Daily Press Briefing: August 27, 2014
Index for Today's Briefing:
1:15 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. I just have one item for all of you at the top. The United States congratulates the people of Moldova and Romania and the European Union on the inauguration of the last Iasi-Ungheni gas pipeline. This 43-kilometer pipeline will bring the first benefits of energy supply diversification to Moldova, including access to Europe’s competitive energy market and increased energy security. The United States is also committed to helping Moldova achieve these goals through programs that improve the regulatory environment and reduce energy consumption.
With that, Brad.
QUESTION: We have a story out today that cites officials talking about the United States considering a new humanitarian mission in Iraq. This one would be to the north for the ethnic Shiite Turkmen. Do you have any – anything to share about this? Why is the situation so dire? What’s being planned?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any new information for you, Brad. I will say, broadly speaking, we’re very focused on addressing the humanitarian concerns across Iraq. Obviously, this is something we continue to asses with our Iraqi partners. We’re also working at the same time on an effort to put together a coalition of countries in Europe, in the Arab world, and beyond that who might be able to contribute to taking on the threat of ISIL and the causes that have resulted, which, of course, is some of the humanitarian results that you mentioned.
And as you all know, there’s many ways to contribute. There’s humanitarian, military, intelligence, diplomatic, and we know this is an effort that is going to require significant focus and all hands on deck – not just the United States, but a range of countries. And you’ve already seen that there are a range of countries that have offered a range of assistance in Iraq, whether it’s humanitarian assistance or other countries who have taken strikes. We’ve seen the efforts of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, and many, many others, who have given assistance. And this is an effort that we think needs to be over the long term to take this on.
QUESTION: Do you have any – I mean, are you concerned about the situation, particularly of the Turkmen right now, in the north of Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s a situation we’re watching closely, just as we’re watching any humanitarian situation in Iraq that raises concerns. And as you know, we continue to assess necessary steps to take.
QUESTION: Are you – sorry, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just – Said, thank you. Just in terms of the coalition-building, have you anything more to say about other countries that might help on the military side of it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s really important to note that this is about many areas of contribution. They include military. They include humanitarian. They include intelligence. They include diplomatic efforts. We’re not going to make announcements for other countries, of course, about what they may or may not do. You’ve seen some countries take steps in Iraq to take on the threat of ISIL. Obviously, we’re having conversations with a range – dozens of countries about what contribution they’re able to make.
QUESTION: Who’s taking on ISIL militarily in Iraq --
QUESTION: Yeah, besides the Americans.
QUESTION: -- besides you and Iran, which I assume is not part of your coalition?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what I mean, Brad, is that obviously there are countries who are all considering what options they can take and they may be willing to take to take on the threat of ISIL, whether it’s Iraq or across borders.
More on this? Let’s finish this issue. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Are you aware about the desperate situation of the people in the town of Amirli in north Iraq – northern Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as I said in response to Brad’s question, we are watching closely the humanitarian situation in Iraq; that’s obviously impacting many communities. And we continue to assess how we can provide the best assistance. And obviously this is not a short-term effort, this is a long-term effort, which is why it’s so important to work through a coalition of countries in a coordinated manner, with regional and international partners to see how we can address.
QUESTION: But to help the people of Amirli match the – one of the goals of the President’s mission in Iraq, right – humanitarian relief?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, one of the goals is humanitarian relief. You’ve seen contributions we’ve already made. We continue to assess what more we can do.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Now with the Iranian Government, they have fostered sectarianism in Baghdad, which you said contributed – is a political problem that’s possibly greater than the military problem. They have funded, they have armed, they have trained the Assad Government. And yet, the Secretary has said explicitly we’re open to them playing a constructive role numerous times. Is that a --
MS. PSAKI: But I think we’ve also said, clearly – and I think the context of his remarks are important – that there’s many ways you can play a constructive role, and certainly supporting a unified Iraqi Government – which I think is what his reference was to at the time – and one that takes into account the views of all parties, is one that many countries can play a productive role in. And if Iran was able to play a productive role in moving that process forward when that statement was made months ago or weeks ago, then that’s something we would certainly support.
We’ve also talked about our concern about certain kinds of outside intervention in Iraq as well.
QUESTION: Okay. But in terms of ISIL generally – Iraq or Syria – the comments that he made are not relevant in terms of Iran’s ability to play a constructive role in the military fight against the organization.
MS. PSAKI: I would encourage you to look back at the context, which I recall was about the formation of a governing – of a government in Iraq, which certainly has moved forward several steps since then.
QUESTION: Right. I understand that. But you’re saying that he would not or that the position of the State Department is that Iran cannot play a constructive role?
MS. PSAKI: I think I spoke to this yesterday. I’m not sure I have much more to add.
