Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 17, 2014


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Readout of Secretary Kerry's Meetings / Canadian Foreign Minister Baird / Mexican Foreign Secretary Meade
    • Keystone XL
  • SYRIA/RUSSIA
    • Russia's Role / Conference
    • Humanitarian Access, Prisoner Releases, Local Ceasefires / Humanitarian Assistance
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Reports of Attack on Restaurant in Kabul
  • NIGERIA/REGION
    • LBGT / Legislation
    • U.S. Funding
    • Uganda
  • ITALY
    • U.S. Consulate Naples / Allegations / Pending Litigation
  • POTUS REMARKS
    • Signals Intelligence Review
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
    • U.S. Working with Both Sides on Framework for Negotiations Moving Forward That Addresses All Core Issues / Arab Peace Initiative
  • RUSSIA
    • Security / Olympics
  • NIGERIA
    • Reports President Jonathan Sacked Military Chiefs
  • BURMA
    • Deeply Troubled by Reports of Violence in Rakhine State
  • LEBANON/FRANCE
    • Ambassador David Hale's Travel
  • IRAQ/REGION
    • Readout of Deputy Secretary Burns' Meeting with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister
    • Reports Referring to Jordan and Training
  • PAKISTAN/AFGHANISTAN/INDIA/REGION
    • U.S.- Pakistan, Strategic Dialogue
    • Deputy Secretary Burns Welcomes New Pakistani Ambassador
  • SYRIA
    • Geneva II
  • VENEZUELA
    • U.S. Believes Both Countries Would Be Well-Served by Functional, Productive Relationship
  • BANGLADESH
    • Disappointed by Recent Incidents of Violence


TRANSCRIPT:

1:19 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Happy Friday. Hope everybody has good weekend plans. Let me start with just a readout of the Secretary’s meetings this morning. You all heard him speak following a lengthy – about 90-minute – breakfast he had with his counterparts from Canada and Mexico, but they’ve had bilateral meetings since then.

Secretary Kerry today hosted his partners from Canada and Mexico for the North American Ministerial, where the three foreign affairs secretaries discussed how to build upon the singular success of NAFTA, of the – to advance North American prosperity and competitiveness, North America’s leadership on energy and climate change, international engagement, and citizen security.

He then held separate bilateral meetings, as I mentioned, with his counterparts. Secretary Kerry and Foreign Secretary Meade recognized the progress in the U.S.-Mexico relationship over the last year, and discussed how the United States and Mexico can deepen their bilateral relations and advance the agenda of the High Level Economic Dialogue announced by President Obama and the Mexican president in Mexico City on May 2nd, 2013 as well as the U.S.-Mexico Forum on Higher Education, Research, and Innovation. The Secretary and Foreign Secretary Meade discussed areas of international cooperation and also renewed their shared commitment to – their commitment to share responsibility for bilateral cooperation under the Merida Initiative, and to work together to build a border that promotes trade and protects public safety.

Secretary Kerry and Canadian Foreign Minister Baird also had a bilateral meeting. They agreed to strengthen – further strengthen the unique economic relationship between the United States and Canada, especially through trade facilitation under the Beyond the Border Initiative and our two countries’ key roles in forging the Trans-Pacific Partnership. They also discussed the importance of U.S.-Canada cooperation in international affairs to achieve shared regional and global goals.

With that, go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION: Can we – just one quick on one Keystone XL --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and then if we can go to Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary provide any greater clarity to Foreign Minister Baird in private than he did to us in public about if and when the – or about when the U.S. Government may reach a final decision on Keystone?

MS. PSAKI: He reiterated to his counterpart that – to Foreign Minister Baird that there is a process in place, that that is ongoing. As he stated publicly, there’s a final review that needs to be released. That’s the next step. He expressed an understanding that there are many stakeholders, including Canada, as you heard Foreign Minister Baird express their support for this moving forward this morning. But beyond that, I don’t have any other further details for you.

QUESTION: And then if we can go to Syria --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- we have a story out saying that Russia in recent weeks has accelerated its deliveries of supplies of military equipment to Syria, including armored vehicles, drones, guided bombs just, as you’re well aware, as the Syrian Government forces have been pursuing an offensive against the rebels.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe that this is correct or incorrect? And if you believe it to be true, what does that say about Russia’s commitment to achieving a political solution that entails Assad’s departure from power?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I did see the Reuters story this morning. I don’t have any independent confirmation of those reports. I did discuss the report with the Secretary this morning, and his view is that if these reports are true, that would certainly raise great concerns about the role that Russia is playing in continuing to enable the Assad regime of brutalizing the Syrian people.

Now again, we don’t have independent confirmation of the reports. His view is also that it further highlights the need to move forward with a political solution, because there’s no military solution to what’s happening on the ground. And he also felt that he still believes that we are on the same page as the Russians in terms of the purpose of the Syria conference, in terms of the goals at hand, the desire to bring an end to the suffering and put in place a process for a transitional government.

QUESTION: One small thing: First you said, “I have no independent confirmation.” Then you said, “We have no independent confirmation,” after you spoke about your conversation with the Secretary.

MS. PSAKI: We, the United States Government does not have any independent confirmation of this report.

