents itself.

QUESTION: So would you say that the Administration – despite what Ambassador Power said on Friday about being naive, you would say that it is not naive to think that Russia is now on the verge of changing it? I mean, --

MS. PSAKI: Matt, we have --

QUESTION: -- either you are guilty of being naive, as she said on Friday, or you’re not.

MS. PSAKI: I simply don’t think it’s that simple.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: I think we still have a number – let me – this is the last thing, and then I’ll go to you, Arshad. Our military is maintaining its current posture. We are going. That has not changed. We are going to Geneva, as you know, and I just outlined. The UN is working with counterparts and continuing to discuss. We have a number of tracks here and a range of options.

QUESTION: Just a couple of simple questions.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Does the Secretary intend to meet with Lakhdar Brahimi in Geneva?

MS. PSAKI: He does. We are working through that. I’m not sure if it’s finally scheduled yet, but that is something he would like to do.

QUESTION: Okay. Does he intend to have a three-way meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov and Mr. Brahimi?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Okay. Is it his – are you keeping open the possibility or do you expect the talks in Geneva to last more than one day?

MS. PSAKI: We do anticipate that they will last two days. They could be shorter or longer. We’re certainly flexible.

QUESTION: Okay. So Friday and --

MS. PSAKI: Thursday and Friday.

QUESTION: Thursday and Friday. Excuse me. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And is it conceivable that it could slide to Saturday as well, or --

MS. PSAKI: Certainly it’s conceivable. We’ll keep that option open.

QUESTION: Okay. And can you – other than the comments that you made about the credibility and the verifiable – or verifiability of --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- any kind of an agreement that might be reached, there’s not a whole lot of trust, I think, within this Administration for the word of President Assad. Can you give us some sense of what you would need, what kinds of things you would need, to regard such an agreement to be credible and verifiable? I’m not asking you to lay it out in detail, but give us some sense of what are the things that you think you would have to have for an agreement to be credible and verifiable.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the bottom-line question – and I’m not sure this is answering it, but – is identifying the mechanics of how this would work. So how would you go in? How would you destroy? What are the steps you would take? That is part of the discussion and the reason that the Secretary is going to bring a team of experts, an interagency team, and we’ll be able to provide that list to all of you later on today.

QUESTION: And --

QUESTION: And is it – sorry, just a couple more from me on this. Is it conceivable to you that this – I mean, do you genuinely think that this can or could be done with the materials inside Syria? I mean, there’s a reason I’m asking that --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- because with Libya you actually took the stuff out and sent it to – I forget where it was, Fort something.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Tennessee, yes.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So do you actually think it’s conceivable to have these weapons under proper international supervision within Syria, or do you think – and to destroy them there?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s part of what the discussion will be. And I can tell that the Secretary and the Foreign Minister, as they’ve discussed in the past this issue – and that goes way back to April when the Secretary was in Moscow – the Libya model is one that they talked about. But they are not technical experts, of course, so that’s why they’re bringing their teams together to discuss those modalities.

We – and to your point, we certainly know that there are challenges. There are potentially a large amount of chemical weapons in Syria’s stockpile, and so part of this effort is to figure out how to make the destruction effort logistically and technically possible. But we know it’s – it would be challenging.

QUESTION: And how do you do this in the middle of a civil war?

MS. PSAKI: That’s part of the discussion. All the modalities that would be included will be what they’ll be talking about.

QUESTION: Do you think that you – don’t you think you would need, at a minimum, a ceasefire to be able to do this?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to speculate on all the pieces of what they’ll be talking about and the needs. As you know – and this is just a broad point, not speculating on what they may or may not agree with – obviously there’s a – you need to make sure that the participants are safe, of course, as was true with the UN investigators. But I don’t want to predetermine or predict what they’ll be talking about over the next two days.

QUESTION: And one last thing from me on this.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Why should one not regard any international weapons inspectors who might go into sites where Syria has chemical weapons as essentially human shields?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, if this was a simple step to take without pros and cons, then perhaps it would have done – been done long ago. But certainly as I mentioned, I’m certain that the safety of anybody who would be involved would be a part of the discussion.

QUESTION: But the problem – I mean, the question that I’m trying to get at is that when you say – you make an assertion that it was the credible threat of force that helped bring this about --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- without addressing the – whether that assertion is right or not, if you have inspectors in on the ground at these sites, or at the sites of things that deliver these things --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- you’ve taken away, at least for the interim, the credible threat of force, right? Because you’re not going to, like, blow UN inspectors to smithereens.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, I think the President made clear in his speech that we’re going to work through this process, and that obviously a diplomatic end is our preferred outcome, but – so beyond that, I’m not going to speculate on kind of the tick-tock. But certainly that’s why we’re going to Geneva to talk about this, to see if we can get a credible agreement from all sides.

