Daily Press Briefing - February 7, 2014

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Secretary Kerry's Bilat with Japanese Foreign Minister Kishida
    • 2014 Winter Olympics
    • Spotlight on Washington Capitals Defenseman John Carlson
    • DC National Guard Public Affairs Team
    • Ben Cormier, Transatlantic Fellow
    • Spokesperson's Sister
    • Assistant Secretary Nuland / EU / Germany
    • Encryption / Department Policy
    • Assistant Secretary Nuland's Press Conference / Meetings
    • Ambassador Ford / UN Joint Special Representative Brahimi / Russia / London 11
    • Geneva Communique
    • Humanitarian Access
    • Treasury, Designation
    • Ambassadors
    • Ambassadorial Nominee
    • Ambassador Ford's Travel to Geneva
    • Ambassadors, Appointees, Nominees
    • U.S. Policy and Views
    • Arab League / Arab Peace Initiative Follow-On Committee / Framework for Negotiations
    • Treasury, Designation
    • Discussions Beginning Two Weeks from Now on Comprehensive Talks / IAEA
    • Under Secretary Sherman / Vienna
    • AIPAC
    • U.S. Welcomes Foreign Minister Lieberman's Remarks
  • IRAN
    • U.S. Focus on Efforts Related to the P5+1 Negotiations and Comprehensive Deal
    • Framework for Negotiations
  • IRAN
    • Sanctions Legislation
    • Reported Diverted Flight
    • Asylum / DHS
    • Benghazi / ARB
    • Ambassador King / Kenneth Bae
    • Meeting Readout
    • Virginia House of Delegates Bill
    • U.S. Strong Advocate for Freedom of Expression
    • LGBT / Gays Rights, Human Rights / Environmental Activists
    • Arrests
Jen Psaki
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 7, 2014


1:47 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. It’s a full house today. Josh Rogin, Michael Gordon, uh-oh.

I have a couple of items for all of you at the top. As you all probably saw, we just had an important bilateral meeting with the Japanese, with Foreign Minister Kishida. Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Kishida gave extensive comments after the meeting to read out the meeting, but they did discuss a full range, of course, of bilateral, regional, and global issues, reflecting the strength and breadth of our alliance with Japan. And you saw the Secretary say at the end of the – his comments that he looks forward to more discussions in the weeks and months and years ahead.

On a lighter note, the Opening Ceremonies, as you all know, of the 2014 Winter Olympics occurred at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time this morning and will be broadcast in the United States tonight. We are, of course, very proud of Team USA, a team that represents the diversity, openness, and inclusion of the United States, and we just wanted to show you a little video while we’re here in honor of the kickoff.

(Video shown.)

MS. PSAKI: Sports diplomacy, I’m sure we can chat about that as well. In honor of the Winter Olympics and in support of Team USA, we’d like to spotlight an athlete a day at the daily press briefing throughout the Games, so today’s athlete is Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson, who, obviously, the Secretary saw last evening.

A native of Massachusetts, Carlson was raised in New Jersey and has been with the Capitals organization since he was drafted in 2008. Over the past few seasons, he has established himself as a top defensive player in the NHL, and on January 1st, he was named to the U.S. Olympics Team. He has been a spokesman for the Inova Blood Drive and is a frequent volunteer for Caps Care, the branch of the organization that manages community involvement. And of course, he represented the Caps last night when the Secretary dropped the puck.

Team USA enters the Olympic hockey tournament as one of the top contenders, but home team Russia, defending world champs Sweden, and defending gold medalist Canada all present significant challenges. That’s the extent of my hockey knowledge, so hopefully that’s not a topic.

Last piece: Of course we have a full house here, so I want to welcome the members of the D.C. National Guard Public Affairs team, representing the D.C. National Guard and D.C. Air National Guard. We also have Ben Cormier, a Transatlantic Fellow who is with us today, and my youngest sister is here who is the – by far the coolest and most interesting member of the family – hopefully my other sister doesn’t take that offensively.

So with that, let’s turn to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, I don’t know how you expect your other sister not to take that personally. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: She agrees. She agrees. We all agree. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I think she should speak for herself. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: And we won’t hold the – Mr. Carlson’s team affiliation against him as we cheer for Team USA. However --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. And Matt is very patriotic today, so I wanted to point that out as well.

QUESTION: Well, and – I had to convert. This is a Bills scarf today.

MS. PSAKI: Good.

QUESTION: The same colors, so --

MS. PSAKI: Multiple uses.

QUESTION: -- I converted it to Team USA. Listen, before we get back to Japan, which I’m sure that a lot of people here are to ask questions about, I just want to wrap up something hopefully very quickly --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- from yesterday and Toria’s phone call. You’ve seen the comments from Chancellor Merkel’s spokesperson --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- saying that this is unacceptable. Do you have any thoughts on that? Do you agree?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think if you were to – if Toria were standing back here again, she would convey to you that she apologized, obviously, because that’s not – doesn’t reflect how she feels about our relationship with the EU. It’s also important to note that she’s been in close touch with EU officials since then – not about this, but about work we’re doing together on Ukraine. So we have a long and enduring relationship with Germany. The Secretary was just there last week, as you know, and discussed a range of bilateral issues we work on, and we expect we’ll be back to business as usual with them as well.

QUESTION: Right, but she – in the phone call, she didn’t say, “F Germany.” She said, “F the EU.” So --

MS. PSAKI: I am familiar with what she said.

QUESTION: Right, so – but – so it’s a broader thing here. I mean, what is your response? I mean, do you think that Merkel is – that the Germans are taking this – blowing this out of proportion? I mean, what’s – do you – is your – what would your response be to her? Is it the diplomatic equivalent of, like, “Lighten up, Angela,” or something? What is it?

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) I think I would – I think we’re just conveying that obviously, we’ve moved forward in our relationship with the EU and --


MS. PSAKI: -- Assistant Secretary Nuland has done that, and we’re focused on our work together on Ukraine. So we’re hopeful everybody can.

QUESTION: All right. So – and then you said that it doesn’t reflect – the comment doesn’t reflect the U.S. attitude toward the EU. Well, if it doesn’t, why did she say it?

MS. PSAKI: Again --

QUESTION: Was it just a momentary lapse, or what?

MS. PSAKI: As I said yesterday, Matt, there are moments of small frustration in every relationship. What you do is you move beyond them, you discuss the tough issues, you discuss them through diplomatic channels. And evidence of that is the ongoing work we’re doing with Ukraine – or with EU on Ukraine.

QUESTION: I just want to – could I just follow up? Can I just follow up?

QUESTION: Stay with this, please?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let’s just go one at a time. We have plenty of time. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On the issue of how you discuss things, do State Department officials routinely use encrypted phones, mobile phones, for their conversations so that comments like that one do not become public?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, for obvious reasons, I can’t outline for you everything that we do. I can tell you that data encryption is available for all Department of State employee-issued, government-owned BlackBerry devices, regardless of rank. All Department of State government-owned BlackBerry devices have data encryption. However, they don’t have voice encryption.

And of course, as you know – I know you didn’t ask this, but just to add one more additional point – classified processing and classified conversation on a personal digital assisted device is prohibited in accordance with Department policy, which, of course, is not what this was, but just to add a point.

QUESTION: Okay. So they don’t have voice encryption. So nobody at the State Department has a phone where their voice – a mobile phone where their voice can be encrypted?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to outline it further for obvious reasons. I think we don’t need to convey every step we take and every precaution we take. That’s the information I can provide to all of you.

