Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 20, 2013


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Ongoing AUSMIN meetings at State Department / Agenda
  • EGYPT
    • U.S. Condemnation of Attack in Sinai Peninsula
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Secretary's Capitol Hill Testimony on Disability Treaty
  • IRAN
    • Negotiations Ongoing
    • Core Sanctions not Impacted / Nothing Agreed Regarding Final Numbers
    • Comments by Supreme Leader / Remain Focused on moving all sides forward
    • No Country has Right to Enrich / Article 4 of NPT / Programs Judged Case-by-case
    • Progress on the Ground in Geneva
    • Sanctions / First Steps
    • Focus on Achieving a Resolution to Intl. Concerns with Iran's Nuclear Program
    • Geneva / Secretary Kerry's Travel Plans
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Draft BSA/ More Final Version to Come
    • Communication with Afghan Leadership
    • Ongoing development /Progress on BSA
    • U.S. Addressing Past Concerns / Assurance of U.S. Commitment to Afghan Security
    • Loya Jirga
  • GUANTANAMO
    • President Commitment to Closing Guantanamo / Periodic Review Board
  • VENEZUELA
    • Decree Powers Granted to Maduro / U.S. Concerns
  • NORTH KOREA
    • Reports of Detained American Citizen
    • North Korea Travel Warning
  • CHINA
    • Ambassador Locke to Step Down
  • IRELAND
    • U.S.-Ireland Relations
  • MOROCCO
    • Strong and Strategic Relationships / Shared Goals Throughout Middle East
    • King Mohammed of Morocco to Visit White House / King's Meeting with Secretary Kerry


TRANSCRIPT:

1:06 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.  I just have three quick items for all of you at the top.  The first is I know some of you asked yesterday about the Secretary’s meetings as well as Secretary Hagel’s meetings with the Australians today.  So let me give you a brief overview of that, and as you know, there will be a press avail and statements by both of them in the next couple of hours.

So Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will meet with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Defence Minister David Johnston – well, the meetings are ongoing, I should say – for annual consultations at the Australia-U.S. Ministerial at the U.S. – at – today, it’s the State Department.  AUSMIN is the principal forum for bilateral consultations between the United States and Australia.  These meetings provide an opportunity to discuss ways in which our two countries can expand and deepen alliance cooperation in the Asia Pacific region, and issues affecting global security.

At the conclusion of today’s discussion, Secretaries Kerry and Hagel will join Ministers Bishop and Johnston for the signing of a statement of principles that affirms the shared intent to promote and expand defense and security cooperation and furtherance of the mutual commitment to a stable and peaceful Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean region, and as I mentioned, to be followed by a joint press conference.

Also today, the United States – we want to strongly condemn today’s terrorist attack near El-Arish in the Sinai Peninsula that killed at least 10 Egyptian soldiers and wounded dozens more.  We extend our condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and wish a speedy recovery to those injured.  We support the interim Egyptian Government and its thorough investigation into this and all attacks that have occurred in the Sinai and all over the country, and to bring those responsible to justice.  We also reiterate our call against any use of violence which hurts all Egyptians and further harms Egypt’s economy and the country’s efforts to move forward on implementing the roadmap toward a democratically elected, inclusive, civilian government. 

And one more item – busy day today – as you may know, tomorrow the Secretary will be going to Capitol Hill where he will be testifying on the Disabilities Treaty.  He’s been a longtime champion of the rights of persons with disabilities and an advocate for ratification of this treaty.  Having chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last year, he looks forward to returning tomorrow. 

Ratifying the treaty would carry forward the legacy of American leadership on disabilities rights and promote core American values such as nondiscrimination, inclusion, accessibility, and human dignity.  It would enhance our ability to influence other countries to adopt disability laws and practices that rise to the high standards the United States already has in place.  It would expand opportunities for Americans with disabilities who wish to serve, study, work, or travel overseas, including veterans and wounded warriors.  It will create new markets for innovative American products and create economic opportunities by promoting accessibility and a level playing field for American businesses and hardworking people with disabilities – doing all of these things without requiring changes to U.S. law or resulting in new financial burdens. 