QUESTION: Okay. That’s interesting. And do you, as of now – I think the Secretary got asked about this at one of the photo-ops this morning, but do you have any clarity on which way the SOC is likely to go in terms of a decision on attending?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any further update or preview to share with all of you. As you all know, it’s scheduled – the meeting is scheduled to convene for a vote today. No reason to believe that has changed at this point. We will let their process move forward, and you heard the Secretary convey very clearly yesterday and again today about the importance of the SOC attending.

QUESTION: I have a couple.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: When you said that you still believe you’re on the same page in the desire to have a political transition, it does sound, though, that you believe – that you’re not on the same page about what a political transition means.

MS. PSAKI: In what capacity?

QUESTION: In the capacity that this – the Russians – the Syrians made quite clear in their letter to the United Nations that they’re not going to – and in public also that they’re not going to discuss any kind of transition that would involve Assad leaving power. So, I mean, while they say that they’re committed to a political solution and a political transition, I mean, it doesn’t – I’m not sure you both agree on what political transition means.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not sure, unless you have seen the Russians comment on the letter – maybe they have. I have not seen those comments. What I was referring to was the fact that there is agreement that a creation of a transitional government by mutual consent, which means that the parties would have to agree to who the participating bodies would be, is what the – what would – the process would entail. Our view --

QUESTION: But that’s inconsistent, though, with – the Syrian regime says any political transition must include President Assad. You, the Syrian opposition, the rest of the international community except for Russia and Iran, have said a political transition cannot involve Assad. So how – if both sides don’t agree on that one key issue, how could you ever get a government by political – by mutual consent?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s mutual consent between the Syrians, not between the United States and Russia.

QUESTION: No, I understand.

MS. PSAKI: Of course. It’s still important to note that the United States and Russia both agree that mutual consent in an important phrase, of course, in the Geneva communique. So you’d have to, by the nature of having to – both sides needing to agree, you’d have to have both sides agree in order to create a transitional governing body. We’re not at that point yet. We’re beginning the process. As the Secretary said yesterday, this is going to be a long road, and we’re just starting it next week.

QUESTION: Just one more on --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- sorry, Jo. Just one more on Arshad’s question --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- about the deliveries. And you said, if true – you have no confirmation, but if true, would raise concerns about Russia’s role. You know that Russia used to be --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- providing weapons and such to the Syrians. Have – has the – have the Russians said to you in recent months that they’ve stopped doing that, to cause concern, if true? I mean, would something like this surprise you?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more to read out --

QUESTION: Is it your understanding – is it your belief, or the understanding, anyway, that the Russians have stopped weapons delivery over the last several months?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that – I would refer you to the Russians. I don’t think that they have made a public statement to that point, but I was referring to that specific report and whether we had any independent confirmation of it.

QUESTION: I wondered if you had any reaction to the news today that the Syrians are putting some things on the table for Geneva such as prisoner swaps.

MS. PSAKI: I do. We have talked about, as you – we’re currently exploring the possibility of making progress in some areas that the Secretary actually referenced a couple of days ago when he was in Paris, in order to improve the environment for negotiations. This includes improving humanitarian access, prisoner releases, and local ceasefires. I’m not going to get into, of course, the specifics of these discussions or proposals, but it’s an ongoing discussion with the opposition, the Russians and the UN, and we, of course, support progress in any of those areas.

QUESTION: But would it --

QUESTION: Can I ask – could I --

QUESTION: But --

QUESTION: No, go ahead. Go ahead. (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Well, (inaudible). Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: But I think they were talking about prisoner swaps and possibly humanitarian access, but there didn’t seem to be any offer from the Syrian regime about any kind of local ceasefire at all. So it would seem that they’re making some kind of partial, perhaps half-hearted effort to be accommodating but without going the full hog towards ending the fighting that we’ve seen in some of these areas.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re currently exploring the possibility of making progress in all of these areas. It doesn’t mean that there’s a deadline, by midnight tonight we have to come to all progress that can be made. We’re continuing the discussion. Obviously, part of what the Secretary did this weekend was ask the Russians to play a role in exerting – using their influence with the Syrian regime on all of these components. So we’ll continue to work on all of them.

QUESTION: But does it go far enough, though, this idea of prisoner swaps? Is that – that just would seem to be a very easy thing that they could do.

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s one component of what we’re working on. It’s – we’re exploring ways to make progress in all of the areas. We’re not saying one is acceptable. We’re continuing to work on all of them.

QUESTION: How about on a truce with Aleppo, which I think is part of the same proposals that they are said to have put forward to Russia?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry. What was your question about it?

QUESTION: Well, the question is whether you have any response to their proposal given to the Russians about a ceasefire in Aleppo. Is that a step in the right direction?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary referenced a couple of days ago --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- the --

QUESTION: Importance of Aleppo.

MS. PSAKI: -- his desire to make progress on that. So we’re still exploring a local ceasefire. We have, of course, seen their comments. There’s no question that implementation of this would have its challenges, but it would be positive. We have an openness to discussing this and discussing how it would be implemented. But we believe that there’s also more, certainly, that can be done, more that needs to be done in relation to all of these areas, and specifically, of course, in humanitarian access.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: Jen, on that question of access, though --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- Foreign Minister Lavrov said today that it’s outrageous to artificially create pretext for an intervention by cashing in on a humanitarian crisis, and said they’re going to counter any effort to use these humanitarian issues that would torpedo Geneva II. That seems to be a reference to what we’re trying to help the opposition with here in terms of getting access, and so this was all an excuse to try to come up with humanitarian corridors. Are we pursuing humanitarian corridors, and what’s your reaction to this? It doesn’t seem very helpful.

