Daily Press Briefing - February 3, 2014

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • U.S. Condemns Recent Terrorist Bombings in Lebanon
    • U.S. Opposed to Attempts to Boycott Israel / EU
    • Secretary's Voting Record in the U.S. Senate
    • Molho / Livni / Netanyahu
    • Ambassador Indyk
    • Turkey
    • Process Ongoing, Released Final SEIS Last Friday, Legal Process Underway
    • Chemical Weapons / Port of Latakia / OPCW / Foreign Minister Lavrov / UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
    • Munich / Congressional Delegation / Lethal Assistance
    • Designated Terrorist Organizations / ISIS / Al-Nusra
    • Humanitarian Access / Rome / Valerie Amos / Geneva / UNSCR
    • U.S. Condemns Violence, Death of Civilians
    • Ambassador Ford
  • IRAN
    • JPOA / EU
    • Secretary Clinton
    • EU / IMF
    • No New System or Process Underway
    • Need to Commit to Sincere Dialogue
    • Meeting Readout
Jen Psaki
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 3, 2014


1:04 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. I just have one item for all of you at the top, and then we will get to your questions.

The United States condemns in the strongest terms possible the recent terrorist bombings in Lebanon, including the February 1st attack in Hermel and today’s attack in Choueifat. We extend our deepest condolences to the victims and their families. It is reprehensible that the people of Lebanon have once again been subjected to these acts of terrorism. The Lebanese people should not have to live in fear as they conduct their daily lives. All parties in Lebanon must exercise restraint and refrain from contributing to the cycle of violence. We would again call for the full implementation of the Baabda declaration, UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701, and the Taif Agreement.

The United States reiterates its strong support for the Lebanese armed forces and the internal security forces in their role in maintaining Lebanon’s security, and we call for the perpetrators of this attack to be brought to justice.

Hello, Matt.

QUESTION: Hello. Welcome back.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you.

QUESTION: Let’s start with the Middle East.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: As you probably have noticed, there seems to be some confusion, particularly in Israel, over where the United States and perhaps the Secretary himself personally stand on this whole BDS issue. So can you – and we went through this kind of a bit last week with Marie, but my line of questioning today is different than it was. Does – can you spell out as clearly as possible what the United States – what the Administration’s position is on BDS?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re referring to the specific events around the Super Bowl issue that we talked about last week.

QUESTION: No, no. Just in general about whether the United States supports or opposes the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions initiative, movement – whatever you want to call it – against Israel.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me be absolutely clear here. And I know, to your point, there was some confusion and mixed reporting – not reporting but confusion over the weekend. We are absolutely opposed, we have been opposed to any attempts at boycotts – boycotting Israel. Secretary Kerry himself personally, who, of course, is the world’s – or the United States chief diplomat at this point – has a proud record of over three decades of steadfast support for Israel’s security and well-being, including staunch opposition to boycotts. And just last year – and many of you were on this trip – you may remember that we were in Vilnius for a meeting of the EU foreign ministers – he made the case in that private meeting that they should refrain from implementing these types of measures. So as we often say, actions speak --

QUESTION: Sorry. Who – okay, sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Actions speak louder than words. But go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: He made the case that who should refrain?


QUESTION: The European Union. Okay. And outside of the private meeting – that private meeting, has he said this publicly?

MS. PSAKI: His opposition to boycotts?

QUESTION: Correct.

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. That has consistently been his position for three decades in public service.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: There should be no doubt or question about it.

QUESTION: Okay. Notwithstanding the fact – or I think some would argue with the facts --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So notwithstanding your stated position against BDS --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and the Secretary’s stated opposition, does the Administration or the Secretary believe that, while objectionable and while not a good idea, that BDS is potentially a useful or helpful thing to get Israel to make concessions as part of the negotiations?

MS. PSAKI: No, that is not our view, that’s not our strategy, that’s not what we’re pushing for in any capacity.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: So there should be no confusion about that.

QUESTION: To the best of your knowledge when the Secretary was a senator, did he ever disagree with previous administrations’ decisions to veto UN Security Council resolutions that the U.S. regarded as one-sided or biased against Israel?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to look at his lengthy 30-year record in the Senate, Matt. But his own view, and whether it’s for or against, what was proposed by various administrations, has consistently been opposed to any form of boycott.

QUESTION: And do you know if while he was a senator, and especially as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, if he ever supported a reduction in the substantial U.S. assistance that is provided to Israel every year?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t imagine he did, Matt, but I’d have to check his Senate record.

QUESTION: So you would describe people’s suggestions that the Secretary is anti-Israel, or in fact to the extreme, anti-Semitic, as incorrect?

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely incorrect; not based on any fact. He has had a 100 percent voting record throughout his career in the Senate. There is no greater advocate – or opponent, I should say, to boycotts – or proponent of Israel’s security and their future.

QUESTION: So given all that, and this will be my last question --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Given all that, is he dismayed or frustrated at all that some have taken – chosen to interpret his comments as being anti-Israel or anti-Semitic, or giving encouragement to people who are in favor of boycotts?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, he always expects anyone, even those who are against the efforts underway moving towards a peace process, not to distort his words or his record. And so I think that’s frustrating for not just him but for any of us.

QUESTION: Jen, just to follow up on the boycott issue, but that did not preclude the Secretary from saying or suggesting that a boycott is maybe the future for Israel, a warning in a friendly manner, despite his objection. Does it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we should be very clear about the context of this weekend. At the Munich Security Conference, which the Secretary was at this weekend and he gave remarks and Secretary Hagel gave remarks, he was asked a question about – let me finish – the ongoing peace process. He spoke forcefully – and anyone can look at the context of his comments – in defense of Israel’s interests as he consistently has for 30 years in public life. He also described some well-known and previously stated facts about what is at stake for both sides if this process fails, including the consequences for the Palestinians. His only reference to a boycott in his remarks was a description of actions undertaken by others that he has been a vocal opponent of, he has taken actions to oppose. So there should be no confusion or question about his record or his view on this issue.

QUESTION: Okay. Understood. But seeing – if this process fails and the world becomes more and more frustrated with the continuation of an endless occupation and the expansion of settlements and so on, that actually you may feel that this would be in the offing in the future – more boycotts, more restrictions, more isolation of Israeli – you do feel that way, don’t you?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make any further predictions, Said. What I would say is that clearly there are stakes for both sides. There are reasons why the Secretary is so committed to this process, not just the Secretary but many international leaders around the world. And certainly, his opposition to boycotts and his desire to lead the charge against them will not change.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Let me just follow up --

MS. PSAKI: But let’s just do one at a time.

QUESTION: Yeah, a little bit just --

MS. PSAKI: Said, you have one more and then we’ll move to the next person.

QUESTION: I want to move away --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- from the boycott issue and go to what Palestinian Authority President Abbas said about having the --

MS. PSAKI: Can we finish this issue in case others have --

QUESTION: Sure, sure. Yes.

MS. PSAKI: -- questions, and then we’ll go back to you?


MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask – this is not the first time that the Secretary’s made this point. Back in June, he spoke to the American Jewish Committee --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- when he said that if there were no peace deal that there would be a continuing de-legitim – de-litig – I can’t say the word.

MS. PSAKI: It’s a tough one. I can’t do it either.

QUESTION: De-legitimization.

QUESTION: -- of Israel. I mean, is there – going back to what Matt –he also made the same comments in a press conference in Tel Aviv at the airport that I attended. These are not new comments that he’s made.

MS. PSAKI: Correct. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So is – going back to what Matt’s question was, is there not a frustration on the part of the Administration, and particularly within the State Department and Secretary Kerry, that suddenly these comments have been seized upon and have become a big issue now in Israel in the middle of this peace process which you guys are trying to --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, Jo, I would say contextually we’re at a different point in the process than we were in June, and there’s no question that there is more pressure on the parties. That manifests itself in many different ways. What’s important is that the people of Israel understand no, that you cannot find a greater opponent of boycotts than Secretary Kerry, and his record speaks to that. And all we can do here is to continue to convey what is accurate and what the facts are.

