Daily Press Briefing - December 10, 2014
Index for Today's Briefing:
2:04 p.m. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
MS. PSAKI: I know we have a time crunch here because of the Secretary’s speech, but we’ll get a quick signal when he’s about to speak. So if he’s running late we’ll be able to go a little bit longer if you all would like.
QUESTION: What do you think the chances of – chances are that the Secretary will be running late?
MS. PSAKI: I would bet you a hundred dollars that he may be a little bit late, given how packed his schedule is today, Matt.
QUESTION: Oh. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I will not --
MS. PSAKI: If you’d like to take that bet --
QUESTION: I will not take that bet because I think I would --
MS. PSAKI: Good. I was looking to get my husband a nice Christmas present. So I was hopeful. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: For a hundred bucks?
MS. PSAKI: I may have insider information. But – okay, I have a couple of items for all of you at the top. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the December 8th killing of three Orient News journalists in southern Syria. Rami Asmi, Yousef El-Dous, and Salem Khalil were driving to cover recent opposition advances in the villages of Sheikh Miskeen and Daraa province when a missile struck their car. This tragedy serves as a reminder of the great risks brave journalists are taking in order to shed light on the truth of what is happening in Syria. The United States remains committed to promoting freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and journalist safety and security globally.
I won’t repeat them, but I just wanted to note for all of you, we put out a travel announcement yesterday about the Secretary’s travel to Peru and Colombia. You should have seen that in your inboxes, as well as on our website. We also put out an announcement this morning about the Secretary’s travel to Rome, Italy this weekend to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. They will discuss a number of issues, including recent developments in Israel, the West Bank, and Jerusalem and the region. He will also – well, there was a more detailed travel announcement I would point all of you to.
Finally, you’ve heard the topic of nominees addressed several times at recent briefings, but that should be an indication to all of you of the Secretary’s great focus on this issue. Today, we still have 39 nominees who are waiting for the Senate to confirm them. Seventeen of these nominees are career Foreign Service officers. We need the Senate to act on these nominations as quickly as possible. It’s in the best interests of our foreign policy and it’s the right thing to do for their families. We welcome the strong support of leaders Reid and McConnell and that of Chairman Menendez and Ranking Member Corker in cutting into the backlog before the Senate goes out into recess for the holidays. We greatly appreciate the progress made this week, including the Senate approval of Rich Verma as U.S. Ambassador to India and Mike McKinley to be the ambassador in Kabul. This offers great progress in our ability to get this important work done.
But right now the Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance is operating without its assistant secretary. Our nominee for this post is Frank Rose, a highly-qualified candidate with nearly 20 years of experience in these issues. And he has been waiting to take the reins for more than 500 days. Continuing to leave this post empty is a detriment to our ability to manage these great national security concerns.
We’ve also previously spoken about Arnold Chacon, our nominee to the director general of the Foreign Service and director of human resources. He served with distinction as chief of mission in Guatemala, was approved unanimously by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February, and for nine months he’s waited for his day on the floor. He’s now been waiting for more than 400 days since being nominated, even though he has broad support, including from officials who served in senior positions under George W. – under the George W. Bush Administration, like Deputy Secretary John Negroponte, and he worked closely with Secretary Rice. It has been since August of 2013 that the Department and Foreign Service has gone without a head of personnel who focuses every day on making a positive impact on the working – the work lives of every civil servant and Foreign Service officer in the State Department and overseas. So we would again call for end-block confirmations, because there’s no objection to a great number of these highly-qualified and dedicated nominees.
I believe also, if I’m correct, there are some interns from USAID in the back, so I just wanted to welcome them as well, and thank you for joining us for the briefing. With that --
QUESTION: Okay. So there’s a lot going on. I’m sure we’ll get back to the Secretary’s trip, but I need to start with the CIA report released yesterday. The first question about that is just a kind of a logistical one, which is: I’m aware of six embassies that have – and one consulate that have put out notices warning of the possibility of anti-American protests or violence due to the release of the report, or due to the contents of what’s in the report. Is that number still correct? Do you know if there are more? Is there going to be a larger, more – a broader warning coming from this building, as opposed to individual embassies?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that is correct. And just to reiterate for everyone, some posts have – it’s up to the chief of mission at each post or embassy to make a decision to issue a security message. Obviously, as you noted, seven have made a decision to do that, obviously, leading up to the release of the report, and we’ll continue to advise American communities around the world. I can’t anticipate for you whether there will be others; there could be, and we’ll certainly keep you abreast of those.
QUESTION: Some of the ones that have put – some of the seven are understandable – Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, perhaps even – and Thailand, given what is widely assumed to be in the report. But some, like the Netherlands and Sweden, are not so obvious. Do you know why the head – the chief of mission in those countries decided that it was appropriate or that they should go ahead and put this out?
MS. PSAKI: Well, a security message is different from a Travel Warning.
QUESTION: I know.
MS. PSAKI: I know you know, but just for everybody’s information – in that it’s – the role of security messages is to provide information to American communities about changes in the security environment, any recommended precaution. So we of course rely on and respect the view of any chief of mission personnel who --
QUESTION: I know. But I’m asking you --
MS. PSAKI: -- determine – make that determination.
QUESTION: But I’m just asking you if you are aware of any special circumstances in either Sweden or the Netherlands, which would might not be at the top of everyone’s list --
MS. PSAKI: No, I would not draw that connection.
