Daily Press Briefing - December 8, 2014
Index for Today's Briefing:
1:11 p.m. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Hope everyone had a good weekend. It’s Jo Biddle’s birthday today, so hopefully everyone will wish her a --
QUESTION: Happy birthday, Jo.
MS. PSAKI: Matt’s closing on a house. Arshad got married this weekend. So lots going on in the bullpen. That’s my only topper.
QUESTION: Is that really all you have?
MS. PSAKI: That is my only topper, so let’s get to your questions.
QUESTION: Right. Well, let’s start with Iran and this report this morning that you guys believe that the Iranians are at the very least cheating on their JPOA or UN obligations. One, is that true?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first be very clear. Iran has kept all of their commitments under the JPOA. We continue to believe that. I saw this report; we all saw the report this morning. It’s not breaking news that we are concerned about Iran’s procurement activities. I believe that’s referenced in the report. We rarely get into specifics of that. We have ongoing discussions with the UN, with a range of organizations out there about our concerns. We’ve repeatedly spoken about this concern. We’ve also put in place sanctions related to these concerns. So I don’t think there’s a great deal of new information in there that should --
QUESTION: Well --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, is this a violation?
MS. PSAKI: What specifically?
QUESTION: Is the procurement of components for the Arak – for a reactor at the Arak complex a violation of either the JPOA or of existing UN sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I’m not going to confirm specifics of our private discussions with the UN, but we continue to believe that Iran has abided by all of their obligations under the JPOA.
QUESTION: Well, yeah. But so this is – so this, if it is true, this kind of activity, this procurement is not a violation of the JPOA?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve talked about our concerns about procurement in the past. I’m not going to get into specifics. We know that there are still steps that they need to take and they haven’t gone far enough on. Frankly, that’s why we want a comprehensive agreement.
QUESTION: Right, but this is a problem. This is my problem with trying to understand your answer, is that, look, if Iran goes and explodes, detonates a nuclear weapon, that’s a violation, correct?
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of steps that would be a violation. Iran has not --
QUESTION: Is this one of them?
MS. PSAKI: -- has kept by their commitments. I’m not going to speak to specifics in the report about internal discussions.
QUESTION: All right. Well, if – regardless of whether it’s a technical violation of the JPOA or a violation of the spirit or letter of either the JPOA or the other sanctions, what does this tell you about their intent? I mean, to put it in laymen’s terms, this is like if you have a house, right, and you – I tell you – if I have a house and I tell you, “Well, I’m not going to do any renovation to it at all, I promise I won’t,” and then I start going around and buying all sorts of stuff to renovate the house with – I don’t actually do it, but why am I buying this stuff? Why am I trying to – I’m not just doing it for the hell of it. I’m doing it because I intend to use it, right? Isn’t that --
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, specifically, as we’ve said many times and as the Secretary has said, this is not about trust. They’ve said – Iran has said many times and they’ve taken steps to move their programs forward. That’s why the JPOA is important, because it halted the program, it rolled several pieces back, and that’s why a comprehensive agreement is important.
QUESTION: Right, but it didn’t – but they haven’t stopped doing this.
MS. PSAKI: Again, Matt, I’m not going to speak to specifics. I can just reassure you or repeat what I just said about the fact that we believe they haven’t – they’ve abided by all of their obligations. We’ve spoken about concerns we’ve had in the past. That has not changed.
QUESTION: But these appear to be current concerns. Are they not?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not – I’m not going to have much more for you on this.
QUESTION: Well, all right. But I just don’t understand how you can – yes, it’s an automatic – you’re not going to trust them, but they seem to be doing everything they can to destroy any trust that there might be. And it seems a bit disingenuous to claim that they’re doing everything and complying with everything if, in fact, you suspect that they’re not, whether it’s with the JPOA or with the original UN sanctions.
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, not just the United States but there’s a great – a process in place that monitors whether they’re abiding by the agreements in the JPOA. If that were not the case, we would certainly speak to that. But there are a range of private discussions that happen. The report also noted that there was progress in another area. So it was a long, lengthy story. We are not going to get into specifics about it. I think I’m going to leave it at that.
Do we have any more on Iran before we move on?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: Can I ask – you guys are supposed to be meeting again soon --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- for the next stage of the – trying to get a comprehensive deal. Has that been arranged yet, where it’s going to be and when?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specific updates on the schedule. It’s still planned to be soon, this month.
QUESTION: And do you anticipate that these – this report about the procurement – acquisitionment for – acquisition for Iraq of – will come up? Is this something you’re going to address, or have you already addressed it with your Iranian --
MS. PSAKI: Well, our concerns about Iran’s procurement activities and the concerns about our P5+1 partners long predates this report.
QUESTION: But I mean, have you actually since this report or have you currently in the last few hours, days, raised it with the Iranians?
MS. PSAKI: These are discussions that have been ongoing. There wasn’t a new discussion warranted by a news report.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Is former Deputy Secretary Burns still on board? He will be participating in the upcoming negotiations as well?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have – as soon as we have a date, I can give you more information on who will be participating.
QUESTION: But did you ask him to stay on board or not?