MS. PSAKI: I’m having a hard time understanding exactly what he meant by those comments, but let me try to convey where we are with humanitarian access. There have been over the last 24 hours – you’ve seen the reports, but – but a convoy of humanitarian assistance was delivered to two regime-controlled areas that have previously been hard to reach. It’s important to note – and our view is that there are 9.3 million people in Syria in need of emergency humanitarian assistance, and so this is a step, but there’s far more that needs to be done, even though all aid deliveries, including these, are welcome.

The UN has identified access about some high priority besieged areas where more than 200,000 people have been trapped. Those include – and you’ve heard the Secretary talk about East Ghouta quite a bit over the last week or two, Yarmouk, Mouadhamiyah – I can never say that – and the old city of Homs, some of which have received aid – have not received aid since last spring.

So in our view, this is not a political issue. This is not an issue of sides. This is an issue of what’s right, what’s morally right, and it should be that providing access to millions of innocent men, women, and children in Syria who are suffering at the hands of this civil war is what everybody should be supportive of.

QUESTION: I mean, he specifically said that all these attempts are to try to promote a humanitarian corridors idea. Is that an idea that the U.S. is in favor of and pursuing right now?

MS. PSAKI: That’s an idea that has been out there. What we’re pursuing is what we’ve been talking about, which is ways to make humanitarian access available to more of the besieged areas, including the high-priority besieged areas identified by the United Nations.

QUESTION: Is it – is there anything at this point in time that leads you to believe that Geneva II may not be held?

MS. PSAKI: There is not. We’re still working towards planning. Obviously, the opposition’s been very active, and we’re looking forward to them concluding their --

QUESTION: Suppose the opposition comes out with a statement saying we will not attend in any way, shape, or form. Will this conference go on?

MS. PSAKI: We are confident they will attend, Said, so we’re working with that in mind.

QUESTION: Okay. So you are confident – okay, that’s good. Now, let me ask you about the interpretation --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- since we have had a great deal of time between June 30th, 2012 and now, on the kind of transition. Although in your opinion, it’s implicit that Assad should not be part of that transition. In the opinion of a good portion of the Syrian people and his allies, Russia and Iran and so on, that he must be part of that transition. So how do you reconcile? You have not made any effort to insist that this is the case or this is the interpretation. Could you clarify for us --

MS. PSAKI: I think your question is similar to what Elise asked earlier.

QUESTION: No, I’m trying to understand the follow-up on Elise’s question and see what is --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Well, I would point you to what the Secretary has said yesterday and what he’s repeatedly said, which is that there’s no place for Assad in the future of Syria. How this process would work technically would be that both sides need to agree by mutual consent who would be a part of a transitional governing body. We don’t expect that to happen overnight, but that is the premise that this communique is based on.

QUESTION: No, but these words that he has no future, they remind me of another statement that his days were numbered and so on, and they turned out to be a huge number. I mean, he went on and on and on. It doesn’t really have any kind of definitive sort of frame.

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: They just say he cannot be part – what if he wants to live in Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Well, what is significant here, Said, is that both sides would be sitting down at the table.

QUESTION: Okay. I – just a quick follow up.

QUESTION: I just want --

QUESTION: I’m sorry, Elise.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow up: Suppose you have 30 or 35 percent of the public that is composed of minorities and others and so on that actually have their faith and trust in Bashar al-Assad and like to see him run. How would you – what – you said you want to include all the Syrian people, so what would you say to them?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, as we’ve said many times, a brutal dictator who’s killed more than 100,000 people has no future in Syria.

QUESTION: I just want to follow up on what Michael asked the Secretary --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, sure.

QUESTION: -- this morning, which – the whole idea of Geneva was that between the time you conceived the idea and the time Geneva would happen, Assad’s calculus on the ground would be changed so from a combination of pressure on the regime and support for the opposition and strengthening of the opposition that, when he would go to Geneva, he would be in such a weakened state that him and his backers, whether they’re in Russia or Iran or Hezbollah or whatever, would see the benefit of a transition. But it does seem right now as if Assad’s calculus has only changed to harden his resolve and to make him feel more powerful than ever.

So I understand the validity of a conference where you would set a political transition, but do you think right now is the right time for a conference like this when the opposition is very divided about whether to attend at all? And some people think just the whole act of going to the conference could weaken the opposition and further strengthen Assad.

MS. PSAKI: We do. We absolutely feel this is the right time to have a conference. The – and the reason is the alternative is horrible, and that is that there would continue to be more bloodshed, there would continue to be more suffering without a political path that’s started to bring an end to that. So that’s why we feel this is essentially the right time, absolutely the right time to have this conference.

QUESTION: But don’t you think that there should – that perhaps you want to go have a conference where you have the most chances of making progress, and maybe there needs to be actually more pressure put on the regime before they feel so inclined to negotiate a political transition?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as the Secretary said this morning, you have 35 countries or over 30 countries that have been invited that have a great stake in bringing an end to this conflict. And so we will see what happens next week and how both sides can determine a path forward, but there’s no question we feel this is the right time and the right step given the circumstances on the ground.

Do we have more on Syria?