And so yes, he does expect that the parties – and whether they’re for or against his efforts or any efforts at all – will not distort his facts or his record. And that’s why we’re speaking forcefully on this issue.

QUESTION: Jen, one of the larger contexts of this – you have these comments from the economy minister and from a member of the Knesset. You’ve had in the past couple of weeks comments from Minister Rabbo of the PA. Is there a concern within the State Department that neither side is doing the groundwork to prepare their people for what could come out of a peace deal, given how inflammatory these comments have been from both sides?

MS. PSAKI: That’s not how we view it, Roz. I would say we’re not surprised because this is now – we’re at a point in the process where we are discussing a framework for negotiations moving forward. There are decades – and to satisfy Matt, longer than decades of history on these issues. There is sensitivity about these issues. The leaders are making tough choices. And I know we’ll get to Said’s question in a second, but one of the things that President Abbas said in his interview was that he reiterated his commitment to it and his willingness to commit to it over the long term.

So the parties are committed to – the parties who are negotiating over this are committed to sitting down at the table, addressing the tough choices. We can’t make a prediction of what the outcome will be, but it is not a surprise that at this challenging time in the process, given that we are talking about the core issues, that things have become more challenging politically.

QUESTION: What is the Administration doing then to make certain that the people who are actually in this negotiating room are not succumbing to the pressures, which seems to be the word of the day --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- coming from both sides? Clearly, there are domestic considerations for a member of the Knesset to say what he said about Mr. Kerry, for Mr. Rabbo to say what he has said about the validity of a Jewish state – what’s being done to inoculate the negotiators, as it were?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the negotiators – I think the fact that they remain engaged in the process tells you what you need to know. Yesterday, the Secretary met with Molho and Livni when he was in – where were we yesterday – Germany. (Laughter.) In Germany. They had a meeting. I think it lasted about 90 minutes. They discussed the core issues.

The Secretary, of course, as needed, as do we, convey what is accurate and what is inaccurate when things are mischaracterized, and we’ll continue to do that.

QUESTION: That’s what I wanted to ask you. Is there any indication as of – since these comments and still the actual over them, is there any indication that anybody’s pulling out or that it’s compromised the discussions at all in any way?

MS. PSAKI: The fact that he met with the Israeli negotiators yesterday, that those – that meeting went on despite – even while these comments were being made tells you what you need to know about that.

QUESTION: Do you know, Jen, though, in that meeting, did he – did the Secretary raise this issue, or did this issue come up? Was it discussed at all?

MS. PSAKI: He discussed it with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and he also --

QUESTION: On the phone.

MS. PSAKI: On the phone. He also discussed it with Justice Minister Livni, but it was a very brief part of the conversation, and she made public comments about it, too --


MS. PSAKI: -- that I would point you to.

QUESTION: So as far as you’re concerned, you believe that the Israeli – that the two top Israeli negotiators, Livni and Molho, as well as the prime minister, are clear on the Secretary’s position?

MS. PSAKI: I think they should be clear, and many of them have known the Secretary for decades, so there shouldn’t be any confusion about his position.

QUESTION: The argument from the critics is that the – even the mere mention of a potential boycott threat is not a statement of reality but, as the ADL has – Mr. Foxman put it in his letter – excuse me – that just came out, that it creates a reality of its own and it offers encouragement for the Palestinians to reject a peace deal. Do you agree with the characterization, or the suggestion that the Secretary’s comments, which you say were merely stating a – the – a reality – do you agree that those, in fact, create a new reality that would make it easier for the Palestinians to walk away?

MS. PSAKI: I do not. We do not. The Secretary is an opponent. He has taken steps and been a vocal critic of boycott attempts over the course of years. And I’m sure that that is something that has been appreciated by the parties over the course of that time as well.

QUESTION: Do you --

QUESTION: I was about to read from the letter, but Matt took the words out of my mouth.



QUESTION: That’s alright. What the ADL is saying is that, as you said, this is the chief diplomat for the United States. This is the key player in this negotiation. And while he – just as his words have weighed when he chides the BDS movement, they also have weight when he effectively says that should negotiations fail, Israel will come under a renewed – emboldened BDS movement. So that’s what the ADL is saying. Is that something that Kerry regrets or worries about?

MS. PSAKI: I think Kerry doesn’t regret for a moment every time he has stated his opposition to boycott attempts, and that’s exactly what he did this weekend.

QUESTION: Well, Jen, can --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you think that sometimes when the Secretary says, as you were saying in the beginning, things that he sees as happening or warning Israelis about what could happen --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that the Israelis misconstrue that as being negative towards the Israelis when he might argue that he’s speaking kind of – just trying to give Israelis a little tough love in the sense that this is – these are the consequences of what could happen?

MS. PSAKI: Well, he was – I spoke about this a little bit at the beginning.

QUESTION: Yeah, I understand.

MS. PSAKI: But his only reference – as I’m sure you know, because I know you all have seen this transcript – was a description of actions undertaking – undertaken by other groups which he opposes and he has always opposed. So I’m not sure – can you – what is your question specifically?

QUESTION: Well, it just seems as if – it seems as if every time the Secretary says something that might be perceived as negative in the Israeli's’ favor, that they portray the Secretary as against Israel.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what I would say to that is that his record is clearly the opposite. I mean, he has been a proponent of Israel, of Israel’s security, against efforts to boycott Israel for decades.

QUESTION: Do you think it’s just his style of speaking kind of plainly and what’s going on that’s rubbing the Israelis the wrong way?

MS. PSAKI: I think this is a difficult time with a lot of pressure on the parties, and what’s important to us is that moving forward, his comments are not misconstrued and his record is not misconstrued.

QUESTION: But that does not prevent him from also being objectionable to the occupation, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: I mean, this is the American position historically that the occupation should end and that the Palestinians should have their own state.

MS. PSAKI: You’re familiar with our position.


MS. PSAKI: That hasn’t changed over the course of the weekend.


MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I mean, he objects boycott, but he also object to the continuation of the occupation, correct?

MS. PSAKI: He believes the Palestinians should have a state, yes. That hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Can we change the subject?

QUESTION: Hold on.

QUESTION: No, no, it’s the – Abbas --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Just one more on this. So he vehemently opposes the BDS movement, as you’ve said multiple times.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t think that, again, should negotiations fail, the BDS movement will emboldened. He also thinks that? Is that true? Because that’s what he stated over the weekend.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what he was stating, Michael, is the statement of fact and a statement that has been made by many, many, many others about the consequences. So he wasn’t trying to make a prediction. Obviously, his goal is to have an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians and to have – move forward in this process, and that’s what his focus is on.

QUESTION: Could you comment on Mr. Abbas’s interview regarding NATO presence and so on?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. What specifically about it?

QUESTION: Well, specifically, I mean, he said that we could have NATO forces present for a number of years and so on. He’s trying to sort of mitigate Israel’s fears on security, and he’s also acknowledging that a Palestinian state would be a disarmed state and so on. So I wanted your comment on that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, as you know, there are many ideas being put forward by both the Israelis and the Palestinians at this stage. The discussions are ongoing about a framework for negotiations. I’m not going to predict what would or wouldn’t be included in that because that’s not a known entity yet, so we’ll let that move forward on the ground.

QUESTION: Can you again – I mean, I asked you this last week on the framework agreement. Are we likely to hear this framework agreement without any --

MS. PSAKI: Do you want to know what our rollout plan is? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay. I mean, are we likely to hear something anytime soon – two weeks, three weeks, four weeks?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make a prediction of the timing. Obviously, this is something we’re working hard on, but again, I don’t think we expect this to be soon.

QUESTION: When is the next meeting?

MS. PSAKI: The next --

QUESTION: When is the next – when – that Martin Indyk or the Secretary – when are they going back to the region, or when is the next discussion?

MS. PSAKI: Ambassador Indyk is back in the region now. So the Secretary spoke with – as you know, he met with the negotiators just yesterday --


MS. PSAKI: -- so I don’t have a prediction of the next meeting or discussion. But it’s fair to say they’re very closely engaged with both parties.

