Daily Press Briefing - May 29, 2013

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Condemnation of Hezbollah Militants in Syria / Cross Border Destabilization / Lebanon
    • Geneva 2 Conference / Iranian Involvement
    • Under Secretary Wendy Sherman and acting Assistant Secretary Beth Jones Will Travel to Geneva
    • Foreign Fighters
    • Ambassador Ford's Role in Istanbul
    • Chemical Weapons
    • Russian Involvement
    • Maldonado Case
    • Injured Defense Attache Personnel / U.S. Embassy in Caracas
    • U.S. Embassy Attack in 2012 / Suspended Sentences / Meeting with Deputy Burns
    • Reports of Wali Ur Rehman's Death
    • Cooperation in Banking / Strong Bilateral Relationship
    • Concerns About Proposed Legislation
    • Secretary Kerry's Meeting with President Morsy
    • Ethiopia / Blue Nile
    • Peace Process Negotiations
  • D.P.R.K.
    • Humanitarian Aid / May 11th Designation of Foreign Trade Bank
    • Congressional Request on Benghazi Attack
    • Human Rights Watch Report
    • Senator McCain's Trip
Jen Psaki
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 29, 2013


The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.

1:15 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Good afternoon. Thank you for your patience. I just wanted to do one thing at the top, and then we will get to your questions.

I want to take the opportunity to reiterate that we condemn in the strongest terms Hassan Nasrallah’s recent declarations confirming Hezbollah’s militants – Hezbollah militants’ active role in the fighting in Qusayr and other parts of Syria. This is an unacceptable and extremely dangerous escalation. We demand that Hezbollah withdraw its fighters from Syria immediately. We remain deeply concerned about reports of multiple cross-border security incidents in recent days. We also condemn yesterday’s outrageous attack on a Lebanese army checkpoint near Arsal which killed three soldiers. These and other incidents are stark reminders that the conflict in Syria poses an incredibly dangerous threat to Lebanon’s stability, the people of Lebanon and security. We call on all parties to do their part to act with restraint and respect Lebanon’s stability and security.

With that, let’s get to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Jen, just very quickly on Syria. The French Foreign Minister today mentioned that he did not think it was wise for the Iranians to participate in the Geneva conference. He suspected that bringing up – the Iranians would try to play a nuclear issue off of the Syria issue, and in other words trying to get more on the nuclear issue if they give up something on Syria. What’s the State Department’s position on this, and do you support having Iran at the conference?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this is a decision, as you all know, that will be made in cooperation and through discussion between the U.S., Russia, our international partners and the United Nations. That decision has not yet been made. But let me say and take this opportunity to say that Iran has not played a constructive role in regard to Syria. They have sent weapons, they have sent money, they have provided fighters, they have financed Hezbollah, and we have no reason to believe that Iran wants a peaceful transition. But let me just cap that off by telling you that despite our concerns, the United States’ concerns about the role that Iran has played in regard to Syria, this is a decision that we think it’s important for countries to make together with the UN and all of the partners.

QUESTION: Do you agree with the Foreign Minister’s assessment that Iran might try to use the conference as a place to get more on the nuclear issue in exchange for the Syrian issue?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to weigh in on that per se, but we do remain concerned about what Iran’s motivations would be and what – that they would be – and their willingness to play a constructive role here given past activities.

QUESTION: Jen. On the issue of the Lebanese Hezbollah, you said that you demand that they withdraw whatever forces they have. So what if they don’t withdraw? What is the next step?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, as you know, we have a – parallel tracks that we are pursuing here in Syria. One is the diplomatic track of working with our partners, including Russia, including the United Nations to bring together an international conference. I actually have one quick update for all of you in terms of preparations for that and a next step. Let’s see here. I want to make sure I give you all the right information.