So with that, Deb, what’s on your mind?

QUESTION:  I had two questions on Iran to start.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  The Supreme Leader is calling Israel the rabid dog of the region, and the French President has said that that’s not very helpful to the talks.  Do you agree with him? 

And secondly, we have congressional aides – officials talking about the amount of sanctions that – relief that the Iranians are being offered, and it’s in the range of 6 to 10.  Now I know that a senior Administration official told us that it was way south of whatever it was – 15, 20, 30, 40, 50.  So we’re wondering – and they were calling the estimates wildly exaggerated – so we were wondering if the 6 to 10 is wildly exaggerated as well, or if that’s in the range.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, let me address the second question, just since it’s top of my mind.  We’re not going to get into specifics.  We did say, of course, and I would reiterate that many of the numbers that were out there were wildly exaggerated and inaccurate.  We have been briefing members of Congress.  One of the important components of this is also that the core sanctions, as you know, would not be impacted.  What we’re talking about is sanctions beyond that, and that any sanctions relief would be comparable and would be in line with or at the same time as significant steps the Iranians would have to take.  So nothing has been agreed to, as you know, because if we had, we would have an agreement, and also that any sanctions are reversible. 

So obviously, these negotiations are ongoing, not only to protect the sanctity of the negotiations, but because numbers aren’t final yet, we’re not going to confirm or speak to different numbers that have been reported out there.

QUESTION:  But these aren’t wildly exaggerated, are they?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think I said 40 to 50.  I don’t have any characterization for this.  Obviously, they’re different from 40 to 50, but I don’t have any specific commentary on the numbers that have been out there beyond what I just said.

And your first question was on the comments of the Supreme Leader.  I think at this point in the negotiations, things are certainly sensitive, and certainly we are focused on moving all sides towards a successful outcome.  Certainly, you’re all familiar with how we feel about Israel – they’re our close ally, a close friend, we are very focused on their security – one of the reasons that we’re so committed to these talks.  Obviously, comments like these are not helpful, but we still believe that both sides are negotiating in good faith.  We still believe that we’re closer than we were going into Geneva, and we still feel that we have an opportunity to move forward on a diplomatic path with the Iranians, and I would feel pretty confident in saying that the other P5+1 members feel the same way.

QUESTION:  Any readout from the beginning of the talks?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything specific.  I know there’ll be some briefings on the ground there, so – that may be ongoing now, so I would point you to that.

QUESTION:  Is there a feeling, perhaps, that the comments from the Supreme Leader were directed more at his domestic audience, rather than an international audience?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t know that I have a particular analysis other than to say what we’ve said before, which is that we know that there are difficult politics in Iran, that moving toward an agreement is not easy, politically, on their end.  So beyond that, I don’t have anything specific on the comments.

QUESTION:  And it seems that some of the Iranians are tweeting today that, again, the issue of the right to enrich is apparently one that is a stumbling block at the moment this morning.  I do know that at a briefing last week, on background, a senior State Department official believed that that language could actually be navigated in any agreement.  Could you perhaps clarify what that might have meant?

MS. PSAKI:  I’d have to look more closely.  I’m not sure what those – the context of those comments were.  As we talked a little bit about yesterday, we still do not believe that Iran or any country has the right to enrich.  I know we talked about this a little bit yesterday, but to give you a little more context here, Article 4 of the NPT does not use the word "enrichment" and does not give or take away the potential for enrichment.

Obviously, enrichment is a big factor here, and the ongoing enrichment by the Iranians is of great concern.  It’s one of the reasons why we’re here.  But certainly, we don’t believe there is a right to enrich, and that’s not something that we would support being a part of language given our belief of that.