QUESTION: Okay. All right, now, it has been not so widely noted that the report that was released yesterday is actually the – is the majority report, not the minority report, although the minority and majority are soon to switch. I just want to make sure – is it the position of the State Department, and I know that the White House answered a lot of questions about this already, but since you’re the building that has to deal with this, the ramifications, implications of this overseas, I think they’re also appropriate – it’s also appropriate to ask you: Does the Administration agree with the minority report that was released yesterday, or does it agree with the – I mean – sorry, the majority report that was released yesterday – or does it have issues with it like some in the minority on the committee have?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think my colleague over at the White House addressed this earlier when he did his own briefing. We’re not going to comment on any specific findings or conclusions in the committee’s report, the minority report, or the CIA response. Our view is that we supported the release of the report. We believed that it was an opportunity to kind of lay out mistakes that have happened in the past and try to move forward to the future.
QUESTION: So do you agree with its findings?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to speak to the findings of the report.
QUESTION: By saying that you support it, though, does that mean you accept the findings of the majority report?
MS. PSAKI: We supported the release, but again, I think the most important point – not again – but the most important point I would point you to is that one of the first acts that the President did when he came into office was sign an executive order that brought an end to the program --
MS. PSAKI: -- and prohibited the use of harsh interrogation techniques. That happened more than five years ago, so this isn’t speaking to programs that are ongoing.
QUESTION: No, I know – yeah, I think everyone is aware of that.
MS. PSAKI: But I think it’s a relevant point of fact.
QUESTION: Okay. But I mean, I’m wondering if you, by saying that you support the release of this report, does that mean that you accept its findings?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we made a decision – the President made a decision to end these programs five years ago. I think that speaks for itself.
QUESTION: So you do, correct?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak broadly to the findings of the report. I think that’s an important point, that that decision was already made long before the report was released.
QUESTION: It’s my understanding – and correct me if I’m wrong – that the Justice Department says that it does not intend to reopen any investigation into the alleged – what was alleged to have happened. And I’m wondering if you – if that’s not wrong, how it is going to be when you call for accountability for rights abuses in other countries, how you’re going to be able to do that without being essentially laughed out of the room?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d certainly point you to the Department of Justice. As you noted, they’ve already spoken to this.
MS. PSAKI: I would say, one, we would put our record against any record around the world, and we think it’s very rare and unique for a country to decide to put out a report such as this, a release of a report that we supported. It points to the fact that we believe these techniques were contrary to our values as a nation, were overall detrimental. We believe that. The President has said that.
QUESTION: It may well be that it’s rare for countries to do it, but what you’re just saying – you’re pointing out – what the report does is point out a problem; it doesn’t hold anyone accountable for it. You regularly complain from this podium, and embassies do abroad as well, when foreign governments do not follow through and hold people accountable for what you consider to be wrongdoing. Since you consider what this report outlines to have been wrongdoing, how can you continue to make those kind of cases, to make that – to make those arguments, if no one is actually going to be held accountable here at home?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think what we’d point to is that we’re willing to be transparent about our mistakes, we learn from them, and we change. And our actions are evidence of that.
QUESTION: Okay. All of that is wonderful. You’re willing to be transparent about it, although I would say that it took quite a long time for this to come out. The – you’re willing to be transparent about --
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not the first time we have spoken to this, though.
QUESTION: Fair enough, but you’re – okay, you say you’re willing to be --
MS. PSAKI: And the President made a decision five years ago.
QUESTION: -- transparent about it, but transparency is only half of the question here. The other half, the other part of it is if someone did wrong, are they going to be punished for it? And the answer from the Administration seems to be no. So you seem to be saying that, “Well, we can just air our dirty laundry,” or whatever you – however you want to describe it, “and that’s it, that’s done with it.” Well, when other countries do that, and only that, you say that’s not acceptable. How is it that you’re going to be able to – how can you keep a straight face if you accept the report findings but don’t do anything about it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, we did do something about it. We ended the practice. I think that’s significant and countries will see that.
QUESTION: Yeah, but you supported, say – and I’m not at all comparing these things – you supported war crimes trials and things like that for other countries. The point of those things that you support is to hold people actually accountable and to punish them if they did something wrong. You’re saying in this instance that people did bad things, wrong things, things that contravene U.S. values, but you’re at the same time saying that you’re not prepared to hold them accountable.
MS. PSAKI: I would --
QUESTION: How is that --
MS. PSAKI: I would encourage you to have a conversation with the Department of Justice. I don’t have anything to add from the State Department.
QUESTION: Well, does the State Department have any concerns that its arguments in human rights forums around the world – particularly today, Human Rights Day – are compromised at all by the fact that there isn’t going to be any accountability here and that you think that just publishing a report, or the Senate majority publishing this report, is good enough? No concerns?
MS. PSAKI: We, Matt, I think in all of our conversations with countries around the world, will continue to convey that we ended this practice. It was one of the first steps the President made. We’re willing to be open and transparent about our mistakes and make changes, and that’s exactly what we did here.
QUESTION: Last one. So the answer is that you’re basically going to say – you’re going to be – it’s going to be kind of parental: “Do as I say, not as I have done or do”? Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Actually, I think we made the decision to lay out very transparently what exactly we had done in the past that we didn’t think was consistent with our values, and I think that’s showing strength as a nation and that’s the conversation we’ll have with countries around the world.
QUESTION: One, people will argue that showing strength is not just revealing this, but actually doing something about it other than just ending it.
MS. PSAKI: And we changed – ended the practice.
QUESTION: You don’t just end – you can’t just end it and not punish anybody and claim that it’s – I mean, some would argue that you can’t just stop doing it, then reveal it, and then not punish anybody for it. You’re not going – you’re only halfway there.
MS. PSAKI: I have nothing to add to what the Department of Justice has said.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: Let’s continue on this topic.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Very quickly, really --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- because the President has said that this belongs in the past and that’s where it should belong. So in other words, the admission – the mere admission – is good enough. I mean, just to follow on what Matt was just asking. So that’s good enough before the world, that no one is to be held accountable, that all these things, abuses that you constantly and ceaselessly – you talk about other countries when they commit similar things and so on – but for the United States, the mere admission is good enough, right?