MS. PSAKI: There’ll be a range of discussions with a number of the partner – or participants who have been leading these negotiations. Obviously, a number of people, including former Deputy Secretary Burns, has been working very hard on it. The Secretary understands that there are some people who will have family or other professional obligations, but I don’t have anything to announce for you on who will be a part of the team.
QUESTION: One more on this. Prime Minister Netanyahu has said yesterday that “our voice and our concerns played a critical role in preventing a bad deal” with Iran. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, we engage very closely with our partners in Israel, with Prime Minister Netanyahu, as we do with many partners around the world. The Secretary of State, the President of the United States, though, have been clear that they were not going to agree to a bad deal. They haven’t. I don’t know if there’s more specifics on it than what you just suggested.
QUESTION: But do you think that Israel has prevented the U.S. and the P5+1 to reach an agreement in Vienna?
MS. PSAKI: What do you specifically mean by that?
QUESTION: When Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the Israel voice and the concerns played a critical role in preventing a bad deal with Iran, that’s --
MS. PSAKI: Israel remains an important partner. We agree we’re not going to pursue a bad deal. In fact, the Secretary was the one who made that specific statement first.
Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: The implicit suggestion here is that you were on the verge of a deal and the Israelis’ concerns really stopped the deal. Is that the case?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know what that would be based on.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: We made clear that certainly, throughout the negotiations, that our objective was to meet a deal or come to a comprehensive agreement by the end, but we were not going to step back on our principles. And we certainly abided by that.
QUESTION: Well, I have a question on Israel but not on Iran. Can we move forward?
MS. PSAKI: Okay, let’s finish Iran and then we can go to you.
MS. PSAKI: Any more on Iran?
QUESTION: No. On Syria --
MS. PSAKI: Iran?
QUESTION: On Syria?
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just go to Iran and then we can go back to you, Said. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I know you said this is new and it’s just only a couple hours old, but have you reached out to Congress in any fashion to allay any fears they might have as a specific result of this, or has anyone in Congress reached out to this building?
MS. PSAKI: We have ongoing discussions with Congress about a range of issues, including Iran, but I don’t have any other specific calls to read out for you.
QUESTION: No specifics on this?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to read out for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the alleged airstrikes by the Israelis into Syria in and around Damascus?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen the reports. I don’t have any comment.
QUESTION: But you have – you don’t – you’re not confirming that it happened or did not happen?
MS. PSAKI: I am not.
QUESTION: Okay. The secretary general of the Arab League said that this would be a dangerous escalation if this happened. Would that be considered a dangerous escalation?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specific comment on it, Said.
QUESTION: On Israel --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- there was a report last week, one report I might mention – it was picked up by others, it stayed at the – but it was only one report at the beginning – that the White House, that the Administration is considering imposing sanctions against Israel because of its opposition to their settlement activity.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: There was kind of non-answers going back and forth here and at the White House last week, but then on Friday a bunch of lawmakers, senators and congressmen and women, wrote to the Secretary and to the White House, I believe, demanding to know whether this is true or not. Can you tell us whether it’s true?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, obviously, just as my colleague Marie didn’t get into specific deliberations, I’m not going to do that from here. But I can set the record straight and be clear that reports that we might be contemplating sanctions against Israel are completely unfounded and without merit.
QUESTION: Hold on, Said. Let me just finish.
MS. PSAKI: Let Matt finish and then he’ll go – we’ll go to you, Said, if that’s okay.
QUESTION: So can I just ask, if they’re completely unfounded and without merit, why – why did you not say it? Why did people not say that last week? Why not tamp this down?
MS. PSAKI: Well, without pulling back the curtain of how we determine what we say publicly, we typically don’t get into internal meetings or deliberations. But obviously, it was warranted that we --
MS. PSAKI: -- make – set the record straight.
QUESTION: The reason that I ask is I’m wondering: Is that – is what you said today, just now – “unfounded and without merit” – was that true last week? Or was this – could you have said that last week, you just weren’t allowed to? I mean, I want to know: Was there consideration going on last week – when the report was published was it accurate?
MS. PSAKI: I believe, Matt, that this has been consistently true. Obviously, we don’t typically get into internal discussions or deliberations, and that’s warranted --
MS. PSAKI: -- why we didn’t say a great deal in response to your questions.
QUESTION: Okay. But can you say for sure that when the report was published there was no consideration of imposing sanctions on Israel?
MS. PSAKI: I just am not going to have any more for you on it.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead – oh. Okay, we’ll go to you next, (inaudible).
QUESTION: And then the obvious corollary – sorry --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- is from the – coming from the other side of this: Why not?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, as you know, we put sanctions in place around the world for a variety of reasons. We – this isn’t a situation where we’re obviously moving forward with that or contemplating that, as my comments made clear. We work closely with Israel; they’re an important partner. We’ve obviously spoken out when we have concerns, but it’s simply not something being considered.
QUESTION: All right. And when you say sanctions, does that include not just kind of the punitive sanctions that we see on the other countries, but also does that include not – does that – would that include not vetoing resolutions that you consider to be anti-Israel at the UN, for example?
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: Would you consider that to be a sanction, as covered --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that that’s the same category, Matt. I’m referring to sanctions.