QUESTION:  But do you believe there is a way around it, there is a way around an agreement in which you could come out of it saying that the P5+1 has not ensured any kind of right to enrich, but the Iranians could also come out of it saying that they believe they’re still being given that right to enrich?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t want to get too far ahead.  The important context here is also that while no country has the right to enrich, many countries have enrichment programs, right?  So the international community looks at, as we are in these cases, what those programs are for, why the country needs it.  Each program is judged case by case. 

As we’ve said, and I know maybe in the same briefing, a senior official said it’s not – we have long believed that Iran could have a peaceful program, but certainly, the development of a nuclear weapon is of great concern.  And halting the progress and rolling the progress back on that front and the capacity to do that and the onus to do that is what the focus is. 

Go ahead.  Jill, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Jen, it’s something that I think might be taken care of, but that initial meeting was pretty short, five to ten minutes.  Anything we should read into that, or --

MS. PSAKI:  On the ground in Geneva?

QUESTION:  Mm-hmm.

MS. PSAKI:  I would point you – I would not read into anything.  Obviously, there’s going to be ongoing meetings for the next couple of days with a range of officials.  As you remember, last time, there were so many meetings and so many updates I think it was probably hard for all of you to keep up with.  So we’re just at the beginning here.  I know there will be briefings on the ground, and I would really point you to that in terms of the progress.

QUESTION:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Is there an actual agreement on the table, though, there’s a draft agreement on the table at the moment?  Is that correct in saying that?

MS. PSAKI:  That’s how we left Geneva, absolutely, yes.

QUESTION:  Can you explain what do you mean when you say sanctions will be reversible?  I mean, if you release the assets on – I don’t know how much, up to 30 billion – and the Iranian takes the money, are you going to ask for this money back?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, without getting into too much detail about what’s under consideration, we wouldn’t be eliminating the sanctions.  It’s not retirement of sanctions.  It’s almost putting them on hold – a small portion of them – while we have this first step.  And as you know, the first step would be six months.  Through that period, the goal would be the agreement on a comprehensive – moving towards a comprehensive agreement.  And certainly, the Iranians would have to abide by the pieces they would agree to as well.

QUESTION:  But if they get the assets and they don’t deliver what they promise, will – they will benefit from the money, right?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, I’m not going to get into too many details about what would or wouldn’t be a part of a first step, other than to say that it’s not the retirement of sanctions.  It would be a holding.  And obviously, both sides would take steps in order to move down a diplomatic path.

QUESTION:  Jen?

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Iranian Deputy Roads and Urban Development Minister has said today that Iran is making preparations for direct flights to and from the United States.  He added, "The required preparations have been made and if negotiations in the coming days move in a positive direction, we will be ready by the end of this year."

Are there talks with the Iranians about this issue?

MS. PSAKI:  No.  The talk right now is on the nuclear issue.  As you know, there are many details of that.  It’s a complicated issue.  It certainly is plenty to take on.  We have, of course, seen the media reports that you referenced.  Our focus at this time is on finding a resolution to the international community’s concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program, and that’s what the discussion is about at this point.

QUESTION:  And do you mean that his statement is baseless and there is nothing there – disregard?

MS. PSAKI:  That’s – I think I will let you report in the way – I will point to the words I just used and convey to you that the focus of the discussions is on the nuclear issue, so I would caution you to reading into other comments made.

QUESTION:  Change of subject here?

MS. PSAKI:  Are there any more on Iran?

QUESTION:  I’m wondering if you’ve seen the YouTube video that Minister Zarif has posted, and if you have a comment on this video, if it’s helpful or not or --

MS. PSAKI:  I have seen the video.  Obviously, just as we communicate and the President communicates and Secretary Kerry communicates in terms of why we feel this is the appropriate path forward, they certainly are doing that on our – on their end.  So beyond that, I don't know that I have more analysis other than to convey it seems that they’re using many forms of media to do just that.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI:  Any more on Iran?  Just --

QUESTION:  One more?

MS. PSAKI:  And then we’ll go to you after that.