QUESTION: Does the Secretary – I mean, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask if the Secretary of State has a mobile phone or access to a mobile phone near him or her with voice encryption.

MS. PSAKI: I think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask, but I think it’s perfectly reasonable not to answer, either.

QUESTION: So, I mean, here’s the problem, though. If you’re not answering that about the Secretary of State, it leaves open the possibility that he or she does not, in fact, have access to an encrypted cell phone, which would suggest that all kinds of secret, top secret, classified, private comments that he or she might make could be accessed by the intelligence services of other countries. I --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I just said that classified processing and classified conversation on a personal digital assisted device is prohibited. Beyond that, I’m – all I’m conveying is that we’re not going to outline every step and precaution we’ve taken, what we have access to, whether that’s the Secretary or anyone else in the Administration.

QUESTION: So – but here’s – I mean, I don’t – several things I don’t understand. When you say personal, do you mean privately owned?

MS. PSAKI: Any device that is – that you’re having conversations on that is --

QUESTION: Okay. So you’re not allowed to discuss classified material on a device. Correct?

MS. PSAKI: On an unclass – right. Exactly.

QUESTION: Okay. So then the next question is: Was Assistant Secretary Nuland discussing classified matters on this phone?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think anyone would take that as a description of what happened.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, then the next question is, though: Why would you not be able to at least tell us that the Secretary has the capability – indeed, routinely uses an encrypted cell phone?

MS. PSAKI: We have a range of capabilities, obviously, that many people have access to. I’m not going to outline them from the podium because I don’t – we don’t think there’s an advantage in that.

QUESTION: But here’s the thing. I mean, I can understand why you wouldn’t want to say everybody up to the rank of --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- PDAS doesn’t have one, but everyone above does, because then, presumably people would start bugging the lower ranks. But if you can’t even say that the Secretary does, it leaves open the question of whether his or her conversations can actually be private.

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s – I would convey, Arshad, that it – we’re not going to convey every capability we have, every capacity we have in any public forum, and certainly not from the podium. So I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: And is there – other than the restriction on using – or on discussing classified information on a PDA, is there any other restriction on the kinds of things you should or should not discuss on a PDA? Or is that the only one, just classified material?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check if there’s more of a – anything more that we can publicly share with all of you that we could send out to you after the briefing.

QUESTION: Jen, could I ask --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- so that you’re aware that there’s a second tape that seems to have come out, this time a conversation between two senior EU officials.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So my first question is: Given this is the second tape in two days, and yesterday you seemed to suggest that you believed that there was some Russian hand in this, do you see this as a part of a deeper campaign by Moscow to try and derail the ongoing talks between the EU and the Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have anything new to add from yesterday, and I certainly don’t have anything new to add about a separate report of another taped call. I will say, though, that this is an – and I would point you all – I think many of you have seen that Assistant Secretary Nuland did a press conference this morning, so I’d certainly point you to that first. But the Russians were the first to tweet about this particular call. Only a few countries have the level of capabilities needed. I’ll let you use your own judgment. I don’t have any new information beyond yesterday.

Our focus, of course, is on – and the mission of the United States, I should say, continues to be to encourage a conversation between the government, the opposition, civil society. We’re working with the EU on that. And we have continued to make the case that it’s up to the people of Ukraine and the voices of the people of Ukraine to determine the path forward. The question here is: What do the Russians want? Why this campaign of distraction? And that’s the larger question I think we should all be focused on.

QUESTION: So do you believe there’s a campaign of distraction going on to try and derail the talks then?

MS. PSAKI: I think it’s distracting from the issue at hand, which is – and I wouldn’t go so far as derail the talks as much of – as distract from the issue at hand, which is the voices of the people of Ukraine and what they want to see in their future.

QUESTION: Okay, and I wanted to just – sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: On this same call, the – one of the senior officials, Helga Schmid, is heard to be saying that, in fact, the EU is on board with the United States --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and then if this tape is correct, what she says, allegedly, is what you should know is that it really bothers us that the Americans are going around naming and shaming us, which goes back to the questions we had yesterday --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- about the frustrations in your relationship. And I don’t – you say that you’ve moved beyond this --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- but obviously, if these comments are correct, the Europeans are equally unhappy as Assistant Secretary Nuland seemed to be.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think any of us have any details of when that call took place, what it was a reflection of, what the context was. What I’m conveying to you is that Assistant Secretary Nuland, since this reported call was – tape was released, has been in close touch with the EU, has been working closely with them on moving the path forward in Ukraine, and that’s a reflection of our relationship.

QUESTION: So you do not believe that there’s a rift between the EU and the United States on what to do about the crisis in Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: We do not. We’re working closely with them. Do you agree on every component of every step at every moment? Of course not. It’s too complex of an issue. But that’s why we’re engaged in the discussion and why we’re working so closely on it.

QUESTION: Jen, just go back to the --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-mm.

QUESTION: -- kind of Arshad’s question --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- but also your answer to Jo just now.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You said only a few countries have the level of capability needed, but one, one wonders if that’s actually correct since, I mean, I seem to recall British newspapers being able to hack into people’s cell phones pretty easily, and they’re certainly not countries, intelligence services. Are you saying that you don’t think that the Ukrainian domestic intelligence service is able to intercept and record phone calls?

MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t trying to make a specific point.

QUESTION: And trying to really --

MS. PSAKI: I was trying to make a broad point, Matt.

QUESTION: And are you really trying to destroy Blackberry that much – (laughter) – by naming them as the sole provider?

MS. PSAKI: I’m a Blackberry user.

QUESTION: Arshad is always interested in market-moving things.

MS. PSAKI: I know.

QUESTION: It just seems to be unusual. Are you – can you get voice encryption on a Blackberry device? Do you know?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of technical detail, but I’m happy, when I follow up with Arshad’s question, to see if there’s more specifics.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Are you – whatever your policies --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- now are, which you’re not willing to divulge, including whether or not the Secretary of State can use it and --

MS. PSAKI: That’s correct.

QUESTION: -- as voice encryption --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- are you re-thinking your policies in the light of this incident?

MS. PSAKI: We’re always taking a look at that – always. We’re always evaluating. I’m not aware of a new look, but we’re evaluating every single day, Arshad.

QUESTION: Why wouldn’t you take another look at it now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we evaluate based on a range of events, not just events that are related to a publicly released conversation. So I’ll just say we take in a lot of data and consider a lot of factors, and we’re constantly evaluating the best way to keep our conversations private.

QUESTION: So Jen, are you then confident in the security of your diplomatic communications and all diplomatic channels at this point?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly, we are. But I think it’s important to remind all of you that even as we communicate with American citizens about – whether it’s travel to certain countries or what to be cognizant of, and this is all information available on our website, we do indicate and make clear when there are concerns about when information can be tapped. So we’re cognizant of this, we’re aware of this, and we are constantly taking precautions and updating our approach.

QUESTION: So when – on tapped --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- so you believe that Assistant Secretary Nuland was being bugged?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other further analysis for you than what I provided yesterday.

QUESTION: And in terms of your answers to all of these questions so far, specifically the technical – kind of technical questions --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- you are – you believe or you know that at least one part of – one person involved in this conversation was using a Blackberry or some kind of a cell phone, correct?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t know for a fact the details of what phone lines individuals were on.