MS. PSAKI: If other countries want to put out a report on their human rights practices, on their intelligence gathering practices, we’d certainly welcome that. We haven’t seen that from anywhere in the world.
QUESTION: If you see this happening in another country you would – and they would come and admit it, that would be good enough?
MS. PSAKI: We’d certainly welcome that level of transparency, Said, but we ended the program, which I think is a very important point here.
I think we have to keep moving along. Go ahead.
QUESTION: President – the president of Afghanistan has reacted on the CIA report, saying that what CIA did with some Afghanistan was a violation of human rights and violation of international laws. Do you agree with his assessment?
MS. PSAKI: I think I’d leave it at what I just conveyed. The President, when he first came into office – this was one of the first steps he made was to end these practices. I think that speaks for itself.
QUESTION: And has the Afghanistan Government raised this issue with the U.S. after this report was released?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve had a range of conversations. The Secretary’s been engaged in discussions. A number of officials in the State Department have. I’m not going to outline those for obvious reasons, given the sensitivity of the content of the report.
QUESTION: I have one more: How serious is the threat to the U.S. missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan after this CIA report?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we clearly are in touch with our embassies and posts around the world, and certainly, we’re working closely with governments as well. At this time, none of our posts have asked for additional resources from Washington or from the military. Our posts and embassies are working with host governments if there are needs on the ground, and we of course continue to monitor the situation. As we – as I noted, I think two days ago, some military resources have moved in in case they are needed, and that was in advance of the release. And obviously, our chiefs of missions at posts and embassies around the world did an evaluation of what was needed on the ground as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish this, Said, and then I’m happy to move to another topic.
QUESTION: On the --
MS. PSAKI: On this topic? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. On the conversation with the European countries, the – for example, Poland has accepted that there were CIA detention centers. Do you – are you in conversation, are you updating – what is the situation on – with the EU and other countries there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I just noted, we have undertaken diplomatic outreach to some of our partners about the release of the report. The Secretary has been involved in that, a number of senior officials here, as well as from other government agencies. I’m not going to outline that in terms of the specifics of countries we’ve spoken to. As you know, there aren’t specific names listed in the report either.
During these conversations, we’ve been discussing the fact that this program ended years ago. The techniques in the report have been shared with the public before, and we have, of course, emphasized that we greatly value our close cooperation with our allies and – on a range of shared initiatives, and that certainly will not change.
QUESTION: Can we go to --
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish this topic and then we can go on. Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: I just wonder if you’ve been surprised by the depth of the reaction from some of your partners, particularly in Europe. There have been sort of calls for investigations, much in line of what Matt was saying – prosecutions. What are you – I know you say – you’re going to say that we’ve been transparent, but more particularly going to the point of prosecutions, what are you going to be telling your allies – countries like Germany and France and Britain – about the way you proceed now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, broadly speaking, Jo, we are – obviously believe that our own legal authorities here are appropriate in dealing with issues here. But as it relates to specific asks or requests, I’d have to talk to our legal team if there’s anything new to add on that front.
QUESTION: But are you surprised at how strong the reaction’s been?
MS. PSAKI: I certainly believe that since we’ve been preparing our posts and embassies around the world, we certainly are well aware of the sensitivity around these issues. That’s why the President ended these programs five years ago. I don’t have any assessment of how surprised we were or weren’t about the response.
QUESTION: And I just wonder if you feel today that maybe the United States has lost some of its moral footing.
MS. PSAKI: I – no, we don’t feel that we have. We released this report in order to lay out for the world some programs and techniques that we’ve ended more than five years ago that we don’t believe are consistent with our values. That’s a very relevant part of the equation here in terms of the context. That’s the conversation we’re having with countries around the world, and we’ll continue to take steps to improve our own record as needed.
QUESTION: I mean, should the officials who were involved in those programs, particularly the specific – it was very detailed, the report yesterday, about four al-Qaida suspects and the way that they were treated. Should the people who were involved in that – should they be feeling shame? I mean, some of the techniques that you were talking about – repeated beatings, people being hung from their hands, shackled to ceilings, left naked – I mean, it’s a bit – pretty medieval way of treating people in captivity, isn’t it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you saw the President of the United States and the Secretary of State both release strong statements yesterday indicating that those tactics, those techniques are not consistent with our values. That’s why these programs were ended five years ago. At the same time, we believe that obviously the men and women who are serving in our intelligence agencies, the men and women who have served to help keep our country safe, are doing – playing important roles and one that we have great value and respect for. But it doesn’t mean that those tactics and techniques should be continued.
QUESTION: Jen, a couple minutes ago in response to one of those questions, you said, “We released this report.” Well, “we” did not release this report.
MS. PSAKI: We supported the release of the report.
QUESTION: You fought it, and up until the end you didn’t want it to come out, right?
MS. PSAKI: Matt, actually, no. That’s incorrect.
QUESTION: Well, you wanted it delayed. You didn’t want it out.
MS. PSAKI: We believed – the Secretary, when he spoke with Senator Feinstein, the first thing he said was that he supported the release of the report and it was up to her on the timing.
QUESTION: All right. And then --
MS. PSAKI: So that’s incorrect. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Then the other thing is that you – I presume, but I don’t know and I want to make sure, that your response to the question about other countries calling for investigations and prosecutions, I think, was, “We believe that our own legal authorities are competent” – right. So that response would apply to both the UN special rapporteur for torture. He’s saying that they should be prosecuted --
MS. PSAKI: I think I also said that, obviously, there are a range of legal questions I’d just have to talk our legal team about.