QUESTION: Can I just ask on the --

QUESTION: By the way, but they did have – oh, I’m sorry. I was going to say that --

MS. PSAKI: Why don’t you let Jo go and then we’ll go to you next.

QUESTION: I was just following up actually on Said’s question --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- about the timing of the framework agreement. I mean, this jostling and tensions that are surfacing would suggest that there’s an agreement ready. And there have been some reports that it could come around the time of the next prisoner release, which is the end of February. Could you address that?

MS. PSAKI: End of March.

QUESTION: End of March.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any prediction for you on the timing, Jo, because it’s not – there isn’t a framework for negotiations that is in a final form. So obviously, you’re working through the tough issues with both parties. We’re continuing to work to bridge the gap with both parties, but any reports that they’re – this is done and tied in a bow are not accurate.

QUESTION: So the next prisoner release is the end of March, not the end of February?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you --

QUESTION: Can we change the subject?

QUESTION: No. No, no, no. I got one more.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: And I don’t want to have this – I don’t want to get drawn out on this like we did last week --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- but now that we’ve established yours and the Secretary’s position on the boycotts, I think it is now – that raises the question of whether that position follows logically from your position that the settlements are – that settlement activity is illegitimate. And Marie kind of addressed this last week. Is it still – I’m just wondering if anyone has drawn a finer bead on it in terms of language. Her comment on Friday was that A – or that B doesn’t necessarily follow A.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is that – do you know if that’s --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new and we discussed it on Thursday, too. So I don’t have anything new to tell you.

QUESTION: Okay. So what do you think of suggestions by people or the argument by some people that merely calling settlement – Israeli settlement activity illegitimate, in fact, contributes to de-legitimization of Israel.

MS. PSAKI: I would disagree with that; I think it’s making apples into oranges. And obviously, this is an incredibly complex issue. No question; that’s why we’re all talking about it. But we don’t believe, for the reasons you all know, that settlements are legitimate. That’s been our consistent position. Obviously, we’re working to address these issues with the parties, and hopefully we won’t have to have these debates anymore.

QUESTION: All right. Okay. And then just on this whole anti-Semitism, real or imagined, there is great concern among Jewish groups and Israelis about rising – real rising anti-Semitism in Europe. Do you believe that the BDS movement contributes to that at all?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any analysis of that for you, Matt. I of course am aware of what you’re referring to, but --

QUESTION: Do you have any general comment on the rise – what people are saying – seeing as a rise in actual anti-Semitism in Europe?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, we’d be concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism anywhere, but beyond that, I don’t have any other comments or analysis for you.

QUESTION: Just on to the framework --

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up, okay? A quick clarification on the meeting yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: Okay, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You said that Secretary Kerry met with Livni and Molho for 90 minutes. Did he meet with the Palestinians?

MS. PSAKI: No, he did not. As you know, he met with them just last week.

QUESTION: Yes, right. So what do you make of this public sort of disagreement between the Palestinian and the Israeli negotiators yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: I think it’s a time where we’re working through core issues that are difficult with a lot of history, and that’s what that speaks to.

QUESTION: So is there – are we likely to see any kind of direct, face-to-face Palestinian-Israeli negotiation? Or are you continuing to sort of go between --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to read out for you every component of our negotiations, Said. I know you’re interested in that particular question.

QUESTION: It’s a different subject.

QUESTION: No, wait, I got one more on Israel but it has nothing to do with this.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Have you seen or do you know anything about reports that the Israelis have offered the Turks $20 million in compensation for the flotilla incident?

MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen those reports. I don’t have any independent confirmation of that, though.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, would you be encouraged if this was true – if, in fact, the rapprochement that the President and the Secretary tried very hard at the beginning of last year --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- to get underway was going – is that a – I mean, is this a good sign?

MS. PSAKI: We’d be encouraged by any steps forward, and this is an issue that the Secretary raises with both parties on a regular basis.


QUESTION: Both parties – sorry – meaning the Israelis and the Turks?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, yes, exactly.


QUESTION: Can we move to Syria?

QUESTION: I have just one more (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: One more, one more, okay.

QUESTION: Sorry, Elise. And the nine-month timeframe means what at this point? Is the goal to have a framework for further negotiations?

MS. PSAKI: The nine-month timeframe remains. Nothing has changed about that. The next step is a framework, but we haven’t changed anything about our timeline.

QUESTION: Okay. Because when you were talking about a timeline for rolling out the framework, you said there is no such timeline, but can we safely assume --

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s only February 4th now, so we have a bit of time between now and the end of April.

QUESTION: Okay. So – but we can safely assume that we’re going to have a framework between now and the end of April?

MS. PSAKI: That is certainly our hope, but that is the next step and something we’re working on more quickly than that.

QUESTION: But we’re not going to have a peace deal by the end of April and full (inaudible) peace?

MS. PSAKI: That still remains our goal, but the next step is a framework, and so that’s what we’re working toward.

QUESTION: Before we move to Syria, can we do two quick ones on one that I suspect will not take as long as Syria?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to indulge you. Go ahead. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: That’s a first.

QUESTION: On the Keystone Pipeline --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- first, how should proponents of the pipeline project be assured that Secretary Kerry, with his very long record of advocacy for environmentalism, will take an open mind to the decision that now awaits him after federal agencies have had their comment?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the Secretary has been very clear and the President has been as well. Obviously, the process is ongoing here, and you all are familiar with the steps that have happened, but let me just reiterate those, because I think it’s worth doing. On Friday, we released the final SEIS report. That is not a decision on the presidential permit application. I think some of this – and correct me if I’m wrong here – has been reading into what that may or may have meant. It is not a decision – is not an indication of a decision. It’s just one factor. Obviously, the Secretary has a long record on environmental issues. He’s been a long advocate. He’s done speeches around the world on climate issues. But he’s going to make this decision based on a range of factors. There’s a legal process that’s underway, and he will follow that legal process. And the range of factors are determining what’s, of course, in the national interest, but the relevant factors include energy security; environmental, economic and cultural impacts; and foreign policy. Those are a range of factors. There’s a process that is underway now, which is a 30-day public comment period – actually, that will begin Wednesday. They’ll – each of the eight agencies will have up to 90 days to provide their own comments. All of that will be factored in, and the Secretary will undergo his own review, but he has not been engaged in the process to date.

QUESTION: So he is keeping an open mind.

MS. PSAKI: Of course. He’s following the procedure and the process that’s been laid out by the executive order and by the legal process.

QUESTION: Second question: What should American citizens conclude about their federal government and about the Obama Administration when its decision about whether or not to build a pipeline has now taken this Administration longer than it took the United States to enter, fight, and win World War II?

MS. PSAKI: Well, James, I think they should take from it that we take the process and the steps engaged seriously. I’m not sure there was a public comment option available during World War II, but that has been a factor for us. As you know, there were more than 1.5 million comments that we’ve taken into account. And this process was laid out very specifically to make sure that all voices are heard from, that all factors are factored, before a decision has been made. So we’re undergoing the process that’s been laid out, and I hope that the American people can understand that.

QUESTION: Thank you for indulging me.

QUESTION: Well, I have one --

QUESTION: Are you suggesting there should be public comment periods before the country goes to war?

MS. PSAKI: I was not suggesting that. I was making a commentary about the fact that there was not social media and internet available at that time. And as you know, because the public comments were so high, we had to take some time to factor that in last summer. Perhaps I should have explained that a little further. (Laughter.) I was making a light joke, but clearly, it didn’t go over well. (Laughter.)

Do we have any more on Keystone?


MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Could you talk about the timeline, then? Does the Secretary expect the federal agencies to take up the full 90 days? If so, how soon after the agencies complete their review will the Secretary make his position known?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any prediction of that specifically. Obviously, it’s up to the agencies how long they take. They have up to 90 days. There’s eight agencies. There’s also the 30-day review period. After that time, the Secretary – that is the period when he would make a decision. But he’s going to factor in all of this information in his own decision-making process.

QUESTION: So the 90 days include the 30-day public comment period?

MS. PSAKI: It’s overlapping, yes.