QUESTION: All right. But is it – do you have any concerns because of this incident that the embassy in – either the Embassy in Kyiv itself or the EUR Bureau here at this building more generally is – that the security of it has been compromised somehow? Is there any concern about that?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Matt.

QUESTION: Would you be aware of if – if this were a concern?

MS. PSAKI: Again, obviously, we’re closely looking at this – or not at this, but we’re closely looking at these cases every single day. I don’t have any new information for you.

QUESTION: Jen, you said that you are confident – in response to my colleague’s question, you said that you are confident in the security of your diplomatic communications. Given, one, WikiLeaks, and two, this, why are you confident?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Arshad, we’ve always been clear and been clear-eyed, I should say, that we need to be vigilant as it relates to conversations, as it relates to information. But I’m not – what I’m conveying to you is we’re not taking one released call as an indication that our systems are not working.

QUESTION: No, no, I get that. And I ask the question only because I’m not so sure I would be so confident. I know that there were a whole series of reforms that were undertaken post WikiLeaks --

MS. PSAKI: Sure, sure.

QUESTION: -- to try to restrict the access --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- there. But it’s not clear to me – particularly since you haven’t made clear whether or not you are actually rethinking your communications equipment or policies in the light of this, it’s not clear to me why I would be confident in the security of communications. So I don’t understand why you are so confident.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Do you have a question or – (laughter).

QUESTION: Yeah. Why are you confident that your communications are secure when you have an example within, apparently, the last two weeks of a communication being, apparently, tapped and broadcast?

MS. PSAKI: Well, what I’m conveying, Arshad, is that we’re constantly evaluating and reviewing how we communicate, whether that’s internally or externally. I’m not going to share all of that from the podium because it wouldn’t be appropriate to do that. But it hasn’t changed our official evaluation of the ability and the capacity of our diplomats to communicate.

QUESTION: Can we move on to Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on this?

QUESTION: Just to follow up --

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to be clear, there’s no specific investigation into this breach; is that what you’re saying?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Josh.

QUESTION: Okay. And have you demarched the Ukrainians or the Russians over this?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on that.

QUESTION: Can you take that question?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Can you take both questions?

MS. PSAKI: Which one?

QUESTION: Whether you demarched both of them and whether – you said you were not aware of any specific investigation --

MS. PSAKI: And I’m not aware of any demarching, but I want to just, of course, check on that and make sure.

QUESTION: Can you check both of them, whether there is a specific investigation into this incident, as well?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly. I mean, just – not to put too fine a point on this, but obviously, Ukrainians were a part of the conversation as well that was released. I understand it’s representative of the opposition, but – do we have any more on this specific topic?


MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead, Catherine.

QUESTION: Aside from the profanity that’s been focused on and the phone call that’s been tapped, there’s a lot of details about U.S. thinking that has been released in this phone call. How do you see that influencing U.S. influence on the ground and what’s happening there in Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important to note that these messages of what the United States view is, how we view the situation on the ground, is part of the diplomatic conversation that happens with the opposition, that happens with representatives of the government, and that’s happened on the ground over the last couple of days, as Assistant Secretary Nuland has been there. The Secretary also met with both the opposition and briefly stopped by a meeting with the foreign minister last weekend.

So I said this a little bit yesterday, but as a part of the process of diplomacy you often do have a conversation of what the circumstances are, what your view is. It’s, of course, up to the people of Ukraine, whether that’s representatives of the opposition or others, on what the path forward will be. But that’s part of the conversation you have through diplomacy.

QUESTION: Sorry. You just said something that made me – you said that you –

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- apart from the – that Ukrainians were involved in the conversation as well?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I said --

QUESTION: Are we only hearing part of – is what has been out there --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, you’re right. I’m sorry, I’m not sure why I said that. That was wrong. Thank you. Let’s note that in the transcript.

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MS. PSAKI: They were discussed.

QUESTION: As far as you know, there were only two people involved in this conversation --

MS. PSAKI: Correct. There were two people.

QUESTION: There wasn’t anyone else?

MS. PSAKI: Thank you. It’s a Friday. I apologize.

Do we have a new topic? Syria?

QUESTION: Situation in the Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: How do you evaluate the visit of Victoria Nuland?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is it successful or not, in general?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think our expectation was that her visit would resolve the situation on the ground. While she was there, she not only had a press conference, as I mentioned, but she also met with representatives of the government and representatives of the opposition. And our message continues to be that they – all sides need to move forward toward the creation of a new government, that we need to encourage a reduction in violence, a peaceful approach to the path forward, and that people need to listen to – people in the government need to listen to the voices of the people of Ukraine.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Can I just ask --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You said that the release of these tapes is distracting, and I just wondered whether it had distracted any of the conversations between Assistant Secretary Nuland and particularly the Ukrainian president.

MS. PSAKI: Honestly, Jo, the focus of their conversation was on the path forward. It was not about the release of the tapes and the reports. It’s distracting --

QUESTION: No, I understand that.

MS. PSAKI: -- in the public domain, certainly.

QUESTION: But it didn’t compromise or have any effect on her actual talks on the ground? Because they’re not easy talks that she’s in.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. It’s – of course. It’s a challenging situation. But no, she was able to have substantive conversations with both the government and the opposition.

QUESTION: And do you know if she’s had to – or has indeed apologized to any of the Ukrainian opposition leaders who she was characterizing in the telephone call?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know she spoke to this this morning that she’s been in touch with them, of course, and she has a great working relationship with them, as do other officials from the United States Government and officials from the EU. And she fully expects and we fully expect that that will continue.

Any more on Ukraine, just to finish that? Okay, Syria.

QUESTION: Okay. On Syria. Do you comment – do you have any comment on some reports that say that you and your allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries are arming feverishly and readying certain militant elements to attack Damascus on the eve of the talks on the 10th that they want – so they can gain some sort of leverage?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not even, honestly, Said, aware of what specific report you’re referring to.

QUESTION: Okay. Well --

MS. PSAKI: Would you know where it was published?

QUESTION: Yes. It was published all over the Arab media.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Sorry, I mean, I use the Arab media. So they’re saying that – especially in the Gulf, the Gulf media, they’re saying that the armed opposition is getting arms and it’s getting training and it’s getting professional advice on how to attack Damascus over the next, say, 72 hours – whatever it is – so they can gain some sort of leverage in the talks that will begin on Monday.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything on that report for you.


QUESTION: Okay, now do you --


QUESTION: For the talks on Monday, what do you expect? What is your role? What will your role be?

MS. PSAKI: What is our role? The United States role?

QUESTION: Yeah, what is your role? Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as it was just a couple of weeks ago, our role is to be there as an outside advisor to work with the opposition. Ambassador Ford will be on the ground and he’ll be leading a team. We engage with the opposition as well as UN Joint Special Representative Brahimi, the Russians, the representatives of the London 11, and we’re all striving, of course, to do what we can to help Brahimi’s efforts succeed. So I expect we’ll continue to play a similar role to the one we played in the first round of negotiations.

QUESTION: And will that be in light of – during the conversation with CNN, the interview with CNN, the Secretary said yesterday that, yeah, there has been some sort of negative aspects to the policy thus far. Will any change or any change will be reflected in these talks as far as U.S. position in terms of aiding the opposition, sort of, more robustly?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what we learned from the last round of talks, or what we’re encouraging moving forward is certainly for the regime to – encouraging the regime and pushing those who are influential with the regime to encourage them to engage more constructively in the next round, which means discussing the implementation of the Geneva communique, including the establishment of a transitional governing body. And I think we all can acknowledge that there’s a lot of work ahead, and we expect the negotiations to be about the implementation of the Geneva communique. You can discuss others issues, of course, but that’s what we believe the focus should be.