QUESTION: Can – I have a couple here.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: First of all, just to kind of follow on --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- some of the points that were made about the Russians: Now, Jay Carney just recently said that the Russians hadn’t been particularly helpful in the last two years. I mean, how so? Because you keep saying that the Russian --

MS. PSAKI: How have they not been helpful?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Because the Russia – because you seem to go back to that you’re working with the Russians, the Russians are so important, so if you could kind of flesh out a little bit --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- how the Russians have not been – but why there’s an opportunity now that --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: So it’s – obviously, there’s documented evidence of them blocking, I believe it’s two or three, UN Security Council resolutions. That certainly was unhelpful. From the beginning of the work that the Secretary and the Foreign Minister have been doing together, the Secretary’s been very open about the fact that there are certainly areas where we disagree with the Russians on, and we play – they play a unique role because of their relationship with the regime. And so you can sit at a table and talk to people you agree with all day long, but that doesn’t resolve, typically, situations that are as complicated as this one. So blocking those two resolutions was certainly unhelpful. Efforts that they have made to provide all forms of aid to the regime certainly we have felt was unhelpful.

But at the end of this, and in the larger umbrella here, is that we’ve agreed with the Russians that the end goal should be a political solution. That’s why we’ve talked with them about Geneva. In fact, the initial conversations about concern about securing chemical weapons were in the frame of Geneva and a possible outcome of Geneva. Obviously, things have changed since then.

QUESTION: Okay. So if you’re relying on the Assad regime or with Russian guarantees or whatever --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that the regime itself is going to be the one to turn over, declare, and help dismantle its chemical weapons, doesn’t that kind of tie you to the Assad regime if they’re the ones that are going to be implementing this agreement? I mean, how does that jive with your stated goal of Assad leaving power?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say the details matter. We’re not predetermining or pre-suggesting that we’re going to approve of whatever proposal we talk through over the next several days. It has to be credible. It has to be verifiable. And certainly, we believe in the engagement and involvement of the international community, and there are a number of players who care deeply about it.

This is still part of our – our end goal here has been multifaceted. One of them has been securing and removing chemical weapons, of course, so this is the best opportunity we’ve had over the last two years to discuss that. We still feel that Assad needs to be removed from power. That hasn’t changed. But we also want to prevent him using chemical weapons ever again against his own people, and this is a potential opportunity to do that.

QUESTION: It just sounds to me like this ties you to Assad for the foreseeable future if he’s the one that would be in his – and you say he’s – you said that you hold him responsible because – for this August 21st attack because he’s responsible for all the regime and all of the chemical weapons.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So presumably, if he’s responsible for his chemical weapons, he’s going to be responsible for handing them over, and it just sounds to me like this ties you to him for the foreseeable future.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we would see it that way, because there’s no question that a political solution requires talking to both sides. At the same time, more than 100,000 people, as you all often remind me, have died in Syria. More than 1,000 died in the chemical weapons attack, including innocent men, women, and children, on August 21st. That hasn’t changed. But clearly, the regime would need to be an active participant in securing and removing chemical weapons, and we recognize that.

QUESTION: So this agreement is solely on the chemical weapons? It doesn’t touch anything about guarantees that he won’t kill his people through other conventional means? Because the concern of a lot of people that work on Syria is that, yes, he hands over his chemical weapons, but he still has napalm, as the Secretary has said. He – some people think he’s using phosphorous shells.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I mean, there are much more crude ways that he can turn to in lieu of chemical weapons. So how does what you’re doing with the Russians right now stop him from just saying, like, “Oh, I’ll hand over my chemical weapons, but there are lots of other ways for me to crudely kill my people”?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that our willingness to go to Congress and the President’s willingness to put military action on the table makes clear our disgust with the actions of the Assad regime. Another piece is the use of chemical weapons and the international norm that that obviously violated has been great concern around the world, as we’ve seen by the dozens of countries who have now signed on to the G-20 language and letter.

But being able to – even the opportunity to remove and destroy that, the chemical weapons, would be an enormous step forward. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have a larger strategy and larger concerns – and those will continue – about what’s happening in Syria and the brutality of the regime. That doesn’t change. We’re still discussing that.

QUESTION: Just one more.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So yesterday, the President delayed the vote.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But at the same time, you’re saying that the only reason we’re at this point is because of the threat of the use of force.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The only reason that Assad is even willing to talk or the Russians are willing to talk about giving up the chemical weapons is because the threat of force. So isn’t that a mixed message by saying, “We’re going to delay the vote, we’re not going to vote”? I mean, doesn’t any kind of diplomacy need to be backed up by the credible use of force?

MS. PSAKI: Well, a couple things I would say on that. One is, of course, the last 36 hours has impacted where we all stand – the Administration, members of Congress. I’d point you to many statements that have come out. So it is not a surprise, and we, in fact, welcome their engagement in incorporating what’s happened over the last 36 hours into their thinking – that was what the President was conveying last night – and where we go from here. At the same time, our military remains in the same position. It’s maintaining its current posture to keep the pressure on the regime, and we have that in our back pocket as well.

QUESTION: Jen, could you tell us, on the issue of modality, are you – do you have, like, a frame of reference? Has this been done before, or is it something that you must create anew? Has there been, like, a situation where chemical weapons were disarmed? Not the Libya --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- situation, but in a situation where there’s actually active conflict?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I know there’s been different historical occasions of this. I don’t want to draw a comparison here. I’m sure we can get you a list of that, if that’s helpful. But what they’re looking at is obviously this specific case, the specific circumstances on the ground, and the modalities of that.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. So these experts that you’re talking about, they are Russian experts and American experts. Will they include, like in this case, Syrian experts because they’re the ones that manufactured them, oversaw the existence of these weapons that they have denied for a long time? I mean, will you also include – or a group or a team of Syrian experts?