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Syria? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: Some voices in the opposition asked for Geneva II to be postponed or rescheduled. Are you ready to reschedule the Geneva conference?

MS. PSAKI: No, we’re not. It’s scheduled to happen on January 22nd.

QUESTION: And don’t you worry that the opposition will be more divided if some of them, some of the opposition leaders went to Geneva without a broad agreement between the members of the SOC?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s no surprise that given the challenging circumstances on the ground, there would be division among members of the opposition. We’ve said that – stated that before. But what’s important here is having a representative delegation attend the conference, sit down for the first time with the regime, and with all of the stakeholders in – well, in – broadly in attendance, and so that’s why we feel it’s the right time to have this conversation.

QUESTION: And last one: Do you consider the plan that Foreign Minister Muallim has presented to the Russians a Syrian plan, or it’s a Russian-American idea?

MS. PSAKI: In what capacity?

QUESTION: Regarding the ceasefire and the humanitarian aids to besieged areas.

MS. PSAKI: Well, it matters more what you do than what you say. So we – I don’t think we have right of authorship on a ceasefire or humanitarian access if that’s something the regime and others who are – who have the ability to make it happen are able to deliver on.

QUESTION: Could I – you --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You said that the opposition is scheduled to vote today --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- on whether to attend, and there is no reason at this point to expect that to – I can’t remember if you said change or slip or something. But do you have any inkling that they may not take a vote today as planned?

MS. PSAKI: No. That’s what I was saying. I don’t --

QUESTION: Okay. All right.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, the events are ongoing on the ground --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- so I never want to make absolute predictions, but that’s what I was conveying.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: I wonder if we could revisit the issue of the chemical weapons.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Today, a report was published by former weapons inspector Richard Lloyd and a current professor at MIT – I think Theodore Postol – that says, actually, the Syrian regime did not use those – the chemical weapons on August 21, 2013. Are you willing to reconsider or look at it again? Because you made a sort of irrefutable statement that the regime was behind it.

MS. PSAKI: That’s true. We stand by that statement.

QUESTION: So if this report – just pardon me and indulge me for a minute – if this report to be – seems to be authentic and strong and sort of augmented by facts and so on, you will reconsider that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t – I think we’ve been very clear, backed up by significant evidence on why we believe the regime used chemical weapons.

QUESTION: And my last question: On – it seems that Syria and its allies, Iran and Russia, seem to be singing off the same music page, while on the other hand you and your allies and the opposition are really in a sort of – suffering from chaos, not knowing what’s going on, everybody’s sort of off on their own. Could you comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I would refute the notion of your question.

Do we have any more Syria questions?

QUESTION: One more. One more thing.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, Syria? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Let me go to the mutual consent.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Now, given the huge gap between the two sides, one would expect: Here we go, we’re going to another peace process in the region, that’s – mean open-ended. And if that is the case, or will be the case, what would be the purpose of the conference? Just to open the process and give it – go on, and on, and on? Since mutual consent in Syria – it is a very, very remote possibility. I hope it will materialize, but it is very, very remote.

MS. PSAKI: Well, you are right it’s challenging, but yes, the purpose is to begin a process that doesn’t currently exist to put in place a transitional governing body.

Do we have any more on Syria?

QUESTION: Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Syria?

QUESTION: Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Syria? Go ahead.

QUESTION: You mentioned that it’s the right step at the right time regarding the Geneva conference.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In the last few days, there are a lot of contact between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov. At this point, what are the common grounds that – between Russia and U.S. regarding Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary spoke to this just a couple of days ago in Paris, and he conveyed that they agree we need to work together to bring an end to the suffering of the Syrian people; that they agree the Geneva communique should be the basis of a conference; they agree that there’s no military solution, and that’s why we should put in place a political process; and they agreed also to work together on achieving some of these areas of progress that we hope to make progress in, including ceasefires, including the possibility of prisoner swaps, including humanitarian access. So those are the areas that they’ve talked about agreeing on.

QUESTION: There are some British press reports regarding that the people – I mean, the – for Assad regime people, already they are trying to be like some kind of asylum, getting asylum, either United States or Europe, some European countries. Do you have any chance to see something like that?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen those reports, so I’d have to take a closer look at them.

QUESTION: So in principle, do you agree with that?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on a report I haven’t seen.

Cami.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, there was an attack on a restaurant, and a number of foreigners may be among the casualties. I’m just wondering if you’ve heard were there any Americans.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we are aware of reports of an attack on a restaurant in Kabul. We condemn, of course, the despicable act of terrorism in the strongest possible terms. All chief of mission personnel are accounted for. We are learning more about the situation on the ground as we speak, so I can’t confirm other details or other reports that have been out there.

QUESTION: When you say all chief of mission personnel, do you mean all embassy personnel?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

Any more on Afghanistan just before we move – okay. Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: On Nigeria, there are continuing reports that as many as 38 gay men have been arrested and 160 others are being pursued following passage of an anti-gay law there. It was last said the State Department’s trying to confirm those reports. Any updates on that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe I have an update on the specific numbers that have been out there. Obviously, we’ve expressed our concerns about these reports, expressed our concerns about the legislation as well. Let me see if I just have anything new on here on this on those specific numbers.

Unfortunately, I don’t. I’m happy to check and see if – it’s often difficult to confirm specific numbers along those lines in other countries.