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we consider different proposals in the UN on a case by case.
QUESTION: Okay, but at what point your denunciations will move into action, so Israel can actually heed you – your calls for them to stop settlements? At what point?
MS. PSAKI: What are you specifically referring to, Said?
QUESTION: Specifically, I mean, you keep denouncing the increase of settlement activities and so on, but the Israelis keep on building more settlements and so on. Now I was asking at what point you will move into action, actually, just to follow up what Matt was asking from the other side. So why not sanction Israel on these issues?
MS. PSAKI: Said, we believe that the settlement activity, which in our view is illegitimate --
MS. PSAKI: -- is against the interests of Israel. That’s why we continue to make that point and we will continue to make it as long as that continues.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Now in the loan guarantees that the United States extends to Israel, there is a clause in there that says dollar for dollar, money that goes into the – that the Americans will take away whatever amount that is spent on the settlements. Are you likely to enforce that clause? And that is --
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to look more specifically at what you’re referring to, Said.
QUESTION: I’m saying that in the loan guarantees, it’s very specific that any money spent on the settlement activities – that the United States will take back or will – I don’t know how deep --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure that’s exactly an accurate description, so why don’t I look into this --
QUESTION: Could you get us – yeah, get us the accurate description --
MS. PSAKI: Why don’t I look into what you’re referencing and see if there’s --
QUESTION: Okay, now just to follow up on the weekend.
MS. PSAKI: -- what you might be referencing.
QUESTION: Okay. This past weekend there was a great deal of talk at the Saban Forum on the potential Palestinian-Israeli talks, and so on. And the Secretary made it very clear that there is no option except the two-state solution. Are we likely to see any activities in that path, so to speak, any time soon?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you also heard the Secretary convey that we don’t expect the negotiations to resume tomorrow. There’s an election in the next few months; that’s obviously a factor. And the Israeli people will have important choices to make. It – we still believe – he continues to believe that we need to do everything possible to support any effort to pursue a two-state solution, given that that’s the only way to have lasting peace and security in the region.
QUESTION: Is that, in a way, admitting that we are not likely to have any kind of direct talks or face-to-face talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis until after the elections?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ll let that be determined by the parties on the ground, but certainly the fact that there is an election in the coming months is a factor in that process.
Do we have any more on Israel or – before we move on to another topic? Israel? Or – okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: So the Secretary, like, talked yesterday and he said there’s a potential emergence of a new regional alliance – alignment against Hamas, Daesh, Ahrar al-Sham, and Boko Haram. Can you give us, like, any more – can you elaborate on that? Can you tell us, like, what countries, like, participate in this alignment? I mean, this is Hamas. It’s not like Daesh or something. It’s different.
MS. PSAKI: And certainly, we see them as different. I don’t have any more specifics for you though, no.
Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: It’s about the torture report. You said – the State Department said the timing is not quite right for the release of the report. What exactly is not right about the timing?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not exactly what we said, nor have we ever said that publicly. I think you’re referring to reports of a phone call --
QUESTION: That’s right.
MS. PSAKI: -- between the Secretary and Senator Feinstein. And during that call, which he made on Friday, he not only reiterated the support of the Administration and his own support for the release of the report, but he also made clear that, of course, the timing is her choice. The fact is that there’s quite a bit going on in the world, and he wanted to have a discussion with a former colleague, somebody he worked with for decades in the Senate, about foreign and policy implications of the release of the report, ongoing efforts – everything from our ongoing efforts related to ISIL, the safety of Americans being held hostage around the world, and he was simply having a discussion about the impact that the release will have on those factors.
QUESTION: Do you think a few days would matter, really, in this case? Because the Senate doesn’t have much time left and --
MS. PSAKI: It’s a good question. He didn’t discuss a specific proposed time or anything along those lines. He was simply raising the fact that these are issues that are ongoing right now and certainly wanted to have a discussion and make sure that they were factored into the timing.
QUESTION: In a Republican-controlled Senate, the report may not be published at all. Would the Administration risk not having it published at all?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, there’s a lot of politics that happen – happens in the Senate and Congress, and certainly I can’t make a prediction of that. I would leave that to colleagues who speak for those on the Hill. We continue to support the release – the Secretary does, the President does, and obviously, as we’ve seen the announcements, that will be happening soon.
QUESTION: Jen, right after this --
QUESTION: Jen – well, I’m – just on the phone call, did he or did he not ask her to consider delaying it?
MS. PSAKI: He discussed the implications of the timing. I’m not going to get more specific than that.
QUESTION: Would a reasonable person who was on the other end of that phone call come to the assumption or take from the conversation that the Secretary wanted to see or would like to see the report – the release of the report delayed?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t speak to what a reasonable person listening in would say. He was discussing --
QUESTION: You can’t? Are you not a reasonable person? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t listening in on the call, Matt. So it’s a kind of a third party that didn’t exist.
QUESTION: Well, from your understanding of the phone call, would the recipient of such a call take away from it that the Secretary is not a great fan of it coming out sooner and would rather have it come out later?
MS. PSAKI: The Secretary called his former colleague to discuss the implications of the timing. Obviously, they discussed the timing and when it might be released as part of that. I’m just not going to get into more specifics.
