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


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Readout of Secretary's travel to Vietnam and the Philippines
  • INDIA
    • India's Deputy Consul General / Continued Engagement / Importance of U.S.-India Relationship / Secretary's Calls / Issue of Immunity
  • SYRIA
    • Trilateral Meeting in Geneva / Iran / Participation in Geneva II / Delegation from Each Side
    • Assad / No Future for Him in the Future of Syria / U.S. Working Closely with Russians on Issues
  • ISRAEL
    • U.S. Condemns UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk's Remarks
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
    • Violence in the Region
    • Negotiations
  • RUSSIA
    • Khodorkovsky / Reports of Pardon
  • TURKEY
    • Reports of Corruption
    • Secretary's Call with Foreign Minister Davutoglu
  • IRAN
    • Expert-level Talks in Geneva
  • NORTH KOREA
    • Concern about Threats / Urge Compliance with International Obligations
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
    • Middle East Peace / Secretary's Dedication to the Issue
  • CHINA
    • Senator Baucus Nomination / Commitment to U.S.-China Relationship
  • DISCLOSURES
    • Continued Engagement on Process / Goal Remains to Strengthen Intel Gathering Processes and Relationships
  • SAUDI ARABIA
    • P5+1 / Closely Engaged with Saudi Arabia
    • Shared Goals on Iran and Syria


TRANSCRIPT:

1:25 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Hello.

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry we’re a little late today. We had intended to be earlier, but – and I will stay up here as long as you have questions until the President starts speaking, and we’ll get a signal on that.

So I just wanted to start off with one piece at the top. As you all know, yesterday Secretary Kerry returned from a highly successful and very productive trip to Vietnam and the Philippines. This was his fourth trip to the region since becoming Secretary of State. The United States is building on the commitments laid out during the first term of the Administration to modernize our alliances, expand trade and investment, strengthen regional institutions and respect for rule of law, and deepen our engagement with regional partners across the Asia Pacific.

Southeast Asia is a critical part of the Asia Pacific rebalance, and the Secretary’s visit underscored both the enduring U.S. commitment and his personal connections to the region economically, diplomatically, and strategically. This trip demonstrated that the United States has been, is, and will remain a resident and fully engaged Pacific power, and this is a long-term commitment. We released many fact sheets over the course of the last couple of days, and we’ll have a year-end review document on these issues soon in the coming days as well.

With that, Deb.

QUESTION: On India. The Indian information minister is demanding an apology for the diplomatic incident up in New York City, and he’s saying that America cannot behave atrociously and get away with it. So is an apology forthcoming?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Deb, I know when – in my absence, my colleague Marie discussed this quite a bit over the last couple of days. As you know, we are engaged and in touch with our Indian counterparts. The Secretary has had a call. Under Secretary Sherman has been engaged. And we’re continuing the conversation with our Indian counterparts privately. We’ve also put out a range of statements over the past couple of days that I would certainly point you to.

I also wanted to point you to the comments of External Affairs Minister Khurshid’s comments earlier today where he talked about the importance of U.S.-India relations, talked about how valuable they are. And we certainly fully agree that it’s important to preserve and protect our partnership. It’s not just about diplomatic ties. We have over $90 billion in bilateral trade. We’re supporting thousands of jobs in both of our countries. We share very close counterterrorism cooperation. And we are engaged with India, of course, on a range of issues, including Afghanistan, which is often a hot topic in here.

So we will continue these discussions through diplomatic channels, through private conversations. You’ve seen the range of statements we’ve put out this week. But beyond that, I don’t have any new update for you.

QUESTION: So no, not right now, right? At this moment?

MS. PSAKI: I would just point you to the fact that we’ve been very engaged in this, the Secretary’s been engaged, Under Secretary Sherman’s been engaged. We’ll continue those conversations.

QUESTION: We shouldn’t be expecting anything from Obama, for example, later today?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know the President has a press conference later today, and if he’s asked questions, I’m sure he’ll address them, but again, I would point you back to the comments from both sides about the importance of our relationship long-term and the range of issues that we work together on.