QUESTION: The Human Rights Campaign put out a statement last night calling on the State Department to use every available tool to demonstrate Nigeria’s jeopardized its international standing by targeting its LGBT citizens. It was said before there was no talk of sanctions or loss of aid, but that’s the case. So what options are on the table?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new options to outline for you at this point. I think we’ve been very clear in expressing our concerns and how deeply concerned we are about the impact on all Nigerians of this law. So it’s also important to note that a great deal of our funding goes to programs including HIV prevention, human rights programs, programs that are promoting fundamental freedoms, programs, funding that often goes through PEPFAR. So those are programs that obviously we continue to support, and I just wanted to note that, as you asked about our funding.

QUESTION: And in a related topic, the President of Uganda has reportedly sent back to the parliament that country’s anti-homosexuality bill. Is the State Department aware of that? Any reaction to that?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen that. I’m happy to check with our team and see if we have more details on that.

QUESTION: I have one. I think this came up several months ago --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- but do you have anything on this former female employee at the consulate in Naples that has filed a complaint about rampant prostitution at the U.S. consulate, alleging that Donald Moore, the consul general, gave secure pass codes for the elevator to a lengthy list of women of the night.

MS. PSAKI: Women of the night. Well, we of course take such allegations – we’ve certainly seen them – we take them very seriously. In light of pending litigation, we are unable to comment further on this matter, as would be standard.

QUESTION: Can you say whether you’re doing it – your own independent investigation? Whether --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything on that. I’m happy --

QUESTION: Is Consul General Moore still in his position?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check on the specific details for you.

QUESTION: What litigation?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: What’s the litigation?

QUESTION: Well, there’s a formal complaint.

MS. PSAKI: Right, exactly. So there’s a formal complaint.

QUESTION: There’s a lawsuit.

MS. PSAKI: And there’s a lawsuit.

QUESTION: Can I go to the NSA?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So President Obama laid out a number of things in his speech this morning following the revelations from Edward Snowden. He said that he was halting the spy taps of – which targeted friendly world leaders. Do you believe this is now going to draw a line under this episode? And do you believe this will allay the fears of foreign leaders that their phones and messages are being listened into and tapped?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that, obviously, the Secretary and the State Department was engaged in the review that led up to the speech, and certainly, have great support for the President’s message as we move forward. The Secretary thinks this is a timely, positive opportunity to strengthen the work we’re doing, elevate and highlight our current efforts, build on our already strong team of cyber security and internet experts, and deepen U.S. leadership on these critical emerging foreign policy issues. He’ll be talking with our appropriate officials and other interested parties to determine how best to achieve this end.

To your question, clearly we’ve long said that our hope was that we could not only work with our counterparts around the world to strengthen our intel gathering cooperation, but to move past this in the future, and that continues to be our hope. We will play a role, as appropriate, in implementing these recommendations and announcements made by the President, and certainly the Secretary is supportive of the remarks he made today.

QUESTION: And can I ask you, in his quote – in one of his quotes he said: “We will not monitor the communications of heads of state and government of our close friends and allies.” Who counts as a close friend and ally?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point you – this was a speech that the President delivered that they, I know, have done an extensive briefing on and have a range of fact sheets, so I’d point you to them on any specific questions about it.

QUESTION: But is there a legal definition of what is considered an ally of the United States and what is just maybe a close friend?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I would point you to the White House on any specific questions you have about the speech and the policy announcement.

QUESTION: But – no, but that was a more broader – that was a broader question. The State Department must be involved in --

MS. PSAKI: Well, but I think you’re – you’re asking about what he meant by that, so that’s why I’m pointing you to --

QUESTION: No, I’m asking you if there is a list, for want of a better word, of United States formal allies.

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we recognize certain countries as formal allies. As you referenced friends, I would point you to the White House and see if there’s more they would like to lay out on that front.

QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli --

QUESTION: Yeah. Can we continue on this?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But since State Department handles foreign relations for the country, what does – what is State Department’s definition of friendly or allies countries?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any further definition for all of you. Obviously, our focus now is working to implement these recommendations moving forward, to hear from our friends and allies and work with them to address concerns and brief them on what this will mean moving forward.

QUESTION: But do you have a formal list of friends and allies countries, or it is – depends on case-to-case basis?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t think I’m going to have much more for you on this particular question.

QUESTION: Again, one more --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What do you do in case one of your friends, which is a key ally in fight against terrorism, the leader of that country passes on some nuclear secrets to a rogue country, which there have been instances in the past? Would you continue surveillance or not continue surveillance?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that sounds like the plot of a movie but --

QUESTION: No, it’s not. It happened in the past. It’s part of America’s declassified documents. It’s well known.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on that. What the speech was about today was laying out the outcome of a review and the process for moving forward. That’s what our focus is on.

QUESTION: Another topic.

QUESTION: But do you think this new move would reduce the tension the U.S. had with its friends and allies on this particular issue?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry. Can you say that one more time?

QUESTION: The President’s announcement today, do you think would it help in reducing the tension between U.S. and its friendly countries?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think as I said to Jo, obviously it shows the President’s commitment – the review itself and the work that the interagency did on coming up with these recommendations. The President’s commitment to this shows the United States commitment to addressing these concerns, to taking them seriously, and to working to move forward given how important these issues are to our friends and allies around the world.