QUESTION:  Russian Foreign Minister is going to Geneva, it looks, on Friday.  Is Secretary Kerry planning to go?

MS. PSAKI:  We still – as I’ve said before, he’s open to going if it would continue to help narrow the gaps.  He has not made a decision at this point to go, but obviously, we’re in close touch with the negotiating team and will make a decision, clearly, in the next 36 hours here.  So we’ll keep you updated.

Lesley.

QUESTION:  On Afghanistan, the Afghan Government has posted on its website a – what they call a preamble on the agreement – the defense agreement between – too.  Is this a true copy of an agreement?  Is there still something being worked out?  Is it just a draft?  And how close are you?  If not, if this isn’t – if this is --

MS. PSAKI:  I wish I had a pen to write things down here.  So – (laughter) --

QUESTION:  Me too. 

MS. PSAKI:  I know this just happened, as I understand it.  Our team is, of course, reviewing the text that’s been posted.  As I understand it, it’s listed as a draft in the text.  One thing to preface for all of you – and obviously, we’ll give you an update as we naturally review the text and make sure it meets many of the agreed-upon language over the past couple of days – but as we said yesterday, there was still a discussion yesterday, as there continues to be, about the final details and the final language.  We did not expect that every piece would be reflected in whatever was initially posted, so we’re reviewing the text with that in mind.  And I would expect that there’s still a more final version to come.

QUESTION:  And I understand that the Secretary and the President Karzai were going to have a phone call today.  Has that happened?

MS. PSAKI:  It has.  They spoke this morning.  They spoke yesterday, as you know.  They spoke again this morning.  They agreed, as they did yesterday, that it’s in the best interest of both the United States and Afghanistan to move toward an agreement on the BSA.  And the Secretary also reiterated our commitment to helping provide the appropriate assurances as we reach the final hours before the Loya Jirga considers the agreement, which, as you know, I think happens in the next several hours given the time change.

QUESTION:  So I just want to be clear:  Is this copy that was posted – it’s a draft and the U.S. is reviewing it right now?

MS. PSAKI:  Correct.

QUESTION:  Could there be changes to it?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, what I was trying to convey is that given that the last 24 hours there have been ongoing discussion about some final language, we didn’t expect that the first version would reflect everything, given we’re keeping up with the discussions in terms of the draft.  So I think that’s probably why it’s posted, reflects the label "draft" on it and --

QUESTION:  Yeah.

MS. PSAKI:  -- we’re reviewing it and of course we can provide you any update as soon as our team is complete with that.

QUESTION:  So as you know – sorry – as you know, these drafts go --

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  -- as you mentioned yesterday – would this be the first draft or do you think that this is one of the latest?  It says November.

MS. PSAKI:  I certainly think it’s safe – I haven’t looked at it.  Our team is reviewing it.  So obviously, we are getting closer, and our team is of course working through the text.  We continued to make progress over the last 24 hours, but I just want to give them the opportunity to take a look at it.  And obviously we’re keeping the text up with the discussions between the Secretary and the President and our team on the ground as well.

QUESTION:  And I’m sorry.  Just one other one.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  The issue of the letter.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Yesterday, Susan Rice said there was no such agreement.  Is there going to be a letter?  Who would write it, and during the conversation today, was that clarified with President Karzai?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, let me give you a little more context of this.  I know there were a lot of confusing reports, and I would encourage anybody to look at the full context of Susan Rice’s interview as well because she spoke quite a bit about Afghanistan during the interview. 