MS. PSAKI: I believe that this is a group of U.S. and Russian experts. I would defer to them on who’s on their team, and we’ll be providing all of you a list of that later today, as soon as it’s finalized.

QUESTION: Okay. Just a couple of quick ones. Now, when the P-5 meet today --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- they are meeting – I think they are meeting now – what will they discuss? Are they discussing how each country can bring in its own experts to create some sort of a model, or are they discussing the day after, or are they discussing perhaps a peace conference? What are they discussing?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re discussing and coordinating next steps. I don’t want to define for you on their behalf what that means, and I would point you to the UN for any more specifics.

QUESTION: Okay. Now let me ask you about the priority of sites. I mean, there are some sites that are closely – or dangerously close to, let’s say, some of the most extremist groups --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- like in Aleppo and other places. Would you recommend or would you say to, let’s say, the Syrian Government that maybe this is urgent? Do you have, like, a list of sites that may be urgent or less urgent and so on? Do you have anything like this?

MS. PSAKI: I would – it would not be something that I would ever get into from the podium.

QUESTION: But does that figure in the thinking in any way? Does that figure that some areas may be more urgent than others where there is alleged storages of chemical weapons?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, certainly the modalities and the process and all of that is a part of the discussion over the next couple of days.

QUESTION: Can you just --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: This is extremely quick. The Russian – there’s a Russian official who says that they have transmitted the plan.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Have you guys gotten it?

MS. PSAKI: They put – provided ideas. I spoke with the Secretary about this earlier today. They’ve put ideas on the table that will certainly be a part of the discussion, but there are a number of components and details that will need to be worked out over the next two days.

QUESTION: Well, I understand that, but I mean have they given you something more than, like, bullet points?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen it exactly, but it’s – I would characterize it more as ideas than as a lengthy packet.

QUESTION: And you got that yesterday, or today?

MS. PSAKI: I believe – it may have been in different deliveries, but I know some was received yesterday.

QUESTION: Just to back to the idea of a resolution --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- versus a presidential statement, are you going to insist that this is – some – whatever you eventually kind of reach with the Russians would be enshrined in a resolution that is binding?

MS. PSAKI: A resolution is certainly what we’re pursuing. But obviously the UN is meeting this afternoon. The P-5 is meeting this afternoon. They’re going to continue to discuss it, so I just don’t want to get ahead of that.

QUESTION: But you have said in the past on other issues, and particularly on Syria --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that you will not kind of sign on to some watered down statement with no teeth. Is that the – are those your – I hesitate to use the word redline, but --

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) It’s been used a lot.

QUESTION: -- but do you have kind of redlines on what you will and won’t accept in this?

MS. PSAKI: We’re not there yet. We’ll keep talking about this over the next couple of days as the conversation continues. Obviously a UN resolution is what we’re pressing for.

QUESTION: Because --

QUESTION: Well, I know, but – well, just on that, I mean, do you accept the premise of the question, that you wouldn’t sign on to a watered down and meaningless statement?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just --

QUESTION: No, I said they’ve said that in the past.

QUESTION: I know.

MS. PSAKI: She said that in the past.

QUESTION: Well, exactly, but --

MS. PSAKI: I’m saying we’re not at the point where we’re saying what we would or wouldn’t do.

QUESTION: Oh, I know.

QUESTION: So you might sign on to a watered down --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not predicting that.

QUESTION: -- toothless statement?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not – Elise, I’m not predicting what the next steps will be.

QUESTION: But --

MS. PSAKI: You know what we’re pressing for. The P-5 is just meeting this afternoon.

QUESTION: But --

MS. PSAKI: Beyond that, I don’t have any --

QUESTION: But do you see this as – but whatever comes out of this agreement --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- if you take it to the UN, do you see it as having kind of the weight of the United Nations? Because the – because a presidential statement would not.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not there yet. I understand why you’re asking the question, certainly, but – and we’re going to keep talking about this every day as progress is made, but --

QUESTION: But –

QUESTION: I --

QUESTION: -- hold on. I just want to make sure. You don’t want a watered down and meaningless – whatever comes of the Security Council?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I said I did. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No. Right, but you don’t, correct?

MS. PSAKI: No, of course not.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, then can you explain how it is that Susan Rice said on Monday, even as the Secretary was flying back from London, and even as the Administration was hastily changing the – its tune on this whole thing, that Susan Rice said three times we negotiated for weeks over the most watered down language imaginable, and three times Russia and China double vetoed almost meaningless resolutions. Those were things that you supported, watered down and almost meaningless.

MS. PSAKI: Matt, I think what I’m talking about --

QUESTION: At least according to her.

MS. PSAKI: What I’ve been talking about here is where we are today, which is different than where we were on Monday. And that’s an important point.