QUESTION: Yeah, very quickly on this. I think today the Iranian foreign minister is visiting Saudi Arabia or is about to visit Saudi Arabia. Is that part of, let’s say, the coalition to fight ISIS? Is that how you see it? Is that – in that respect, is it positive?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on that visit. That’s not a part of our effort. Obviously, we’re speaking to Saudi Arabia about the role that they have already played and can continue to play.
QUESTION: But in a way, when, apparently, you nod “okay” or whatever to the arming of the Kurds by the Iranians to fight ISIS, that is in a way acknowledging their positive role. Any --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s an accurate description of our role or our view, Said.
Did you have a question, Arshad?
QUESTION: Yeah. Why is it so urgent now fighting ISIL or ISIS or the Islamic State in Syria?
MS. PSAKI: The many names. Because this is a growing threat that we’ve been concerned about that has grown over the last several months. We talked a little bit yesterday about the growth of our concern about those with Western passports who have traveled over and may have the ability to travel back. We’ve seen several incidents of that – I know Brad asked this question yesterday – that have grown over the past couple of months. And clearly, what we’ve seen happen in Iraq over the past – this summer has raised our concern about the threat that is – the region faces, but also the threat that we could potentially face.
QUESTION: And does the U.S. Government need military assistance to strike the Islamic State --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure.
QUESTION: -- or are you perfectly capable of doing that on your own with the USS George Bush carrier?
MS. PSAKI: The United States certainly has the capabilities, but obviously addressing this threat is an international issue, one that many countries are very concerned about, because they also have concerns about the flow of foreign fighters back into their countries. Many of the incidents took place, actually, in European countries, and also because we always like to go it with friends if we can go it with friends.
QUESTION: But you don’t – if I understood you correctly, you don’t actually feel – you don’t, because of your unique capabilities, you don’t actually need coalition members to undertake military action, correct? I mean, you have those capabilities, right?
MS. PSAKI: I think you’re familiar with the capabilities of the United States, but obviously we’re working with a range of countries about different capabilities that are not just military capabilities.
QUESTION: So do you need them, then, for sort of cover for sort of public relations so that it does not appear to be the United States undertaking something essentially on its own?
MS. PSAKI: No. I think it’s really important for everybody to broaden this far past the possibility of strikes or far past a military step. This is about addressing the long-term threat of ISIL, which is not something that we think can be solved overnight, and it will require several components to address it. And so that’s why we want to build a coordinated effort in the international community to address it.
QUESTION: And do you – I mean, there has been a lot of criticism over the last several years from foreign governments that the United States has not acted more – in a more muscular fashion to support the moderate opposition to Assad in Syria. Are you finding, as you talk to other countries about playing some kind of a role, that they are less enthusiastic about participating because they feel that this effort or such an effort should have been mounted years ago, rather than now?
MS. PSAKI: I think the effort and the role that many countries have already played in supporting, whether it’s through humanitarian assistance or other means, this fight against ISIL answers your question. It’s a concern that many countries in the region have about the threat that is not just facing Iraq, but facing the entire region. And that’s why you’ve seen and we’re finding that many countries are engaged with and have an interest in participating in a regional effort to address this fight.
MS. PSAKI: He has a range of meetings that he’ll have, I’m certain, while he’s here in town. I’m not going to read those out from here.
QUESTION: But they’re not all internal to the State Department, his meetings?
MS. PSAKI: I just am not going to have any more. If there are meetings the White House would like to announce, I’ll let them do that.
QUESTION: Can we change topics to Gaza?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let’s finish this. Go ahead, Brad.
QUESTION: Okay, sorry.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yesterday, you couldn’t say too much about the American citizen who was killed. What more can you say today? And do you know, is this the first American citizen with ISIS who was killed – or with ISIS, ISIL, whatever?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on the second question in terms of what information we have available that I can provide to all of you. On the first question, we have confirmed – can certainly confirm the death in Syria of U.S. citizen Douglas McAuthur McCain. We previously were aware of his presence in Syria and his affiliation with ISIL. Without getting into too many more specifics, it remains the case that we of course use every tool we have to disrupt and dissuade individuals from traveling abroad for violent jihad and to track and engage those who return. But this is, of course, a case, as I mentioned yesterday, that is a reminder of the growing concern that the United States has, that many countries in the world have, about the thousands of foreign fighters from 50 countries who are engaged in Syria and have – are affiliating themselves with some of these extremist groups.
QUESTION: When you say you track and engage those who return, I mean, is it flatly illegal to fight for a jihadist group in Syria? Isn’t that – I mean, ISIS particularly, considering it’s in – a Foreign Terrorist Organization, isn’t that just grounds for immediate arrest, not for tracking?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to get into the – obviously, what I mean by tracking is there are – when there’s an individual we have concerns about. In terms of the legal component of it, clearly we work with legal – with law enforcement authorities in the United States if a situation warrants that type of a step. But obviously, every case is different. So it’s hard for me to make a sweeping point.