QUESTION: So, say the full 90 days take place. Then how – is there an estimate of – is there a plan for how soonest --

MS. PSAKI: There is not.

QUESTION: -- or how latest he wants to get the decision reached?

MS. PSAKI: There is not. There is not.

QUESTION: So are you able to say that he will make a decision and not just stick it in his back pocket and wait until the end of 2016?


QUESTION: He will make a decision --


QUESTION: -- while he is Secretary of State?

MS. PSAKI: He or his designee, yes. We will make a decision.

QUESTION: On Syria --

QUESTION: But does it not go to – sorry. Does it not go to President Obama, though, to make his final decision on it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are several stages in the process, and we can get you a write-up of this, which may be an easier way to do it. But the stage we’re in now is what I just outlined about the 30-day comment period, the 90 days. I think the Secretary is reviewing it now, and he will ultimately – the next step is for him to make a decision about the process.

QUESTION: Right. So then it goes to the White House?

MS. PSAKI: Well, not necessarily. There are several components, several steps and factors that would need to take place in order for it to do that.

QUESTION: So the Secretary could have the final decision? Sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Possibly. But again, we’re way ahead of where we are. We’re just taking this one week at a time here, and seeing through how the process has been laid out.

QUESTION: So, I mean, what case or scenario does he have the final decision?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to lay it out any further, just because we have to factor in every step in the process as it goes along, and decisions will be made as we go along, but I can’t get ahead of where we are.

QUESTION: Well, how high would you rate the chances of the Secretary making a decision that goes against what the President says or thinks?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make a prediction of that, Matt.

QUESTION: Would you say that that’s a high probability that the Secretary’s decision will mirror what the President thinks?

MS. PSAKI: I think what’s important for people to know here and understand is this is sitting in the State Department now. This is not an interagency process, aside from the eight agencies providing their input. It is not a major topic or a focus of engagement with the White House. This is where – it’s sitting in the State Department now, so it’s different from many other policy processes.

QUESTION: Yes, but what would you – what – I mean, he is not going to – his final decision, his ultimate decision on this, is not going to be made divorced or without any regard to what the President thinks.

MS. PSAKI: The President has made and the White House has made comments about what their views are. Denis McDonough made comments yesterday. There was a statement put out by the White House on Friday. Of course, these are all factors. But there are a range of factors that are taken into consideration that will be looked at as we undergo the next couple of months of this process.

QUESTION: But Jen – sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: My understanding is if the agencies don’t agree, then it goes to the President.

MS. PSAKI: That is right. It could. But my point is that we’re not – or it could be raised by an agency to go to that step. But we’re clearly not at that point at this stage, so that’s why I didn’t want to go too far down the process.

QUESTION: And what role did the Secretary have – direct impact did he have on the environmental --

MS. PSAKI: None.

QUESTION: -- assessment?

MS. PSAKI: None.

QUESTION: None on that one.

MS. PSAKI: It was a technical review.


MS. PSAKI: And that’s a very important point, actually. He has not yet engaged in the process. Now is the stage where he would begin engaging in the process.

QUESTION: And then a follow-up: Were the Canadians told about this ahead of – before it was published on Friday?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to double-check on that for you. I’m not sure what the – that process entails.

QUESTION: Okay. Just to clarify --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You don’t – from the State Department you don’t have a goal or aim for a certain date that you wish to get – reach a decision on (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a date. And the reason why it’s hard to predict that is because there are several stages --


MS. PSAKI: -- or several – I shouldn’t say stages, but several components in the process that need to happen before a decision would be made.


MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I don’t know how many times Canada is going to come before Syria at these briefings. It’s funny. (Laughter.) For – the issue of chemical weapons, how long is the U.S. willing to wait before taking up the issue of compliance with the UN Security Council resolution with some other partners? Has Secretary Kerry raised this issue of enforcement with his partners, and what has been the response so far?

MS. PSAKI: Well, you’re right; he has raised this publicly very forcefully, as you all have seen. This is an issue he brings up every single morning in our morning staff meetings. He’s engaged in this issue and a discussion of what more can be done with nearly every foreign leader he’s spoken to over the last several days. And he raised it with Foreign Minister Lavrov when he spoke with him and with Joint Special Representative – or I should say UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as well.

The stage we’re in now is that the regime has every tool they need in order to deliver on their promise of moving the chemical weapons to the port at Latakia. That is the step they need to take. We’re asking international partners who may have influence with them, including the Russians, to put that pressure on them to see if we can make progress. They have the tools, they have the resources they need; there’s no more reason for – there’s never been a reason for dragging their feet.

I’m not at a point – or we’re not at a point where we would predict a next step with the UN. You’re familiar with what the language states from last September, and we will, of course, continue talking about this day to day. But it is a major focus of not just the Secretary’s, but as you heard this weekend at the Munich Security Council, many leaders from around the world.

QUESTION: Because one of the Russian deputies is out today saying that this is simply a matter of an overly aggressive timeframe and the Syrians have given them assurances. This seems to be post the meeting with Minister Lavrov – post that conversation.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So have we been given assurances that that’s the case, or does our assessment that they’re just having a bargaining mentality stand?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of assurances that we have received or the OPCW has received. I would assume – I mean, they would be the first ones who would speak to that authoritatively. But actions speak louder than words, so let’s see them move forward with taking steps they need to take. We always knew it was an aggressive timeline from the beginning, so that’s a statement of fact. But we felt it was also an achievable timeline, and that’s why we’re continuing to press for them to move forward.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary receive assurances from Minister Lavrov that they would pressure the regime, or did they simply convey, “Give ‘em time”?

MS. PSAKI: I will let them speak to that. I can just tell you that he made the case forcefully about the need to pressure the regime to move forward.

QUESTION: So you’re not directing the blame at the Syrian Government in this case, are you?

MS. PSAKI: I think I just very clearly did. And the Secretary has.

QUESTION: Oh, you just said that?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. So what do you want them to do? I mean, what is step one and two and so on that they should take?

MS. PSAKI: We want them to move the remaining chemical weapons to the port at Latakia. They have the resources to do that, so that’s what we’d like them to do.

QUESTION: So you feel that this is under the realm of their capability of the present time and they are not – they are not coming forward?

MS. PSAKI: That’s correct.

QUESTION: And Jen --

QUESTION: Sorry. You’re – you just said – before you said this was an ambitious but achievable deadline back at the time, and you just restated that.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is that still your – it’s clearly – it wasn’t achievable, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we --

QUESTION: Wasn’t that an error in judgment?

MS. PSAKI: No, it wasn’t. It was achievable if the regime had abided by their commitments. Obviously, we’ve spoken to how they haven’t.

QUESTION: But is – that’s a big part of whether it’s achievable or not, because whether --

MS. PSAKI: That’s right. In terms of whether the summer timeline that we – I’d have to check with the OPCW and see what their evaluation is at this point. It’s a fair question.


QUESTION: But Jen, you’re not seeing this as a failure yet, of this grand plan to get them to ship out the chemical weapons? It doesn’t sound like you’re panicking yet.

MS. PSAKI: Well, they’ve failed to do as much as we wanted them to do, but there still is an opportunity to do what we need them to do and what they’ve committed to do, which is to move the remainder of the chemical weapons to the ports, so there’s still an opportunity --

QUESTION: Are we talking about Syria or Iran?

QUESTION: Syria. Oh, does it sound like Iran?

QUESTION: I think they might be interchangeable. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Another question was that – you’ve probably seen reports today about senators saying that – in private conversations with Secretary Kerry that he doesn’t agree with the way the Syria policy’s working. Is this true?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I was in this entire meeting. So let me just put that out there for the full context. No one – broadly speaking, no one in the Administration thinks we’re doing enough until the humanitarian crisis has been solved and the civil war has ended. As you all know, there are ongoing discussions within the Administration about what steps to take, what we need to do. We’re engaged with the UN, we’re engaged within the interagency, and we’re engaged with our international partners. That is a message, and that message is no different from what Secretary Kerry conveyed in the meeting.