QUESTION: And just one thing.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Going back to the statement that you issued on Monday, in which you said about Secretary Kerry’s comments in London his point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago, what makes you think he can be trusted now or that you can construct an inspections regime --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- in the middle of a civil war that would allow you to be certain that he has turned them over?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that I am not the only one who expressed skepticism. I think that has been pretty consistently the universal message from all communicators in the Administration for good reason. And we’re not saying that this would be an easy endeavor or an easy process. What has changed is that the statement that the Russians put out that day was more serious and substantive than what we had seen to date. We’re not predicting victory here. We’re not saying that this will be an easy process. But it is an opportunity – and even an opportunity to discuss the modalities of this and if it’s even possible, and the seriousness of the Syrian regime, and the credibility of a possible proposal is absolutely worth the effort. And that’s what we’re endeavoring to do right now.

And let me just say one more piece, is the Secretary’s – as you know, the Secretary’s statement was consistent with, at the time, where things were in the Administration – no – which is something he knew in his own head, which is that on late last week, and actually back to April, he had been discussing the shared concern about the use of chemical weapons and how we contain them and destroy them – that he had spoken with Foreign Minister Lavrov about this last week. He had a more detailed discussion later, of course. You now also all know that the President and President Putin talked about this on Friday.

So we weren’t at the point, nor was his comment one, saying there was a proposal on the table, but it was consistent with where we were, and he didn’t want to step into – undermine any process if it could move forward. And then, of course, we saw --

QUESTION: A clarification on --

MS. PSAKI: One moment. And of course, then we saw the statement after that. That was a long answer, I apologize. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: If you could clarify on the UN. Yesterday, the French tried to submit a resolution under Chapter 7 --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- which the Russians would not agree to. Now, would you accept, or would you agree to, a UN Security Council resolution that is not under Chapter 7?

MS. PSAKI: We’re continuing to discuss – we’re obviously working with the French, but I don’t have any more predictions of a final outcome or proposal.

QUESTION: Okay. And seeing how this actually turned out in the Administration’s favor --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I mean, the credible threat of force obviously produced this amazing accomplishment, I think. Now, why can’t you have it as part of a grander strategy, where you can arrive at a peaceful settlement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly that remains our end goal. But remember, if we had been talking a few weeks ago about the likelihood of discussing the containment and destruction of chemical weapons, that would have been a significant step. And so we’ve made more progress in the last 36 hours on that particular issue than the last two years. That doesn’t change the fact that the President, the Secretary, the national security team are continuing to discuss the path forward. And of course, getting to Geneva and getting to a political discussion and a political transition remains our goal.

QUESTION: One more?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Just to go back to the idea of Assad and the stated goal --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- of getting rid of Assad.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I mean, would you be – are you firm that you would not accept, as part of a deal with the Russians, that Assad would stay in power?

MS. PSAKI: Our position hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: No, that’s not what I’m asking.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I know your position hasn’t changed. But is the idea of Assad staying in power in this deal with the Russians a non-starter, or is that something that could be discussed?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the discussion is about how to remove chemical weapons. It’s not about --

QUESTION: Well, but the Russians could say that he’s the one that has the most control over the chemical weapons. I just want to make sure of that, because obviously, this has been a talking point for the Russians for a long time --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- in your discussions with them, that Assad staying in office is not something that you’d be willing to consider as part of a deal.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that is something we would consider, but I’m not going to get ahead in a hypothetical of discussions that haven’t even started yet.

QUESTION: Excuse me, can I ask you a question if I might? (Inaudible) patiently all session.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: The Syrians have spent years amassing chemical weapons of millions of dollars --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is it not naive to think that they are prepared to hand them in just because of the threat of a few cruise missile strikes?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve been pretty clear about the challenges we see with this and have not been naive about the difficulty. But there’s no question that the interest and willingness of the Russians to play a role as a facilitator in this effort – and we know their relationship with the regime has increased, certainly, since August 21st when those terrible events happened, and since the threat of military action became a reality given the President’s decision as well as the progress being made in Congress. But obviously, the discussion of that will be what the focus is over the next two days. I would point you to comments that have been made about their willingness to join the chemical weapons treaty. Obviously, that’s something that’s positive. We’d have to see it actually happen.

But the point here is broadly this: We were not at this point 72 hours ago. This is a potentially positive step; it’s a door opening that we didn’t have open a week ago. We don’t think it will be easy, but we have the responsibility to pursue it, and that’s what we’re doing. But we know it will be difficult.

QUESTION: You don’t think it’s a Russian delaying tactic?

MS. PSAKI: We certainly don’t. This is an issue that we have tried to pursue. We’ve wanted to pursue containing and destroying chemical weapons from the beginning. We are going into this eyes wide open, I can assure you of that.

QUESTION: Because you know President Putin has said you can’t even think about the threat of force if you’re going to look into a deal like this.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve seen those comments, and as I’ve said a couple of times, our military remains in the same place. But obviously, resolving this diplomatically has always been our goal from the beginning.

QUESTION: So you think the Russians are doing this in completely in good faith?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly have a long and winding history with the Russians, so again, we’re not going into this – we’re going into this eyes wide open. And the Secretary, when he spoke with the Foreign Minister just two days ago, made clear we’re not going to play games here. But we are – it is worth spending the next two days, more if needed, talking about this, seeing if we can come to a point of a point of a credible proposal. And that’s an opportunity we did not have last week.