QUESTION: I understand, but your response to them calling for prosecutions – the special rapporteur on torture, and there’s another one for UN – these are people who you supported getting these positions in the UN system – they’re both calling for prosecutions, saying there should be no statute of limitations and no immunities granted. Your response to them would be the same as your response to the countries that are --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I said two things One was, broadly speaking, while we’re committed, of course, to complying by our domestic and international obligations, we believe the U.S. justice system is the appropriate place for allegations about conduct by U.S. officials to be handled. But there are also a range of different questions about --
MS. PSAKI: -- legal obligations and the convention, and I have to just talk to our legal team and see if there’s more.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you check to see if there is an answer? Because it would seem to me that if you don’t go ahead or – well, I don’t know. The question is: If you don’t prosecute what you consider to be wrongdoing, does that put you in violation of your international obligation, something that you complain regularly that other countries are in violation of? So if you could take that --
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I will – we’ll see if there’s more we can offer.
QUESTION: And then the second part of my question is you say that the U.S. justice system is the appropriate – that you believe that it’s the appropriate (inaudible) – don’t you see how people could find that amusing at best and disingenuous at worst given the fact that no one’s going to be prosecuted for this? It’s not even going to get to the justice system for there to be a trial.
MS. PSAKI: Matt, I think the Department of Justice has spoken to this. I don’t have anything further to add.
QUESTION: I know. I’m not asking you about that decision. I’m asking you about the implications of that decision as it relates to foreign policy and your attempting to get other countries to abide by international obligations and commitments that your – that the Administration is not abiding by themselves.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to make a sweeping generalization. I’m probably not going to entertain any specific example of comparison you have, Matt. But obviously, again, this happened – these programs were ended five years ago, which is relevant information. This current President of the United States decided to end them, and that’s important context in our foreign policy discussions.
QUESTION: Right. But so – so the foreign policy of the United States now rests on if something was being done – if something was done that was wrong and that you stopped it, that’s the end of the story. Right?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more to add on the justice question.
Go ahead, Abby.
QUESTION: Do you believe that anyone who participated in these programs should be allowed to keep their job working for the U.S. Government?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speak more specifically to this.
QUESTION: Can we go to a different topic?
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish this topic. Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: I just have one more, actually. Although the – in the report, the sites, the location of the sites was redacted and kept secret, the former Polish president has come out today and said that one of the sites was indeed in Poland, as has long had been suspected. I wonder if you would confirm that from the American side on the podium. And one of the things that he also said was that the Polish had asked you to stop, or had asked the American Administration at the time – not you – to stop interrogations happening because they couldn’t get any insight into what was going on; the program was too secret and they were uncomfortable with it. Could I have your reaction to that, please?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any reaction or comment on it.
QUESTION: You won’t speak even though he came out – this is a former Polish president; it’s not just (inaudible) --
MS. PSAKI: Don’t have any comment on it.
QUESTION: Can we go to another topic, please?
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish, Said. I promise we should be almost done here.
Ali, do you have a question on this report --
QUESTION: To quickly clarify something --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- on the previous line of questioning that --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- Matt was asking: So is it – the statement from Ben Emmerson said that states are not free to maintain or permit impunity for these crimes under the conventions, but currently you’re saying that if the U.S. continues its policy of not prosecuting anyone who is responsible for these programs, you’re not aware of whether – or it’s not clear whether the U.S. would still be in compliance with its conventions (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not at all what I said, actually. But I conveyed that, broadly speaking, we believe that our legal system is the most appropriate place for U.S. – for individual cases in the United States to be handled. I can check with our legal team and see if there’s more to offer on this particular question.
QUESTION: But they’re asking for – they’re asking – they’re saying that the U.S. justice system should be responsible for this. And the U.S. justice system is saying, “We’re not going to do anything about it.” And that would seem to present a big problem.
MS. PSAKI: The U.S. justice system, which is independent, is responsible for making their own decisions. I’m not going to speak to it further.
QUESTION: Well, bringing prosecutions is a responsibility of the Justice Department --
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: -- which is a part of the Administration. So --
MS. PSAKI: The Justice Department, which is independent.
MS. PSAKI: I have nothing further to add.
QUESTION: The problem – the question is: How does the State Department, which routinely calls on other governments to prosecute this kind of thing – how are you going to be able to do that with a straight face or with even a modicum of self-respect if you’re not willing to – if another branch of the Administration isn’t willing to do that here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, because you’re familiar with how the government works and is divided, the U.S. Department of Justice makes decisions about legal cases. That’s why I would point you to them. As it relates to foreign policy, the relevant context of the decisions that have been made more than five years ago, long before this report, is important context.
QUESTION: I guess the question, though, is a pretty clear-cut one, which is whether the U.S. is compliance with its international obligations under the UN convention.
MS. PSAKI: I just said we’re committed to complying with our international obligations.
QUESTION: But your commitment notwithstanding, whether the U.S. is in compliance is a question that – the special rapporteur is saying that if the U.S. doesn’t prosecute anyone, then it won’t be in compliance. So the question is --
MS. PSAKI: I will check with our legal team and see if there’s more to add. I just answered that question seven times.
QUESTION: If you could ask them --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can we go to another --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: Yes. A few days ago, the Secretary expressed or it was reported that he has some concern about the timing. And you stressed that he didn’t ask for a delay, but he preferred to make it another decision another time. So after 24 hours now, is still worry about the timing? Does he any – change his attitude about the timing and the repercussions or what he was expecting to happen from the release of the report?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he called a former colleague, Senator Feinstein, who he worked with for decades, to convey there’s quite a bit of sensitive issues – quite a few sensitive issues happening in the world. He wanted to discuss those with her as she prepared for the release of the report. But he conveyed it was up to her on when the timing of the report would – when the report would be released and that he supported the release of the report.
Obviously, it was released yesterday. He supports that. The President supports that. We take precautions at the same time to protect our men and women serving overseas, and certainly, we’ve been working with posts and missions, as I mentioned, to make sure we do everything possible in that regard as well.