QUESTION: You were inside the plane when Secretary called India’s National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon. What was discussed? And when did the Secretary first came to know about this issue?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry, UN Secretary – can you speak --

QUESTION: You were inside the plane when Secretary called NSA – India’s NSA Shivshankar Menon.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What was really discussed? Can you give us more detail? There was a readout, of course, but can you give us more insight into it? What was Secretary’s thought process going on? And when did he first came to know about it, that this has gone – out of – blown – this has been blown out of proportion?

MS. PSAKI: Well, he – there’s not more to add beyond the readout that we put out around the time of the call. He did the call from the plane. He also – and let me mention he’s also reached out to Minister Khurshid, and we understand he was not able to be reached at the time, but he looks forward to speaking with him soon. That’s not scheduled. Obviously, we’re lining up schedules on that.

QUESTION: So you’re trying to set up just a – you’re trying to set up a phone call?

MS. PSAKI: Well, yes, but also he reached out to – we reached out to him, and I believe parliament was in session. He wasn’t able – available at the time, but he looks forward to speaking with him soon when we can align the two schedules up. So there’s not more to read out from the particular call he did, but he has received several briefings. He remains very engaged in this as it unfolds.

QUESTION: And given the kind of communication that has been happening with the two countries’ officials, the two countries, does it gives you a confidence that it will be resolved, that this political dialogue will continue? Or it’s not --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d – and I already referenced this, but I would point you to the comments of External Affairs Minister Khurshid’s earlier today, where he talked about how valuable the India-U.S. relationship is, how important it is, how we want to preserve and protect our partnership. And that’s our view, of course, as well.

QUESTION: Well, but he also said – he did an interview with us and he said that the charges should be dropped, and – I mean, you seem to be at a stalemate in the sense that, okay, I think there’s been an acknowledgement about the way that this was – the way the arrest and the processing and everything was handled. And then there’s the separate issue of the charges that are against this woman.

Now, the Indians seem to be kind of lumping this all together and saying, “Well, she was treated badly and these charges are a sham, so you should just drop the whole thing,” where it seems as if the U.S. is saying, “Look, these allegations happened, a complaint has been made, charges have been filed, it has to go through the legal courts.” How do you square that circle and just move forward with the Indians and this becomes a – put this in the past?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s accurate to say that our law enforcement authorities and the Government of India have some different interpretations of the issues and allegations at play. As you know and as Marie has referenced many times, this is now a legal case, and of course the State Department doesn’t have jurisdiction over that. And we have been clear about our standing – our position of certainly standing with our judicial colleagues. So I don’t have any particular update on that other than to say that this is a legal process that’s working its way through.

Now at the same time, to your point, we of course are closely engaged with the Government of India, we’re in close contact, and we want to move beyond this. And I think we all recognize the importance of our long-term relationship.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about possible impact on your economic and trade relationship with India? And you have already some feedback from U.S. companies, U.S. businessmen there about difficulty they could have in India, in doing business in India.

MS. PSAKI: Well, you’re right that certainly, our trade relationship is vitally important. We have a $90 billion bilateral trade partnership with India, and so that’s one of the very important components of our comprehensive partnership. I’m not aware of specific concerns or complaints addressed on that level, but it is something that we are certainly focused on, and we certainly want our relationship and all the important components to continue.

QUESTION: Could you let us know if that call takes place?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, of course, absolutely.

QUESTION: And also, has the State Department received the request from the Indian Government about the transfer of the diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, to the United Nations?

MS. PSAKI: We have not yet received an official request through the proper channels for accreditation.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on India? One piece – oh, go ahead, Catherine.

QUESTION: This was asked yesterday about the retroactive nature of immunity, if it was granted. I think ABC asked about a document that has been online that says that she would have – I guess retroactive is what we’ve been calling it, but that would apply to past crimes. Do you have any clarification further on that?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. And I know there’s lots of – it’s obviously a very complex issue, I think, given we’re all continuing to discuss it. So I want to clarify one point on immunity, because I know yesterday we talked about how retroactive immunity would not apply. It’s more legally accurate to say that the concept of retroactive immunity isn’t the right way to look at a situation like this. So if we take a step back just on the issue broadly, diplomatic immunity means, among other things, that a foreign diplomat is not subject to criminal jurisdiction in the United States for the time they are a diplomat, for the time they have that immunity. So it does not – however, when immunity is conferred, it does not retroactively take effect at a previous point in time, but relates solely to the diplomat’s current status.