He was – this was part of our outreach to a congressional delegation, a bipartisan congressional delegation. As you know, the Secretary feels it’s very important to hear from and engage with members of both parties as we work together to make these difficult decisions. At no point did he, during the meeting – did Secretary raise lethal assistance for the opposition. At no point did he state what I think was quoted, that the process has failed. I can’t remember what was the exact quote. He did – they did have a discussion about a range of options that the Administration has always had at its disposal. And as you all know, every senator, every member of Congress has different views about what they think should happen, how it should happen. And it was an engagement with them about that process as well. But that is what happened in the meeting.

QUESTION: Well, you said that he – at no point did he raise the issue of lethal assistance. But do you recall, having been in the meeting --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- which I’m – first of all, do you recall if any senators left or walked out or excused themselves from the meeting?

MS. PSAKI: There were some members who were there for different ranges of time because they had obligations of speaking on panels.

QUESTION: The ones who have now come out and spoken about this on the record, those – were they in there the entire time with you?

MS. PSAKI: They were not.

QUESTION: They were not. So they missed part of it. Okay. So in terms of you saying at no point did he raise lethal assistance, is it correct – do you recall if any of the members of Congress raised the issue of lethal assistance?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Of course they did.

QUESTION: And perhaps the Secretary responded to that? And if he did respond, what did he say?

MS. PSAKI: Of course, as you know, because many of them have said publicly that they would support specific steps that they would like the Administration to undertake. The Secretary heard – it was a listening session almost more than it was a briefing session because he was hearing from however many members were in there – probably about 20 members – about what they would like to do.


MS. PSAKI: At no point did he raise it, did he commit to it, did he say that it was a process being worked on. And so that’s a mischaracterization of what was said.

QUESTION: Okay. So at no point in response to Senator or Congressman X, saying, “Gee, I think it’s a good – I really think we should give arms to the opposition,” at no point the Secretary said, “Hmm, well, that’s – that might be a good idea; we’ll – we’re thinking about it.” Nothing like that?

MS. PSAKI: That is not a conversation that took place. The Secretary said during the meeting, as he said publicly, as we all have said publicly, that of course we need to keep considering what more we can do – what more we can do to put pressure on, what more we can do on the humanitarian front. That’s something we’re actively thinking about, and obviously, the President has tasked him, as he has tasked any – all of the members of the national security team to keep thinking of ideas and options and listen to people around the world.

QUESTION: But – and you – the Secretary – as you say, no one in the Administration is – thinks we’re doing it – will think that we’re doing enough until the situation is better. But does that mean that thus far, you’re allowing that your policy in Syria has not had the desired – its desired effect? Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: What it means, Matt – well, the desired effect would be the end of the Assad regime, (inaudible) relief to the millions of men, women, and children who have been suffering in Syria. Obviously, that hasn’t happened yet


MS. PSAKI: -- so we continue to consider what more we can do.

QUESTION: And do you believe that that, though – the failure thus far to achieve those end – is entirely the result of whatever policy that you – that the United States itself has adopted?

MS. PSAKI: No, we don’t. Obviously, there are a range of factors we’ve talked about in here, but we remain committed to this as you all know.

QUESTION: On that humanitarian --

QUESTION: Did the Secretary acknowledge that, then, that – and the quote in one of the stories I’ve seen is that “we are now going to have to change our strategy.” Was that something that he said?

MS. PSAKI: That is not a quote that the Secretary stated. He did say, as I said, that of course we need to continue to consider what more we can do. But that is not a change in strategy. That is an acknowledgement of what we all know – that there are ongoing discussions within the Administration, that we continue to work with our international partners and through an interagency process on how to approach each step in this huge crisis.

QUESTION: So there’s no discussions at the moment within the Administration to change U.S. strategy on Syria?

MS. PSAKI: I would not characterize it that way. Obviously, there have been ongoing discussions from the beginning about steps to take, on what additional steps to be taken, and that’s ongoing.

QUESTION: Jen, on --


MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do one at a time. Margaret, go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, when we were in Montreux, Secretary Kerry said publicly during his press conference that one of the options being considered was augmenting support to the armed rebels.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And that would suggest going beyond where we are now. It would also suggest that he favored that since he mentioned it a few times in the course of his question – his answer to my question about specifically that. So is that something that is under consideration, though you are saying that is not discussed in the context of this specific conversation with these senators?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to go into – I wouldn’t, first, read into everything he mentions as a preference for that. There are a range of options that, of course, the Administration has long had at their disposal. There’s no decision that’s been made; there’s nothing I have to announce. And obviously, everybody's familiar with the range of options that are being proposed by many foreign leaders around the world.

But what he stated during the meeting and what his view is, is that part of his role is to gather all the options, hear from – whether it’s members of Congress or is interlocutors around the world, and weigh – lay out for the President what he’s hearing. And so engagement with the co-del was part of that listening process.

QUESTION: Well, Jen, my – can I – I mean, it looks as if part of what he was saying, even if you don’t want to get into the specifics, was a recognition that the situation on the ground is getting much worse, U.S. policy is not working, and the U.S. needs to examine more options on what it can do. Is that a fair assessment?

MS. PSAKI: No, it’s not. What he was --

QUESTION: You don’t think the situation on the ground is getting worse?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve said in the past – we’ve expressed concerns a lot in the past about the situation on the ground getting worse. What he was saying in the meeting was, of course, there are over 100,000 people have died there. The humanitarian situation is in a desperate state. People are starving to death. We’re trying to move toward a political solution. Today – or, over the weekend, we have reports of aerial bombardment of Aleppo. All of these issues are of significant concern. And of course there’s a range of options that continue to be at our disposal.

QUESTION: Well, why would you need to examine a range of other options if the situation wasn’t deteriorating markedly, including the growth of Islamists on the ground?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not saying there’s an active, right now, a decision-making process. I’m saying that there is a discussion that has been ongoing from the beginning. And certainly we’re not going to be satisfied until there’s an end to the conflict; until there is relief to the millions of people suffering in Syria.

QUESTION: Do you have – just one more: Do you have any reaction or thoughts as to al-Qaida’s seemingly trying to distance itself from ISIS in favor of al-Nusrah Front?

MS. PSAKI: So we’ve of course seen those reports. The fact to remember here is that both ISIS and al-Nusrah are designated terrorist organizations. Yes, they’ve been fighting each other for months, but that doesn’t change our view of both of those groups. So I don’t have any prediction of what it will mean. There’s no way for me to evaluate what it will mean in the months ahead.

QUESTION: But isn’t it kind of concerning that your greatest fears – of Islamists kind of running around, having safe haven in Syria, was one of the reasons for not becoming more actively militarily involved in the conflict or arming the opposition – has come to roost, as a result of you not doing that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s a separate question, obviously, which is fine. I think we’ve been very clear about our concern about the growth of extremism in Syria as many of our international partners are. The reason we didn’t use force back last September has a range of reasons. I mean, it wasn’t --

QUESTION: Well, even before that. Even before the whole chemical weapons thing –

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- you used – the major reason for not getting involved militarily in the conflict is you thought it would fuel extremism on the ground. Isn’t that right?

MS. PSAKI: I think – I mean, there are a range of reasons why we didn’t take military action at the time. I don’t think that was the only reason that was used. Far from it.

QUESTION: I didn’t say it was the only reason; I said it was the main reason. But what are you doing now to combat extremism on the ground?

MS. PSAKI: What are we doing now to – I mean, our view, and the Secretary has said this, is that the best way to combat extremism is to eliminate Assad, and that he is an attractor for extremism, that moving him out would deter – it would not end, but it would deter the growth of extremism.

QUESTION: But it doesn’t even seem really right now that Assad is the main target of the Islamic extremism. It seems that the opposition is. And in fact, I think a senior official briefing – U.S. official briefing reporters in advance of Secretary Kerry’s trip suggested that there were links between Assad and these extremists.

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s also a separate question. I mean, our view still remains that the next step or the right step or the best step is to remove – or to have Assad no longer in power, and that’s why we’re focused on that.

QUESTION: Jen, could I move on --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) things on your choice of language --

MS. PSAKI: Hold on. Hold on.