This upcoming week, Under Secretary Sherman and acting Assistant Secretary Beth Jones – I should say next week – will be traveling to Geneva to meet with counterparts from Russia and from the United Nations. We’ll have more specifics on that, I expect, later in the week, but that is the next step in the process and something that the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov discussed as being an appropriate next step. But I just wanted to mention that while I had the opportunity. The other piece of this, of course, is continuing to increase and escalate our aid and support for the opposition. As you know last week the Secretary was in Amman, where he met with representatives from the London 11 and they all agreed to increase their support even while we are planning the conference. So we are doing everything possible to help the opposition. We felt it was important to publicly call out the treacherous actions of Hezbollah and that’s why we did that today, and we’re hopeful that they will remove themselves from this conflict.

QUESTION: Okay. There’s also allegations that there are a number – or numerous foreign fighters from elsewhere – from the Maghreb to Arabia – all over that are fighting on the side of the rebels. Do you also call on them to withdraw from Syria?

MS. PSAKI: We’re concerned about all foreign fighters and their participation and the overflow of this conflict into other areas around Syria.

QUESTION: Okay. And lastly – I’m sorry – on the issue of the flow of weapons into Syria, many of your allies, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, are also sending a great many arms, and some are much like Iran is doing to the regime. Will they be not welcome also in a forum such as Geneva?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me be clear. There should be no doubt that the United States does not view the goals of the regime as equal with the goals of the moderate opposition. Remember that the regime has brutalized tens of thousands of people, including innocent women and children, and the armed opposition movement arose precisely to protect civilians who were demanding respect of their basic human rights from the brutality of the regime. So certainly we continue to support efforts to help the opposition. That was part of the discussion last week and something the Secretary continues to press for.


QUESTION: Can I just follow up on the – what you said about the Hassan Nasrallah announcement, that his remarks signal the – and you said “an extremely dangerous escalation.” Could you specify why that’s an extremely dangerous escalation. I know this seems maybe like an obvious question, but is it because it – people in this building would perceive that it would enflame sectarian tensions in Syria, particularly between Sunni radicals and Shiite radicals, or is there something else that perhaps involves Israel’s interests?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m sure that you have seen Mr. Nasrallah’s comments, where he basically said that helping the regime was a priority and helping them in any way possible was a priority. Those aren’t the – that’s a paraphrase. And that is certainly concerning, because that is bringing Lebanon in, the people of Lebanon in – it is continuing to push sectarian violence that we have long expressed concerns about. We’ve been concerned about the events in Syria for some time, but certainly the activities of late, the participation of foreign fighters and the violence that has ensued as a result, the overflow into neighboring states, has been of great concern. I wouldn’t weigh too much into the adjective just to express that we, the United States, is certainly concerned about his recent remarks and what that would mean for the conflict.

QUESTION: And is there a concern that a heavier Hezbollah role in the conflict could potentially affect Israel’s posture towards the violence in Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would send you to the Government of Israel for that. They’ve made a number of public comments recently in that regard, so I would point you to that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. I wonder if you could update us on Ambassador Ford’s efforts to move the Geneva 2 forward. And also if you could – the list of preconditions that the opposition has come up with to attend, do you have any comment on some of those, that Assad wouldn’t be allowed to participate and that they want – a sort of – I don’t want to call it a ceasefire, but it sort of looks like it might be. That’s what they’re asking for.

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me take – actually I can do them both together. So Ambassador Ford remains in Istanbul and is continuing to urge members of the opposition, along with international partners to vote to include more members and elect leadership. We’ve long said or I guess recently said this is a very important step. We look forward to working with the leadership, of course, that the – that is elected there. It’s taken longer than anticipated, as everybody knows, but we should all also remember that this is a number of people who are working through and discovering the challenges of trying to elect a body and move forward in a united front, something we encourage them to do.

I know there have been a lot of comments out there from different members of the opposition about different requirements and different demands. We are working very closely with them and working very closely with all components, but we expect that we will be working with the elected members of the opposition once that is done, in terms of planning and looking ahead to the conference.