So I think some of the confusion here has been if there is a change in status, does that mean that there is a clean slate from past charges? There’s not. Receiving diplomatic immunity does not nullify any previously existing criminal charges. Those remain on the books. So it just is related to – nor does obtaining diplomatic immunity protect the diplomat from prosecution indefinitely. It relates to the status for – to a diplomat’s current status for the length of the time of that status.

QUESTION: So that’s not really anything different than yesterday. Is – I’m not sure I understand what’s different.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there was – what was said yesterday is completely accurate, but I think the confusion stemmed from whether it would wipe away or provide a clean slate from past charges.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: Perhaps not for you, but perhaps for others.

QUESTION: No, right.

MS. PSAKI: And that is incorrect. The answer is no.

QUESTION: So basically it just provides her with – this new immunity would prevent her from getting arrested again, or if – so basically, it would prevent her from actually having to be subjected to the same type of --

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are certain – it would apply during the time if for instance – and this is all purely hypothetical, speculative, right, and there are a range of different options that could happen here – but for anyone, it would apply for the length of time that they have that diplomatic status. But it doesn’t retroactively wipe out past discretions.

QUESTION: So basically, she wouldn’t get – she couldn’t get rearrested. She could probably leave the country. These are the type of things that are afforded --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to speculate on that. And again, there are so many different scenarios here. I know that you all want to play them out, and we certainly try to have the best answers we can, but I don’t want to play it out to that degree. But it means that during the time of that status, if there’s a different status granted, doesn’t mean it wipes out past discretions.

QUESTION: Okay. So let’s say she does get transferred and you approve it, the UN approves it. Her diplomatic immunity becomes full as opposed to consular, okay? If she is charged again within this case on something else, then that diplomatic status then would apply, correct? Her new diplomatic status would apply?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check into that, Deb. I think that’s a few steps beyond my legal education, which is none.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: I have a few questions to get --

MS. PSAKI: Would you – go ahead, Elise.

QUESTION: He’s trying to call the external minister or the foreign minister? I’m confused.

MS. PSAKI: He’s trying to call the foreign minister.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: The external affairs minister.

MS. PSAKI: Same – it’s the same title.

QUESTION: Same thing.

QUESTION: Yes, same thing and all.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Mr. Khurshid.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you for your education for all of us.

Go.

QUESTION: Do you have some figures on the number of visas the U.S. issues every year to such kind of domestic workers – A-3 visa, let us say? And do you also have some figures on the number of complaints you receives from such domestic workers and how many diplomats’ cases have been registered – I guess this number of diplomats?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that kind of data. I’m not sure what we have available, but I’m happy to look into it and see if we have something we can provide to all of you on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Said.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Welcome back. Could you update us on the meeting in Geneva today, the trilateral meeting?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, I know that Mr. Brahimi also just had a press conference where he made some announcements, and I’d certainly point you to that. As you know, Under Secretary Sherman led our delegation. There was an announcement, of course, about invites which the UN will, of course, release the full list if they haven’t already. And I would point you to that. As you know, the issue on Iran and their participation has not been agreed to. So that discussion will continue, and I think in his remarks, Brahimi also suggested we continue that discussion.

So that’s the kind of update on what came out of the meeting and what came out of the press conference, but maybe you have a more specific question.

QUESTION: Why does Iran’s participation continue to be a problem, considering that you made it clear that they need to sort of subscribe to the Geneva I principles? And in a way, in their statement, they actually have. So what is the problem? Why is it this remains a problem?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the issue, Said, which has been consistently our view, is that all countries that will participate in Geneva II must agree to the Geneva communique. Iran has not done that. We’re not going to parse statements and say they qualify or don’t qualify. They have not agreed to the Geneva communique; that is our issue with their participation.

QUESTION: Is it conceivable to have a successful Geneva II without the participation of a country like Iran that has so much influence and so much, in fact, interference, if you want to call it that, in Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the bottom line is our concerns are about what the goals and what the understanding is of participants, about what the goal of a Geneva conference would be. And so if they have a different goal, their participation does not seem particularly helpful.