QUESTION: And finally, how do you expect the current ceasefire for three days or whatever it is to impact these talks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me be very clear on that. I think a more apt description is that this is a pause in hostilities to allow humanitarian access. Our understanding is that the deal includes humanitarian pauses for ten hours on each of the three days to allow the operations to complete. But again, we’ve received – we’ve actually even received reports, as many of you may have seen, that the regime shelled Homs overnight. So I don’t think ceasefire is an accurate description of what’s happening on the ground.


QUESTION: All right. I wanted to follow up on that.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Can you – do you have any information – I know it’s primarily coming from the United Nations, but do you have any information on how many people have been able to leave Old Homs, what assistance has been delivered, if any? And also, some of the reports had indicated that not only had the shelling occurred, but it had been more substantial than – it had been increased really over previous days. Is that the case, to your knowledge?

MS. PSAKI: I unfortunately – we’ve seen the reports. I would, as you noted, point you to the UN on this. But it’s important to note, since you gave me the opportunity here, that we do have – and Elise asked this question yesterday, and I talked to our team to follow up. And given the – while the UN is controlling and monitoring and running this entire process, given the regime’s past actions and its utter disregard for human life, we do not expect any goodwill will come from the regime. So we are taking every statement that is made with a grain of salt.

We have seen the reports overnight, and it’s a very real possibility that once the evacuations and humanitarian assistance deliveries are complete, the regime could bombard the Old City of Homs, as there has been a trend in the past. We don’t know that’s going to happen. We hope that’s not going to happen, but we have those concerns.

In terms of the numbers and specific – numbers of people who have been moved out, the UN really has those specific statistics.

QUESTION: Apart from stating these concerns publicly, have you conveyed them through Brahimi, through Russian officials? How have you – have you conveyed any sort of message to the Assad government that – to try to dissuade them from carrying out this action, and how have you done that?

MS. PSAKI: We have in the past. Let me check and see if there’s any – been any specific message conveyed over the last couple of days as it relates to this particular evacuation.

QUESTION: Okay. Is that something you can get back to us on today with?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, absolutely. I’m happy to.


MS. PSAKI: Are you – Syria?


MS. PSAKI: Any – let’s just finish Syria and then we’ll go to the next.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yesterday, there was a statement issued by the U.S. Treasury. And in that, it was arguing that Iran and several people, operatives, in Iran with the knowledge of the Iranian authorities have been helping al-Qaida operatives in Syria for some time. It’s rather appalling statement while everybody thinks that Iran supports Assad regime against al-Qaida. How do you explain that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re referring to the Treasury designations yesterday, right --


MS. PSAKI: -- and the way that it was phrased or the – what it indicated. I’m not sure – well, can you repeat your question a little bit? I’m trying to understand what you’re asking.

QUESTION: Sure. According to statement, there are several people – one of them is Yasin al-Suri. These guys have been sending, transferring fighters into Syria via Turkey and they’ve been doing this for a long time. And my question is: How do you explain while everybody thinks Iran is supporting Assad regime against al-Qaida elements in Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it was a reference to financial support for – or some financial supporters of --

QUESTION: Also elements.

MS. PSAKI: -- right, who were designated as part of this. I would point you to the Treasury Department for more specifics on it. I mean, our view and policy hasn’t changed on it, but that’s referring to a designation they announced yesterday.

QUESTION: Another way of asking: What is your take on Iranian role in terms of supporting al-Qaida elements in Syria, which this statement clearly indicates Iran with the knowledge of the Iranian authorities have been helping al-Qaida within Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want you to go too far down the road on what the Treasury designation meant or didn’t mean. Obviously, we speak for our foreign policy here and what our approach to these issues is from the State Department. I don’t really have any new analysis for you to offer.

Any more on Syria?

Go ahead. Jonathan Karl, what do we owe this pleasure?

QUESTION: Hi. It’s great to be back in the building.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I just have a few questions on the President’s nominees to be ambassadors around the world.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What, in a nutshell, are the central qualifications to be named U.S. ambassador?

MS. PSAKI: Well, fortunately the United States has diplomatic relationships with many, many countries around the world, as you know. And we have ambassadors who are from political backgrounds, who are from financial backgrounds, who have run companies large and small, but our process has continued to be – or our approach has continued to be approximately a 70/30 balance of career employees, so people who have been working through the Foreign Service and serving around the world, building that level of experience, and then about 30 percent from outside the private sector.

Over the course of history, there have been many, many ambassadors who have come from outside of the career path who have been very successful. And just to point you to a few – Sargent Shriver, former Vice President Mondale, Pamela Harriman – there are many who have been very successful serving in these roles in countries around the world, and that’s a part of the reason why this will continue.

QUESTION: So as you know, there’s been some criticism that – of the specific qualifications of some of the recent nominees. I mean, George Tsunis didn’t seem to even know what type of government Norway has, called one of the members of the ruling coalition a fringe element. So I’m wondering: Does an ambassador have to have at least some basic knowledge of the country that he is going to?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think ambassadors go to countries. Obviously, that’s the goal. But the ambassadors go to countries to represent the United States, to be a resource to people on the ground. We’ve seen those reports, we’ve all read them. But I would encourage people to give those who have had tougher hearings a chance to go to their countries and see what their tenure will entail. And the judgment can’t be made about how effective they’ll be or how appreciated they’ll be by the government until we have that happen.

QUESTION: So right now, you have – the percentage is 37 percent, which is considerably more political appointees than George Bush had, considerably more than Bill Clinton had. And I’m going through the list. I mean, most of these gave hundreds of thousands of dollars or raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Obama campaign. How much does it cost to become an ambassador, to be named ambassador, in the Obama Administration?

MS. PSAKI: Jonathan Karl, always a TV question. We don’t determine --

QUESTION: Well, it’s a serious question.

MS. PSAKI: We – I am not – I’m not. It is a serious question. We don’t name ambassadors from the State Department. The White House names ambassadors, so I would certainly point you to my old colleagues across the street for that. What I was conveying is that from the State Department point of view, there have been many, many political ambassadors, people who have come from a range of histories and backgrounds who’ve been very successful and worked very effectively in these roles.

QUESTION: But President – if I can just – two more on this.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: But President Obama, when he came into office, he said that wherever possible he would name civil servants, people from the Civil Service. So was it really impossible to find a civil servant who could serve as ambassador, say, to Argentina?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Jonathan, there are civil servants who are effectively and proudly serving around the world as ambassadors. More than 60 percent are serving. Obviously, every ambassadorship hasn’t been named yet, and I know that the Secretary and the President and others will continue to strive for that high percentage.

QUESTION: Do you know if – we learned that Noah Mamet, the nominee to be ambassador to Argentina, has never even set foot in the country of Argentina. Do you know if he speaks Spanish?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have his personal biography in front of me, but what I will convey is that I think, as I said before, judging somebody’s effectiveness or what role they’ll play or how strong of an ambassador they’ll be you can’t do until they’ve spent some time working in the job in the country.