QUESTION: So to my second question regarding that it’s a legal issue, you stressed many times that it’s a legal issue, whatever with what kind of people took – people are responsible on these things. But the reason I’m asking this question, because this is not just an American issue, and I assume through the State Department you are working with the rest of the world. For the rest of the world it’s how you are going to handle the issue if it’s – I’m not talking about the legality of the issue which is on this land. I’m talking about politically or let’s say diplomatically how you are going to tackle this challenge of working with people with changing the policies or not changing the policies, and they know what was done and what was not done?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this was not the first time. These programs have been public for some time. They also were ended five years ago. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, the State Department, the Secretary of State, a range of senior officials have done quite a bit of outreach – and that will continue – over the last couple of days. And we’ve been discussing with our counterparts or with their counterparts the fact that the program ended years ago; the techniques described in the report have been shared with the public before; and we’re, of course, emphasizing our desire to continue to cooperate closely. And the context of the fact that they were ended years ago, that we are willing to be transparent, look at our mistakes, make changes, is important context in any of our foreign policy relationships.
QUESTION: Can we go to the West Bank?
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish – is it on this topic. Or – okay, go ahead. We can move to a new topic, Said.
QUESTION: Yes, very quickly. Today in the West Bank, in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ein was killed as a result of a scuffle with the occupation army. I wonder if you have a statement on that.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you for the question, Said. We are deeply concerned by the death of Palestinian Authority senior official Ziad Abu Ein, which reportedly occurred during a protest in the West Bank. We offer our condolences to his family and the Palestinian Authority. We’ve seen the reports that the Israelis are looking into an investigation into this incident. As always, we call for this investigation to be swift, fair, and transparent, and at this difficult time we continue to call on both sides to work to lower tensions and prevent an escalation of violence.
QUESTION: As a result, the Palestinian Authority has suspended security cooperation with Israel. Are you aware of that?
MS. PSAKI: I had not seen that report yet.
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to talk to our team about that.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any calls that were made by the Secretary of State perhaps to President Abbas and so on to urge him to not to suspend security cooperation?
MS. PSAKI: As you know, we’ve supported the security cooperation in the past. I can talk to our team and see if there have been calls made over the course of the last few hours.
QUESTION: And on the Secretary’s trip, I know you said he’s going to discuss the issues. Is there anything in particular as to why – first, why Rome was chosen? And second, is there anything that will focus on perhaps restarting talks or anything of that kind?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they’ll also certainly talk about current initiatives at the UN. And while I’m certainly not going to get ahead of either the Secretary’s discussions with Prime Minister Netanyahu and others, or other decisions about what the United States will do on any UNSCR that has not yet been tabled, clearly there is a range of proposals out there. There are a growing number of countries that are pushing for action on this issue at the UN. This warrants discussion with Israel, the Palestinians, and key members of the international community. And certainly, that will be part of their focus as well.
QUESTION: And since you started with the freedom of press, mentioning the journalist, today Israel closed down al-Aqsa Television, which belongs to Hamas but it’s a television station in Ramallah. Would you call on them to open it, because they designated it as a terrorist organization – the TV?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have – as you know, we’ve also designated Hamas. I will --
QUESTION: I understand. But I’m talking about --
MS. PSAKI: I will check with our team and see if we have a particular comment on the closing of the television station.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about your opening there? What is – exactly is it that makes you deeply concerned? I mean, obviously, a guy died.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you believe that that’s the result – he died as a result of Israeli security forces killing him?
MS. PSAKI: We really don’t have details, as you know, Matt, at this point. So obviously, there’s been a range of video and reports out there, but we don’t have a conclusion on what happened.
QUESTION: All right. Are you familiar at all with this guy’s past?
MS. PSAKI: A little bit. But is there a particular --
QUESTION: Well, I’m just – I mean, he’s a Palestinian official – obviously, a senior Palestinian minister – and it’s of concern anytime one dies, but he was extradited from the U.S. and served – was sentenced to life in prison in Israel for killing some Israelis and then was released as part of a prisoner swap. I’m not suggesting that that should make any – that that should impact at all your offering condolences to his family or not, but I’m just wondering if that past, his past, was weighed – if it was looked into at all before you came out with the --
MS. PSAKI: Well, regardless of the – his past, we don’t have all the circumstances of his death, and so until we know those, I think we have – it’s certainly valid and justified for us to be deeply concerned about his death.
QUESTION: All right. On the other side of the coin, just talking about the – not the other side of this particular coin, but the Israeli coin, have you – are you aware of the latest comments that Israeli Defense Minister Ya’alon made?
MS. PSAKI: I have seen those.
QUESTION: Do you have any – about settlements and U.S. criticism of them. Do you view them as a – as evidence that your complaints or your denunciations of settlement activity has – have – in fact, have had an impact?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we all saw the comments. I wouldn’t go that far. I think one thing I would note, since you gave me the opportunity, is that our opposition – this Administration’s opposition to settlements is fully consistent with the policies of administrations for decades, including of both parties. So the notion that that would change is not borne out by history.
QUESTION: The notion that – you mean once the Obama Administration --
MS. PSAKI: The policy.
QUESTION: He was quoted as saying the Obama Administration is not going to last forever, which is – seems to be a statement of fact rather than --
MS. PSAKI: That is correct. It will be done in two years.
QUESTION: But you’re predicting that whatever – whoever the next president is, his or her administration is not going to change the U.S. position on settlement --
MS. PSAKI: Well, given our policy has been consistently the case for decades, through --
MS. PSAKI: -- Republican and Democratic administrations --
QUESTION: So in other words, you would tell Defense Minister Ya’alon you’re stuck with U.S. opposition to settlements even beyond the Obama Administration? Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: I would say our position, our policy has been consistent for quite some time.