During the call – the Secretary – Secretary Kerry and President Karzai have a long working relationship, as we’ve talked many times before.  The Secretary acknowledges, as they both did, that it’s important to move forward on these negotiations; that of course they’ve been difficult, there are tough issues, and we’re committed to working through them together.  While President Karzai invited him to attend the Loya Jirga, that’s not something he, of course, can do this week, but the Secretary offered the idea of – or providing the same reassurances about our security relationship and addressing past issues such as civilian casualties, which we’ve talked about many times in the past, in some format.  Now whether that’s a letter or comes in another format, that’s something we’re still discussing and I don’t have any update on it for you at this point.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Ambassador Rice used the word "apology" in knocking down the suggestion that there would be any U.S. statement of that – at that level.  What would then be the point of a letter from the Obama Administration if it were to be read at the beginning of tomorrow’s Loya Jirga?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, to be clear – and I think this also reflects what our counterparts in Afghanistan said – nobody asked for an apology.  So it was a – it was perhaps a game of telephone that ended in that assumption.  This was a discussion of how to reassure the Afghans, as President Karzai goes to the Loya Jirga, about the United States’ commitment to our security relationship and to also address, as we have many times before, issues like civilian casualties.  So what we’ll include – be included in the – in a letter or some reassurance, I don’t have any update on that, given that’s still being worked through.

QUESTION:  But would that letter come from the President?  Would it come from Secretary Kerry?  Would it be just a fax over the transom?  What would --

MS. PSAKI:  A fax over the transom? 

QUESTION:  You never know.

MS. PSAKI:  I’m going to suggest that.  At this point I don’t have an update yet on how – what format – what form a reassurance would take.  Obviously, it started, as you know, with an invitation to the Loya Jirga.  There was suggestion of a letter.  Whether there’s a letter and who it’s from, we’re still working through that.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And assurance – I mean, assurance on what, exactly?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, our commitment to and the importance of our relationship to – with Afghanistan and the security of Afghanistan.  And as you know, as we think about our post-2014 plans, we still have in mind a commitment to training, advising, and assisting.  Obviously, as you know, there isn’t – hasn’t been a decision made about troop presence, but that’s how we’ve discussed our post-presence; it’s reassuring that commitment, and also, as I mentioned, acknowledging past issues such as civilian casualties.

QUESTION:  I don’t quite understand how that would differ from what’s actually going to be in the draft – put in the agreement.  I mean, surely all those sorts of things are in the agreement anyway.  Why do you need an extra document on top?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Jo, I mean, I think given – it’s important to the Secretary and to the President and to the entire Administration for us to have a successful outcome – just as important to the Afghans.  And whatever is needed, to the degree it’s – we’re able to provide that, is what the discussion is.  So how can we provide the reassurances?  Is there another way to do that beyond the text of the BSA?  And that’s what we’re discussing.

QUESTION:  Is this is a cultural expression?  Is this something that would be expected at the beginning of a Loya Jirga when you’re dealing with something of this magnitude – to have the opposing party, as it were, to offer something in the way of an olive branch?

MS. PSAKI:  That’s a good question.  I’d point you to the Afghans on that certainly in terms of the format and the agenda for the Loya Jirga and how they would want something expressed.

QUESTION:  And are you hearing any rumors – we’re hearing rumors in Kabul that there’s a possibility the Loya Jirga might actually be postponed.

MS. PSAKI:  I have not heard those.  Certainly, we’d refer to the Afghans on the timing of the Loya Jirga.  Obviously, they’ve put out the timing and – but I don’t have any update beyond that.

QUESTION:  I just wondered whether – because obviously Secretary Kerry can’t travel this week – whether they might be putting it off in the hopes that he might be able to get there at a date yet to be determined.

MS. PSAKI:  I have not heard that suggestion, but again I’d point you to that and the timing of when they expect it to start.

QUESTION:  So he – at the moment, Secretary Kerry doesn’t have plans to attend the Loya Jirga at all?

MS. PSAKI:  Correct.  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Is the Secretary --

QUESTION:  Karzai asked --

MS. PSAKI:  One second.  We’ll go right to you next, Lalit.

QUESTION:  Did Karzai say why he needed the assurances?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t want to characterize beyond what I’ve already conveyed.  I think that they have long had discussions about how challenging these negotiations have been.  It’s certainly not a surprise that it’s hard in Afghanistan to move the process forward, and that was the nature of the discussion. 