QUESTION: Okay. But he’s – so he’s neutral on the timing?
MS. PSAKI: He conveyed it is up to Senator Feinstein.
QUESTION: But that doesn’t mean that he’s neutral or would like it to come out now or would like it to come out next week.
MS. PSAKI: He wouldn’t have called if he didn’t feel that it was important to have a conversation about the implications of the timing.
QUESTION: So those implications – what are the implications of the timing if the timing is today or tomorrow or Wednesday?
MS. PSAKI: I’m going to let you draw your own conclusions, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, could I ask on that, though: Is it correct to say, as some reports have said this morning, that there’s been new messages, security messages, come out from the State Department or from this Administration to diplomatic posts around the world to assess their security?
MS. PSAKI: That wouldn’t be an accurate statement, I believe, of how – as you may know, several months ago when this report was going to be released, we – all chiefs of mission were asked to review their mission security posture in advance of the upcoming release of the report, given the range of possible reactions overseas. That was something that we reiterated again over the last couple of days given the likely pending release. We monitor our global security posture on a real-time basis and will continue to do so. But there wasn’t a new worldwide caution or anything like that issued, no.
QUESTION: So what exactly did you ask them to do, then?
MS. PSAKI: We asked chiefs of mission to review their mission security posture in advance of the upcoming release of the report.
QUESTION: Didn’t that happen on Thursday?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, it happened several days ago.
QUESTION: Why is this coming up now?
MS. PSAKI: Because there were reports over the weekend --
MS. PSAKI: -- I think Jo was referring to.
QUESTION: Has there been a new one since Thursday?
MS. PSAKI: No. That was --
QUESTION: Oh. All right.
MS. PSAKI: -- the last one, yes.
QUESTION: Why --
QUESTION: Are you aware that there’s, like, American forces out – being put on alert at the present time in anticipation of the release of the report tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what you’re referring to, Said. Obviously --
QUESTION: Well, I think there --
MS. PSAKI: -- let me finish – every embassy is reviewing their own security postures and needs. We’re in close touch with them. But I’m not going to get into any specifics about security at our embassies now.
QUESTION: Okay. And --
QUESTION: Didn’t that also happen on Thursday?
MS. PSAKI: It did.
MS. PSAKI: And I think Jo was asking this question because there were new reports --
QUESTION: Reports over the weekend.
MS. PSAKI: -- that made it sound like there was a new issue --
QUESTION: All right. So any report that said that there was a new warning that was sent out, or whatever you call it that was sent out, since Thursday is wrong?
MS. PSAKI: Was referring to last week. They were referring to last week, I believe.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: It may have just been a couple days behind.
QUESTION: Michael Hayden came out on television and said, actually, the last time this torture took place was in 2003. So it’s been quite a while since this happened. What – why is the time now so critical for it to be released or not released and so on? What is the likely impact that you expect as a result of this – the release of this report?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to make predictions of that, Said. Obviously, it’s our job and our role to be as prepared as possible. You’re correct that these programs ended a long time ago, and certainly that’s reflected in the report.
QUESTION: Would there be --
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish this topic, Said.
MS. PSAKI: Let’s let a couple of other people – go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: On this phone call, did the Secretary make that call on his own or did the White House ask him to call Senator Feinstein and talk about the implications of this report?
MS. PSAKI: The White House was aware of his plans to call his former colleague.
QUESTION: I was told the White House said that they knew that the call was being made, but nobody really said if the Secretary said, “I want to make this call,” or if the White House said, “Will you make this call.”
MS. PSAKI: Well, he’s the Secretary of State, and oftentimes, he makes proposals, and certainly he worked with Dianne – Senator Feinstein for decades. I’m not going to get into more specifics other than to convey that it was known he was going to make the call; it was a call to discuss, as I described, implications as the Secretary of State on our foreign policy priorities.
QUESTION: On the same subject, why is the release being put off so consistently?
MS. PSAKI: Put off?
QUESTION: Yes, over and – delayed.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn’t characterize it in that way. As you know, there’s a lot of sensitive information in this report. Obviously, the White House and not us – so I’ll really send you to them – has worked with the committee on redactions and information that can’t be public, and that takes some time. But I would point you to them and point you to the Senate committee for more specifics.
QUESTION: But Jen, the Chief of Staff of the White House, Mr. McDonough, has been in close touch – they basically went with a fine-tooth comb over every little detail with Senator Feinstein. Why suddenly the concern, this heightened concern, by the Secretary of State?
MS. PSAKI: Well, to be clear, as I stated at the beginning, Said, the Secretary of State, Secretary Kerry, supports the release. He believes it’s up to Senator Feinstein to determine the timing. But certainly, one of the benefits of having been in the Senate for 29 years is the ability to call a former colleague and convey, “Look, this is what I’m seeing and hearing around the world,” and that’s exactly what he did.
QUESTION: Jen, the situation that --
QUESTION: Jen, your colleague at the White House has just said that the report is coming out tomorrow and that the White House supports it coming out tomorrow. Is that --
MS. PSAKI: We support it as well.
QUESTION: Coming out tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: And the Secretary, did he make that clear to Senator Feinstein?