QUESTION: But you usually, though, don’t pull out the crystal ball and predict the future.
MS. PSAKI: Fair enough, Matt.
QUESTION: This is an issue, though, that you think that is bipartisan enough that it will survive --
MS. PSAKI: It has been for some time now, yes.
QUESTION: -- post – okay.
QUESTION: Jen, can I ask what has prompted the Secretary to make this sort of special trip to Rome to meet with the Israeli prime minister?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, there has been quite a bit happening on the ground. He often feels that personal face-to-face diplomacy is the most effective way of engaging. And clearly, it’s also an opportunity, as I mentioned, to talk about the push for action on – at the UN and the fact that some countries are encouraging that and have a discussion about those issues.
QUESTION: But given that we’re only a few months away from an Israeli election now, does it make much sense? I mean, the government’s going to be changing by sometime in mid-March if they get a government straight away. Why not just talk on the phone or whatever?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he --
QUESTION: Why a face-to-face meeting at this particular point?
MS. PSAKI: Prime Minister Netanyahu remains the prime minister of Israel. Obviously, we are not involved with or engaged with or will in any way be engaged with the elections or the political process in Israel. But there are times when you have to seize the opportunity to have face-to-face diplomacy about important issues and not wait for months until an election is concluded.
QUESTION: But (inaudible), he did meet with the prime minister a couple of weeks ago in Oman. So it’s not like they haven’t talked --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- and at that point, there was a certain amount of guarantees that were supposedly made and some – obviously, the event today is different, but on Monday, you were sort of saying that it seems that tensions to a certain extent have lowered. I just wondered what’s actually triggering the need now for a face-to-face meeting.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think it’s more complicated than what I just laid out.
QUESTION: Jen --
QUESTION: Who requested the meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Hmm?
QUESTION: Who requested the meeting?
MS. PSAKI: It was a discussion between the two of them.
QUESTION: Is it correct that --
QUESTION: Jen, I know the Secretary addressed this issue --
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do – okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. He addressed this issue, but the Israelis, or Likud members are saying that you are actually interfering in their elections – in their upcoming elections.
MS. PSAKI: I think I just answered that question in response to Jo, but --
QUESTION: But don’t you see why it could be taken as that, that suddenly, out of the blue, there’s a meeting arranged in Rome between Secretary Kerry and the Israeli prime minister where there doesn’t seem to be a difference today between where we were on Sunday, when in fact, the Secretary said exactly what you just said, that we’re not going to get in the middle of these elections and that we don’t expect the peace process to resume tomorrow until --
MS. PSAKI: We’re still not and we still don’t, but there are still issues unrelated to the peace process and unrelated to the elections, like the situation on the ground in Israel, like the action and desire by many countries to move forward with action in the UN, that warrant a discussion. And so it’s an opportunity to do that.
QUESTION: So the claim that you are trying to unseat or helping in the process to unseat Netanyahu is wrong, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Correct, yes – wrong, incorrect.
MS. PSAKI: Incorrect.
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, because that’s what --
MS. PSAKI: The claim is wrong, yes. The claim is wrong.
QUESTION: That’s what Likud sources – they’re saying that you are rallying, you’re marshaling resources and efforts and so on, basically, to seat someone else other than Netanyahu.
MS. PSAKI: No, we’re not – we’re not going to Israel. Obviously, there’s diplomacy and foreign policy that needs to happen even in months before an election.
QUESTION: So your – so the proposed action at the UN is among the top agenda --
MS. PSAKI: Among the topics.
QUESTION: -- among the top agenda items you’re --
MS. PSAKI: Sure, yes.
QUESTION: I mean, that would seem to be the only thing that’s really coming up between now and the end of the year that could make an impact on the situation, although I think it’s doubtful that that would have an impact, but – so is there a resolution currently existing or a proposed draft resolution that currently exists that you could support?
MS. PSAKI: There’s a range of proposals that are out there, as you know, because you all have reported on them. I’m not going to go farther than that than to suggest we’ll have a discussion about the information out there.
QUESTION: All right. Okay. And then one more tangentially related, but Israel-related: Are you aware of this American citizen who has been arrested, charged in Israel for attempting to – or allegedly attempting to blow up Muslim holy sites? Have you had consular access to him? Can you – do you know anything about this case?
MS. PSAKI: We do. We don’t have a Privacy Act waiver. So what I can confirm for you is that, as you know, Israeli authorities have publicly confirmed that a U.S. citizen was arrested in Israel in November. Beyond that, there aren’t additional details I can share from here.
QUESTION: Jen, on – the UN resolution, an Israel newspaper has said that the Americans won’t use the veto this time. Is this accurate or not?
MS. PSAKI: As I noted in an answer to Said’s question, I’m not going to get ahead of any action the United States may or may not take on a resolution that hasn’t yet been tabled. And that’s pretty standard.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: Can you give us a readout --
MS. PSAKI: Or do we have any more on Israel, just before we move on? Okay, go ahead, Samir.
QUESTION: Can you give us a readout on the – about the Secretary’s meeting with the Saudi minister of interior?
MS. PSAKI: He was just going into the meeting when I was coming out here. So why don’t we see if there’s anything we can share with you after the meeting.
QUESTION: Do you know – there was some concern expressed by some human rights groups on Human Rights Day, the day after the Senate report came out, about this meeting with the Saudi interior minister. Given your own concerns about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, do you know if human rights was going to be an issue that the Secretary planned to raise with the Saudi interior minister?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think it was planned to be a very long meeting. And obviously, there’s a range of issues we discuss with Saudi Arabia, including human rights issues. I can convey to you after the meeting if that’s an issue that came up.