QUESTION: And just this very last question on this.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Can you just explain to me why, despite President Obama’s promise that he would wherever possible name civil servants, why is it that President Obama is naming more political appointees than his predecessor?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to my good buddy, Jay Carney, for that question. But let me just be clear and just reiterate that there are ambassadors who come from all different backgrounds, whether that is – and political is not even the right definition, because these are business leaders, these are people who have worked in the private sector in incredibly impressive roles who are going to represent – serve as public servants overseas. And so many of them are not just qualified, but they’re very effective in their roles. And again, there are more ambassadors to be named, so we’ll see what happens.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jen.

QUESTION: On the --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: One moment, Said. One moment. We’ll get back to you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On the broad point, since you were with the campaign and also at the White House for part of the first term – did the President actually say – use the word “civil servants,” that he would promote civil servants into ambassadorships? Do you recall?

MS. PSAKI: I’m certain he did not, given that Foreign Service office – Foreign --

QUESTION: You would like to draw --

QUESTION: No, the quote said “civil servants.”

QUESTION: You would like to draw a distinction between civil servants and foreign servants?

MS. PSAKI: Career. Career employees.

QUESTION: Foreign Service. There’s a distinction, is there not?

MS. PSAKI: There certainly is. But they all work together. We all work together in one happy family here, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. But – I’m not suggesting that they don’t.

MS. PSAKI: I know. I know you’re clarifying for the record.

QUESTION: I just want to make sure – did – well, no, because I don’t remember him saying that. But if he did, in fact, say civil servants – I mean, did he say civil servants? Or – and if he did say --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: If he did, did he – since you were with him at the time, did he mean to say foreign servants, or did he mean both?

MS. PSAKI: I suspect he meant career employees.

QUESTION: Because the concern that’s been expressed from these questions but also from AFSA and others is that AFSA, in particular, is not – is more concerned about Foreign Service, Foreign Service officers rather than Civil Service officers. So I just – I want to know. I don’t object to the questions; I just want to know --

MS. PSAKI: Certainly.

QUESTION: -- if the President meant, literally, civil servants.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I unfortunately do not have a photographic memory of everything he’s ever stated.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: But I’m happy to look into these questions, and if there’s more to convey, we can convey that.

QUESTION: Now more to the point on the --

MS. PSAKI: One moment. We’ll get to you, I promise.

QUESTION: -- on the Argentina question --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- the testimony, or at least some comments by several – by two senators during that nominee’s confirmation hearing have provoked some anger in Argentina.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I’m assuming that you stand by what the ambassadorial nominee said regarding Argentina being a mature democracy and that you do not agree with the comments of Senator Rubio – and I can’t remember who the other senator was, but who questioned whether Argentina was a – stable and not about to hit another epic financial crisis.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, that’s correct.

QUESTION: That is.

QUESTION: Jen, I just wanted to ask while we’re on ambassadors --

MS. PSAKI: On ambassadors? Okay.

QUESTION: Ambassadors. Yes, absolutely. In the event that Ambassador Ford leaves at the end of the month --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, that was quite a pivot, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah. (Laughter.) Given that he leaves, how would you replace him? Because on the one hand, you don’t have an embassy in Syria; but on the other hand, he’s very involved with the opposition and so on. So explain to us how – in this case, how would you appoint an ambassador to Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I understand and appreciate your question, but Ambassador Ford is headed on Monday to --


MS. PSAKI: -- Geneva to – as a part of his very important portfolio of working on these tough issues. So I’m not going to entertain how we would replace somebody who has not announced that they’re departing.

Do we have any more? Let’s finish on --

QUESTION: On Argentina?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I got one on Argentina.

MS. PSAKI: Two on Argentina. Ladies first, and then we’ll go to you next. Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Given that Senator Rubio called Argentina more insolent than North Korea, is there any concern that they’re – and Argentina reacted angrily this morning – is there any concern of potential impact in U.S.-Argentinean relations?

MS. PSAKI: I would not say that there is. I think we speak from here on U.S. Government policy. And obviously, there are a range of comments on a range of issues that are made every day from not just members of Congress but officials around the country. So I would just point them to our view here.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- on your point that sometimes political appointees can make good ambassadors. There is a track record here, according to the State Department IG’s office – Obama’s appointee to ambassador to Luxembourg ran that embassy into the ground; the ambassador to the Bahamas took 270 personal days in a year and a half; the ambassador to Belgium was reportedly investigated by your own IG’s office for procuring prostitutes in the park in front of his house. So I’m wondering if --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: -- do you draw a distinction between people like Walter Mondale, who are like lifelong public servants, and political donors and bundlers who have no professional or international experience whatsoever?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Josh, I would say, obviously, I’m not going to speak to a range of reports. And there are people of all sorts of backgrounds that make poor choices, but – in some of these roles. But what I was conveying is that there are people who have broad backgrounds, backgrounds in – as leading companies, backgrounds working in important roles in the private sector who take the step to – to be public servants. And that’s an important thing I think we should all applaud, and that’s part of what we’re seeing. So --

QUESTION: Jennifer?


QUESTION: Let’s go to Argentina.

MS. PSAKI: Sorry. We did – okay, go ahead. Argentina.

QUESTION: It seems that in this meeting yesterday in the Committee of Foreign Relations, there was a huge disagreement between the presentation of this candidate and what the Senators were saying. A lot of things were mentioned there, like a program for drugs, systems that have to be with economy that is failing – some – one Senator compared Argentina to North Korea. Also they talked about the freedom of the press. My question is: This candidate was prepared by the State Department? You know that he was appointed in July last year. He had one year. He didn’t visit Argentina in one year. Something that we can say, okay, if you are appointed to a country, maybe you have one year to go and see how is Buenos Aires or something like that, have an idea what is Argentina. Okay, he said that he never visited Argentina.

And then I want to know if the State Department prepared him – they gave him information, because the difference with what he was talking and the Senators were talking yesterday, it seems that were a world apart. So I want – this is a real situation that was surprising, right? Between policies of the State Department, if he was prepared, and what in the Senator had mentioned about what they think about Argentina, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, did you have a question in there? That was very passionate, though.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) by mistake (inaudible).

QUESTION: If he was trained – if this candidate was in some way helped or he received information from the State Department to make his presentation, or he absolutely was not prepared at all and he went there and he saw really harsh comments about Argentina that maybe he can never hear about?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can assure you we work closely with ambassadors. We work closely with them leading up, and we will continue to do that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me see. What is the question? (Laughter.) Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have you on record.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Is it typically the practice for people who have been nominated to be ambassador to a country to go visit that country during the period when they are preparing for their nomination hearings? I don’t think it is.

MS. PSAKI: I think that’s a --

QUESTION: And I’d love to know the answer to that.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. No, that’s a very good question. I don’t think it is either, especially given how sensitive it is. But let me check on that specific question.

QUESTION: Well, in fact, isn’t it frowned on?


QUESTION: Because the Senate has taken – takes quite objection – it objects quite fiercely to any implication that they are --

MS. PSAKI: Already working with the government.

QUESTION: Well – well, no, that these nominees are bypassing the confirmation process --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and assuming that – just assuming that they’re going to be in.

QUESTION: Well, I think it would be quite rare, if ever, and the only cases I can remember are people who are already dealing with those countries in their current job, so a DAS or a PDAS who is responsible for five countries and then is named – nominated to be ambassador to one can go to that one because --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, sure.

QUESTION: -- that’s part of their job, but otherwise, I don’t think it happens.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, and I think that is correct as far as I understand it, but let me just get around to all of you --

QUESTION: And put it out, thank you.

MS. PSAKI: -- an official explanation of that particular policy.