MS. PSAKI: He made clear it’s her choice and up to her, and he --
QUESTION: And he would support it?
MS. PSAKI: I talked to him about it this morning and he certainly supports the release.
QUESTION: Okay. And he would support the release whenever she decided?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Jen, presumably --
QUESTION: And did the situation that concerns the Administration, like the hostage – the American hostage, just – the ISIL fight, like – they are things that are not going to change in a couple of weeks, no? So these concerns would go until the next Senate takes – the Republicans take control of the Senate, no?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure I understand your question totally, but maybe you can --
QUESTION: Like, I mean, the concerns that the Administration has today with the release of the report, they are not going to change in a couple of weeks. So if the timing – the appropriate time would probably be under a Republican Senate, would not be now?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure I have much more to add in response to your question.
Go ahead, Allie.
QUESTION: But Jen, presumably Senator Feinstein knows that she is the one that has the choice of when to release --
MS. PSAKI: Of course.
QUESTION: -- the report. So why did Secretary Kerry feel the need to convey that to her?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you all know this, but there are calls that happen all the time between Administration officials, members of the Cabinet, and members of Congress. And part of that communication is something the Secretary certainly supports. It goes two ways. He expects people will call him as well when they have – whether it’s concerns or things they’d like to see, more information they can share. And this was an example of that.
So it’s going to be, as it’s been announced, released tomorrow. The Secretary supports that, and we’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Can I ask one related question, which is: The UK and Canadian embassies in Cairo just closed over the weekend. They were citing security concerns. They didn’t get into much detail, but is there any belief among the United States that this might have something to do with reaction to the report coming out?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe – I’d certainly point you to them, but I don’t believe they have cited any reference to the release of this report, nor have I seen any internal reporting on that. We certainly – just since you gave me the opportunity, we of course prioritize the safety and welfare of our personnel and work fervently to ensure our staff are protected worldwide. We’re continuing to monitor developments, and Egypt will calibrate our security posture in accordance with the security situation on the ground.
Unrelated to the announcement by the UK and Canada, and unrelated to any report, we did put out a new travel security message to U.S. citizens late last week in light of heightened tensions and recent attacks against Westerners. I’d certainly point you to the UK and Canada for the reasons for their position – their announcements.
QUESTION: But so then since that message came out, there’s been no change to the security posture of the U.S.?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: And that message was also on Thursday, right – December 4th?
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct, Matt.
MS. PSAKI: You’ve been paying close attention over the last --
QUESTION: On Thursday, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Thursday was a big day for you.
QUESTION: A lot of stuff happened on Thursday – (laughter) – and not much seems to have happened in – since then.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s been continued reporting, so it’s an opportunity to clarify when there’s new information, and not – do we have – I’m not even sure what topic we’re still on. Egypt or on --
QUESTION: On the torture report.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Is one of the implications that the U.S. believes could come out of the release of this report violence against U.S. personnel and U.S. citizens abroad? And what were the warnings that went out to diplomatic posts? Were the ones sent to sort of high-risk posts – did they go into sort of more detail about what the concerns were, or was this something that was general to all diplomatic missions?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I certainly understand your questions, but as is the case of any security posture, we’re not going to get into specifics of why we’re doing what and exactly what we’re doing, because that would defeat the purpose of the security steps. All I can convey to you, again, is that obviously we asked chiefs of missions to review their mission security. I’m not going to get ahead of the release of the report. I’m sure we’ll have more to discuss once that report is released.
QUESTION: It went to all chiefs of mission?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
More on this report, or should we move on to a new topic?
QUESTION: I had an Israel one.
QUESTION: One of the – on Israel?
QUESTION: Well --
QUESTION: Well, I want to go back to Israel, sorry. And again, apologies for bringing something up on the weekend.
MS. PSAKI: Don’t feel bullied. It’s okay.
QUESTION: I’m not going to feel bullied. (Laughter.) I was sick over the weekend, so I’m just catching up.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. It’s your birthday; it’s fine.
QUESTION: And it’s my birthday, yes. So --
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Israel? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, is that all right, Matt?
QUESTION: There were reports over the weekend that the Secretary had spoken – I believe it was either Friday or Saturday night – by telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who’d asked him about Pollard. We haven’t talked about this.
QUESTION: We haven’t talked about Pollard yet --
QUESTION: -- but the Secretary mentioned the call in his speech.
MS. PSAKI: He spoke with him. I don’t have any more details on it. I can see if there’s more to share.
QUESTION: There was reporting out of the region that the prime minister asked --
MS. PSAKI: I believe it conveyed that he brought it up, which I would point you to the Israeli Government for that. I don’t have any more specifics. I can follow up and see if there’s more we have to say on it.
QUESTION: But just in general on Mr. Pollard, do you have anything new to say about him?
MS. PSAKI: I do not. Nothing has changed.
QUESTION: All right. Can I go back to --
QUESTION: Well, I just want to go back to --
MS. PSAKI: Should we finish – can we finish Israel?
QUESTION: This is slightly related to the torture report, but it’s not – actually, it’s complete – well, it’s not completely unrelated, but it’s a very tangential link.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. I’m intrigued.