If I may, I just wanted to just give a couple of other – a little bit more information on sort of what we’ve been doing from here. I think many of you are aware of this, but we haven’t talked about it in a while, that in March we appointed an ambassador as senior adviser for partner engagement on Syria foreign fighters. Since then, Ambassador Bradtke has led a comprehensive effort, including marshalling representatives from a number of U.S. departments and agencies, to encourage key European, North African, and Middle Eastern partners to prioritize the threat, address vulnerabilities, and adapt to – and prevent foreign fighters. This initiative has obviously been working, as I just mentioned a little bit, in cooperation with law enforcement authorities with DHS, with foreign counterparts. And he has been engaged with international counterparts in multiple fora. Now, of course, the recent events have raised this to the front of the fold, both publicly in terms of what you’re all talking about, and certainly to the top of our agenda and the agenda of many Western countries.
QUESTION: Is the goal to keep these people off of – I mean, you talk about people returning. Is the goal to keep them off of airplanes given that there have been threats to civil aviation, given that they could, if they go anywhere, could be a threat? Are you trying to work with countries at source, without revealing your tactics, to basically keep them out of the air?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there are many goals. Ultimately, the goal is to destroy ISIL, as we talked about yesterday and the Secretary has said. But of course, our goal is also to prevent an individual who has affiliated themselves with an extremist group from returning to the United States. Of course, there are a range of ways, unfortunately, that an individual can do us harm. So obviously, we look at all of those capacities.
QUESTION: Have you put the Americans that you’re aware of overseas fighting for these groups on no-fly lists?
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of steps and tools we can take.
QUESTION: Is that one of them?
MS. PSAKI: That is one of them, but I’m not going to get into details of steps we have taken.
QUESTION: Just another question about the coalition. Are you making any progress with trying to get the Sunni governments and monarchies in the region on board more publicly or publicly with an anti-ISIS coalition? And if so, can you give us any idea of commitments made in terms of funding and intel sharing, or whatever?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s a good question, and I expect we’ll have more updates as time continues. Obviously, we’ll let individual countries make their own announcements about what – how they will be participating and what their capabilities are. And that’s only appropriate. But it’s fair to assume that we’re certainly talking to a range of countries, in – a broad range of countries – whether they’re Sunni, whether they’re not; whether they’re in Asia, whether they’re in Europe – about how to – they can participate in this effort to have a coordinated approach to ISIL.
QUESTION: Change topics?
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just – I think we may have a few more, Said, and then we can go to you.
QUESTION: Two, actually. If we could just backtrack a minute to the foreign fighters issue, the coalition of Syrian opposition groups that took on ISIS in this battle that resulted in the death of Douglas McAuthur McCain are claiming that they also killed a second American fighter. Do you have any information on that? Can you confirm that a second fighter was killed?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen those reports. We’re looking into it, but we don’t have any independent confirmation at this point in time.
QUESTION: And then also you were talking about the steps that you take when you’re aware of these Americans fighting in Syria. Have any American passports been revoked; and if so, can you talk a little a bit about the process that would be involved there?
MS. PSAKI: I can talk about the process. I can’t get into the numbers or specifics, but let me walk you through a little bit what we can do from here. The State Department, obviously, issues passports, as you all know, and we certainly have full authority to revoke passports for a range of reasons that are all available. So I’m not going to name them and I just want to preface that. But they include everything from fraud to pending legal charges. We work with law enforcement authorities and the intel community when it comes to a range of issues, including individuals where we have concerns about their affiliations, to determine whether revoking a passport should be a part of a range of steps we take to address.
Now there are many steps that we can take. We can flag a suspect individual; we can put them on a no-fly list. There are a range of tools at our disposal. They’re not State Department tools necessarily. They’re ones that we have a role in, but often law enforcement agencies have the lead on those.
Do we have more on this issue?
QUESTION: So you have put people – you have revoked passports, or not yet?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to get into detail --
QUESTION: We’re talking about names or anything.
MS. PSAKI: I understand. I just – I will just say, Brad – and if there’s more details we can provide – I just want to be careful here – we will do that. But it’s been a tool we’ve long had. It’s not a new tool, so I would take that into account.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan --
MS. PSAKI: Can we just – let’s just finish Iraq, if that’s okay – or this broad issue that covers many things.
QUESTION: Two questions about coalition efforts in the region.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: As the U.S. works on building this coalition, are steps under consideration to perhaps better arm the moderate rebels in Syria? And if so, what is the response from some of the regional coalition partners?