QUESTION:  So he maybe indicated that this would help him win over the Jirga folks?

MS. PSAKI:  I would point you to his team, and they can characterize anything further on the discussion.  I wouldn’t want to characterize on their behalf. 

Lalit. 

QUESTION:  Is the Secretary planning to send someone on his behalf to attend the Loya Jirga?

MS. PSAKI:  I know this was a good question asked yesterday, too.  I don’t have any update on it at this point.  We, of course, respect the process, and I’m happy to check with the team and see if there’s anything new to tell all of you on it. 

QUESTION:  And isn’t the entire discussion on assurances is reflective of the trust deficit between the U.S. and President Karzai? 

MS. PSAKI:  I would not characterize it that way. 

QUESTION:  Why not? 

MS. PSAKI:  I think I would go back to what I said earlier, which is that this is – this has been a challenging negotiation.  It’s been a long process.  We’re near the finish line.  It’s natural at this point that we’d be working through final issues, and it’s in the interests of both the United States and Afghanistan to come to an agreement on the BSA.  So, certainly a discussion of how we can do that and if there are ways we can do that together is natural for this point in the process. 

I’m going to have to go soon because of the press avail, so let’s get to other – are there any more on Afghanistan? 

Okay.  Go ahead in the back.  I’ll go to you next, Roz. 

QUESTION:  Two issues raised with the draft – quote, unquote "draft" what was released yesterday – and we are – I’m trying to figure out, is --  

MS. PSAKI:  The draft BSA that was just posted, or a different --

QUESTION:  The one the NBC talking about it, NBC News. 

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  I think that was an earlier – another draft, if I were to guess, but --

QUESTION:  Okay.  I’m not talking about the chronology. 

MS. PSAKI:  Okay. 

QUESTION:  I’m talking about two issues raised, which is the commitment, U.S. commitment, which was set to at least 2024 --  

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  -- or the other one, which was the number of the soldiers, I mean, which is like from 7- to 8,000, or maybe the – Afghan is asking for more.  Is this issue still a disputable issues or negotiate? 

MS. PSAKI:  It’s an issue that is not going to be addressed in the BSA in terms of the ongoing troop presence in Afghanistan.  Obviously, we have said – we have long said that we need to have an agreement on the BSA in order to move forward, but that’s a decision that President Obama would make.  And when he makes a decision, I am sure we will announce that to all of you. 

Oh, I promised Roz I’d go to her next.  Go ahead, Roz.

QUESTION:  Changing topic very quickly, the first Periodic Review Board for a Guantanamo detainee is being held today, and a senior official from the State Department is among those hearing his case for possibly being released.  What is this building’s position on the effectiveness of the PRB to actually remove those people who should no longer be held at Guantanamo?

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm. 

QUESTION:  There is some suspicion that this is all part of a dog-and-pony show, because the President has long been committed to trying to close Guantanamo but doesn’t have the legal authority to do so.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, you’re absolutely right; the President is committed to closing Guantanamo, and he’s reiterated that as recently as a couple of months ago.  He signed two executive orders on Guantanamo:  One was to close it; and the second one was the creation of the Periodic Review Board.  And the process of the Periodic Review Board is reviewing whether continued detention of Guantanamo detainees is necessary to mitigate a continuing significant threat to the national security of the United States.  So that is the primary – a primary objective of the review board.  And absolutely, the members of the review board and those reviewing the cases look at the cases with that objective in mind.  So I would assure you that that is how they’re reviewing the cases. 

QUESTION:  And is there an expectation or is there any pressure within the Administration to try to transfer as many of the men who are being held at Guantanamo via this process as possible, or is it simply going to come down to what are the current facts concerning each man who goes before this panel?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, certainly, the review board considers the facts of each individual case, and that’s how they look at them.  That doesn’t change the fact that the President and his team, including Cliff Sloan, who, as you know, is running point for us at the State Department, are absolutely committed to moving the process forward in transferring detainees, and of course, moving to closing Guantanamo. 