QUESTION: Do you think this review would ever have been undertaken had it not been for Snowden’s disclosures?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s impossible for me to evaluate.

QUESTION: Why?

MS. PSAKI: Because it’s looking back into a scenario that isn’t actually the reality of what we’ve dealt with.

QUESTION: You don’t think that his revelations are in large part what brought this review to happen?

MS. PSAKI: Hard for me to speculate on, Arshad. Obviously, the important point here is that the President undertook the review. He announced the outcome of the review today, and our focus is on moving forward.

QUESTION: Can I just ask --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: -- if he’d actually briefed any of your allies on what he was going to say today? Were they given a prior --

MS. PSAKI: The President?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: I – you’d have to ask the White House on that.

QUESTION: Can we have a new topic?

MS. PSAKI: Uh-huh, go ahead.

QUESTION: The Palestinian-Israeli talks.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Is there anything new that you could share with us on this topic?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe so, but do you have a specific question?

QUESTION: I have a specific question. The Palestinians are saying there is actually no direct Israeli-Palestinian talk, that in fact you are negotiating on behalf of the Palestinians. Could you confirm or deny that?

MS. PSAKI: That has not been the case. I haven’t seen those comments. But as you know, there have been rounds and rounds of negotiations, but I don’t have any other further update on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Did the Secretary of State submit a proposal on the refugee issues that – based on four options – that do not include the right of return for the Palestinians?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, as you know, we’re working with both sides on a framework for negotiations moving forward that addresses all of the core issues. But I’m not going to outline for you or predict what the outcome or what the final agreement would look like.

QUESTION: Just on this framework, I mean, I understand that the Secretary kind of presented it and is – so would you --

MS. PSAKI: That’s not actually an accurate depiction of what happened, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, but he’s working on a framework based on ideas that he heard from both of them.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, that’s right.

QUESTION: So would it be fair to say that everyone is on the same page about the – not about what the ultimate framework would look like, but given the ideas, is everyone on the same page of how they move forward in terms of what he presented to them?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the way you described it is accurate and that it’s working with both sides on the ideas coming from both sides. So obviously, there isn’t – both parties haven’t agreed to what the framework would look like, otherwise you would know, right? And there are clearly, as would come as no surprise to anyone, pieces that each side feels strongly about of those core issues that they’re discussing. So it’s not agreed to yet, otherwise you would know.

QUESTION: So there’s not – there is not like a draft that would be like, let’s say, in brackets or something that you – that you agree on certain --

MS. PSAKI: Are passing back and forth?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: No, that’s not the stage we’re in at this point.

QUESTION: These ideas that you talk about or that’s discussed with both sides, do they emerge in meetings that are bilateral between you and the Palestinians and between you and the Israelis, or are they between Palestinians and Israelis, or the three of you together?

MS. PSAKI: All of the above. We’ve known what the core issues have been for some time, for decades, in fact. So the goal here is to address the core issues. There have been many ideas out there about how to do that, and the question is: How do we get to a point where we can have a framework for negotiations moving forward that addresses those core issues?

QUESTION: I know you have addressed this a few days ago on the issue of the Follow-up Committee for the Arab Peace Initiative.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Could you tell us what were the elements of these discussions with the Follow-up Committee and what you have seen? What did you update them on?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we updated them on the status of the negotiations. Since the last time they met, there wasn’t a discussion about a framework, so certainly the Secretary updated them on that and the process – the ongoing process. And of course, part of the purpose is to hear from them as well, given the significant stake they have in the outcome.

QUESTION: Was there at any point a discussion with the Follow-up Committee on sort of redefining the mechanism for recognizing Israel as a Jewish state?

MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve addressed this a couple times --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- in terms of the rumor that we were asking to amend the Arab Peace Initiative. That’s incorrect.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: On Russia, there were these reports that the so-called Russian bin Ladin – that Chechen leader Doku Umarov, a terrorist, had been killed. Can you confirm that? And if not that, then perhaps more broadly, has there been any change in the level of security alert or threat that the U.S. perceives around the Olympics?

MS. PSAKI: There hasn’t been any change or update since we last talked about the security piece. As you know, we’re working closely with the Russians on that. I don’t have anything specifically on that report. I’m happy to check and see if there’s anything we can confirm for all of you.

Scott, in the back.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Nigeria for a moment?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: This week, President Jonathan sacked his – all of his military chiefs. While I recognize that’s an internal decision, that’s his power, does the United States have an assessment as to how that might affect, for good or ill, the fight against Boko Haram in which the United States participates?

MS. PSAKI: That is an excellent question. I don’t have anything in terms of our analysis here with me, but let me venture to talk to our Africa team and have them follow up with you on that.

Jo, go ahead. And then we’ll go to you next.

QUESTION: I’ve got one on Myanmar.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: There was some unrest earlier this week in western Myanmar, up near the border with Bangladesh, in which several people, including women and children, were killed in an attack on the Rohingya. Do you have any reaction to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we are deeply troubled by reports of violence in the Rakhine State. We’re saddened to hear reports that several people have been killed, many injured, at least one missing, and hundreds of civilians displaced in violence that included looting and destruction of homes and property. We’re particularly disturbed by reports that security forces may have used excessive force in perpetuating some of the violence. We strongly condemn such acts of violence, which negatively impact all inhabitants, and note that security forces have a particular responsibility to exercise restraint and minimize violence. And as always, we of course urge the Burmese Government to pursue durable solutions, including a path to citizenship that incorporates members of the Rohingya minority and ensuring a secure environment for displaced people to return to their home.