QUESTION: One of the concerns that you’ve had and you’ve just mentioned from the podium was the safety of American hostages. So with that, I wanted to get to the situation in – what happened in Yemen.
MS. PSAKI: In Yemen, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And your ambassador in South Africa said this morning that you guys had no idea that there were negotiations underway for the release and – of the South African hostage who was being held. And I’m just wondering, how is that possible? How – if you guys knew he was there --
MS. PSAKI: No. Well, let me tell you what we know. We assessed that there were two hostages at the location, one of whom was Luke Somers. We did not know who the second hostage was. And as all of you know, there have been several hostages from a variety of locations around the world held in Yemen, so we did not know, obviously, that the other individual was the South African hostage. We were not in touch with any government, for obvious reasons given that, and we did not know about – this was a negotiation by an outside private organization.
QUESTION: Right, but – well, were you aware that there was a South African aid worker being held hostage in Yemen, whether or not they were at this location or not? Do you know that?
MS. PSAKI: I can check on that, Matt. I believe there’d been some publicity about it, but there were a range of hostages that were being held in Yemen from around the world, so we had no way of knowing that that was the second hostage.
QUESTION: All right. So there was – so when you say – and I just want to put a fine point on it.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: When you say that you didn’t know who the identity of the second person who was being held there --
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: -- and there was no discussion with any foreign government about that --
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: -- there was no discussion with the South African Government?
MS. PSAKI: Correct, yes.
QUESTION: And are you aware of any injuries sustained by American personnel (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: No, and I appreciate you asking, because there are a range of reports out there.
MS. PSAKI: No one – let me just – you didn’t ask this, but no one was captured, and no DOD personnel were injured. They were all returned safely.
QUESTION: I presume that your colleagues at the Pentagon will say the same thing, yes?
MS. PSAKI: Correct, yes.
QUESTION: Can we go to Guantanamo and --
MS. PSAKI: Let’s finish Yemen, Said, if that’s okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. A follow-up on Yemen: Is there a debate within the Administration on the policies about the way you handle the – you are handling, sorry – the hostage crisis? The question has been asked many times, but as a matter of fact – I’m not saying that one policy is better than another, but as a matter of fact, countries which are negotiating for their hostages manage to have them freed, and countries like the U.S., which don’t negotiate, it ends, tragically, differently. So is there a debate within the Administration of reviewing of this policy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, our goal has always been to use every appropriate resource within the bounds of the law to assist loved ones to bring their love – their family home. In light – and this is something that we’d previously talked about, but I understand the reason for the question today.
In light of the increasing number of U.S. hostages – U.S. citizens taken hostage by terrorist groups overseas and the extraordinary number of recent hostage cases, this summer President Obama directed relevant agencies and departments, including DOD, the State Department, the FBI, and the intelligence community, to conduct a comprehensive review of how the U.S. Government addresses these matters. We’re obviously not going to detail every effort or every tool we’re using to bring hostages home, but we’ll continue to bring all appropriate military, intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomatic capabilities to bear.
But the question of ransom is not a part of this review. The United States Government, as a matter of longstanding policy, does not grant concessions to hostage takers for a very important reason: Granting such concessions would put all American citizens overseas at greater risk for kidnapping. Furthermore, paying ransoms would only sustain the very same terrorist organizations that we are working to destroy. So nothing has changed on that front.
Obviously, in the case of this operation, these are some of the riskiest and most challenging and most difficult operations that our men and women in the military undertake. And they’re – as I sort of referenced, they’re not without risk. We certainly knew that going in but felt that after AQAP released a video announcing that Luke Somers would be murdered within 72 hours, there was a compelling indication, clearly, that his life was in danger. There was a recommendation made to the President that he approved to authorize an attempt to rescue him with the risks in mind.
QUESTION: Can I just ask – you said prior to the operation, for obvious reasons, you weren’t in touch with the South African Government. Have you been in touch with the South African Government since?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, we have an ambassador on the ground who’s been in close touch with them. I don’t have any calls from the Secretary to read out --
QUESTION: No calls from the --
MS. PSAKI: -- but we’re in very close touch on the ground.
QUESTION: Is there a plan for the Secretary to call?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls to preview for you, but if there’s a call we’ll make sure you know.
Let’s – Yemen? Any more on Yemen?
QUESTION: Yemen, Yemen.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. So like, it seems like al-Qaida and ISIS really don’t care, like, if you keep, like, not paying the ransom. They just keep kidnapping American and kill them. Are you, like, planning to do this forever? I mean, not paying ransoms, and then they kill their – your hostages?
MS. PSAKI: I think I just answered that question.
Do we have any more on Yemen?
QUESTION: Yes, Yemen.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Luke Somers’s family told CNN today that they were not told in advance about the efforts to rescue him or asked to sign off in any way on this raid. They also – a few members of the family expressed that they felt more discussion was needed to try and resolve this case through dialogue, maybe through intermediaries. What’s your reaction to that, and do you think that – was there an effort beyond these raids to sort of negotiate a dialogue through intermediaries?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, AQAP, as we all know, is a terrorist organization and one that that’s not typically how we engage with. I will say that we certainly – as was evidenced by the Secretary’s statement and the President’s statement, our hearts go out to the Somers family and we can’t imagine the heartache and the pain that they’re going through at this time.