QUESTION: And finally, the statement made by a Russian official that the statements made the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, that he would run again is not helpful – would – do you consider that to be sort of closing a front that – between you and the Russians?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve certainly, of course, seen those comments. Obviously, we have long said that we share a belief with the Russians that there’s not a military solution. Only a political solution can be had here. Our view has been longstanding on President Assad and the fact that he – there is no future for him in the future of Syria. So I wouldn’t characterize it further other than to say, certainly, we’re working closely with the Russians on these issues and our views on this are well known.

QUESTION: Why do you keep saying, I mean, there is no future for him? I mean, obviously – I’m sorry, I said that was my last question, but since you raised it – there are so many minorities, the Druze, the Alawites, the Christians, that actually look to Assad as their leader. I mean, they do compose a sizable portion of the Syrian population, okay?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think as a brutal dictator who has – his actions have led to a conflict that’s resulted in over 100,000 deaths, we just don’t feel he has a future in Syria.

Elise.

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: No, wait, wait, wait.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, more on Syria?

QUESTION: Is it possible that Iran could come to this particular conference as an attendee, not a participant?

MS. PSAKI: I – again, this is something that will be discussed. It’s ongoing. A decision hasn’t been made.

QUESTION: It’s not being discussed?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into details on what is and isn’t being discussed, but just to say that Brahimi suggested the discussion continue. It will continue, and obviously this is an issue that needs to be resolved before January 22nd.

QUESTION: On Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Oh. More on Syria. Okay, we’ll go to you next. Sorry, Elise. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Regarding this point: Mr. Brahimi just kind of – he did make a timetable for the participant list --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- which is – ought to be on the – before the end of the year. Assuming that he won’t get it – that mean the conference will convene with the already participant wanted to attend it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me see if this is answering your question. I think he was referring to the delegations from both sides. I’m not sure. I’d have to look more closely if he said that all would be announced before the end of the year. He’s said before, obviously, we want to see the delegation lists sooner rather than later. Clearly, having representative delegations from both sides is an important step that would need to happen in advance of the conference in order for it to be effective and take place.

January 22nd continues to be the date; that was reaffirmed today. So the next step here is, of course, working out some final issues, including Iran’s participation, as well as the delegations from both sides.

QUESTION: That seems like a major – not necessarily Iran’s participation, although it’s important, but working out the delegation that would come from the opposition doesn’t seem to be something to be worked out. It seems to be a major tenet that would have to be of this conference. And do you think that this is being forced at this point to happen when it’s pretty clear – I mean, although – unless they miraculously get their act together in the next three or four weeks, that the opposition’s going to be ready for this conference. It just seems like you’re forcing them at a point where they’re clearly not ready.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would refute that. I mean, you don’t know what the status is of their discussions about putting a delegation together. Obviously, to your point, there needs to be a representative delegation from the opposition in order to have a conference. So that’s, of course, an incredibly important piece that needs to happen before January 22nd. We’ve never underestimated the difficulty of that, given all of the challenges, but that’s something we’re working towards, they’re working towards, and absolutely it needs to happen before January 22nd.

QUESTION: Okay. If I could move on?

QUESTION: Just really quick on their presentation, Elise, if I may.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The Kurds announced that they want separate delegations for themselves to participate in any conference. And in fact, al-Jarba, who heads the coalition, said yes, they would be represented by two different delegations (inaudible). Do you agree with that?

MS. PSAKI: We have been very clear that we believe there should be one delegation from each side, so that’s where we stand.

Go ahead, Elise.

QUESTION: On Israel and the UN, Special Rapporteur – the head of the Human Rights Commission --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- he made these – he kind of reaffirmed his comment talking about Israel as having genocidal intentions. Canada has called for him to be removed from his job and, I mean, doesn’t this – now that you’ve rejoined the United Nations Human Rights Council, don’t you think that having a gentleman of this – of saying these type of things, like, kind of flies in the face of what the Human Rights Council is supposed to be --

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me very clear here. We condemn and completely reject Richard Falk’s latest outrageous statements made during an interview with Russia Today. The Administration has repeatedly condemned in the strongest terms his despicable and deeply offensive comments, particularly his anti-Semitic blog postings, his endorsement of 9/11 conspiracy theories, and more recently, his deplorable statements with regard to the terrorist attacks in Boston. His most recent remarks, however, represent a new low. We do not support his mandate or his work, which has been one-sided and biased, nor do we believe he should continue to serve as independent UN rapporteur, and we reiterate our calls for him to step down from this role.