QUESTION: Who opened the door? Who opened the door? Was it Secretary Kerry that opened the door or was it the Russians that opened the door?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it was a Russian statement that made clear about their interest in and their openness to providing – to playing a role as a facilitator --

QUESTION: Was it --

MS. PSAKI: Let me just finish. But the history and context here is important given that President Obama and President Putin discussed this all the way back to the G-20 last year, that Secretary Kerry discussed with President Putin and with Foreign Minister Lavrov back to Moscow, and they’ve discussed on regular occasions since then. Obviously, the events on August 21st have escalated the interest in their – their interest in playing a facilitator role.

QUESTION: Do you know, Jen – I mean, I remember distinctly asking this question, asking it to you last week, and it was completely dismissed as an impossibility. So what happened in the interim, like, four days?

MS. PSAKI: Well, diplomacy and history is happening before your eyes, Said.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: On Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: If the Syrian regime cooperates to get rid of their chemical weapons --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- so things will be normal with the regime and you will never – you will stop calling to be – to punish the regime on the use – on the chemical attack?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point you to what the President said last night. And I don’t want to get too ahead of where we are. We’re obviously keeping a range of options, and I mentioned how our military remains in place, as they were last week. But obviously, the removal of chemical weapons and that – achieving that would be significant and would certainly be what our goal would be.

QUESTION: So he won’t be punished?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not suggesting that.

QUESTION: Because the --

MS. PSAKI: I’m suggesting this is a – this has been a goal from the beginning. Obviously, there’s a larger conversation about Syria, our policy, what needs to happen to end the suffering of the Syrian people. And that certainly is ongoing.

QUESTION: Because the Russians are insisting that for their proposal to succeed the U.S. should withdraw its military threat.

MS. PSAKI: I’ve certainly seen that, and I think I answered that when Elise asked the question.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Any plans for Secretary Kerry to meet with the Syrian Foreign Minister while in Geneva?

MS. PSAKI: No plans.

QUESTION: Any broader plans in terms of any representative of the regime while in Geneva, any face-to-face meetings?

MS. PSAKI: No plans at this time.

QUESTION: Can you rule it out, though?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to rule in and out, but there’s no plans at this time and I’m not aware of plans taking place.

QUESTION: And just to clarify, when you said that Secretary Kerry has been discussing destroying chemical weapons since April, was that also with Lavrov and the Russians?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, that was what I was inferring. So this has been a shared concern of the Secretary’s and the Foreign Minister’s, actually, back to the Secretary taking this position here in this lovely building and probably long before. But when he was in Russia in April or May, he discussed with President Putin and with Foreign Minister Lavrov this issue.

QUESTION: Lovely building?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: You certainly have drunk the State Department kool-aid, haven’t you?

MS. PSAKI: There are certain floors that are lovely. The seventh and eighth floor is lovely.

QUESTION: This is not one of them. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yesterday, you mentioned that the focus of the two days in Geneva, it’s the chemical weapons, and you mentioned in your answer that it’s going to be group of experts accompanying the Secretary, and I assume the Russians have their side. So the Russians are going to discuss all these things on the behalf of Syrians, or what?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: And that’s the way?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Russians are willing to play a facilitator role in this effort. Obviously, the commitment and engagement of the regime would be essential. And certainly, let’s remember that this is a big topic to be talking about with many details and many questions, so certainly, it will be the focus of the next two days. It does fit into the larger issue with where we go from here on Syria, which I’m sure will be part of the broad discussion as well.

QUESTION: So you don’t think that it’s a practical way to be Syrians included in this, or not?

MS. PSAKI: This is a discussion that, obviously, the Syrian regime is an important player in. But as has been the case in the past with conversations, we’re playing a role as – and the Russians are playing a role in representing all sides.

QUESTION: The reason that I am asking, because I mean, you mentioned that the focus of 24 – I mean 48 hours and the experts and all these things about weapons. And I don’t know if the Russians, they know everything about the Syrians’ weapons or – I don’t know how you think about this.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re bringing a range of experts from both sides, and that will be the focus of the discussion.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about the third track you mentioned before, the ongoing negotiations and consultations with Congress.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I mean, you clarified what your goals are sort of from the other two, but what are you planning to achieve, at least in the near term, with Congress?

MS. PSAKI: Well, you’ve seen many members come out and welcome the events of the last 36 hours, and we certainly welcome their efforts to incorporate the events of the last 36 hours into planning moving forward. We still maintain – and you saw what the President said last night of putting the vote on hold. We’re taking this, of course, day by day. Clearly, the President, the Secretary, and the entire Administration takes what happened on August 21st very seriously, and that’s why we have so many options that we are working towards. I don’t have any further prediction on that with Congress other than that, but it’s natural that they would be incorporating the efforts of the Secretary and the President to run to ground the details of any – of the Russian proposal.