And secondly, has there been any specific talk on perhaps using military facilities in neighboring countries as sort of staging grounds?
MS. PSAKI: Well, on the first, certainly the President already made a decision to arm and equip the opposition. We’re waiting for Congress’ approval, and we need that in order to proceed, and so obviously they’re on August recess right now. And hopefully, when they return, that’s something we can continue to push to move forward with.
On the second question, when it comes to military capabilities, there are obviously a range of ways that countries can contribute. I’m not going to get into the specifics of that, but I will let you draw your own conclusions.
Do we --
QUESTION: On Gaza?
MS. PSAKI: Well let’s – any more on this? Okay. Gaza, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: And then we’ll go to Afghanistan, if that works. Okay.
QUESTION: Yesterday, the Secretary in his statement said that as soon as the ceasefire takes hold, then humanitarian aid – including American aid, one presumes – will start flowing. Can you update us on this? As – other than the $47 million designated to UNRWA, what else is the United States prepared to do?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, as was noted in the Secretary’s statement yesterday, part of the discussion here is working with an international – on an international effort on reconstruction efforts in Gaza. So yes, we’ve done the 47 million. There are a range of other countries who have done a great deal of money. I’m sure we can get you a list, if that’s useful, of who has contributed already and how that’s flowing.
But the effort to do a reconstruction effort is one that we’ll need to continue to pursue moving forward. I don’t have an update on that aside from that there’s a commitment to do that, and the Secretary is already engaging with countries on how to do that.
QUESTION: Seeing how the level of devastation is so huge – a lot bigger than people thought – should there be like an international conference to do this, and in fact to put in some sort of guarantees that this will not happen in the future, that every few months or every couple years Israel goes in and destroys these structures, many of them built by international funds?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think it’s important to note that this was caused because a terrorist organization shot rockets into Israel and they were defending themselves. But the purpose of the discussions moving forward – and they will get together within four weeks; that’s part of the agreement – is to address some of these longer-term key issues so we can prevent this type of bloodshed and violence from happening in the future. So that is the purpose of the discussions that will be led by Cairo.
QUESTION: Since both sides in this case have known addresses, should they be made to pay for the kind of destruction that they have wreaked havoc on the other side?
MS. PSAKI: Said, I think we’re going to work through the process of working with the international community on a reconstruction effort. That will be ongoing. I don’t have any other updates for you.
QUESTION: Okay. And finally – now I know I asked this yesterday, but are there any kind of guarantees from the United States that this particular ceasefire will be more durable or sustainable?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s not a guarantee that the United States can make. That’s obviously between the parties. We certainly support this effort and have a stake in seeing a successful outcome, as do many people in Israel and many Palestinian people. But obviously, there will be discussions between the parties about how this process will be moving forward.
QUESTION: A couple questions, one on the terrorist organization firing rockets. You mentioned that it’s Hamas, and obviously, they have control over the security situation. There was a Palestinian-based organization that released a poll that 89 percent of Palestinians support the firing of these rockets. What do you have to say? That number obviously may be based on a sample poll that you don’t recognize, but what do you say to the Palestinians that see this as an increase in the deterrence of the resistance movement?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important to note, without getting into commenting on international polls, that there had been a surge of political support for efforts from both sides – in Israel as well. And I think it’s in the interests of the Palestinian people as well as the people of Israel to see an end to the violence and the bloodshed, and that’s true for everyone. People of Israel do not want to live under the threat of having terrorists come through tunnels and that fear that that causes. They don’t want to live under the threat of rocket fire. And the Palestinian people and the people in Gaza don’t want to live under those threats either.
So I think it’s – obviously, we support the ceasefire. It’s an effort that we think is an opportunity, not a certainty, and we’re hopeful about the process moving forward.
QUESTION: Just following up on that, Martin Indyk, who is your ambassador --
MS. PSAKI: Yes, I know Martin.
QUESTION: -- for the peace process – right, just for the record – said to Foreign Policy magazine in an interview just released that the Palestinians both in Gaza and the West Bank “see Hamas resisting Israel” violently – that’s my word, not his – “and they see ISIS using violence to establish its Islamic State over in Iraq.” And then you see, as you mentioned, the surge in political support for more violent resistance.
What do you say to those Palestinians who you clearly disagree with?
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I think, one, the benefit of being a private citizen, as much as Martin has spent a great deal of time serving in public service, is that you speak for yourself and you don’t speak for the government. That’s not a comparison we’ve made and I haven’t seen the full context of his comments. I think I would leave it at what I said previously.