QUESTION:  Can we go to East Asia? 

Okay, a couple.  Okay.  Let’s go to Scott in the back, and then we’ll go over here.  Okay. 

QUESTION:  Venezuela – the Venezuelan President Maduro has an Enabling Act that now enables him to rule for the next 12 months without consulting the legislature.

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm. 

QUESTION:  Does the Obama Administration have a view on that? 

MS. PSAKI:  We certainly do.  We are concerned that the Venezuelan National Assembly has granted decree powers to President Maduro for the next 12 months.  It is important for the institutions of democratic governance to serve their appropriate and assigned roles, and of course we believe the separation of powers and the presence of independent branches of governments are essential elements of democracy.

As you may know, it’s constitutionally allowed in Venezuela, but that doesn’t make it okay, because we feel, of course, it’s essentially important for the people to have a voice in any country, in any decision-making process.  And that’s why the separation of powers is so important. 

QUESTION:  North Korea? 

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm. 

QUESTION:  There are some reports that American citizen Merrill Newman has been detained in North Korea, I think last month.  Can you confirm that?  Do you have any more information? 

And also, the Travel Warning for North Korea was updated yesterday.  Is that in response to his detention? 

MS. PSAKI:  So, I cannot confirm – I cannot provide you any specific details, given the Privacy Act, on the case that you referenced.  What I can tell you about the Travel Warning is that, as you know, they are periodically updated, every six months typically, but sometimes they’re updated in between that timeframe.  In this case, and in any case, they’re updated when new information comes – becomes available.  But it’s never based on a single case.  It’s based on a review and evaluation of security and comprehensive review of what information needs to be provided to American citizens.  So in this specific case, the Travel Warning was updated to recommend against all travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea and also included a line that – which reflects recent events, of course, not a single case but recent events, that we have also received reports of North Korean authorities arbitrarily detaining U.S. citizens and not allowing them to depart the country.

QUESTION:  I understand the Privacy Act issue, so maybe I’ll phrase this a little bit differently.  Was a U.S. citizen detained last month in North Korea?

MS. PSAKI:  I just can’t provide any further information at this point.  Obviously, we’ve seen the reports.  As you know, the protection of citizens overseas is one of our top priorities, but we don’t have any further info that we can provide at this point.

QUESTION:  Jen, could you please --

QUESTION:  Could I stay on that topic for a second?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  The Travel Warning that was just referenced that you sent out says that the North Koreans are required to provide the U.S. with information about a citizen who’s detained within four days through the Swedes, because obviously --

MS. PSAKI:  They’re our protecting power, yes.

QUESTION:  Yep.  So was that not the case in this instance or --

MS. PSAKI:  I’d have to check if that – if information changed.  Are you asking if this is new information in the Travel Warning or --

QUESTION:  No, no.  Because if this did happen last month, as was reported, then under the interim consular agreement with the DPRK, then you would have found out about if they had abided by that rule.

MS. PSAKI:  But my comments aren’t reflective of what we may know or not know.  They’re reflective on what we can confirm or not confirm based on the Privacy Act.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Jen, could you please (inaudible)?  Are you saying you can’t confirm that an American was detained, or that you have no details on it?  I mean, I haven’t heard you refer to it quite as murkily as that before.

MS. PSAKI:  I just don’t have any more details on the specific reports and this specific case.  I’m happy to check back with our team and see if there’s more to provide.  And obviously, as you know, we’re in close touch with our Swiss[1] protecting powers about any incidents that are reported or otherwise.

QUESTION:  Jen --

QUESTION:  Jen, would you please shed light on Ambassador Locke, Gary Locke’s, departure?