QUESTION: I have a question about chemical weapons in Syria, but I just want to follow up on Camille’s --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- by asking you to characterize the opposition’s progress over these last few days.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to characterize it too in depth. I would say that obviously this has taken longer than anticipated. That’s not new information. But this is also something where we’ve been very encouraging of them. That’s why we have Ambassador Ford and other representatives from the State Department on the ground to help them work through as they try to address these challenging issues, including expanding their membership and electing leadership. We know it’s not easy. This isn’t easy; no aspect of it is. But we remain committed to working with the opposition in any way possible to strengthen them.

QUESTION: On chemical weapons, the British have presented the UN with evidence of three more chemical weapons attacks inside Syria. I’m wondering if you have any comment on that. And yesterday, when asked about chemical weapons, Patrick said that you guys were sharing information with your allies and evaluating that. I’m just wondering how far along you are on evaluating the chemical weapons reports, whether we’re going to see a conclusion from you guys soon – in the next week, in the next two weeks?

MS. PSAKI: Unfortunately I can’t give you a tick-tock or an internal tick-tock or a timeline. As the President has said, as the White House has said, it’s not about the timeline; it’s about getting it right and getting the facts right. We have seen those reports, of course. There have been other countries, as you know, who have come out with their own findings. We do share and discuss with many of our partners and allies behind the scenes. That’s part of our process, in addition to pushing for a UN investigation. But we also want to do our due diligence in making sure that we are firm on the facts before making any further decisions.

QUESTION: It seems to be taking an awfully long time, when close allies have more than once now come up with evidence and proof. So I’m just wondering why.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve talked about this a little bit before, but there’s past history here, where we are looking to – and it’s a reminder that we want to make sure we have our facts straight and we feel confident in what the findings are. Of course, we talked a couple of weeks ago and we’ve been talking about the intel assessments, and the letter we sent to Congress, and we’ve been working diligently since then. But we’re not going to set a deadline for it. We want to feel confident with the facts that we have.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just one on Syria. We may have already covered this a little bit but, so regarding the Russian announcement that it was – it would push forward with the delivery of a fairly sophisticated anti-aircraft missile system to the Assad government. Israeli leaders responded to that yesterday by saying that they – if those weapons arrived in Syria, the Israeli military would just bomb them. Is that an action that this building would condone?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve talked about this a little bit in the past, but let me repeat. So just to be clear on the S-300s – I know we’ve talked about them a lot – we’ve of course seen the reports. The Secretary has raised this issue with Foreign Minister Lavrov in the past and has raised it publicly. The Russians have said this is delivering on past contracts. I don’t have any new information on that or additional information. We support Israel’s ability to defend themselves, certainly, but we remain hopeful and remain committed to working towards a political transition. And that’s what our focus is here on Syria, and we remain concerned about the overflow impacts of the events that are happening on the ground.

QUESTION: Jen, on Syria, did Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov talk about not just the fact that Russia would make good on this contract, but when they will deliver it?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of detail for you. They did discuss this issue specifically – S-300s. But it has not been – it’s been long in the news in the past couple of weeks, so it wasn’t a new information or a new discussion.

QUESTION: But you don’t have a sense of when that system will actually arrive?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new information on that for you.


MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead, you in the front. Oh, do we have another Syria? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. In response to the first question regarding Iran’s participation in the Geneva 2 talks, you said that you’re still in discussion with allies and friends and everybody. But today, an Iranian deputy foreign minister said that they have been at least verbally invited. Does that contradict what’s happened?

MS. PSAKI: I have not seen those reports. I’m not sure who they were invited by, so I’d have to look more closely at it. As you know, this conference will be convened by the UN in conjunction with other international partners. So I just haven’t seen those comments. I’m not aware of them.

QUESTION: And today they had another – they had a conference in Tehran called the Friends of Syria, and they said more than 40 countries and international organizations participated, including North Korea. And do you see that meeting there in – opposed – as opposed to maybe what is being done elsewhere around the world for the Geneva 2? Does that help?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t say oppose, but it is difficult to see, or difficult to imagine, how it would play a constructive role in moving toward a political stable environment and a political transition in Syria, which is what we are all focused on and working on.