QUESTION: Okay. And just the last thing: I know he’s a private citizen, he speaks for himself, but he also spoke for the President and said that he was enraged – the President was enraged at the treatment of Secretary Kerry during his efforts to forge a ceasefire through Qatar with Hamas.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we also spoke to our concerns about the comments that were made, but I think we’re ready to move the process forward. And the last thing I would say is that – I would also say that our effort – and I said this to Said – but our effort here and our engagement here to begin with was about our concern about the rocket attacks coming from Hamas and going into Israel. And obviously, there was a great deal of loss – civilian loss of life and other events that happened over the course of the last several weeks, but that is how our engagement also began.
QUESTION: Jen, seeing how both camps are becoming more entrenched, so to speak, or hostile to one another and so on, doesn’t --
MS. PSAKI: They just agreed to a ceasefire yesterday, Said.
QUESTION: Yeah, well, they agreed to a ceasefire, but even in the statement made by the Secretary of State, he points to how they have positions that are really far apart at the present time. Should this be an incentive to the United States perhaps to really sort of state its own points of what a peace resolution should look like, and maybe approach it in an urgent fashion with other partners?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, it’s always been up to the parties to make those tough choices. They understand what the issues are at hand. What the Secretary’s statement said was it was an acknowledgement and public statement of what the Israelis have said and what the Palestinians have said about the things that they care deeply about. So it wasn’t necessarily saying they’re in far different places; it was saying these are issues that they’ve both said they want to address that we’re hopeful will be addressed as part of this process moving forward.
QUESTION: But it seems that they – on their own, they are not breaking the cycle of violence, perhaps that someone with the weight of the United States, with the prestige of the United States, can organize something and say look, we – this nonsense ought to stop, this is how we see this thing happening --
MS. PSAKI: We’ll --
QUESTION: -- but actually a timetable.
MS. PSAKI: We’ll remain engaged, as will the Egyptians, as will many countries that can play a supportive and helpful role here. And obviously, as I mentioned earlier, they’re going to get together within four weeks, and we’ll see how things proceed from there.
QUESTION: Just two for me. One, is General Allen representing the United States in any official capacity on this trip?
MS. PSAKI: General Allen is in Israel as part of his security dialogue consultations with the Israeli military on Israel’s long-term security needs. As he normally does when he’s there, he’ll also have meetings with Palestinian security officials. But those are the purpose of meetings.
QUESTION: And actually on that, he famously proposed for the Jordan Valley an international – or an internationally trained force that would ultimately replace Israeli security forces. And sort of wrapping the topics up that we just discussed between Gaza and ISIS, Israeli officials say that you look at an internationally trained force in northern Iraq shedding its clothing and all of its ammunition, you see tunnels from Gaza into southern Israel, there is no way that we’re going to remove forces in the West Bank to be replaced by an internationally trained force for the protection of Israel. What say you?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m obviously not going to speak to discussions that General Allen has privately, and there are a range of discussions that have been back and forth, not necessarily proposals, as you stated it. Those have been going on for months if not a year at this point. So he’s there as a part of a regular check-in, as part of the security dialogue and discussion. And I know your points have been made by the Israelis publicly as well, and we’re certainly familiar with their views and a discussion about the security needs will certainly continue as we – given how committed we are to that moving forward.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. still believe that in any sort of arrangement where Israel could cede, completely cede the Jordan Valley and rely on technology to defend that border?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important to note that there were – these were unconfirmed reports that were happening during the ongoing peace process that is not currently ongoing, so I don’t know that it’s a conversation that is particularly relevant at this point in time.
QUESTION: But given that the United States spent weeks delaying any action in Iraq because it needed people on the ground to help with intelligence gathering, it needed not boots on the ground but whatever you want to call them – advisors on the ground – so that you could understand where to target things and how to operate, does that kind of make you have a second think about whether Israel would need a similar capacity to defend its borders?
MS. PSAKI: I just – I’m not sure I have any more analysis for you on this, Brad. I certainly understand the interest.
Do we have more on this, or can we go to Afghanistan to the – go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Special Representative Feldman’s presence in Kabul, in light of the – Mr. Abdullah’s announcement that he’s going to reject the audit, what role does the United States and specifically Mr. Feldman have to play right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he has been there and had a previously planned trip, and certainly we remain engaged in this process, of course. Today Dr. Abdullah’s team did not send observers to the election audit sites. At the request of the UN, Dr. Ghani agreed to withdraw his observer team, but it’s important to note that the IEC continued to conduct the audit and adjudication under the close supervision of the UN with international and Afghan observers present. So that was ongoing today even with those steps.
We have continued to encourage both parties to continue to respect the process and raise their specific concerns with the UN, which is supervising the process and has been working with them. So we – SRAP Feldman was on the ground continuing to discuss with them the path forward, and that’s certainly natural given his role.