QUESTION: Have you been in contact with the authorities in Burma about this? Have you raised your concerns directly with them?

MS. PSAKI: Let me check on the level that that’s happened. Obviously, we have done that in the past. I don’t have anything in terms of recent contact, but clearly, we have a presence on the ground.

QUESTION: I mean, how concerned are you? We seem to get sporadically now every few months reports of a new attack involving – on the Rohingya, and there’s been repeated calls from – by yourself and from other people from the podium to end this. How concerned are you that these appeals seem to be going unheard?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we are all familiar with the transition that Burma has gone through over the past couple of years. It does not excuse any aspect of the violence that’s happening on the ground or these reports that I referenced here, but we’re continuing to press both publicly and privately, as are many of our international partners on our concerns here, and we’ll continue to do that. We are not giving up on the future of Burma, and so we will – but as would be the case with any country, we will express concerns as we see fit.

QUESTION: Jen?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Jen – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Could I follow up on that? Sorry, just one – thanks, Michel. You said something that – and maybe I misunderstood or I took it down wrong, but you said something about how you were particularly disturbed about reports of the excessive use of violence by government forces in perpetuating the violence?

MS. PSAKI: That security forces may have used excessive force in perpetuating some of the violence, so that --

QUESTION: Perpetuating, or perpetrating, or – I’m sorry, I just don’t --

MS. PSAKI: Perpetrating. Sorry.

QUESTION: Okay. No, no. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I feel how Jo sounds. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Not a problem.

MS. PSAKI: Sorry. Perpetrating. Thank you for that. I appreciate it. Long week.

QUESTION: Jen.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, David Hale, is visiting Paris to meet with the French officials and the former prime minister Saad Hariri. What are the – what’s the purpose of these meetings?

MS. PSAKI: Well, U.S. Ambassador David Hale did travel to France this morning. While there, he’s scheduled to meet with former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri as well as French officials. The meetings will focus on international support for Lebanon, which, as you know, is something that we’re deeply committed to.

QUESTION: And what are the American views regarding the formation of new government in Lebanon?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as we have said, the Lebanese people deserve a government that reflects their aspirations and strengthens Lebanon’s stability, sovereignty, and independence while fulfilling its international obligations. The government formation process is and must be a Lebanese one. As you know, the Secretary had a bilateral meeting just a few days ago where he discussed this issue, and we of course remain very committed to watching from the outside. But I would refer you to, of course, the Government of Lebanon on the developments.

QUESTION: And do you support the formation of a government without Hezbollah representation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, our position on Hezbollah has not changed. We have long designated them as a foreign terrorist organization. We also designated the group in September 2012 for its active support of the Assad regime. We believe that the Lebanon – that the people of Lebanon deserve a government that will stand up for Lebanon’s stability, sovereignty, and independence, and one that will prevent the export of instability and violence from the conflict in Syria. But the government – the process of forming a government is a Lebanese process, so I would point you to them on that process.

QUESTION: Jen.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have a readout about the Deputy Burns meeting with the Iraqi deputy prime minister?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, with the Iraq – mm-hmm.

Deputy Secretary Burns, as part of his regular diplomatic engagement with senior Iraqi officials, met today with Iraqi deputy prime minister – with the Iraqi deputy prime minister to discuss bilateral issues, including the ongoing situation in Anbar Province, the upcoming elections, and our shared commitment towards a long-term partnership under the Strategic Framework Agreement.

QUESTION: Was any part of that discussion regarding the Iraqi Government seeking arms or increased arms supplies from the United States?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve, of course, seen those reports in the public comments, I guess it would be a more accurate way of referring to them. Certainly, we’re not going to get into a laundry list of FMS support. You’re familiar with what we have provided, the fact that we’re working with Congress on pieces like Apaches. In terms of whether they discussed that or not, I’m happy to see if there’s more detail to provide.

QUESTION: Jen, on the same issue --

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish Iraq. Go ahead --

QUESTION: Yeah, on Iraq.

QUESTION: Also, was there any discussion about the willingness by – excuse me – the U.S. military to train Iraqi troops in a third country?

MS. PSAKI: I know there have been reports of that which are, I believe, referring to Jordan which are inaccurate, but --

QUESTION: Jordan, that’s inaccurate --

MS. PSAKI: I can check and see if there’s more about the meeting to read out to address your question as well as Arshad’s.

QUESTION: So is the report inaccurate that the U.S. military is ready to train troops in a third country, or just the part that it might be in Jordan? Which one is accurate?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any more specific details for you beyond the fact that the report that has been specifically referring to Jordan and training and U.S. involvement at that is inaccurate.[i]

QUESTION: In the meeting with – between the Deputy Secretary Burns and Dr. Saleh al-Mutlaq, has the issue of the sectarian divide come up? The reason I ask this, because Mr. Mutlaq is saying all over the place that basically the sectarian differences are irreconcilable. He’s basically accusing his boss, al-Maliki, of being irreformably sectarian.

MS. PSAKI: Let me check, as I mentioned to Jo and Arshad, if there’s more that we can share about Deputy Secretary Burns’ meeting on all of your specific questions.