QUESTION: Could we just clarify on the S-300 things? It sounded like you were trying to characterize it a moment ago as if it’s not a deal-killer regarding the conference or these recent meetings between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov – that in fact they talked about this and it wasn’t a surprise to Secretary Kerry that, probably what, 15 hours after his last meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister, Moscow announced that they were actually going to move this fairly sophisticated weaponry into Syria. That wasn’t a surprise?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Guy, this has long been reported – plans for this. So what I was conveying is that they have spoken about it in the past. They did speak about it earlier this week. The reason that Russia plays such an important role here in our discussions and planning for the next conference is that they do have – have past – supported the regime in the past. They do have a relationship with the regime. And if we want to get both parties to the table, we need to sit down and discuss moving things forward, even with people we don’t agree on everything with. So that’s the important role they play, and we’re looking – we’ll continue our discussions.

QUESTION: And Jennifer, just a quick follow-up on this – the S-300s. Now, these are surface-to-air missiles. They would be only conceivably used against raiding Israeli airplanes, which they have attacked Syria time and again. Why would that be objectionable to you? I mean, Syria, in this case, that is in a state of war with Israel, would be defending itself.

MS. PSAKI: Well, you are a historian of missiles and missile defense as well, my friend. This is – broadly, we are concerned and the Secretary is concerned about any efforts to aid the regime. This, we would categorize in that category.

QUESTION: Okay. And lastly, you mentioned London 11. Could you just – who does that include?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to miss a country, so we will get you the list of countries --

QUESTION: Right. Just remind us who all they are. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- I promise you, after this meeting. Wouldn’t want to risk listing eight or nine. Yes, go ahead. Or, sorry, are we done with Syria? Anyone have any more on Syria? Oh, do you have one in the back?

QUESTION: No, I have none on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. You’re so far back. Hello. Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m Paul from CNN.

MS. PSAKI: Hi, Paul.

QUESTION: I’m filling in for our regular. Nice to meet you.

MS. PSAKI: Great.

QUESTION: On Mexico, do we have someone from the U.S. Embassy in court with Maldonado today, who has a hearing? And can you give us an update?

MS. PSAKI: Let me give you an update on that. So we can confirm that Gary and Yanira Maldonado were arrested in Sonora, Mexico. The U.S. consulate in Nogales is monitoring the case closely. They are in regular contact with Ms. Maldonado and her family and her legal counsel, and we’re working to schedule another visit with her. The last time we were able to visit with her was May 24th.

In terms of upcoming hearings, generally speaking, consular officials would plan to attend any open proceedings in this case, so we would venture to do that. I don’t have any more specifics on kind of the legal process there.

QUESTION: When you attend an open hearing, do you advise the counsel for the defendant on Mexican law? Or what role do they play there?

MS. PSAKI: That’s a good question. I’ll have to get back to you on more specifics. We are in close contact, as I mentioned, with not only the family, but the legal counsel and all parties involved. But in terms of the specific role in the room, I’m not sure.

QUESTION: May 24th is a long time ago to not be in touch with her. Are you being blocked from contact, or what’s going on there?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more specifics on it. We’re closely in touch with the family and we’re working to set up another opportunity to be in contact.

QUESTION: Can I follow up to that?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: When you say that you’re in contact with all parties involved, does that include Mexican authorities who are involved?

MS. PSAKI: Sorry. I meant to say the family, all parties on her specific side. But we have been – we continue to be in touch with the appropriate Mexican authorities as well. So --

QUESTION: Is the case complicated at all by the fact that her husband paid or attempted to pay a bribe?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specifics on that or any details on that. I think what I’ve gone through here is the extent of what I’m able to share with all of you today.

QUESTION: But in general, when you – when Americans are going to Mexico, is that one of the things that the State Department advises on, how to deal with corrupt or allegedly corrupt authorities?