QUESTION: -- one, you said – you used the word “eliminate” Assad. You mean --

MS. PSAKI: I was saying for Assad to no longer be in power.

QUESTION: All right. Because, well --

MS. PSAKI: I was not meaning to imply anything else. I’m glad you asked the question.

QUESTION: And then the other thing you said which I don’t – not sure I really understand, in response to one of Elise’s questions, was you said right now there is not an active decision-making process.

MS. PSAKI: Well, what I am implying that --

QUESTION: What does that mean?

MS. PSAKI: -- is there’s not – I think there – some people were reading into --

QUESTION: Isn’t there always an active decision-making process?

MS. PSAKI: There’s always an ongoing discussion about it. How I differentiate the two is that there is some announcement or some decision that’s been made that we’re sitting on. That’s not accurate. So that’s what I was conveying.

QUESTION: On the humanitarian, could I --

QUESTION: All right. But in fact, there is a constant decision-making process going on, right?

MS. PSAKI: Of course there is. That’s the point, exactly.

QUESTION: All right.


QUESTION: On the humanitarian issue --

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do one at a time here. Go ahead.

QUESTION: To follow up, back on the chemical weapons bit, if Assad has all the tools at his disposal, why is it that he’s dragging his feet on the delivery of the chemicals to Latakia? And what information do you have on that? And has the U.S. reported to OPCW that this is a possible noncompliance?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have stated publicly, we have been in touch with the OPCW – I don’t think anybody is confused about where the United States stands on this issue. We haven’t described it in that capacity in noncompliance. We described it as they’ve not been moving as quickly as they should move because only 5 percent has been moved.

What the Assad regime has said is that they don’t have the equipment and the tools they need. That’s inaccurate. We disagree with that. More importantly, the international community and the OPCW disagrees with that. So that’s what we’ve pointed to. It’s not that there is – we are able to track how much they have – the OPCW, I should say, is able to track how much has been moved. Not enough has been done. That’s why we’re all putting a public pressure campaign on to make progress.

QUESTION: How about the fact there is a war going on and the security situation and that deterring delivery? Is that not a factor and --

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Assad regime is responsible for the security of those who are moving the chemical weapons. They took that responsibility from the beginning, so in the view of the OPCW, that is not a reason for a delay to have been put in place.

QUESTION: But at what point would you report to the OPCW if they continue to drag their feet on it?

MS. PSAKI: It’s not the United States reporting to the OPCW. The OPCW --

QUESTION: Because member-states could --

MS. PSAKI: But the OPCW is the tracking – is the body that’s overseeing this. They are the ones who spoke to this first. We of course followed it because we agree and we’re in close touch with them. At what point do they report? I don’t have any prediction of that.

QUESTION: Well, member-states, if they see a possible incident of noncompliance, then they can report to the OPCW, right?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, but the OPCW is on the ground. I mean, they have a different view of this and a different way of tracking this than the United States does.

QUESTION: And then --

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about the humanitarian situation. Today, Valerie Amos gave a very abysmal report and she said that she was really disappointed in Geneva II because, obviously, the people that are under siege and so on and starving are no better off today than they were a week ago.

I wanted to ask you, are you considering some sort of extraordinary measures, perhaps, at the United Nations to hold a conference that really just dedicates itself to the relief of these disastrous human conditions under siege?

MS. PSAKI: Well, in Rome – and Valerie Amos is obviously --

QUESTION: Right, right.

MS. PSAKI: -- the UN coordinator of humanitarian affairs, so she is certainly --


MS. PSAKI: -- the point person on that. There was just a meeting in Rome and I think you saw the UN and others come together --

QUESTION: Right, I saw that, right.

MS. PSAKI: -- to share their view that the principles outlined in the presidential statement done in October have not been met, and that as an international community, we’re failing to adequately change the regime’s policy and to support the Syrian people who are in need of this assistance.

So in terms of what discussions the UN may or may not undertake, we’re obviously in touch with them, and we’re working actively with them. But I don’t have any prediction of that.

QUESTION: Yeah. I wanted to ask if there’s – if you could take an independent – a measure that is independent of, let’s say, Geneva II or the political process or anything like this that really just focuses on sort of an emergency relief of the situation.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re aware of discussions regarding an UNSCR in New York, but again, I’m not going to discuss or lay that out. I would defer to them on that particular piece.

QUESTION: The question raises an interesting point that – does the Administration think that the way to solve this is to have another conference, another week of people talking in European palaces and nice hotels? Is that really what --

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: -- the Administration thinks is going to help the situation in Syria – help the dire situation of the Syrian people?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, there are several tracks, as you know. You also probably know that the --

QUESTION: Well, the question was about another conference.

MS. PSAKI: No. That’s not what’s being proposed. But obviously, he meant --

QUESTION: Not another conference, but some measures.

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish – the humanitarian access and that issue has been discussed and will continue to be discussed as part of the Geneva ongoing negotiations that are set to resume next week.

QUESTION: Right. But when the conference ended on – or the first round of the Geneva II ended on Friday, that didn’t end the humanitarian crisis.

MS. PSAKI: You’re right; it didn’t.

QUESTION: So as the talking heads take a week’s break here, isn’t – the humanitarian crisis does not take a break. So it continues. So does the United States believe that merely – that the resumption of the next round of Geneva II is really the best way to address the humanitarian crisis that’s going on right now?

MS. PSAKI: We believe there are several steps and tools that need to be used to put the necessary pressure on. Obviously --

QUESTION: And you’re --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just wanted to make sure – and you’re comfortable – given that the conditions in Syria are not improving, you’re comfortable having a week’s – a week break, a weeks-long break? A week-long break.

MS. PSAKI: No one is resting here, Matt. As you know, over the weekend, the Secretary pressed Foreign Minister Lavrov on this issue. The UN – we’re engaged with the UN about this issue. We’re engaged with our international partners.

QUESTION: So you --

MS. PSAKI: No one’s taking the week off between negotiations.

QUESTION: So you think that outside of the – that you can still get an agreement on humanitarian access outside of the Geneva II process?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t have a right of – or a focus on authorship or ownership.

QUESTION: I know that. But you believe or you are hopeful that outside of discussions in Switzerland and some – in Switzerland, that you can get an agreement on humanitarian access?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re working toward that. But if it happens as part of the discussions in Switzerland, that’s great too.


QUESTION: All right. So the answer is yes?

MS. PSAKI: We’re – any way --

QUESTION: Any way.

MS. PSAKI: -- we can get to an agreement with humanitarian – for more humanitarian access, we would support.


QUESTION: Jen. The Secretary also in those reported meetings with the senators reportedly kind of canvassed the room to assess the appetite for certain aggressive – more aggressive actions, presumably including the arming of rebels among the senators’ constituents. So if – from what you’ve said so far, if that issue wasn’t discussed, what exactly was he canvassing the room trying to get support for?

MS. PSAKI: First, I didn’t say that the issue of what steps should be taken wasn’t discussed. Of course, every senator, every member of Congress has different views, and they share those publicly, they share those privately in meetings as well.

Part of the purpose of the meeting was to hear from the attendees on what they thought, brief them on what we’re doing. But it was more of a listening session. What do you think we should do? What are you hearing? What are you hearing here at the security conference? What are you hearing in your discussions? So everybody has different views, and people brought different proposals and ideas to the table.

QUESTION: All right. But – so then if he went and around and was saying, okay, well what do you think about this, do you think your constituents have the appetite for this, was it –

MS. PSAKI: That was not how it was phrased.


MS. PSAKI: There was – this was a discussion of about an hour, so I would caution anybody into reading into comments that were made publicly by members who may have been projecting what they wanted to hear and what they themselves wanted to project about their own views.

The purpose of this was not to make decisions. The purpose was to hear from many parties, which is an important part of engaging with Congress, about what their views are. You know we are familiar with what the range of options are. What I was clarifying here was what the Secretary himself said and didn’t say during the meeting.

QUESTION: And one final question really quick.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) and why did he hold this meeting in Munich?

MS. PSAKI: Because there was --

QUESTION: I mean, he could have done it here.