QUESTION: Are you concerned, though, that sort of that effort sort of dragging out a little bit might take the momentum out of any attempt to get authorization from Congress in the future, then that might prove necessary?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let’s remember what our goal is here, and our goal is, of course, to prevent, deter the use of chemical weapons ever from happening again. And removing them and destroying them would certainly accomplish that goal. So there was an opportunity here to pursue this. We know it will be difficult. We know it has a range of challenging questions and issues to work through. But it was an opportunity to walk through a door and pursue it, and that was something the President and the Secretary agreed was important to do.

Allie.

QUESTION: And can you expand on – at all on the P-5 meeting today, what you expect to come out of it? Is the French plan going to be discussed there today?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any predictions on that for you from here. I would point you to the UN for any more specifics and anything that they might say after the meeting.

QUESTION: I just want to get back to clarify this. Have you heard anything from the Russians that makes you believe that they are more willing to be less obstructive at the UN thus far, not quite apart from their pushing Assad to get rid of his chemical weapons? On the UN track, is there anything that you have heard, that the Administration officials have heard from the Russians, that lead you to believe they are any more willing to consider a UN resolution, or even UN action, however watered down and almost meaningless it might be? Is there anything that – can you point to anything that leads you to believe that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary is not negotiating a UN resolution --

QUESTION: I --

MS. PSAKI: -- no, this is an important point --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: -- a UN resolution.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: What we’ve seen is more of an openness and willingness to engage on the securing and destruction of chemical weapons.

QUESTION: Okay. All right.

MS. PSAKI: That is a positive step. All of these pieces are linked together.

QUESTION: Yes, I – okay. But you haven’t seen anything from the Russians on the UN track?

MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen all the comments you have seen, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. So then I got to get back to this point: Why is it not naive, as Samantha Power said on Friday, to think that Russia is on the verge of changing its position and allowing the UN Security Council to assume its rightful role as the enforcer of international peace and security?

It seems to me – and I’m not asking this question because I’m advocating for some U.S. position one way or another. I’m just saying you seem to be guilty – the Administration, in the absence of any sign from the Russians that they’re willing to change their mind on the UN, seem to be guilty of exactly what Samantha Power said you were being – (laughter) – you were guilty – one would be guilty of if one tried to go to the Security Council.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, broadly speaking, there has been an openness and a willingness to engage --

QUESTION: But not on the UN --

MS. PSAKI: -- that we did not see a week ago, we did not see. Broadly speaking, it still is all related.

QUESTION: Okay. And then one – just one more thing: On the main claim here --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- the crux of this whole argument – both the White House and you have made this – that it was the credible threat of U.S. force that created this diplomatic opportunity.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: How do you know that? Is that just your assumption, or have the Russians and the Syrians somehow communicated to you that this is in fact the case? And the reason I ask this is because it is rare, if not – I don't know if there’s a word that’s even more rare – for someone from any podium, this one or the White House or – to ascribe motivation to foreign governments. The answer is always, “Well, I can’t read their minds. I have no idea what they’re doing – they’re doing what they’re doing.” How do you know that force, the threat of force, was the main factor here, or the only factor?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can’t – what I can say is that there’s no question that the interest and willingness to engage on this particular issue that the Secretary had spoken about Foreign – with Foreign Minister Lavrov about on several occasions in the past increased as the threat of force, as discussion of that, as the decision by the President was made public and became more likely.

QUESTION: Okay. But it’s an assumption. It’s not like Lavrov said, “Ooh, the threat of force is what got us to – got me to move.”

MS. PSAKI: Well, those two lines are certainly factual, so I would of course allow you to make your own decision.

QUESTION: Okay. So let me just – I will remind you of this moment in the future --

MS. PSAKI: I am certain you will.

QUESTION: -- when you’re talking about other governments and why they are doing or why they might be doing things that you like or don’t like.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And I will invite you at that point to --

MS. PSAKI: Let me go to Michele just because she hasn’t – she’s been very patient in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you. Way, way in the back. Just another question about something that the Russians have blocked --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- over the months and years, and that is UN agencies want the Security Council to do something on opening up new humanitarian routes.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And ICRC is asking specifically for Kerry and Lavrov to raise this, and wondered if that’s something he plans to do.

MS. PSAKI: I can’t predict, and the reason why is they’re going to be meeting for two days. Obviously, I’ve laid out for you what the main agenda item is. But there’s no question that there’s a larger issue here at hand, which is the future of Syria, and how we get to a political transition. Humanitarian aid and access is certainly something that the Secretary brings up in nearly every opportunity and occasion. But I can’t predict whether that will be a substantive part of the conversation over the next two days.

Said.

QUESTION: Can we go to a different topic?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Are we done with Syria?

QUESTION: Not on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Yeah. I wanted to ask you about the peace process. I mean, in a couple of days, we will celebrate or we’ll mark the 20th anniversary of Oslo. And I was listening to a Palestinian legislator yesterday. He painted a very abysmal picture of what has happened over the past 20 years. Can you share with us anything that should give the Palestinians hope?

MS. PSAKI: About the peace process proceeding?

QUESTION: About the peace process or the potential for – at the end of the nine-month period, we will have something that could at least show that on the horizon, there is an end to occupation.