MS. PSAKI: Well, private citizens who travel abroad are expected to, of course, abide by the law in the country where they are visiting. And the consular office is in touch when cases like this arise to be helpful in advising. Beyond that, I don’t have any more specifics for you.

QUESTION: But do you think it says anything in general about the issues of corruption in Mexico and cases like this?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything more for you on it. We’re always concerned about cases of corruption, broadly speaking, of course. But in this specific case, the details I’ve outlined is what I have to share with all of you today.



MS. PSAKI: Mexico or something else?

QUESTION: Not far from Mexico, Venezuela.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the incident in Caracas Patrick --

MS. PSAKI: I do.

QUESTION: -- was talking about yesterday, on the condition of the people injured in Caracas, who they were and what they were doing in Caracas?

QUESTION: What were they doing?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we can confirm that two employees of the Defense Attache Office of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, one civilian and one uniformed service member, sustained, as Patrick confirmed yesterday, non-life-threatening injuries – they were gunshot wounds – during an incident at a nightclub in Caracas at approximately 4:00 in the morning on May 28th.

QUESTION: Sorry, a follow-up to that?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Within your advisory to State Department employees that are based in Caracas, you do have certain areas that you refer them to go – that you think that it’s okay for them to go to and other areas that you recommend that they don’t. Do you know if this particular establishment where they were shot outside of is in one of the areas that the State Department embassy security prefers that employees not go to?

MS. PSAKI: We have no information that leads us to believe that. I’d have to look into it further. Broadly speaking, we do – and this doesn’t exactly address your question, but I just wanted to add to it that this is a case where, obviously, the specifics are still being looked into, the details around the incident, of course. Broadly speaking we of course hold any employees representing the United States, no matter where they work, to a high standard. But we’ll let the final details of the process work themselves through.

QUESTION: Just to follow on that, do you have any insight into motivations for the shooting, or will there be an investigation? Will the U.S. cooperate with Venezuelan authorities on that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details. They are looking into the details right now, so as those become available, we may or may not have more. Just to --

QUESTION: Any further characterization of what they did at the Embassy as military attaches, especially the civilian? The uniform function might be more clear.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I would send you to my friends over at the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: Sorry. Do you mind taking the question about whether – I mean, I think it’s understood --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I’m happy to.

QUESTION: -- where the shooting was, the location of where they were shot. Do you mind taking the question whether --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I’m happy to take the question.

QUESTION: -- it’s in an area that is advised not to go to?

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: One more thing on it. So the narrative here is that they were not seriously injured, correct? And it’s been --

MS. PSAKI: Non-life-threatening.

QUESTION: Non-life-threatening, so --

MS. PSAKI: Unless you’re a doctor.

QUESTION: So they’re non-life-threatening, which we could assume they are able to talk and it’s been more than 48 hours since this happened. Have – has anybody in this building gotten a story from them about whether they thought they were targeted, or this was random violence?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any more specifics for you. As I mentioned, this is obviously something that is being looked into, in cooperation. Embassy security personnel is cooperating with Venezuelan authorities to do that. And as we have more to say, I’m sure we’ll say in response to your questions.

Lara, new topic or any more on --

QUESTION: No, new topic.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just very quickly on Tunisia, and the government yesterday announced that it had given suspended sentences to 20 people who were accused of attacking the U.S. Embassy last fall. More than half of them were released. Wondering if this building has a reaction to that and whether the government believes that that was a pretty light sentence or a light consequence.

MS. PSAKI: We do, and let me just make sure I find all the information to give you the most thorough answer here. Let’s see.

Well, let me broadly say to you, Lara, while I look for any – for additional guidance here, that we are concerned about the suspended sentences. We’ve long called for a more extensive investigation into this particular case and have not been satisfied to date with what we’ve seen.

QUESTION: Were you surprised by the suspended sentences, or is this something that was expected, given past actions?