MS. PSAKI: No, well, actually there was a bipartisan co-del that was in Munich at the security conference. So it was an opportunity to sit down with them, talk about a range of issues, including Syria but certainly not limited to Syria.

QUESTION: But he could have done that here, too. I mean, he’s at Munich, and I know he whole bunch of other bilateral meetings, trilateral meetings with various leaders. Why talk to Americans in Munich? Was there some burning thing that came up at Munich from other leaders and he --

MS. PSAKI: There wasn’t. This was – he knew the co-del was going to be in Munich. He’s met with co-dels before in Israel and other places. It’s not anything that’s out of the norm for the Secretary of State to undertake. As you know, he spends quite a bit of his time overseas, so it was just as good a place of any to engage with Congress and hear from them.

QUESTION: Jen, you mentioned the use of – the Syrian regime – the use of barrel bombs. One of them killed 30 or 40 people in Aleppo today. What’s your reaction to that? And second, what can the U.S. do to stop the use of barrel bombs?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I will predict for you – I don’t think it’s out yet, but we’ll have a statement from the Secretary on this particular issue. So I will let his words speak for themself. Obviously, we condemn this action in the strongest terms. Any violence like this and the death of civilians is of great concern. But I will point you to his statement, which will come out hopefully soon. What can the United States do about it? We can undertake – I wish we could prevent this in its – in these actions, but we’re undertaking a range of steps that, as you know, are ongoing, whether that’s the political process, whether that’s engagement with the UN, whether that’s engagement with our international partners, and events like this weekend are a reminder of the stakes of what’s involved on the ground in Syria.

QUESTION: The Syrian opposition figure Fayez Sara has lost his son today, who was arrested by the regime. Do you have any reaction?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen that specifically, so I’d have to look more closely at that, but --

QUESTION: And last one for me: There are news reports that Ambassador Ford is retiring this month.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any personnel announcements to make. I’m a big fan of Ambassador Ford, so – try to keep him around as long as we can.

QUESTION: Can we move on to Iran?


QUESTION: Very quickly --

QUESTION: You don’t want to say that that’s not true?

QUESTION: I don’t have any announcements to make about his plans and what he’s planning, and I’m not going to speak to that from the podium.

QUESTION: Did you say – on Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Did you say that the senators find opportunity because the Secretary travels quite a bit and they have to go all the way there to meet him? Is that what you said?

MS. PSAKI: No, not at all.


MS. PSAKI: What I was saying in response to Jo’s question is that there was a bipartisan CODEL that was in Munich. The Secretary learned of that, and asked if they wanted to meet and talk about a range of issues, and that’s what we did. And what I was responding to was her question as to whether – why they didn’t do it in Washington.

QUESTION: Okay. Is that coincidental, or is that there’s some sort of a parallel foreign policy ongoing? Because this happened in Israel, this happened in Egypt, and happens – it always – senators.

MS. PSAKI: I think it’s a reflection of the fact that members of Congress travel quite a bit. They engage around the world quite a bit. There’s a CODEL that goes to the Munich security conference, probably every single year.

QUESTION: Jen, Brahami’s deputy stepped down today. Do you have any – I mean, how – kind of discouraging right in the middle of the Syria talks. I mean, what --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t really have any analysis on it. Obviously, Brahimi has the lead, he has an entire team, and I will check and see if there’s more we have to say on that front.

QUESTION: And check while you’re at it whether he was fired or he resigned.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I would speak to any of that. I’d point you to the UN, but I don’t know all the details.

QUESTION: Catherine Ashton gave an interview to The Wall Street Journal on Sunday, and she gave the impression that the six-month timeframe for talks between the P5+1 on Iran was not a hard timeframe, which, obviously, in the JPOA there’s the ability to extend the talks for six months.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: She was alluding to that. The odd thing is that comprehensive talks haven’t even begun yet. They begin February 18th. Do you echo that sentiment that, as she said, we will take as much time as necessary to get this agreement right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think we would disagree with that. However, I would, from our point of view – you just stated a lot of the facts here, so you’ve done some of my job for me --

QUESTION: I’m glad.

MS. PSAKI: -- but as outlined in the JPOA, as I think most of you are familiar with, the six-month period can be renewed upon mutual consent. But I think it’s an important reminder here that the talks – the comprehensive talks have not even begun yet. So we’re not at a decision making phase. We’re not predicting – we don’t know that they would be extended, and that’s certainly not the baseline we’re going on. The EU is, of course, an important host of these talks, but from our standpoint that position hasn’t been determined yet, and that simply is a statement of what’s allowed for in the JPOA.

QUESTION: Great. The significance of it, of course, is that she said it – the significance of the timing of her statement --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- is that the talks haven’t begun, and she justified it by saying that these talks are going to be incredibly difficult.

MS. PSAKI: They will be incredibly difficult, and the President said that in the State of the Union. I think we certainly agree with that. We’re not at a point where we feel – where we’re predicting an extension beyond the six months, even though it’s allowed for in the JPOA.

QUESTION: Just following up on that --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- now in his State of the Union Address, the President said that he would be the first person to go back to Congress for more sanctions. And I asked Marie about this on Friday. The interesting thing is that from this podium and from the White House you have said that the justification for sanctions has been that they have brought Iran to the negotiating table.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So should negotiations fail, should the diplomatic path fail, then you’re going to revisit more sanctions to what end?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not predicting that, as you know. We – I thought you were going to ask me about the fact that I’ve said the Secretary will be the first one, but they can go hand-in-hand, perhaps, to the Hill.

QUESTION: They can go hand-in-hand.

MS. PSAKI: We’re not predicting that, as you know. We do think that that is the reason why Iran is at the negotiating table. Obviously, we don’t want this to fail. If it does, we certainly would support more sanctions. And we’ll have to see where we are at that point and what the next steps are. But I think what’s important here is that this is the best chance we’ve had to pursue this diplomatic path. That’s why it’s so important. I’m sure – let me just give a shout out to Secretary Clinton’s announcement over the weekend, or the letters that went back and forth that were reported on over the weekend, and there are members who have come to this belief at this point as well.

QUESTION: I just want to --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I don’t mean to stick on this point too much, but if the purpose of sanctions is to get diplomacy going, then why is sanctions the tool that you would turn to should negotiations fail definitively in six months or 12 months?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re not – they have been a motivating factor. I don’t want to get too far ahead of where we are, especially since the negotiations over the comprehensive agreement haven’t even begun. They’ve worked before. They’ve been effective. We’ll see, and hopefully we’re not – we don’t reach this point – what tools we would consider at that point. But obviously, that’s not where we want to be.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

QUESTION: No, no, hold on, I just – one more on Iran --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- at least from me. The Administration’s line has been for some time now – years, in fact – that Iran has the right to a peaceful civilian nuclear program under the NPT. You’ve also said and made clear that the NPT does not grant any member the right to enrich uranium.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is it the U.S. position that Iran, in these comprehensive talks, can somehow – can negotiate what would essentially be a right to enrich – in other words, that the negotiations would end with – that an agreement would include a provision that would allow Iran to enrich at – perhaps at a set – predetermined levels, but would essentially give them permission to enrich? Or is it the U.S. position that Iran has no right to enrich uranium under the NPT or any other agreement and should not do so?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t fundamentally believe in any country’s right to enrich, as you know. That applies broadly. I don’t want to make a prediction of what the outcome would be. Yes, we have long supported or long been open to a peaceful program, but there will be several components of that, and I’m just not in a position to speak to what the final outcome will be.

QUESTION: Well, are you – if you’re open to them having a civilian nuclear program, and you say that, are you open to them in that civilian nuclear program enriching uranium?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check with our team and see what the different options are here.

QUESTION: Could you?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, happy to.

QUESTION: Okay. I mean, I’m just wondering if you have a position on whether, in the end, ultimately, Iranian – a civilian nuclear program for Iran that is acceptable to the United States would include them being able to enrich.

MS. PSAKI: I will check and see --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: -- where we are with that and what more we have to say.

QUESTION: On Hillary’s endorsement, to what extent if any do you see that impacting the senators on the Hill who have thus far been holdouts and openly oppose – vehemently – the strategy that you’re undergoing? Do you see this as helping you in any way tangibly?