MS. PSAKI: Well, despite the tough decisions that have been made and despite pressure that exists on both sides, the Secretary feels and Ambassador Indyk and Deputy Envoy Lowenstein all feel that the Palestinians and the Israelis have both remained steadfast and determined in their commitment to continue to talk. As you know, the Secretary met with President Abbas last weekend. He’s looking hopefully soon to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu. And our team has been on the ground working with both sides.

So I can’t predict the outcome, but the fact that they are sitting down and having credible discussions and they are engaging in that is certainly something that I would point to.

QUESTION: The Israelis continue to cling to the notion of something called temporary state with temporary borders. Is that something that you reject out of hand?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m still not going to speak to any private discussions --

QUESTION: But you --

MS. PSAKI: -- but I would caution you against believing everything you read, because only the people who are in the room and negotiating know the details.

QUESTION: No, I’m not talking about negotiation. I’m talking about statements made by Israeli officials. They make statements not for the benefit of the press; they make it actually to state policy of Israel. And they show a track record of conduct behind it.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So I’m saying to you, do you reject the concept of a temporary state with temporary borders basically on 60 percent of the West Bank?

MS. PSAKI: Said, I’m not going to --

QUESTION: And what is your position?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into responding to every statement from every official from both sides.

QUESTION: But that’s – but I’m – yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask it a different way.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you still believe that the Palestinian state should be based on areas occupied in 1967?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve spoken to this, and I’m not going to get into any more specifics. I know there have been recent stories.

QUESTION: Can you say – have you received complaints from one or both sides about leaks by the other, or people talking to – I say this because an Israeli official – I mean, it’s gotten to the point where an Israeli official anonymously says that the Israelis have complained to Indyk and others about leaks from an anonymous Palestinian official, which is ridiculous. Is that correct? Have you gotten complaints from one or either side about leaks?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of that. I haven’t had that discussion. More often than not it is more of a validation that information out there is incorrect or that statements out there are incorrect, so --

QUESTION: Sorry, what is a validation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, more often than not it is a clarification from a participant that there are statements out there that are incorrect from either side.

QUESTION: You mean they call you and say not, “We’re really upset that someone on X side did – someone on the other side said something”? They say, “We’re really upset because what that person said was wrong”?

MS. PSAKI: Well, no, there’s – my point is there’s a range of reports. Obviously, Ambassador Indyk and others are in close contact with officials.

QUESTION: Well, let me --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Let me put it this way.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Has Ambassador Indyk or any of his team felt the need to reprimand either side for leaks?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Matt. But I haven’t had that conversation with them.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: For her to tell us that, she would be leaking. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well --

MS. PSAKI: It’s a risky web.

QUESTION: I have a Benghazi question.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I think it’s been asked before, but I’m going to ask one more time.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Who made the policy decision at the State Department to have a permanent presence in Benghazi, with what many would argue is inadequate security?

MS. PSAKI: Who made the decision? I don’t have that history for you. I’m happy to look into it further.

QUESTION: By the way, you have any comment on the explosion today by the – in Benghazi?

MS. PSAKI: In Libya?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. I do, Said. Thank you for your patience here.

We have seen, of course, the reports of a car bomb causing damage to several buildings, including a Libyan foreign ministry building in Benghazi. We condemn this violent act as it threatens to undermine Libya’s democratic transition, as well as the legacy of Libya’s revolution, in which the Libyan people made their voices heard through peaceful means. We can also confirm that no chief of mission personnel were of course in the area of the explosion.

One piece I just wanted to add while we were on this topic, that of course today is a challenging day for the State Department. This morning the Secretary sent a note to all State Department staff in Washington and around the world that read in part: “For all of us, September 11th is much more than another day on a calendar or another anniversary. Seeing American flags flying at half-staff brings back powerful and haunting memories of loved ones, friends and colleagues lost on two awful days – last year and 12 years ago – that remind us in searing ways just how complicated and dangerous a world we live in. While the flags fly low, they still fly proudly, an equally important reminder of the enduring work of this enterprise and our nation’s resolve to make peace and bring light into the darkness.”

QUESTION: Do you draw any connection --

QUESTION: So on the anniversary, the – some members of Congress are complaining or are – and threatening to issue subpoenas saying that the Administration is continuing to withhold documents and witnesses. Do you have – I presume that you’ve seen the letter that Speaker Boehner sent to the Secretary?

MS. PSAKI: I know there was a letter from Chairman Issa. I’m not familiar with the Speaker --

QUESTION: There was one today --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- from him, and one yesterday, I think, from Chairman Issa.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. We haven’t responded yet. As you know, we --

QUESTION: Have you gotten them?

MS. PSAKI: I would have to check on the Boehner letter.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: We did receive the Issa letter.

QUESTION: Can you address the complaints that were made therein?

MS. PSAKI: And I haven’t – I don’t have it specifically in front of me, but if you repeat to me the complaints here, I can do my best to respond.