QUESTION: Okay. There’s a – specifically, the case of these two women who have been held for more than a week now, I think, for driving – this has been an issue that, especially the previous Secretary of State, but also this one has raised concerns about, the ban on female – on woman drivers.
MS. PSAKI: We can check and see if there’s a readout of the meeting once it’s concluded, which it should be at this point. But I’m obviously out here.
Any more on Saudi Arabia? Okay. Scott, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have any more information about the detained journalist, Khadija Ismayilova, and/or U.S. Government communications with authorities in Baku about her case?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know that I have more information. I’m happy to reiterate. I don’t know if any of this is new because I haven’t spoken about this in a couple days, but let me reiterate and see where we are. We’re concerned – we’re very concerned by the arrest and pretrial detention of Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova. We’re deeply troubled by increased restrictions on civil society activities, including on journalists, in Azerbaijan. We are increasingly concerned that the government is not living up to its international human rights commitments and obligations. We urge the Government of Azerbaijan to respect the universal rights of its citizens and allow them to freely express their views. Azerbaijan will be best able to ensure its future stability and prosperity by allowing a more open society. We have, of course, raised the increased restrictions on civil society and freedom of press at multiple levels in both Washington and abroad with the Government of Azerbaijan officials. I don’t have anything specific as it relates to this individual case.
Go ahead, Lalit.
QUESTION: I have one on Pakistan.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Last week, when Secretary Kerry met the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, did he raise the issue of Hafiz Saeed, who is – who the U.S. and the UN have declared as a global terrorist? And he was – he held a rally in Pakistan which was supported by the Government of Pakistan. Do you have – was this issue raised by him?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have more to read out from the meeting. They had spent some time one-on-one as well. I can see if there’s more we can convey to you on it.
QUESTION: I have a few questions on the report the State Department released last week on South China Sea.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Regarding the timing of the report, as you know, the Philippines urging an international tribunal to invalidate the – China’s nine-dash line. So this report basically conclude that the nine-dash line doesn’t accord with international law. So is the U.S. coordinating with Philippine to gain legal high ground?
MS. PSAKI: No, is the short answer. But the “Limits in the Seas” series is a longstanding legal and technical series that examines national maritime claims and boundaries and assesses their consistency with international law. The series so far has addressed maritime claims and boundaries of more than 80 countries – so this is not a – just a one-off – with many countries being considered in multiple studies. As you noted, we recently published studies on the maritime claims of the Philippines and also a separate study on Indonesia. So this is a technical and legal analysis as part of a larger series and something that we do regularly from the State Department.
QUESTION: But on the other U.S. position, on one hand you are keep saying that United States does not take side. But on the hand, like, issuing this report objecting China’s stance and objecting China taking any unilateral actions and providing military assistance to Southeast Asian countries – by doing this, how can you convince China that the United States does not take side?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is – these are simply reports, of which we’ve done, as I mentioned, 80 of them, that review legal – that are legal reviews. They’re very --
QUESTION: But it’s favoring Southeast Asian countries’ interests.
MS. PSAKI: They’re very technical; they’re not political. As a matter of longstanding policy – and this hasn’t changed – the United States does not take a position on the sovereignty over land features in the South China Sea, nor do we comment on the specific merits of the Philippines-China arbitration case. That’s obviously up for legal authorities to speak to in a more official arbitration system. But we still do reviews, as we’ve done for decades – and as we’ve done dozens of them – as it relates to maritime claims.
QUESTION: But Jen, you’re always saying actions speak louder than words. Do you say your action actually meet your words? Have you done any actions to – in favor of China’s claims?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think we’re obligated to even out legal analysis one way or the other. Legal analysis is technical legal analysis, and I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: But your policy is based on legal analysis, right?
MS. PSAKI: Our policy is we don’t take a position on the sovereignty, but we can still --
QUESTION: Yeah, right, but if your legal analysis is that sovereignty should be – should rest with one state or another, surely the policy doesn’t intentionally ignore that analysis, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are --
QUESTION: Or does it?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not exactly what the report says. I’m sure you’re eager to read it later this afternoon when you have time, Matt, but --
QUESTION: I’m thinking about the plane ride. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Excellent. You have – we have some time for that later. It doesn’t make an evaluation that’s that severe.
QUESTION: So it does not set out what your opinion is of the legal – of sovereignty claims, of the legal --
MS. PSAKI: It does not speak to sovereignty claims, no.
QUESTION: Can we go to China, please?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Is there anything you can tell us about this – there was a report that a Chinese national was arrested in – I believe in Connecticut on the charges of transporting sensitive, proprietary information about a U.S. Air Force program. I was wondering if you --
MS. PSAKI: I hadn’t seen that report. I’m happy to check and see if that’s something we would handle, or DHS or somebody more appropriate.
QUESTION: Sure. I was just, I guess, curious about whether you had heard anything from your Chinese counterparts – any complaints or anything --
MS. PSAKI: I hadn’t even heard of the report yet, so --
MS. PSAKI: -- I’ll check and see if there’s more to offer.
QUESTION: That’d be great. Thank you.
QUESTION: I have one more on Uber company. One of its driver in Delhi was involved in rape of an Indian woman. He has been arrested, and the company, which is based in the U.S., has been banned in Delhi. Do you have anything to say on that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe we will, but I can check if you can give us details at the end of what the name of the company is. I think it’s likely we’ll point you to the company.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on Putin’s visit to Delhi?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any updates. I would point you to the Russians or the Indians on that for any details.
QUESTION: No, the – Marie has spoken about it the previous week, and there was a sentence that this is not the right time to deal – do business with Russia. So are you disappointed --
MS. PSAKI: Well, that remains the case, but – and it’s specific to kind of what the agenda is, and I’m not sure I’ve seen much of a readout of kind of what was accomplished on the trip.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, on Syria.