QUESTION: To the Middle East, to – okay. The --

MS. PSAKI: No, go ahead. Get in there.

QUESTION: Thanks. The Secretary has repeatedly made remarks on the Arab Peace Initiative and how it “holds out the possibility of normalizing relations with Israel.” He’s said this numerous times, but in December at the Saban Forum, he said, “Israel would enjoy a normal peaceful relationship the minute this agreement” – as in agreement with the Palestinians – “is signed with 22 Arab nations and 35 Muslim nations, 57 countries in all.”

Now, I was with someone with – at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy the other day who made the note that the Arab Peace Initiative has a very distinct qualification to that, which is that Israel “completely withdraw from the occupied Arab territories, including the Golan Heights.”

So is the Secretary working on having the Arab League amend the API, or is the hope that the Arab League put aside the API and endorse some future Kerry plan, or – one of those two things has to happen. Otherwise, his statement isn’t entirely accurate. Is that right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we’re working with both parties on a framework for negotiations. We don’t have a final framework that’s even being discussed at this point, so in terms of what will or won’t be in a framework, never mind a final agreement, that’s not something I could speak to or we have the information to speak to.

He is in constant touch with the Arab League and the Arab Peace Initiative Follow-On Committee and briefs them regularly every couple of months about the status of the discussions, the status of the negotiations, and where things stand. And they have indicated very publicly their support for those efforts. In terms of what the outcome will be and what will be needed or required, I’m not going to make a prediction of that because we have several steps to take before then.

QUESTION: Well, but we know that the framework is not going to address the Golan Heights. That much we absolutely know unless there’s some big surprise in there and Assad’s, like, at this (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s a framework which will be the basis for negotiations for a final agreement.

QUESTION: Which won’t address the Golan Heights, though, because that has nothing to do with Palestinian --

MS. PSAKI: I would --

QUESTION: The Syrians aren’t – the Syrians don’t have anything to do with this.

QUESTION: Right, so the reason I’m sticking on this point is he says the minute this agreement is signed, 22 Arab nations and 35 Muslim nations will recognize or hold out the hope --

MS. PSAKI: Well, Michael, that’s a figure of speech. It doesn’t mean the minute he steps off the stage of an announcement that anything will be implemented. But --

QUESTION: Well, but --

MS. PSAKI: -- beyond that, what I’m trying to get at is that obviously, there are discussions and negotiations. If we come to a final status agreement, which has never happened before, on these issues and he’s continuing to brief the Arab League and the follow-on committee, we’ll see what needs to happen on one side or the other. But I’m not going to make a prediction of where things stand in terms of what they’re willing to agree to.

QUESTION: Jen, maybe you could answer – because it’s actually a very good point.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Is there any discussion with the Arabs – with the Arab League Follow-Up – the Follow-On Committee --

MS. PSAKI: Of amending?

QUESTION: -- about – well, about changing it at least slightly so that – and recognizing the situation in Syria is a mess and there isn’t going to be any way to – you don’t even know what – I mean, if there’s a transitional government, if it’s still Assad, whatever, there aren’t any negotiations going on there.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Is there any talk or thought to having the Arabs change their initiative to remove or to move the Golan issue out of the immediate and into something further down the road?

MS. PSAKI: There is not a discussion of amending the API. Obviously, there’s lots of steps that need to happen before even discussing how that piece would be implemented. So that’s the point I’m getting at.

QUESTION: Okay. But unless and until it is changed, it can’t – it doesn’t – it’s hard to see how the Secretary can make the promise or the – make the statement that as soon as a deal is done between the Israelis and the Palestinians, then the Arab League Peace Initiative comes into force, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point you to them and see what they say about what they’re willing to commit to.

QUESTION: Jen, on this very point, I was at the same event, and it was very specific that they should take out any language that refers to anything other than a deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: One, you don’t recognize the Arab Peace Initiative, do you? Do you accept it? You say that it’s encouraging. The Israelis have never accepted it as a deal that they can work with and recognize. Isn’t that the case?

MS. PSAKI: How do you mean, “accept it?”

QUESTION: Do you recognize that this is a deal as submitted by the Arabs in 2002 and amended and accepted at the Arab League Conference in Beirut, then amended last April to include land swaps and so on, that this is a deal that you do accept which requires Israel to withdraw from all occupied territories?

MS. PSAKI: It is not the – it is an important signal from the Arab League.


MS. PSAKI: It’s an important document. But it is not the document that’s being negotiated between the parties, no.

QUESTION: But as – you are not aware that Israel at any time has acknowledged this as a peace initiative that it is willing to sign to, do you?

MS. PSAKI: That’s not what’s being discussed between the parties, Said.

QUESTION: Right. But you are not aware that Israel has agreed --

MS. PSAKI: I think I answered your question.

QUESTION: -- to this peace initiative.

MS. PSAKI: Arshad.

QUESTION: This is a slightly technical thing --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- and I don’t know if it’s been drawn to your --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- attention. The Treasury Department sanctioned an individual whom – yesterday whom it says is part of a network of al-Qaida operating in Iran that has used Iran as a transit point --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- to funnel fighters into Syria to fight with al-Qaida-linked groups --

MS. PSAKI: I think we just talked – we just answered this.

QUESTION: Yeah. No, but I didn’t quite understand the answer, because I guess fundamentally, the question is: Do you believe that Iran is arming or aiding or assisting both sides in the conflict in Syria?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more information on the specific designation, so let me just check and see if there’s more to convey.

QUESTION: Okay. The fundamental question, though, is that one.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. Government believe Iran is playing both sides of the coin and aiding fighters on both sides in the Syrian conflict?

MS. PSAKI: And we’re talking about an individual here who was assisting, so that’s an important point.


MS. PSAKI: But I will check and see if there’s more to add.


QUESTION: It is within the knowledge of the Iranian authorities and it has been going for a while, so it is more than individual.

MS. PSAKI: I understand your question. But it’s about financial support for, so --

QUESTION: Also fighters.

MS. PSAKI: I will check and see if there’s more we can convey. And of course, I’d point you to the Treasury Department, who’s the experts on this.

Go ahead.


QUESTION: On Iran, just one more here. On Iran, there was a scheduled meeting tomorrow with the IAEA and some Iranian officials to talk about what the Iranians described as ambiguities in the technical agreement for the nuclear deal with the West. What is the process here in terms of information and briefing at the State Department following that consultation in Tehran?

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’re in close touch. But as you know, the discussions are beginning two weeks from now on the comprehensive talks. The IAEA has, for the most part, been a separate process. That was started before there was an agreement on a first-step agreement. So in terms of specifically what would be read out, obviously, we receive briefings and updates on a regular basis, but I’m not aware of anything unique in this case.

QUESTION: So you don’t think the February 8th technical discussions about these so-called ambiguities are going to impact the February 18th start under the EU?

MS. PSAKI: That’s not our expectation, no.

QUESTION: And is that Wendy Sherman then who’s leading that? Does the Secretary --

MS. PSAKI: February 18th?

QUESTION: I’m – well, sure, on the 18th.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But the briefing following the technical conversations --

MS. PSAKI: It really depends. I would caution you against over-cranking what a briefing is. I mean, it is – it is regular consultations and updates on what’s happening on one side or the other. Under Secretary Sherman will, of course, be the lead who will be headed for the talks in Vienna coming up in two weeks. But in terms of who will receive any update, I don’t have a specific name for you.