We note that his term as Special Rapporteur ends in March 2014, and he cannot be reappointed to the role after that time.

QUESTION: So basically, he’s just going to kind of skirt by it all March 2014?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve repeatedly called for him to step down. We continue to condemn in strongest terms his steps. Unfortunately, the vast majority of HRC members do not agree on his stepping down.

QUESTION: Well, but what does that say about the kind of relevance of a group like the Human Rights Council? I mean, I know you thought it was important to rejoin, but when the majority of members are siding with country – not just in this instance, but are siding with countries and dictators and leaders who do not espouse the human rights values that you do, what is the relevance of the council?

MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly we have strongly – we strongly oppose his comments and his role, as I think I’ve made evident. However, there still is good work that the Human Rights Council does. We will continue to press for him to step down, but we felt, as you noted, it was still important to be a member of the organization.

Said.

QUESTION: Could we go on? Israel related, but the Palestinian-Israeli talks?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Sure.

QUESTION: First of all, could you confirm to us that you guys reserved – like, booked 50 rooms for next months in Jerusalem? Is that true? I mean, the Israeli press is saying that you booked 50 rooms in Jerusalem --

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: -- alluding that there may be something in the offing.

MS. PSAKI: Said, I would hardly read into that much. I can tell you I stay in the same room in the 10 times we’ve been there, so we have been there frequently and it may just be logistics planning for a future trip.

QUESTION: Yeah. Okay. And to follow up, yesterday and today as a matter of fact, the Israelis killed Palestinians unprovoked. They killed one today in Gaza; they killed a member of the security forces yesterday in Jenin, and so on. Maybe 20 Palestinians have been killed almost in unprovoked – totally unprovoked since the start of the talks. Are you – do you condemn those acts by the Israelis?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, we’ve expressed concerns in the past, Said. I’d have to look at more of the specific details. You know how we feel about violence, and certainly, deaths in the region.

QUESTION: Okay. And also, the chief negotiator Saeb Erekat --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- said yesterday that there’s reason for optimism, and so on. But he also said that the talks did not have to end by the end of the nine-month period. Is that something new?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, in July when the Secretary, with Saeb Erekat and with Tzipi Livni standing by his side, made the announcement about the nine-month timeframe, it was because they had agreed to it. We still have months to go. We remain focused on achieving our objectives in this timeframe. That has not changed.

That being said, we certainly welcome Saeb Erekat’s comments that the Palestinians are open to continued final status negotiations with the Israelis if a framework agreement is reached. We have long said that the only way to achieve a final status agreement is through direct negotiations. But at this point, we still remain focused on the timeline the Secretary set out, and I’m not going to speculate on what is going to happen beyond the nine-month timeframe.

QUESTION: What is the difference between a framework agreement and an interim agreement and a final status agreement? Could you explain to us?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, an interim – it is not an interim agreement. We remain focused on a final status agreement. A framework would be a step in the process on the principles that would be discussed and hopefully agreed to through a final status agreement.

Go ahead, Elise.

QUESTION: A new topic?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the assassination of the head of Libya’s Benghazi intelligence?

MS. PSAKI: I do not, but I’m happy to take that, Elise, and we’ll get something around to all of you.

Nicolas.

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Did you have any reaction to the release of the ex-oil tycoon Khodorkovsky? And did the U.S. play any role behind the scene to secure this release?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we of course have seen the reports that President Putin has pardoned Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The Russian Government cannot nurture a modern economy without also developing an independent judiciary that serves as an instrument for furthering economic growth, ensuring equal treatment under law, and advancing justice in a predictable and fair way. We’ve made our views known many times in the past about his conviction and imprisonment. I’m not aware of any involvement on our part.

QUESTION: Turkey.

MS. PSAKI: Turkey, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Yes. Today is the fourth day of the corruption revelations are going on. What is your current assessment is going on in Turkey?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we of course have seen the media reports of these arrests of individuals in Turkey on alleged corruption charges. Beyond that, we would refer you to the Turkish Government for more information and specifics on the cases.

QUESTION: So two days ago, I ask about police chiefs --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- removed by the administration. Now it’s over 100 police chiefs across Turkey, including police chiefs and prosecutor who launched the investigation. Do you have any comment, reaction to that?