MS. PSAKI: I have no information to believe knew in advance, if that’s what you’re asking. We – of course, it was not our preferred outcome here.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) As of today, the Islamist leader of the – one of the leading party, Ghannushi, is going to be in town.

QUESTION: He is in town.

QUESTION: He’s in town already. So is there any plan to meet him on official level in this building or --

MS. PSAKI: So I can tell you that Deputy Secretary Burns is scheduled to meet Mr. Ghannushi on Friday, May 31st, so that is upcoming.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. PSAKI: Any more on – okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: To Pakistan, reports that the Pakistani Taliban number two has been killed in a drone strike, and I wondered, could you confirm any of that? And if not, which I’m expecting, has anybody requested any payouts from the Rewards for Justice program on this man’s case?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we – to no surprise, we are not in a position to confirm the reports of Wali Ur Rehman’s death or in a position to discuss operational matters, to no surprise. In terms of requests for Rewards for Justice, I’m happy to look further into that. I don’t have any information on that with me today.

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. PSAKI: Any more on --

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: So following an agreement with the United States, today the Swiss Government announced that it is putting forward a change of law which would allow the Swiss banks to share information with U.S. authorities. I was wondering if you had any comment on that.

MS. PSAKI: We do, and thank you for your question. We – the United States has a strong bilateral relationship with Switzerland and maintains a wide-ranging dialogue with the Swiss Government on a variety of issues of mutual interest. I know this just happened, but we welcome the opportunity to – for continued cooperation between U.S. and Swiss authorities. That was a tongue-twister for some reason.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on that: Do you think that now the relationship between the two countries are back to normal?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve had a strong bilateral relationship. That has been consistent. So it’s just, in our view, an ongoing opportunity to cooperate.

QUESTION: Different --

MS. PSAKI: Swiss, different? Okay. No, go ahead. You don’t have to ask Swiss.

QUESTION: No, I have – I wish I can ask about Swiss. Recently, the – Secretary Kerry met President Morsy of Egypt about Egypt and had the chance to talk about reforms, including the economic and political. And as is announced today, the NGO laws are submitted in the parliament or, let’s say, the Shura Council. So do you have any concern? I know from this podium recently, a lot of concern was expressed about the NGO laws and other political laws. Do you have anything to say about these NGO laws, the new --

MS. PSAKI: I am not familiar with the new development. We have been consistently concerned about the treatment of NGOs. The Secretary did meet with President Morsy, as you mentioned, last week. They had a wide-ranging conversation on everything from Syria to Middle East peace to discussion of the Secretary’s view that it’s very important that Egypt move forward on taking the reforms necessary to secure the IMF loan. So they had a wide-ranging conversation, but I don’t know that I have anything new for you on that specifically today.

QUESTION: No, I mean, I’m just asking about the political side. I mean, I understand the IMF loan issue, which is economic.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Regarding the political side, which is lack of participation, of inclusiveness, and all these things, were these issues raised and still an issue of concern for U.S. regarding Egypt or not?

MS. PSAKI: I just wanted to make sure you knew that it was a wide-ranging conversation on a number of topics, which we said at the time, but just as a reminder. Certainly, that was discussed, and the U.S. continues to encourage broad participation, broad cooperation, and has the same concerns we’ve had in the past.

QUESTION: Related to Egypt again and – but another issue: In the last 48 hours, there is a tension between Egypt and Ethiopia regarding the Nile water because of the diversion of the Blue Nile and the possibility or the plan to establish a new dam. Just asking, is there any follow-up – following up this – what’s happening? Or U.S. is ready to play any mediator role or diplomatic role regarding this issue?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know this was a question that was taken yesterday, and I believe, if we haven’t already sent an answer, it should be in your in-boxes, so we’ll get that to you immediately following the briefing if you haven’t yet seen it.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just going back to the new NGO law, if you could look into that a little bit further for us?

MS. PSAKI: Happy to.