QUESTION: The reason I ask this is because the reconciliation has been really at the crux of the issue, but the United States has not taken any steps to sort of take initiative or perhaps lead the initiative on reconciliation.

MS. PSAKI: I think we – the United States has done a great deal to engage the Iraqi Government – not just providing military equipment to Iraq, but also working with all parties to better address the needs of the Iraqi people. We’ve had a range of officials on the ground, including Brett McGurk, as recently as, I believe, a week ago.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: We’ve engaged the government closely. We’ve encouraged unity repeatedly and consistently over the course of months. So I would just refute the notion of your question.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up question on the statement issued earlier on U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: To what extent do you think Afghanistan would be an issue for discussions entering the Strategic Dialogue?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it certainly is a topic of great interest to both the United States and Pakistan. I know as we get closer to the dialogue, I’m sure we’ll have more to lay out for all of you in terms of the agenda.

QUESTION: And was Afghanistan an issue for discussion when new Afghan – new Pakistan ambassador met Deputy Secretary Burns yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: Let me see here. I can give you just a readout of that. I don’t have any – that level of specificity, but I’m happy to certainly check.

Deputy Secretary Burns welcomed the Pakistani ambassador in his new role and noted that we look forward to continuing our productive working relationship. As foreign secretary from 2012 to 2013, the ambassador worked closely with the United States during a critical time in our bilateral relationship.

They also reaffirmed their – our shared commitment to cooperate on a full range of bilateral issues, including counterterrorism, economic and regional issues, and they underscored both the U.S. and Pakistan look forward to continuing their discussions during the upcoming Strategic Dialogue. I will see if there’s anything more specific on Afghanistan to read out for all of you.

QUESTION: There was a meeting in New Delhi – international meeting in New Delhi on Afghanistan about India opposed any exit clause for Afghanistan because of so much investment the international community has made inside that country. What is this latest position on BSA? Are you going to continue in Afghanistan post-2014, or have you started planning for no troops inside the country?

MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed since we discussed this yesterday, and that is that we continue to press to – for the Afghan Government to sign the BSA given how important it is for planning for the United States, for our NATO allies. And obviously, as time goes on, we may approach a point where we’ll need to plan for a post-2014 presence or no post-2014 presence. That has consistently been our view. I don’t have any developments since yesterday.

QUESTION: But have you identified any deadline for that? Weeks?

MS. PSAKI: I have nothing new to read out for all of you. Obviously, we have internal planning that happens, but nothing to announce from the podium.

QUESTION: Okay. I have a quick travel scheduling issue.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Now considering that Geneva II is on Wednesday --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- the 22nd, Monday is a holiday, could you give us when is the Secretary likely to travel?

MS. PSAKI: Well, if we’re going to be there by Wednesday, we probably will depart on Tuesday.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: And one more on --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I have one more on Venezuela, actually.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: My Spanish is not as – is a bit rusty, actually, but I believe that President Maduro – on Wednesday, he gave an address to the national assembly in which he said or seemed to hint that Venezuela might be ready to return to conversations with the United States. Has that been communicated to you? What is your understanding of that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve seen the comments. Whether there’s been a private communication, I’d have to check on that, but we’ve certainly seen them. As the Secretary has repeatedly stated, the United States believes that both of our countries would be well-served by a functional and productive relationship on areas of mutual interest, including those affecting citizen security such as counternarcotics and counterterrorism, and the commercial relationship, including energy.

As you know, just last June, I believe, if my history is serving me well here, the Secretary met with the foreign minister and expressed an openness and a willingness to engage. We have not closed any doors and we’re ready to sit down with Venezuela, but I don’t have any announcements to make for all of you in terms of next steps.

QUESTION: So how would this happen? Would you be waiting for a communication directly from Venezuela, or would Assistant Secretary Jacobson perhaps initiate a contact or --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any – I think these comments were just – just happened over the last 24 hours, so I don’t have anything new to predict for you in terms of what will happen, if it will happen, how it will happen; just that we are open to it. So we will see where we go from here.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: I have a small question on Bangladesh.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any position on the allegations of violence against the minority Hindu community in Bangladesh?

MS. PSAKI: Let me see if I have anything on this for you, and if not, I’m happy to follow up with our team. And then I’ll just have to take about one more here because I have to go.

So can you repeat one more time your question?

QUESTION: Do you have any position on the allegations of violence against the minority Hindu community in Bangladesh?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we certainly are disappointed by recent incidents of violence. We condemn that in the strongest terms, the violence from all quarters that continues to mark the prevailing political impasse. Violence is not an acceptable element of the political process. We call on all to stop committing further violence. And Bangladesh’s political leadership and those who aspire to lead must do everything in their power to ensure law and order, and refrain from supporting violence – especially against minority communities – inflaming rhetoric, and intimidation. So that is where we are.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:09 p.m.)

# # #



[i] Spokesperson Psaki understood the question to be about *current* training operations.

As we have said, we do consider the Government of Iraq an essential partner in a common fight against terrorism and our two countries continue to build a mutually beneficial partnership under the Strategic Framework Agreement. We remain deeply committed to supporting Iraq in its battle against terrorist threats and in its efforts to advance political and economic development. As part of our support, we seek to offer a broad range of security, counter-terrorism, and combat support capabilities for Iraq to draw on to help meet its significant security challenges in the near term and invest in its future over the longer term.

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - January 17, 2014]