MS. PSAKI: Well, any time a significant, well-respected figure with foreign policy credentials or otherwise comes out and says right now we need to pursue this diplomatic path, we need to see this through, this is the best chance we’ve had, that is incredibly, incredibly useful. And the fact that it’s a former secretary of State, a former senator who was a well-respected colleague of many of the senators who are still in Congress, is certainly a positive step.

What that will mean in practice, we will see, but her view and her opinion is valued, so it’s something we certainly welcome.

QUESTION: What about the timing? Is there anything about the timing of this endorsement?

MS. PSAKI: In what capacity?

QUESTION: In what – I mean, that it came out just now, but it really --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t --

QUESTION: -- has no significance over it?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe so. This was a decision that she made, and certainly, we supported it.

QUESTION: In the same interview with The Wall Street Journal, Cathy Ashton also said that Western powers are working together on a package of – for Ukraine – to help Ukraine, whose numbers, and the quote was, “won’t be small.” I wondered if you could give us some information about that, particularly because Cathy Ashton’s there today and Assistant Secretary Nuland will be there later this week. So could you tell us – give us some information about what this package of financial aid might look like for the Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me be very clear this is a very preliminary stage. We’re consulting with the EU, as High Representative Ashton said, and other partners about supporting Ukraine may need – support they may need after a new technical government is formed, and as the country gets back on the path to economic health through the IMF. Any decisions we make will be guided by events in Ukraine and our consultations with the new government after it is formed.

Obviously, there are several steps that need to be taken between now and then. Those steps will be a factor. And we’ll continue those consultations with the EU in the meantime.

QUESTION: She also mentioned that it wouldn’t necessarily be contingent on new negotiations having started with the IMF.

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, some of these factors still need to be determined. As you know, we’ve long supported and have called for Ukraine to engage productively with the IMF on developing a program to restore long-term economic prosperity. We will take into account factors, once the transitional – once a new government is formed, and take a look at that and see what decision and what package, if any, we would support.

QUESTION: Have you any idea of the value of the package? And I understand opposition leader Yatsenyuk has asked for a minimum of around $20 billion.

MS. PSAKI: It’s preliminary at this stage. Again, the next step is the creation of a new government, and then we will consider what support we would be able to and prepared to provide.

QUESTION: And have you even discussed how it would come? Would it be in some kind of bridging loan? Would it be some kind of credit or import levies?

MS. PSAKI: It’s – obviously, there’s a range of discussions, but no decision has been made, and the Ukraine – and Ukraine needs to form a new government first.

QUESTION: Jen, on that, do you have any more specific details about Victoria Nuland’s travel, when she’s going, who she’s going to meet with? The last time she went and passed bread. Are there any sort of public events planned for her trip?

MS. PSAKI: Let me just see if I have anything. And if not, I’m happy to --


MS. PSAKI: -- we can get you around all something. I don’t have anything specifically. As Jo mentioned, she will be in Ukraine later this week.

QUESTION: She’ll be meeting with Cathy Ashton in Ukraine, will she?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on that specifically, but why don’t we get you all just an overview of her travel and an outline of where she’ll be having meetings.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: I just wanted to double-check. So you are acknowledging there are preliminary discussions on financial assistance for Ukraine with the EU?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Correct.

QUESTION: And would that assistance be bilateral, or are you talking about assistance that would be – that would go through the International Monetary Fund, which would then oversee that that money is properly dealt with? Or is it a bilateral loan?

MS. PSAKI: It is still being discussed. Obviously, the steps that – we still encourage them regardless of whether there’s aid from our end to pursue the path towards – pursue the economic health path through the IMF. But in terms of what it will be and what form it will take, we’re just not at that point yet. We are just in discussions, preliminary discussions, with the EU.

QUESTION: Would that money be – do you think – I mean, are the discussions that it would help them through the political crisis and support – because their big issue is a budget – a huge budget deficit, so this would actually help them get on their feet. It would also, number two, remove their dependency on loans from Russia, wouldn’t it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we haven’t made a decision about what we’re going to do yet. We’ve never felt, as you’ve heard us say a number of times, that any decision is zero-sum that is made. And regardless, they still need to form a new government first, and then we’ll make an evaluation through consultations about what we are prepared to do or not do.

QUESTION: Jen, I have a question on Cyprus.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Secretary said, and I’m quoting him, “We are working on Cyprus quietly. You are not hearing about it.” Is it possible to tell us what is your goal on Cyprus, and if it’s possible, who is the negotiator from your part?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want you or anyone to over-read into what he stated. Obviously, this is an issue we’re engaged in. Our position hasn’t changed. But I don’t – he wasn’t indicating that there was a new process or system underway that you’re not aware of.


QUESTION: Thailand?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So Thailand held elections over the weekend, and the opposition boycotted the elections and in some cases even attempted to undermine the credibility of those elections. How does the State Department view the validity of these elections, and are there any concerns about how they proceeded?

MS. PSAKI: Well, peaceful and orderly polling did take place in most areas in Thailand on Sunday, but there were also disturbing incidents of violence on the eve of the elections, efforts to block voters and election workers from reaching some voting sites, and disruptions to the delivery of some election materials. We do regret, of course, that many voters were prevented from exercising their right to vote, and we reiterate our call for all sides to refrain from violence and exercise restraint to avoid further injuries, loss of life, and destruction of property.

We remain concerned that political tensions in Thailand are posing challenges to the democratic institutions and processes of Thailand. We certainly don’t take sides, as you know, in Thailand’s political disputes, but we continue to urge all sides to commit to sincere dialogue to resolve political differences peacefully and democratically. And we – and as we’ve stated, we support a democratic solution to the ongoing tensions in Thailand. So we’re engaged very closely in that on the ground, and we, of course, believe there are more steps that need to be taken in that process.

QUESTION: So does the State Department accept the results as valid, or there are some questions as to how credible the results are?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I raised a question about it. I think I conveyed that we had some concerns about how it was undertaken, especially the fact that some were unable to vote, and there are new – additional processes that need to take place moving forward.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that. Some people in Thailand start to say that the good way of getting out of the crisis would be to stage a military coup. So given your historic ties with the Thai military, do you have any conversation with the Thai military to prevent them from doing so?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly do not want to see a coup or violence or recourse to – in this – and in any case, of course. We are speaking directly to all elements of Thai society to make clear the importance of using democratic and constitutional means to resolve political differences. And that’s where our focus remains.

Thailand, or another issue?


MS. PSAKI: Japan. Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Yota, with Japanese newspaper --

MS. PSAKI: Hello. How are you?

QUESTION: I’m fine, thank you. I’m happy to see you again.

MS. PSAKI: You, too.

QUESTION: So last Thursday, Okinawa prefecture’s chief of staff, Matayoshi Susumu, came to State Department and he met with Japan desk, Marc Knapper, Mr. Marc --

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry, who did he meet with?

QUESTION: Japan desk, Marc Knapper.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Right. And I have two questions on this. And one question is: For the U.S. side, what actually was the biggest message from Okinawa prefecture?

And another one question is: So on the meeting, Mr. Matayoshi, he actually explained – I mean, they talk about Futenma issue. And on the meeting, Mr. Matayoshi explained the Okinawa prefecture see the situation is not solved domestic because the local Nago elections opponent won. And so – and he requested that – so despite how long it takes to build new – I mean, the replacement airbase, the Okinawa prefecture request to stop the operation of Futenma airbase within five years. So did you give him any specific response? I mean --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have a readout of this particular meeting.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to touch base with our team. And we were, of course, out of town on Friday, but – and see if there’s more that we can convey to you on the specifics. So let us connect you with someone from our bureau.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.


MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: During his intervention in Munich, the Secretary said that he planned to be in China within the next two weeks. And there were also reports in the South Korean press of an imminent visit. Is there anything you can let us have? Any travel plans to announce?

MS. PSAKI: I have no trip announcement to make at this point. I expect we will have one in the coming days.

Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:18 p.m.)

DPB # 21