MS. PSAKI:  Departure?  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Resignation.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Well, as he noted, I believe in a statement from the Embassy, he has conveyed that he will step down in early 2014 to rejoin his family in Seattle.  Throughout his successful tenure, Ambassador Locke devoted enormous personal energy to opening Chinese markets to American companies, promoting Chinese tourism and business travel to the United States, and advocating greater respect for human rights.  Under his leadership, the growth of American exports to China averaged two times the growth of U.S. exports to the rest of the world, and the value of Chinese investment in the United States increased significantly.  As you know, he was Secretary of Commerce prior to his position as Ambassador to China and certainly has done significant service as a public servant to the United States.

I can only do about two more here, so let me just get around here.

QUESTION:  What’s the reason?  Could you please defuse some rumors regarding his resignation?  Some said it’s air pollution or family matters or to pursue his career --

MS. PSAKI:  Well, as he stated in his public comment, he made clear that he had made a decision and told the White House earlier this year about his plans to step down.  He’s been there for two and a half years, I believe.  And his family is back in Seattle, so he’s rejoining them, and I wouldn’t read into it any further than that.

QUESTION:  Jen --

QUESTION:  He was appointed after Ambassador Huntsman stepped down, also after only a couple of years in the post.

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Does this suggest or does it mean that it’s a difficult post, and what does this say about the state of the U.S.-China relationship?  Is it difficult to maintain those relationships on an even keel if your ambassadors keep stepping down after a couple of years?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, he’s been there for two and a half years.  Sometimes people stay three years, sometimes four, sometimes two years.  So he has young children.  He made a decision and his family made a decision to return to Seattle.  He’s rejoining them.  I certainly don’t think it reflects anything upon our relationship with China at all, and I’m sure that there will be a process that will be underway to determine an appropriate and qualified and talented replacement.

QUESTION:  Have you asked him to stay longer?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything more for you, I don’t think, on Ambassador Locke.  So let’s just get to maybe two more here --

QUESTION:  Jen --

MS. PSAKI:  -- and then I have to go.  Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  I wanted to ask in relation to Ireland and the – it’s been almost a year since the Ambassador Dan Rooney stood down.

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  And it’s unprecedented in the modern era for a delay in the appointment of a U.S. Ambassador to Ireland.  I’m just wondering, could you comment on the reasons for that?  And also, is this reflective of a change, a change in foreign policy, a change in the relationship between the two countries in foreign policy priority for – of Ireland for the U.S.? 

MS. PSAKI:  Absolutely not.  I’d be personally outraged as an Irish American myself.  This is – there’s always a process underway to find appropriate and qualified and talented replacements for ambassadorships around the world.  This is a process done at the White House, so I’d point you to them for any specific update.

Let me just do one more here, and we’ll go to you because you haven’t had a question.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  In the light of the visit of King Mohammed, Morocco’s King --

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  -- to D.C. tomorrow, how worried is the U.S. that current tensions with Saudi Arabia affect U.S. relations with other Arab monarchies in the region, particularly Jordan?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, there’s a lot in that question, so let me do the best I can.  As you know, Secretary Kerry was in Saudi Arabia just about 10 days ago.  While he was there, he reaffirmed with the Foreign Minister and with – through a lengthy meeting with the King the importance of our strong partnership, our strategic relationship, and the fact that we have shared goals on important issues in the region that matter, whether that’s bringing an end to the civil war in Syria or having a strong and vital Egypt moving forward, or even an agreement on direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  There have been times of disagreement on tactics, and they certainly discuss that.  But I would assure you that our relationship is strong and vibrant as it’s ever been.

You mentioned the visit of King Mohammed to the – Washington.  As the White House has announced, President Obama will be hosting King Mohammed of Morocco at the White House on Friday.  The visit will highlight the longstanding friendship between the United States and Morocco and strengthen our strategic partnership.  The Secretary will also be meeting with the President – with King Mohammed as well.  I believe it’s later today.  So that shows you the importance of our relationship, and I know they’re both looking forward to the meeting.

Thanks, everyone.  I’m sorry, I have to go because there’s a press avail.  But hopefully you’ll all come.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:41 p.m.)

DPB #191


[1] The Swedes are our protecting power in D.P.R.K.

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - November 20, 2013]