The decision was made for exactly the reasons as I outlined. There was a video making clear the intention to take Mr. Somers’ life within 72 hours, which we assessed to be Saturday. So there was a very short window and timeline during which, obviously, we had to determine whether we were going to be able to have the operational capabilities and the medical teams necessary and all the steps necessary in order to carry this out.
There has been – we have been in touch – the Administration has been in touch, certainly, with the Somers family. But that’s why the decision was made as it was.
MS. PSAKI: Let’s – can we finish Yemen? Do we have any more on Yemen?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead in the way back.
QUESTION: Yes. Just, you mentioned there’s not been any call from the Secretary of State to his South African counterpart about this, but has there been any call from this Department to Mr. Korkie’s family at all? Has there been any kind of “sorry about what happened”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, I mean, there was a public statement. There has been contact from the Administration, but I don’t have any more details to outline for you at this point in time.
QUESTION: And is there any more active diplomacy between this Department and the South Africans about what happened? Has there been any conversations at all?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve been in very close touch with the South African Government. We have an ambassador on the ground who worked for the President for a numbers of years, who’s in close touch with them, that we’ve remained in close touch with through this building as well.
QUESTION: Does this not perhaps call for looking at the state of the communication between here and Pretoria given that it seems that there wasn’t enough communication about the state of this – status of this hostage?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think a very important point here is the fact that we did not know who the other hostage was. We did not know what country they were from. There wouldn’t have been a way to – it wouldn’t have made sense, in fact, for us to reach out to the South African Government. We didn’t have information at the time that led us to believe there was – the other individual was from South Africa.
QUESTION: Do you feel they could have done more to reach out to you before this took place?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I’m not sure that – I don’t – I think that’s kind of looking back without information that we would have had available at the time. They remain an important partner and one that we’ll remain in close touch with working on this and many other issues.
QUESTION: This may be getting far too into the weeds, but it does raise the question, though: How come you didn’t know who the other hostage was there? If you knew that one of them was Mr. Somers, why didn’t you know who the other one was?
MS. PSAKI: It’s just not a level of detail I can get into, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, I know. But that would seem to suggest that your intelligence on this was imperfect, right? I mean, obviously, there’s no perfect – there probably never is perfect intelligence on something. But that’s not the kind of thing that would give you pause if you didn’t know who the other --
MS. PSAKI: Well, we knew there were two hostages, including an American citizen there. I think that’s pretty solid intelligence. There are obviously a range of individuals, unfortunately --
MS. PSAKI: -- from a range of countries that are held hostage in Yemen.
Any more on Yemen? Yemen? Yemen? No, okay.
MS. PSAKI: Let’s go to Scott in the back and then we’ll go back to Syria. Go ahead, Scott.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: In an interview with the broadcaster Telesur, president and – President Maduro said he’s investigating the U.S. Embassy there for acting in a dangerous way toward Venezuela. Is the U.S. Embassy there acting in a dangerous way toward Venezuela?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our Embassy operates in accordance with the requirements of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. We will continue to speak out regarding our concerns about the lack of respect for human rights and democracy in Venezuela, most recently evidenced by the Venezuelan decision to charge opposition leader and former national assembly deputy Maria Corina Machado for allegedly conspiring in a plan to assassinate President Maduro. We continue to call on the Venezuelan Government to respect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and release political prisoners, and to act in accordance with the principles and values set forth in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man in the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
So we continue to operate as we – as we long have in the country with regard to every legal obligation, every internationally accepted obligation. And I can assure you that there’s no – been no stray from that.
QUESTION: In that interview, President Maduro said that the Obama Administration is caught in their own failed policies. Is it the opinion of the State Department that U.S. policy in Venezuela is failing?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to have too much of a comment on President Maduro’s comments, I should say. Obviously, we continue to work on all the lines of effort I just outlined. But beyond that, we’re not going to speak to his comments further.
I have time just for a couple of more here. Do we have any new --
MS. PSAKI: Hmm?
QUESTION: Can we talk about the Guantanamo detainees?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Okay. First of all, do you have any comment on that? I mean, is – are they to remain in Uruguay? What would be the deal for them? What is the next stop, or is that just a way station?
MS. PSAKI: Well, just to reiterate some of the news you’re referencing, on December 7th, the Department of Defense announced the transfer of six detainees to Uruguay – four Syrians, a Tunisian, and a Palestinian. With these transfers, there are 136 detainees at Guantanamo. We, of course, thank the government there. We are continuing to reach out to many countries from across the globe and are very appreciative of the support we are receiving.
As you know, we obviously also – the decision to transfer a detainee is made only detail – after detailed, specific conversations with the receiving country about the potential threat a detainee may pose after transfer and the measures the receiving country will take in order to sufficiently mitigate the threat. That was, of course, the case here. Beyond that, I’m not going to have any other specific details from the government.
QUESTION: So would you object – would you object to Uruguay sending them to their countries?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I reiterated that we have a range of assurances from the country. I am not going to get into specifics on that.