QUESTION: The presidency says that this addresses some of the past concerns, but rights groups and NGOs say that it still controls access to foreign funds, and it also appears that there’s a provision preventing foreign funding of NGOs, which – how that affects USAID and what the U.S. Government’s view of the legislation is?

MS. PSAKI: Happy to look into it, and we’ll venture to get you all a little more information.

QUESTION: Great. Thank you.

QUESTION: Change topic?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Palestinian-Israeli talks. Do you have any plans to host Palestinian-Israeli talks at the level of negotiators in Washington in the first week of June?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, if I’m reading between the lines of what you’re asking, I think you may be asking about reports of a deadline on this, which have been stated publicly. Just to reiterate on that point, and I said this last week – the week before – long trip. Well, the Secretary has been very clear that this is the time to act. He reiterated that countless times during his trip over the course of last week. He has never advocated publicly or privately for a deadline. But let me just say that I would point you to what the Secretary said on Friday, and again actually on Sunday in his remarks, that the stage we’re at right now is that tough choices need to be made by both sides. He’s not naïve about the difficulties here or the challenges or even the cynicism; he said that in his speech on Sunday. He believes peace is possible, but we’re at a critical moment here where both sides need to make some tough choices.

QUESTION: Would summoning both the Israelis and the Palestinians, considering how much influence you have on both, to Washington by the Secretary of State, is that something, an option that you might exercise in the next week or so?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, and I know I kind of just said this, but that both sides need to make some tough choices in order to set up the climate to move back to the negotiating table. So it is certainly on them to make those choices. We are hopeful; we believe that peace is possible. But this isn’t about an American plan. There isn’t an American plan. This is about both sides making the decisions to move forward.

QUESTION: That is not to say, let’s say – like hypothetically saying – that’s not saying that we cannot want peace more than they do, is it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly they are the ones who need to make the tough choices. The Secretary – but also, and he said this in his speech too, so let me just point you to this, that in countless bilateral meetings he has with countries and leaders around the world, they bring up Middle East peace and what the status is and what’s happening, because it’s so important not just to the Israeli and Palestinian people but to regional security and stability to countries around the world, and certainly the U.S. is part of that. That’s why the Secretary has been working so hard and traveling to the region so frequently.

QUESTION: Well, let me comment on that, if you please. But left together, they weren’t been able to make it in 20 years. What makes you a little more optimistic this time, if you leave them both on the same table alone, that they will make it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they have to make the decisions themselves to come back to the negotiating table.

QUESTION: They couldn’t make it in 20 years.

MS. PSAKI: You’re right. And the Secretary talked about this in his speech on Sunday that he understands the skepticism. He’s not naïve about the difficulty. He knows that given, as you said, 20 years or more, we’ve been working on this problem. But this is about future generations of Israeli and Palestinian people, what’s possible for them, and he feels it’s worth exercising the effort and working with both sides to try to move back to a path to peace.

QUESTION: So you don’t see any need that you will play a really critical role or putting pressure or – you don’t see that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary has been in the region frequently. He has had quite a few meetings with many of the key players here, whether that’s President Abbas or Prime Minister Netanyahu or Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and he’ll continue to play as helpful a role as he can play. But the larger point I was making is that it is ultimately up to both sides to decide that they want to move forward toward a negotiation.

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Apparently, some humanitarian aid groups have been unable to deliver that aid to North Korea, especially because of the sanctions – the international sanctions – especially with regard to the Foreign Trade Bank. And I’m wondering if those concerns have been brought to the State Department’s attention and what’s being done to address those concerns.

MS. PSAKI: They have been. We’re aware of them. Let me just give you just a short history here just so folks are aware of the issue that she was raising. The – on May 11th, the United States designated North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank for its role in facilitating transactions of entities designated by the UN for North Korean proliferation activities. That’s an issue, of course, we remain deeply concerned about. We still support, consistently support, will support, the role of the UN NGOs and other partners providing humanitarian and other critical assistance in North Korea. And we are very aware of the dire circumstances of the people and what’s they’re facing there. This has never been about the North Korean people.