QUESTION: Foreign Minister Zarif made some comments on Ms. Sherman that were pretty harsh, saying that she should stick to reality when she’s testifying on the negotiations in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying that her comments were hindering the process. Do you have a response to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we all know that everybody has their own political constituencies, and sometimes statements are made as a result of that.

QUESTION: Right. But --

QUESTION: So you’re referring to Zarif, not Wendy? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Correct. Wendy does not have a political constituency.


QUESTION: Senator Menendez, who has been a strong – in fact, the author of the bill that you and the Administration has --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- opposed, came out with a pretty significant speech yesterday on the floor of the Senate, conditionalizing his bill and saying that it may not be the appropriate time.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: AIPAC then came out with a statement saying we agree with the chairman that stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support and that there should not be a vote at this time --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- on the measure. Do you commend AIPAC for this statement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we welcome them to the support for the diplomatic path forward.

QUESTION: Jen, on the Israel issue, two things. One, do you have anything to say about your delegation in Tunisia walking out of the speech by Mr. Larijani? And I have a second one.

MS. PSAKI: Actually, I think I’ve seen that, Matt, but I don’t know that I have anything on it for you. So let me get something for you post briefing.

QUESTION: All right.


QUESTION: And second --

MS. PSAKI: Sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: And then second, do you have any response, favorable or unfavorable – I suspect it won’t be anything unfavorable – to Foreign Minister Lieberman’s speech this morning in which he gave somewhat of a strong defense of the Secretary and his efforts?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly welcomed his remarks and his sentiment and the importance of the peace process, and it’s a reflection of, of course, the belief of many people in Israel that a two-state solution is the right outcome at the end of this process.

QUESTION: Do you believe that these words coming from Foreign Minister Lieberman, someone who just several years ago was not exactly the most – was not looked upon by the Administration as a particular friend --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- or a friend of the peace process, do you think that this marks a turning point in the somewhat caustic back and forth that’s been going on since the Secretary’s comments in Munich?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it certainly is a powerful statement and a powerful message given his history and his background on these issues and where his view was. We’ll see moving forward. It doesn’t mean there’s an end to opponents for a two-state solution, an end to opponents of a peace process, but certainly, we’re hopeful that we can get back to the focus on the difficult issues at hand.

QUESTION: Can you --


MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do – Said, Said, one at a time. Just give everybody a chance.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Does the Secretary believe in the goal of a nuclear weapons free Middle East?

MS. PSAKI: I think – I think, Josh, that – I think we’ve talked about this before. I’m having sort of a flashback. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I don’t remember. Refresh me.

MS. PSAKI: Look, Josh, I know we can – we encourage anybody – any country to sign on to the NPT. You’re familiar with the conversations we have with a range of countries on these issues. Beyond that --

QUESTION: So that’s it? You’re not – so you won’t say whether he is for the goal of a nuclear weapons free Middle East?

MS. PSAKI: I think you’re familiar with our actions, which speak to what our efforts are.

QUESTION: Well, let me put a fine --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: I got this. (Laughter.) Let me put a finer point on it. Has the Secretary been communicating to Arab and Gulf leaders that he intends to, following an Iranian nuclear deal, pursue a weapons free – a nuclear weapons free Middle East?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s been part of his talking points. Obviously, we’re focused on our efforts as it relates to the P5+1 negotiations and a comprehensive deal. Our efforts of – and our engagement with a range of countries where we have concerns about their programs, that wasn’t --

QUESTION: That’s not in his talking points, but has he been saying that to those leaders in those meetings?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Josh.

QUESTION: Does the Secretary agree with the President’s stated goal of having a nuclear weapons free world?

MS. PSAKI: Of course.

QUESTION: He does. And is the Middle East part of what we would call the world?

MS. PSAKI: It is part of the world.

QUESTION: So should we therefore assume --

QUESTION: All right. Bringing it back to the level of reality – okay, so --

QUESTION: That is reality.

QUESTION: Yeah. But not aspirationally. I’m talking on a policy level and his communications --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- with leaders in the region in the context of the Iran P5+1 negotiations --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and the discussions surrounding those negotiations. My information is that the Secretary has raised the issue of a nuclear weapons free Middle East as part of his overall vision.

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, as Matt said, as the President has said, we have concerns about efforts toward creating and using nuclear weapons anywhere in the world, and he’s expressed that, of course, as it has been necessary in certain meetings. But I’m not sure where you’re getting at here, Josh. Do you have another question?


MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Let me ask --


QUESTION: Can we stick around to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Because I think we went back and forth on this thing.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Can you update us on any kind of talks that may be going? Is Envoy Indyk doing anything this week or next week?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe he may still be on the ground and he’s been meeting with both parties as we work to close the gap, narrow the gap on the – on a framework for negotiations, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. So – and there are no plans for you guys to go and meet with both sides over there?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any announcements to make about a trip to the region.

QUESTION: I’d like to --

QUESTION: Just a quick – one more follow-up --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- on the Iran bill. Is the Administration at this point confident that there won’t be a vote in the Senate? And I know we visited this multiple times, but should a vote come to pass, is that, as the Iranians have said, a violation of the Joint Plan of Action, or is the full implementation of the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013 a violation of the Joint Plan of Action?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the important point here, which I’ve made in the past, but I realize circumstances have changed a little bit – in favor of a no-vote, I should say – but it’s not just about what specific technical piece would violate. It’s about what message we’re sending during fragile negotiations with partners around the world who have also committed not to move forward with new sanctions legislation while we are about to approach comprehensive talks. So that’s why the Secretary, the President, and others have continued to make the case that we should not take action as it relates to putting new sanctions in place.

QUESTION: I understand it’s a messaging question --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- but is it also a technical question?

MS. PSAKI: It’s not just a messaging question. It’s a strategic question as it relates to the negotiations.

QUESTION: And the 42 senators in the Republican caucus who say that this is becoming a partisan issue, this issue that has consistently been a unifying --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- force in the Senate, is that a concern to the Administration?

MS. PSAKI: It is – our view is it is not a partisan issue. It is about what is the best path forward, and that that’s the diplomatic path forward as it relates to Iran and our concerns about Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. That’s why we think legislation, whomever supports it, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans, is not the right step.



QUESTION: Jen, I have a question, probably on Turkey --

MS. PSAKI: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- about the breaking news as we were coming in about the plane that has been diverted from the Ukraine to Turkey.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: From the State Department’s conversations with your Turkish and Ukrainian allies, what can you tell us about the situation? Do you believe this is an isolated incident? And how serious do you assess this threat to be?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Catherine, as you noted, this just happened before – or the reports of this just happened before I came out here. I’d, of course, refer you to the Turkish Government. We’re in close touch. Our team on the ground is in close touch with Turkish authorities. But I don’t have any analysis for you at this point on what it means or what it’s an indication of.

QUESTION: When was Secretary Kerry made aware of the flight diversion?

MS. PSAKI: He was in a bilateral meeting with the Japanese while these events took place, so I would assume after it, but I haven’t seen him since the bilateral meeting.

QUESTION: Do you think this will change the State Department’s Travel Warning that’s out there for U.S. citizens or change any security plans on the ground in Sochi?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Catherine, obviously, we take in a range of information as we make those evaluations. But again, because this just happened and Turkish authorities are looking into it and what it means, I don’t want to go too far on what it will mean in terms of what we implement.

QUESTION: Jen, just a question on --

QUESTION: Can I go --

MS. PSAKI: Let’s – I’m not going anywhere. Let’s just do one at a time here. In the blue blazer there.