MS. PSAKI: We, of course, have seen the reports. We’re following the issue. We have no comment on the specifics of these cases. We would reiterate that we expect Turkey to meet the highest standards for transparency, timeliness, and fairness in its judicial system. And beyond that, I’d again refer you to the Turkish Government for details.

QUESTION: Do you think – some of the EU officials made statements. That’s why I’m asking.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you think this removing police chiefs is any way breaching those norms, the fairness and transparency and all that? Do think this --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more analysis for you, other than to say that, as we’ve made clear in the past, including in our annual Human Rights Report, we remain concerned about due process and effective access to justice in Turkey. That continues to be the case, but I don’t have any particular further comment or analysis on these reports.

QUESTION: Have you been talking to Turkish administration about these cases?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to read out for you along those lines. I can tell you that the Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Davutoglu earlier today, but the purpose of that call was on other issues, including Syria, Iran, Middle East peace, et cetera.

QUESTION: Many officials, Administration officials, have been arguing that this is basically a plot and planned by the foreign powers, and some of the officials have been pointing to U.S. or Israel or other corners of the world. What’s your assessment?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to say, other than this is an issue that I would point you to the Turkish Government on. It’s obviously an issue that they’re dealing with within the country.

QUESTION: U.S. Ambassador Ricciardone actually made a statement that this is – this cannot be the truth, that the administration should not look for responsible people outside of the country.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Would you agree to that?

MS. PSAKI: I certainly would agree with our ambassador’s statements.

QUESTION: Two days ago, I also – another question I asked and I’m just following up. This gold trade and Turkish public bank, Halk Bank, the question was whether you have any concerns over the gold trade with the Iranian transaction.

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Turkish Government. I don’t have any other specific comment on that.

Catherine? Any more on Turkey? Okay. Go ahead, Catherine.

QUESTION: About Iran --

MS. PSAKI: Iran, sure.

QUESTION: -- and the implementation talks?

MS. PSAKI: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Do you have an update on that, first?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, expert-level talks began, as you know, between the P5+1 and Iran yesterday in Geneva. Geneva’s busy this time of year, it turns out. The goal of these talks is, of course, to resolve a few remaining issues so that we can begin implementation of the Joint Plan of Action. We made progress at technical talks, our teams did earlier this month in Vienna, and considered the atmosphere constructive. They are complicated technical issues, they’re ongoing, so I don’t have any update or readout from the ground at this point.

QUESTION: Just after yesterday’s action on the Hill, the Menendez-Kirk legislation, there’s some confusion about when the six-month timetable starts, when it doesn’t start. Can you just kind of lay that out for us?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, that – it is being – it will start when the Joint Plan of Action starts. Obviously, the technical talks right now between the United States, the P5+1, and Iran are working out, or working through, some of these complicated technical issues. And the goal, of course, is to start the six-month timeline. It hasn’t officially started at this point.

QUESTION: Do you view this round as the last round of technical talks? Is there plans for another round?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to get ahead of where we are on the ground. Obviously, they’ll make a determination when these talks conclude about what the next step will be.

QUESTION: Is there any point at which you will say we’ve got to do this or not? It seem like we’re breaking to go talk to capitals, we’re having another round. Is there an end point or a goal here?

MS. PSAKI: I certainly wouldn’t put it that way. Our goal, of course, is to start the six-month – start the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action as quickly as possible, but we also have always known that we were going to be working through tough, technical, complicated issues, which is what our teams are working through. So we’re hopeful about them making progress, but I don’t want to predetermine what our next step would be or any future action. Obviously, the agreement that was made on a first step was significant and historic, and of course, we remain committed to seeing the process through.

Iran? Do we have any more on Iran? Iran?

QUESTION: I have one on North Korea.

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Iran? Okay, North Korea.

QUESTION: So yesterday, the North Korean military issued a threat to South Korea, threatening a merciless retaliation without warning in response to perceived provocations coming from the South.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. State Department concerned at all about these kind of comments coming from the DPRK?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have expressed concern in the past about this kind of rhetoric. As a general matter, North Korea will achieve nothing by threats or provocations, which only further isolates North Korea and undermines international efforts to ensure peace and stability in Northeast Asia. We continue to urge North Korean leadership to heed President Obama’s call to choose the path of peace and come into compliance with international obligations. In terms of these specific reports, I would point you to the South Korean Government on them.