QUESTION: Can I ask – I want to ask about Syria, Jen. Russia is working on hosting a conference in Moscow this month that includes the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime to find a political solution to the crisis. How do you view these efforts made by --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know there were some meetings earlier, over the weekend I should say, that – we saw reports, of course, that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov met yesterday with SOC President Hadi al-Bahra in Istanbul. But in terms of specifics, I don’t think there’s been a date set or a time set. We’ve certainly seen the reports but don’t have details on the format, the objective, the goals, or the timing. As you know, Secretary Kerry met with Foreign Minister Lavrov just last week. They certainly discussed Syria during that meeting and that discussion will continue.
QUESTION: That means that the news reports that said that the U.S. supports these efforts are inaccurate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are not a lot of details quite yet. I’m not sure what report you’re referencing, and we haven’t spoken to it, so I don’t think they’d be quoting anybody who actually was speaking on behalf of the United States.
QUESTION: That they --
MS. PSAKI: Obviously – let me finish – there are a lot of details more that we need to know here in terms of what the objective are – objectives are, what the format would be, and we’ll have discussions about those and see where we go from there.
QUESTION: And one more on Syria. UN Special Envoy to Syria de Mistura has met today in Turkey with rebel leaders from Aleppo to discuss a possible freeze in fighting in the city. What do you think about this plan?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve spoken about this quite a bit from here, and he’s – de Mistura has spoken about this quite a bit as well. Well, we certainly support efforts – his efforts and certainly support efforts that would reduce the suffering of the Syrian people. We also have to look at any of these proposals with clear eyes, given in the past they haven’t been implemented with the necessary actions by the regime.
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do a couple more on Syria. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Many argue that – about this freezing work, as something that can work for Syrian regime since it would relieve the Syrian regime to – for the two-front fight.
MS. PSAKI: By many, who are you referencing who argues that?
QUESTION: There have been many articles published on this issue. If you want name, I can give you the name.
MS. PSAKI: So articles – so reporters are arguing that? Or a specific individual?
QUESTION: Reporters and commentators and the newspapers around especially Middle East that I am sure you are following.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I mentioned, I think, again, this is a difficult issue and we support de Mistura’s efforts to come up with solutions and options that will reduce and hopefully bring to an end the suffering of the Syrian people. We’ve seen the regime in the past act in a way that does not fully implement these ceasefires, that takes advantage of them in some cases, and so we’re certainly aware of that potential and that’s why we believe everyone should be clear-eyed. But we support the effort to pursue options here, which is what he’s doing.
QUESTION: Syria (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: So Salih Muslim, the leader – one of the leaders of PYD in Syria, he said, “We have given” – and I’m quoting – “We have given a guarantee to the United States about sending arms to – not sending arms to PKK or using them against Turkey.” Do you have any comment on that? Can you tell us what kind of guarantees they gave you?
MS. PSAKI: This is a guarantee from whom? Can you say it one more time?
QUESTION: PYD, the Syrian Kurdish, like, arm of PKK.
MS. PSAKI: I will check and see if we have any information on that.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I have one on Asia.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have a readout from Assistant Secretary Russel’s meeting today with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, let me see what I have on that. Chinese vice foreign minister met today - he was at the Department today for meetings with Acting Deputy Secretary Sherman and Assistant Secretary Russel. In these meetings, they discussed matters of bilateral and regional importance. They have not yet concluded. We’d refer you to the Chinese embassy for further details about the vice foreign minister’s schedule while he’s in the United States.
QUESTION: Acting Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman met with South Korean unification secretary (inaudible). Do you have anything on their schedule or --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I’m happy to check and see if we have more on that front.
Go ahead. It’ll have to be the last one.
QUESTION: I have a question about Egypt, if I could real quick.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: Are you aware of the reports that emerged this morning about a raid on a bathhouse in Cairo where 40 men were taken into custody? And one of the journalists that I read said that this bathhouse is, quote, “the biggest den of group perversion” in this part of Egypt, and this goes against the backdrop of ongoing persecution of LGBT people.
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen that report. Why don’t I look into that after the briefing --
MS. PSAKI: -- and we’ll see if we can confirm it, and if there’s something more we have to offer on it.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I have one on Pakistan. There was – out of Bagram, which is in Afghanistan, of course, there were three Pakistanis released back to Pakistan over the weekend. I wondered if you could confirm the identities of the three men.
MS. PSAKI: I cannot confirm the identities, no.
QUESTION: You can’t tell us if Latif Mehsud was among them?
MS. PSAKI: I cannot confirm the identities.
Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just a quick one.
MS. PSAKI: Are you going to sing? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Next.
QUESTION: Not here.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Just a quick one on Ukraine. I’d like to have --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- your comment on the upcoming peace talk this week between the pro-Russian separatists and Kyiv.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, as you noted in your question, they’ll be meeting tomorrow. This is certainly an opportunity to – for Russia and the separatists to show they support – or they will live up to their commitments. This is not a discussion about a new ceasefire agreement, but discussions on implementation of the ceasefire agreed to in Minsk in September, which Russia and the separatists it backs have not implemented to date. So we will see what comes out of the meetings tomorrow.
Thank you, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:57 p.m.)
DPB # 207