QUESTION: Thank you. Just --

MS. PSAKI: I know. Sorry. Matt has weekend plans. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Quick question on the rules changes for asylum seekers that were published this week in the Federal Register. As you may know, some folks on the Hill have said that the Administration doesn’t have the power to reinterpret the law in this way. How do you respond to that? What legal authority would State cite? I understand it’s both State and DHS.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. I really don’t have information on this, so let me talk to DHS and talk to our team who works on these issues and we can follow up with you following the briefing.

QUESTION: Okay. And one other issue.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have – apparently, the majority staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee came out with a report on Benghazi today and was critical of the ARB for not reviewing or commenting on senior officials, including Secretary Clinton, Ambassador Kennedy. Do you have any response to that report?

MS. PSAKI: Do you have a specific question about the report or --

QUESTION: Just – I mean, would you agree that there were significant issues, questions left unanswered by the ARB’s failure to comment on or review the conduct of senior officials?

MS. PSAKI: We would disagree with that, as I’m sure will come as no surprise. There was a thorough investigation, including interviews with more than 100 people, the review of thousands of documents and hours of video that were included. And the ARB found no credible evidence that relevant decisions on security in Benghazi rose above the assistant secretary level. I think that’s what was addressed specifically in the report, or that contradicts what the ARB says.

This is an issue we’ve talked about a bit in here and has been heavily litigated over the course of time, but I think the facts are contrary to some of the findings in that report. And what we’re focused on is continuing to implement the ARB recommendations, continuing to secure embassies around the world, and moving forward.

QUESTION: On North Korea, please. North Korea?

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do a couple more here, because it’s been a marathon adventure here. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you confirm a media report that human rights envoy King will visit Pyongyang next Monday?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a – talked about this a little bit yesterday, and our – my information has not changed, or what I can provide to all of you has not changed, which is that we have long offered to send Ambassador King to North Korea. That hasn’t changed. Our focus here is on securing the release of Kenneth Bae. Because of that, we’re not going to outline every element of communication, every effort that’s underway, because that’s what our focus is on.

QUESTION: Does North Korea invite that – King, Ambassador King?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to tell you about it.

QUESTION: So you are saying no decision has been made yet?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any new information to provide to you.

QUESTION: I have one more about --

QUESTION: You said, “My information has not changed,” and you said, “The information that I have to provide you has not changed.” So you have information about this that you can’t provide us?

MS. PSAKI: I was just conveying that at any point in this process, Arshad, we’re not going to provide every specific effort that’s underway.


QUESTION: Jen, Deputy Secretary Burns met with the Ambassador of South Korea Ahn Ho-young this morning. Do you have anything readout of that?

MS. PSAKI: I think I do. Let me make sure. And if I don’t for some reason, I know it’s available so I can get that to all of you. Let us get that to you right after the briefing, okay?

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Korea?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let’s just do a couple more here. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So yesterday the Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill on the East Sea/Sea of Japan issue, and given that both the governments of South Korea and Japan have gotten involved in this, is the State Department planning to communicate any kind of position to Governor McAuliffe on whether or not he should sign the legislation?

MS. PSAKI: This isn’t an issue we’re working on at the State Department, and I don’t expect that will change.


MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You were asked about this new law yesterday – internet censorship law – and it passed the parliament.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Now it’s at the desk of the President Gul. Do you have any comment on that apart from yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: Nothing new to add to yesterday.

Let’s do the last two here. Go ahead.

QUESTION: A short question about press freedom in Turkey: Azerbaijani journalist Mahir Zeynalov, who was working for Turkish daily Today’s Zaman, deported this morning from Turkey because of his critical tweets to the Turkish Government.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Would you like to make any comment on this?

MS. PSAKI: We are looking into these unsettling reports. As we have said, we have been and continue to be strong advocates for freedom of expression around the world, and we believe that democracies are strengthened by the diverse voices of their people. We look to Turkey as a democracy and ally to uphold the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, and association. We believe that an independent pluralistic media is critical to a healthy and strong democracy, but I don’t have any specific confirmation of any of the details that have been reported.

Scott. Why don’t we finish off with you?

QUESTION: Do you have anything about the arrest of the Russian environmentalist Igor Kharchenko?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: And actually can I add onto that? There were reports of LGBT activists being arrested just as the Opening Ceremony was going on. Could you – and others, as well, being arrested – do you have any thoughts about?

QUESTION: Another footnote on that one?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I need a pen.

QUESTION: You opened by showing the video and by talking about how the U.S. Olympic Team highlights the diversity, openness, and – I think it says inclusion – of the United States. Was that deliberately meant to evoke or sort of be a counterpoint to the Russian laws that – the laws that are widely regarded as antigay?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, I think our view of those laws, as we’ve no – made no secret of that, and we remain concerned by a disturbing trend in the Russian Federation of legislation, prosecutions, and government actions aimed at suppressing dissent in groups that advocate for human rights. As you know, we think gay rights are human rights, and this – these LGBT laws and propaganda are part of that effort.

You’re familiar with who is representing the United States in the delegation. It’s important to note and represent what our views are, and certainly all of that reflects the views of the United States on this particular issue and how it contrasts.

Sorry. Go ahead, Scott. Now I forget your question.

QUESTION: It’s okay.

MS. PSAKI: It was about the environmentalist?

QUESTION: Yeah. Igor Kharchenko.

MS. PSAKI: The environmentalist, yes, I think I have something on that in here. One moment.

We are – and this loops in all of your questions, I believe – the United States is troubled by the arrests of and government pressure on peaceful civil society activists around the Sochi region of Russia in the days leading up to the Olympics. These arrests call into question the Russian Government’s commitment to allowing individuals to exercise their basic freedoms. The United States continues to support the rights of all Russians to exercise these fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly. These rights are enshrined in the Russian constitution, as well as in international agreements, to which Russia is a party.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Okay. I --

MS. PSAKI: Oh. Did you have another one? Sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah, unfortunately. Sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: You said – there was one on that. They call into question the commitment, so are you entirely satisfied with the Opening Ceremony and the – what’s happened around it? Not in terms of the actual ceremony itself, obviously, but in terms of the Russian Government’s steps, measures that they’ve taken, that they think they need to have – that they think they need to take to secure the place?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we’re – oh, security wise. Okay.

QUESTION: Well, no, but I mean to – I mean, I think the --

MS. PSAKI: Pardon me. (Sneezes.)

QUESTION: The arrests are being --

QUESTION: Bless you.

QUESTION: Bless you.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: The arrests are being made, I believe, under that whole – this larger idea of keeping the Games peaceful and safe.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: That’s what I mean. I don’t mean like a terrorist threat or anything like that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I think I – I don’t think I have analysis of every single arrest and the meaning and the history on it, but it’s clear there’s a trend with people who are peacefully protesting or peacefully expressing their viewpoint, whether it’s environmental activists or some LGBT activists being arrested, and I think it would be hard to argue they’re posing a threat.

QUESTION: And then my last one is – and I’m pretty sure you won’t have a comment on it – but a former official of this Department has pleaded guilty today to passing classified information to one of our colleagues. I’m wondering if you have any comment about that.

MS. PSAKI: I do not, given it’s an ongoing process with the Department of Justice.

QUESTION: Well, it’s not going anymore once he’s pleaded guilty.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything for you on it.

Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:58 p.m.)

DPB # 25