QUESTION: No, mine’s on Cyprus.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead, Syria.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to this report that northern Syrian rebel commanders are saying that the U.S. has stopped transfers of arms and payments?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Sure, yes, you have a response, or yes, that is the case?
MS. PSAKI: I do. I do have a response. As you know, we don’t outline, nor have we ever outlined, every element of our assistance, as much as we do talk about how we’ve increased the scale and scope of our assistance. So I can’t speak to the specifics of the report. From the State Department, we of course continue to increase our nonlethal assistance – continue to deliver that – and work with the opposition to boost their capacity, but unfortunately, I don’t have much I can convey or confirm on the report.
QUESTION: Okay, but – I mean, because they’re saying the opposite. They’re – you say that the U.S. is increasing the scale of its support. People on the ground are saying that the U.S. is decreasing the scale of its support.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s exactly right. Over the course of the last several --
QUESTION: Well, stopping shipments of payments and arms would be decreasing --
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. Over the course of the last several months, factually, we have increased the scope and scale of our support. We passed a train and equip program, we’ve provided a range of assistance. There are some programs and equipment and assistance that we don’t talk about. That remains the case here.
QUESTION: Jen, I believe yesterday the Secretary made mention of the Russian effort to try and get some kind of a Syria political discussion back on track, and you know that the deputy foreign minister was in – Russian deputy foreign minister was in Damascus today. And at the end of his trip, he said that the Russians would be willing to host in Moscow a meeting between the Syrian Government and the – and a representative of the United States. Would the Administration be willing to send someone to such a meeting?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’d have to know what the details are and what the agenda is and what the objective is, and we’re reaching out to them to get more details.
QUESTION: So you’re not automatically opposed to meeting with an Assad representative?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there have been in the past a range of proposals to have the opposition and the regime and representatives meet. In terms of our participation, I haven’t seen that posed before. But in terms of our support for what kind of a meeting this would be and whether we’d support the effort, we just need more details on it.
QUESTION: All right. You just don’t know. Okay. And then I want to go Iran if I could very quickly.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: There was that report on Monday that you all have downplayed and said is not particularly relevant to – or is not new and not particularly relevant to the whole ongoing negotiations. This is the – about the concerns raised at the UN sanctions committee about continuing procurement for Arak.
MS. PSAKI: Yes, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is it the Administration’s position that Iran continuing to purchase material for the Arak facility is not a violation of the JPOA or the UN sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re two different things, as you know.
QUESTION: I know.
MS. PSAKI: Iran has long been in noncompliance with its Security Council obligations and remains so.
MS. PSAKI: And we’ve spoken to that, and that’s obviously not breaking news.
QUESTION: And this is a violation of that?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the UN, but it’s not new that they’ve been in violation.
MS. PSAKI: And certainly, this is an example – these reports – without confirming them. They are not in violation of the JPOA, and that remains the case.
QUESTION: So the JPOA, to your mind, superseded the sanction – the UN sanctions – and violations of those sanctions – of the UN sanctions – are not all necessarily violations of the JPOA?
MS. PSAKI: Correct, but the JPOA, as we all know, is temporary. It’s interim. It’s not meant to be a final, lasting, comprehensive agreement. That’s why we want a comprehensive agreement.
QUESTION: But – and it is not a violation of the JPOA, why?
MS. PSAKI: I would – I think we – there are reviews, as you know, Matt, by the IAEA of whether there are JPOA – whether Iran is meeting its obligations. They’re meeting their obligations; that hasn’t changed. There are certain requirements that are very technical of both the UN Security Council obligations and, separately, of the JPOA. There – I just gave you the answer on whether they’re violating each of them.
QUESTION: Well, you’re saying – okay. But can you point me to the JPOA – the bit in the JPOA that would back that up?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we can get you a technical answer, Matt, on --
QUESTION: Because I’m not sure that one – a public one has ever been presented. So it’s very hard to tell if they are complying or not complying, because --
MS. PSAKI: Well, the IAEA is a well-respected international organization --
QUESTION: -- we don’t know.
MS. PSAKI: -- that makes that evaluation, and they haven’t made the --
QUESTION: On the JPOA?
MS. PSAKI: They have not made the evaluation that they’re – that they have violated. They’ve verified that they’re abiding by it.
QUESTION: Right, but if we don’t know what the details of the JPOA are – and I don’t believe we do – how do we know? How do we know?
MS. PSAKI: I guess you’re going to have to trust the IAEA, Matt.
QUESTION: Uh-huh, okay.
QUESTION: I have one more on --
MS. PSAKI: Okay, let’s just do a few more here. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Secretary Kerry wrote a nice op-ed in Huffington Post India edition this week.
MS. PSAKI: Yes, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: “Our Time Has Come” was the headline. So on that note, is he planning to travel to India with the President on January 26th?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think he’s planning to travel with the President, although I’m sure he hopes to get to India in 2015. I don’t have any scheduling updates for you at this point in time.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: One quick one on the --
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: I did read this – when the Secretary met the Kazakh foreign minister and whatever they spoke. Was the issue of human rights raised?
MS. PSAKI: We raise that at every opportunity. We can see if we can get you a readout after the briefing.
QUESTION: The ambassador of – Mr. Mavroyiannis from Cyprus came to the State Department yesterday and he met with Ms. Nuland. Do you have any readout of --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I can check with EUR and see if there’s a readout we can provide.
QUESTION: I’m not really sure that you’ll have anything on this --
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- but there was a report in an Uruguayan newspaper --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- of a U.S. Embassy employee who was turned away from a club for, among other reasons, being black. And they reached out – the U.S. Embassy there reached out to the State Department to see if they could do anything.
MS. PSAKI: We have actually seen that report. We are looking into this, but I have no update at this point in time, and we’ll see if anything transpires over the next day or so.
All right. Thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:58 p.m.)