North Korea?

QUESTION: Can we go back to --

MS. PSAKI: North Korea? Okay. New topic?

QUESTION: Can we go back to – no, just going back to the Palestinian-Israeli issue --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- just for one second. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sent a letter to President Obama --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- apparently disagreeing with the Secretary of State’s suggestion on security. Could you share with us any information on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t comment on presidential correspondence, certainly from here ever. But I would say that President Abbas and also Prime Minister Netanyahu have both known Secretary Kerry for years, and they have – as he has been deeply dedicated to the issue of Middle East peace for decades. If they did not have deep faith in him and the process, they would never have agreed to re-start the negotiations. We knew this would be challenging, and we’re continuing to work through it.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. On China?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: President Obama nominated the new ambassador to China (inaudible) Senator Baucus.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So what do you think about this nomination?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know the White House obviously made that announcement, and the President put out a pretty clear statement reiterating Senator Baucus’ commitment to deepening the relationship between the United States and China for nearly two decades, his work on economic agreements that have helped create millions of American jobs and added billions of dollars to our economy, and just his commitment to the region.

He also, just to give you more – a little more history on Senator Baucus, he has visited China eight times. He’s also hosted a myriad of senior Chinese diplomats in Washington and Montana for numerous trade delegations. He’s led the U.S. effort in the 1990s to bring China into the WTO and to establish PNTR, policies from which both countries have benefited enormously. He’s also continually worked to bring down trade barriers between the United States and China, and he’s insisted that China play by internationally accepted rules regarding currency, intellectual property, labor, human rights, and the environment.

So clearly, both the President, as is evidenced by his announcement, and certainly the Secretary of State, who has worked with him for decades, think he will be an excellent choice.

All right. Oh, go ahead, Deb.

QUESTION: Okay. NSA?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: The Guardian released another report about some Edward Snowden documents, and they say that the British and the Americans were working together to track the communications of people from, like, 60 different countries, including the former prime minister of Israel and UNICEF and European Commission people. So I mean, is – do you think Secretary Kerry would think this is another – is more evidence that perhaps the snooping went – reached too far, I think is what he said?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Deb, as you know, just yesterday, I believe, the White House announced that the President had received – I think it was yesterday – had received – the last few days – had received some recommendations about – as a part of the review process. He’s reviewing those over the course of the next couple of weeks. Certainly, the Secretary has been a part of engaging on this process, whether it’s discussing with foreign countries their concerns, attempting – working to alleviate those. Our goal remains to continue to strengthen our intel gathering processes and relationships, but I’m not going to speak to different reports or allegations. Obviously, we’ll see this process through and we’ll see what the President decides at the conclusion of his own review.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you have anything on a Bolivian – no, wait – a Honduras national police chief being removed?

MS. PSAKI: I’ve heard reports on that. I don't have anything on it at this point, but I’m happy to take it and we can get you guys a comment on it.

QUESTION: Okay. And there was one other thing on Saudi Arabia.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There’s some indications that people think that perhaps the Gulf states should be part of the P5+1 on the Iran – is that club closed or is that a possible – is it possible that Saudi Arabia could become a part of that process?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn't want to speculate on that. Obviously, that’s not a decision the United States would make. There’s a long history, as you know, for the P5+1 and the partnership on these issues. Certainly, there are a number of countries, including Saudi Arabia, but many others who are – have a stake and are engaged in issues like a diplomatic path forward on Iran. It doesn't mean that they have to be a part of the P5+1 to be a part of that. So I’m not going to speculate on that other than to say that we’re closely engaged with Saudi Arabia as are many of the other P5+1 countries on ongoing negotiations with Iran, and we’ll continue to brief them and keep them updated.

QUESTION: Do you see eye-to-eye with the Saudis on these issues, especially on Iran and on Syria? They seem to be taking an opposite position to yours.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know that my colleague Marie spoke to this earlier this week. I think what hasn’t changed is that we share the same goal of bringing an end to the civil war in Syria and ensuring that Iran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon. As you know, the Secretary has worked very closely with Foreign Minister Saud since he came into this position. That will continue. Certainly the sign of a strong relationship is being willing to and open to discussing areas where you disagree, but we share the same goals. We work closely with them and that will continue.

Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:01 p.m.)

DPB # 209

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