And we are working – we are urging both North Korea – I mean, this is essentially on the plate of the North Korean Government, who has made the decision not to provide funding and the necessary aid to their people, which is the reason why this is so necessary from the outside. But we are working with the international – we encourage North Korea to work closely with the international NGO community, international organizations, Europeans, and others, to ensure alternate financial services are available so these organizations can continue the important work they are carrying out in North Korea.

QUESTION: How might that be done? I mean, right now the money can’t get in because of the sanctions. So how might that be circumvented?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s tough for me to speculate on the different ways, but it’s something that we’re exploring. We are aware of the challenge. We want aid to make its way to the people of North Korea. In addition to encouraging the North Korean Government to be helpful, we’ll remain focused on seeing what’s possible.

QUESTION: New topic? Yesterday, Chairman Issa sent a letter to Secretary Kerry and issued a subpoena for documents relating to the development of the talking points used by Susan Rice and communications between 10 current and former State officials. Do you have a reaction? Has he responded? And does the Department intend on complying with the – I believe it’s June 7th deadline for supplying these documents?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just remind everyone since given the opportunity that we have demonstrated unprecedented – an unprecedented degree of cooperation with Congress on the issue of Benghazi, engaging now in nearly 40 hearings, briefing members of staff, and – members and staff – and sharing over 25,000 pages of documents with committees.

On this specific issue, you’ll recall that a hundred pages of documents on the talking points were released just weeks ago. They were inclusive of the emails around this issue, and from our perspective, the CIA-led interagency process, as we now know through which these talking points were developed, has been thoroughly addressed publicly.

But of course, we remain committed, as we have consistently been, to working with Congress, and we are taking stock of this recent subpoena and determining the next appropriate steps.

QUESTION: Since a hundred pages of emails were actually sent to them and everybody observed it, and in fact, there was a lot of backtracking on initial content and so on, what else – what is being subpoenaed?

MS. PSAKI: I encourage you to ask Chairman Issa that question.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary responded?

MS. PSAKI: No. I just said we’re determining the next appropriate steps.

QUESTION: So just a quick follow-up to that just for clarity. So when you say you’re determining the next appropriate steps, you haven’t yet decided whether or not the State Department will be providing the documents that are in the subpoena?

MS. PSAKI: That’s correct. But we have provided, just as a reminder, of course, a hundred pages of documents on the talking points that this is regarding.

QUESTION: Can I change the topic quickly?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any response to the Human Rights Watch report that Kenyan security officials have committed systematic torture and abuse and rape of Somali refugees, particularly following the 2011 famine and the – and in the Kenyan invasion of Somalia?

MS. PSAKI: I have not seen that specific report. I’m happy to take the question and get something back to you. Of course, we remain very concerned about any humanitarian – reports of humanitarian abuses of any kind. But we’ll look into it further for you, Dana, for a more specific response.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Has Secretary Kerry been able to speak with Senator McCain about his trip into Syria?

MS. PSAKI: He has. He was able to speak with him last night – or sometime, I should say, late in the day yesterday, and he gave him an update on the trip.

QUESTION: Any other details you can tell us about that?

MS. PSAKI: I would send you to Senator McCain’s office since it is his briefing he offered.

QUESTION: Have you seen the Lebanese media reports that Senator McCain met with some of the rebels who have been accused of kidnapping?

MS. PSAKI: I have not seen those, but I would send you to Senator McCain’s office.


QUESTION: Did the Secretary see eye-to-eye with Senator McCain on the issues that Senator McCain has already said?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know Senator McCain has spoken very publicly about his views. We believe everybody is entitled to their views. You’re very familiar with the Secretary’s views as well, so I’ll leave it at that.

All right?

QUESTION: Just to clarify, Jen.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Secretary knew personally before McCain left that he intended to enter Syria?


QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Great. Thank you, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:56 p.m.)

DPB # 87