QUESTION: But if Dr. Abdullah continues to contest the legitimacy of the results, is the United States looking to broker some kind of an arrangement where they have a unity government which actually does involve both camps, both parties?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first it’s premature to draw conclusions about the audit result, and I’m not sure that’s exactly what he said. In terms of the outcome, the – both candidates have agreed to not only accept the results of the audit but also that the winner of the election would serve as president and will immediately form a government, and that the other individual would be a part of that effort. So I think that that’s long been agreed several weeks ago by the candidates.
QUESTION: So you’re saying that Dr. Abdullah did not outright reject the audit?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve seen a range of comments. But again, the audit is not concluded. It’s ongoing. The UN continued to move that process forward today in terms of counting the ballots. That will continue in the days ahead with Afghan observers, with UN observers. We, of course, will remain engaged with the parties. We know there have been lots of ups and downs in this process, but we’re continuing to charge forward.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Ukraine. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Well, overnight, for those of you who haven’t been following this as closely, there were reports of additional columns of Russian tanks, multiple rocket launchers, and armored vehicles pushing towards communities in southeastern Ukraine, as Brad mentioned. We’ve also seen reports of separatists shelling residential areas in a coastal town between the border and Mariupol. And we have seen reports of heavy fighting and shelling near the city and airport in Donetsk. These incursions indicate a Russian-directed counteroffensive is likely underway in Donetsk and Luhansk. Clearly, that is of deep concern to us.
I’ll also note that we are – and I’m not sure many of you have seen this – but we’re also concerned by the Russian Government’s unwillingness to tell the truth even as its soldiers are found 30 miles inside Ukraine. Russia is sending its young men into Ukraine but are telling – are not telling them where they’re going or telling their parents what they’re doing. We’ll also note reports of wounded Russian soldiers in a St. Petersburg hospital and that other Russian soldiers are returning home to Russia for burial. These are not steps that certainly you take when you are operating in a transparent manner.
QUESTION: Just one quick thing. Did you say that these reports or these incursions indicate that a Russian-directed counteroffensive is likely underway in Donetsk and Luhansk?
MS. PSAKI: I did.
QUESTION: You can’t – why not just say it’s underway rather than likely?
MS. PSAKI: I decided to say likely.
QUESTION: But why? I mean, “likely” implies to me some uncertainty because there is a possibility that it’s not.
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of reports. I wouldn’t be saying it, Arshad, if we didn’t think that we were – if we weren’t as concerned as my comments indicate.
QUESTION: And then to go to Brad’s question, what are you going to do about this? I mean, you basically have Russia invading – I mean, “incursions” is your word – a neighboring country, directing, you believe likely, a counteroffensive in at least two towns. How do you – what are you going to do about this besides condemn it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve continued to have a range of tools at our disposal. I don’t have anything to predict for you at this point in time. We remain engaged with our European partners and others about appropriate steps that can be taken. Certainly, I expect this to be a topic of discussion next week when the President and the Secretary are at NATO. But beyond that, I don’t have any predictions for you.
QUESTION: The main tools that you have used so far other than rhetorical ones have been economic sanctions. Are those the tools that you are alluding to, or are those among those at your disposal?
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct. And as you know, we’ve also provided a wide range of nonlethal assistance, as have other countries, to Ukraine. We’ve also received a range of requests from them which we will continue to consider.
QUESTION: Any change in your policy of not providing lethal assistance to Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any change for you.
QUESTION: Sorry --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- just have there been any discussions between U.S. and Russian officials?
MS. PSAKI: Sorry, that was another one of your question. I – the Secretary has not spoken with Foreign Minister Lavrov today. Obviously, we have a range of individuals who are in touch with their Russian counterparts. I can check and see if there’s anything more to read out for you.
QUESTION: And then likewise, any discussions with senior Ukrainian officials today?
MS. PSAKI: I am certain we’ve been in touch with them through our ambassadors – our ambassador on the ground, Ambassador Pyatt, and others. But why don’t we check and see if we can get something more substantive for you.
QUESTION: And then just more broadly, strategic: Do you see Russia attempting to link the southeast of the country – it stands right in the way between the Russian mainland, the main part of Russia – and then the newest part of Russia in their eyes, which is Crimea? Do you think they’re trying to create a southeastern channel to connect the territories?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that is certainly the accurate version of the geography there. It is hard for us to ascribe what the motivation is, but certainly we’re closely watching this incursion and any steps they’re taking in southeastern Ukraine, whether it’s next to Crimea or not. But I don’t have any particular analysis at this point in time.
QUESTION: But if this was a – I mean, if this likely counteroffensive is underway or likely underway, I mean, how much time do you have before it’s – Russia wins, essentially? Is there anything you can do in the next several days? Talking about it at NATO next week might be too late if they essentially start carving out territory.