QUESTION: Unfortunately, I don’t have it in front of me either. But I believe that it is – this is a complaint that has been made before that you have not been forthcoming with making people available, allowing survivors to testify to the committee, and that certain – they have not yet gotten certain documents. Are those valid complaints?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can say we’re not preventing – as we have said, as many of my colleagues have said from this podium before – any employees who wish to tell their story from doing so. The ARB interviewed the five RSOs who were in Benghazi the night of the attack, along with more than a hundred other individuals who were on the ground in Tripoli or in Washington. Both the unclassified and classified versions of the Accountability Review Board reflect the input of people on the ground in Benghazi and Tripoli.

I also know that there is – this is a separate question – but in terms of our participation, that there is a hearing next week where Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen will also be testifying. We’ve consistently supported their willingness to appear in public hearings, and are pleased that they will finally be given that opportunity.

QUESTION: Right, but what about – but – so the complaints specifically that survivors of the attack who were interviewed by the FBI and then interviewed by the ARB --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- are not being allowed to testify is incorrect?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we believe, based on the information available to us, that interviews of these individuals outside of the criminal justice process would pose risks that could jeopardize the law enforcement efforts. And should, in addition --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: Should their identities become public, they may become targets, putting their lives as well as those of their families and the people they protect at risk. And based on that information, the agents requested have not spoken publicly.

QUESTION: Right. And you can say that, and at the same time with a straight face say you’re not preventing anyone from testifying?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think those are some very important reasons as to why they have not.

QUESTION: Well, the reason is, in fact – I mean, it might – it’s certainly relevant, but I mean – but you can’t say that you’re not preventing people from testifying on one hand and then say that you are preventing people from testifying because you think that if their identities became public there would be security problems, and there’s an ongoing law enforcement investigation.

So in fact, there is truth to the complaint from the chairman that people have not been made available.

MS. PSAKI: Well, that implies an interest from any of the individuals he’s requested in participating.

QUESTION: So --

MS. PSAKI: But beyond that, I don’t have anything more specific on that, but that’s his accusation.

QUESTION: Well, then – so you’re saying that people – that these people are not testifying because they don’t want to?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more specific on it. But I’m conveying to you why it did not – does not make sense for them to testify, and those reasons are very important in the context here.

QUESTION: Okay. But do you see the contradiction here? When he complains that you are not making people available to him, and you say that that’s not true – you are – but then you say that, in fact, people are not being made available, that’s a problem. It doesn’t make sense.

MS. PSAKI: Well, what I would say to him is we don’t understand why anyone would want to do anything that would jeopardize the process.

QUESTION: Okay, but it is factually correct, though, then, that the State Department or that the Administration is preventing people, specifically the survivors of the attack, from testifying, right?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything --

QUESTION: For whatever reason --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything --

QUESTION: I’m not asking a reason; it’s just true, right?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, the context here is very important.

QUESTION: I understand that the context is --

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

QUESTION: Yeah, context is always very important. I agree. But the fact of the matter is that he’s complaining about something that he is – whether he is – his complaint is – the context – I agree the context is important, but the facts of the matter are that he is right when he says that these people are not being allowed to speak before his committee, right?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, we have received his letter.

QUESTION: Yes. All right.

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we will consider responding to it, but the context of why is very important.

QUESTION: Can we go to something else?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Have Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov spoken today?

MS. PSAKI: They have. I don’t have any more details on it. It was right before I came down here.

QUESTION: Can you get us a readout on it?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Great. Thanks --

QUESTION: Wait, wait.

MS. PSAKI: Oh.

QUESTION: I got one more. It’s non-controversial, I don’t think.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Your birthday was earlier this week.

QUESTION: Yes, it was.

MS. PSAKI: Should we sing?

QUESTION: No, please. (Laughter.) I’m trying to forget it --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- all happened. It was a good birthday, though. Thank you.

Amir Hekmati.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: There were reports that he sent a letter --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- or somehow managed to get a letter to Secretary Kerry from his jail cell in Iran, and in it he says – well, one, has the Secretary gotten – has this letter made its way to the Secretary? Has he seen it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me say first we are, of course, aware of the letter, and his family believes he is the author, as they have said. We received a copy of the letter from the family, so they shared it with us.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. So you do have it, and he has seen it?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: That’s question one. And question two is: He says in this letter, apparently, that the Iranians are interested in some kind of prisoner exchange; that’s why they continue to hold him.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have – does the building, does anyone in the government have any reason to believe that this is the case? Have the Iranians contacted you and said that they would be interested in exchanging someone for him?

MS. PSAKI: We have not had any communication with Iran on the issue of a prisoner exchange.

QUESTION: But your – but you continue to have contact with the Iranians on the whole idea of getting him --

MS. PSAKI: On the issue, yes.

QUESTION: -- and the others released?

MS. PSAKI: We have a – we again ask, and I’ll – and of course again today – Iranian authorities to permit a visit by officials of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran to determine the well-being of Mr. Hekmati and, of course, to release him. And we are also deeply concerned about two other U.S. citizens who are detained or went missing in Iran, Saeed Abedini and Robert Levinson. So we remain working through our protecting power to make that request.

QUESTION: Sorry, you said that was also – that was again presented today, or did I misunderstand?

MS. PSAKI: No, I’m just again calling for it.

QUESTION: Okay. Just – great. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:35 p.m.)

DPB # 151

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - September 11, 2013]