MS. PSAKI: Well, to be clear, we’re not holding on talking about this with our counterparts and with the Ukrainians and others between now and NATO. I just wanted to reference that that is coming up next week. There are a range of tools at our disposal, there are a range of steps we could take, but I just don’t want to make a prediction of that at this point in time.
QUESTION: But we’re still talking about the same range of tools that existed when Russia conquered Crimea, right?
MS. PSAKI: The range of tools has not changed. Obviously, we’ve increased, we’ve ramped up sanctions; we’ve also increased our assistance, so – as have our European counterparts.
QUESTION: Jen, did you agree with the – I think Arshad’s question – that there is actually a Russian invasion of Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: I think I’m going to leave it as I said it, which is --
QUESTION: Well, is it an invasion? I mean, are we seeing, like, brigades or divisions crossing the borders into Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other details to read out for you at this point in time, Said.
MS. PSAKI: If that changes, obviously, we venture to make information available as we can make it available.
QUESTION: Okay. And you also said that there are Russian soldiers in St. Petersburg and other places wounded in battle, apparently, in eastern Ukraine and so on. Do you verify this independently or do you rely on the Ukrainians?
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of reports that I reference. We have a range of ways for acquiring information. I’m just not going to go into more details.
MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Ukraine?
Okay, go ahead. Turkey.
QUESTION: This one is related to Syria --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- Turkey-Syria.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
MS. PSAKI: There are not many more details. Let me just say that – or anything I can confirm for you that – I spoke a bit at the top about our effort to build a coalition of countries, including in the region, including European countries, to take on the threat of ISIL. Certainly, Turkey is one of the countries we would naturally be talking to. They are a longstanding counterterrorism partner of the United States. They serve as a co-chair with the United States of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, and so we’ll have discussions with them. We discussed – of course, and we’ll discuss the need to work together against ISIL and the capabilities and capacities that they have.
QUESTION: The Turkey-Syria border has been a topic of discussion for many, many months for Jihadis – foreign Jihadists to go – flow into Syria. Has the U.S. Government asked Turkey in the past a similar request, similar --
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any confirmation or any details on this.
QUESTION: Why wouldn’t you ask them to close the border if you believe ISIL forces are going back and forth?
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of discussions we have that I am not going to necessarily discuss from the podium or confirm from the podium.
QUESTION: I got one more on Turkey. Tomorrow, President-elect Erdogan, Tayyip Erdogan, is going to be swear in as president, his inauguration ceremony. It looks like the U.S. is sending only DSM in Ankara currently resides, but nobody else. Don’t you think Prime Minister Erdogan worth more attention of U.S.?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that we look forward to working with Prime Minister Erdogan in his new role as president. President Obama spoke with him, had a productive conversation with him just a few weeks ago and congratulated him on his election. And we remain committed to continuing to strengthen our partnership and continuing to work with Turkey in areas where we can work together on.
It’s – our delegation that the President – that the White House announced yesterday is consistent with Turkish Government protocol that countries may be represented by their representatives resident in Ankara if heads of state or foreign ministers are unable to attend. I would also note that if Congress had confirmed our ambassador to Turkey, that certainly, he would be happy to attend. But as you know, that didn’t happen before Congress recessed.
QUESTION: Just one more follow-up on same question. I just look at yesterday, going back to the early 2013, every country who has inauguration ceremonies, U.S. sent at least two people, two representation. This is the minimum, but usually, three, four, or five people. So when we see just one diplomat from the U.S., it’s kind of met by surprise in Turkey. That’s --
MS. PSAKI: Well, if the ambassador was confirmed, it would be a strong delegation of two.
QUESTION: This wasn’t to send a signal; this isn’t a deliberate slight, is it?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.
QUESTION: And can we switch to Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Yes.
QUESTION: I trust you saw the report that Iran says it has conducted mechanical tests on a new form of centrifuge. It wasn’t clear from the report I saw whether it’s the P8 or something else. Do you have any concerns about that, or do you feel that this falls within the safeguarded R&D that is permissible under the JPOA?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we also, of course, saw the reports. It was also unclear to us what he was referring to in his comments, so it’s hard for us to do analysis. As you know and as you noted, there are certain restrictions. Iran is prohibited from installing at the Natanz R&D facility any new advanced centrifuges that would be used for enrichment purposes or doing any research, development, or testing of new centrifuges for enrichment purposes. We don’t have reason to believe that that is being violated. They’ve been abiding by the JPOA. So without further understanding of what his reference is to, it’s hard for us to analyze if there’s a concern.
More on Iran?
QUESTION: Could I – yeah, on this. We know it’s August and everybody is on vacation. Any activities related to --
MS. PSAKI: Except for all of us.
QUESTION: Yeah, except for all of us. (Laughter.) I never take a vacation.
The 5+1 talks – is there anything that is 5+1 talks-related activities that are ongoing now, or are you just waiting until November, whatever?
MS. PSAKI: There’s always internal discussions and discussions with counterparts around the world. There’s obviously been a meeting announced that EU High Representative Ashton will be doing, I believe next week. But I don’t have anything to announce or preview for you at this point in time.
QUESTION: But there are no, let’s say, technical meetings that are being conducted right now to sort of aid when you guys go back to the talks?
MS. PSAKI: I will double check that, Said. I know those have been ongoing for a great majority of the time, but I will see if there’s anything more on that.
QUESTION: Yeah, but a quarter of the extension that was announced on July 20th has now passed, so --
MS. PSAKI: Well, we already had a bilateral meeting. There’s one that EU High Representative Ashton will be having. And obviously, there are other countries that are part of this who will be having those as well. But again, I just don’t have anything to announce for you about the next steps. That doesn’t mean they’re not being discussed and planned.
QUESTION: August 25th was the deadline for Iran to submit answers to questions to the IAEA on weaponization of nuclear explosions and the like. The IAEA did not come out with a statement. Neither party acknowledged whether or not Iran made – actually met the deadline. Is it your understanding that they did, or do you have any information you can share?
MS. PSAKI: I would certainly refer you to the IAEA and their process for confirming or timing for putting out statements. We’re certainly aware of the deadline. As you know, this is part of the IAEA’s ongoing effort to address all present and past concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program, which is certainly an important component of our interests as well. And we continue to call on Iran to cooperate further, but – fully. But I would refer you to them for any information about the status.
QUESTION: Can I go back to ISIS for a minute?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: A second if everybody’s agreed with – I just wanted to ask you, did you mention – do you have any figure on the number of Americans that might be with ISIS in Syria? Did you say anything about that?
MS. PSAKI: Not specifically with ISIL, but the numbers are in the dozens – up to 100 affiliated with extremist organizations.
QUESTION: Now while a stated alliance between the Syrian regime and the United States in combating ISIS is unfathomable, what about implicit alliance? I mean, they strike, you strike, and everybody’s sort of degrading their capabilities.
MS. PSAKI: I think I’m going to – I’m going to leave it where I said yesterday.
Do we have a new – go ahead.
QUESTION: New topic. About the climate change agreement, the Administration has acknowledged that it’s working to craft an international deal on climate issues. Congressional lawmakers say that this is the latest example of the Administration trying to bypass Congress. Is this happening?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first note we put out a statement, which I’m not sure all of you saw. I know there’s quite a bit going on today. But the story that I think you’re referencing is completely speculative. Not a word of the new climate agreement currently under discussion has been written, so it’s entirely premature to say whether it will or won’t require Senate approval. Our goal, of course, is to negotiate a successful and effective global climate change agreement that can help address this pressing challenge, but anything that is eventually negotiated and that should go to the Senate will go to the Senate. And, of course, we’ll continue to consult with Congress on this.
And as you know, this is one of the favorite issues of Secretary Kerry and one that when he talks to members of Congress, his colleagues for 28 years, he often talks about climate issues and what we can do domestically and internationally. So I can assure you that consultations will be from this building, from our friends in the White House, and any agency that’s relevant in the government.
QUESTION: It’s still a possibility that you might not make it to the Senate, though, if --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s purely speculative, and it’s kind of disproving a negative, because we haven’t started writing it yet; it doesn’t exist yet. And so obviously, we’ll continue to consult, we’ll see how this proceeds, but the story was completely speculative and not based on where things stand at this point in time.
QUESTION: You’re not willing to commit to seeking a treaty rather than an agreement?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, I think because this process needs to proceed, it’s in – not even in the infant stages at this point in time, I just think we’re not going to get ahead of where we are at this point in time.
QUESTION: Yeah, but why wouldn’t you want a treaty which has greater binding force on all of the participants in it rather than some lesser form of agreement?
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: I mean, why wouldn’t you go for the greatest possible commitment?
MS. PSAKI: All options are on the table, Arshad, but obviously, we want to leave that to the negotiators and those who are going to be responsible for this effort to make that determination moving forward.
QUESTION: So if all options are on the table, that means that the speculative option that you described as something less than a treaty, that wouldn’t have to go through the Senate, is also on the table?
MS. PSAKI: All options.
QUESTION: And then why shouldn’t members on the Hill be upset that you’re looking at doing something on such a major issue of interest – not just to environmentalists, but also to business and so on – without their having the opportunity to vote on it as a treaty?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that determination has not at all been made. Obviously, there will be ongoing discussions. And if something requires and needs the approval of the Senate, of course it will go through the Senate.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Anything else? All right.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:03 p.m.)
DPB # 149