Daily Press Briefing - December 17, 2014
Index for Today's Briefing:
1:50 p.m. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Well, there’s been quite a lot going on here already today. I have a couple of items at the top, and I will just tell you at the front that the Angolans are here and we have a Strategic Dialogue starting with them at 2:30. So let’s try to get through as many questions as we possibly can.
First, we note today’s ruling by the European General Court on the challenge by the terrorist organization Hamas to its EU sanctions listing. We are studying the court’s opinion carefully. According to a statement by the European Union, this decision was based on procedural grounds. We understand that the EU sanctions on Hamas remain in effect pending the EU’s decision on whether to appeal. The U.S. position on Hamas has not changed. Hamas is a designated foreign terrorist organization. Hamas continues to engage in terrorist activity, and has demonstrated its intentions during this summer’s conflict with Israel. It fired thousands of rockets into Israeli civilian areas and attempted to infiltrate Israel through tunnels that extended into Israel. We will continue to work closely with the European Union on Hamas-related issues. We believe that the EU should maintain its terrorism sanctions on Hamas.
We put this out but I just wanted to also point out to those of you who didn’t see it that the Secretary – this was not planned – but he had an opportunity to greet Alan Gross and welcome him home. His lawyer and his lawyer’s wife was also there because they arrived at the airport at the same time and they were able to watch some of the President’s remarks together.
With that, Matt, why don’t I go to you?
QUESTION: Right. So on Cuba, the statements the White House has put out, everyone seems to put out, is talking about immediately restart – immediately starting talks on normalizing relations and opening an embassy within the coming months. Can you be a little bit more specific about when you would hope to be able to do either one, or both?
MS. PSAKI: Well, one of the steps that’s outlined in the fact sheet, that I would encourage all of you to look at if you haven’t had an opportunity this morning, is that the assistant secretary – our Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere will lead the U.S. delegation to the next round of U.S.-Cuba migration talks in January of 2015 in Havana. Obviously, as was discussed on the call this morning, there are a range of discussions that need to happen with Cuba, so I can’t give you a prediction of the exact timeline. As you just noted, we’ve said in the coming months we’re going to take steps to pursue that and we’ll see how it goes over the course of the coming weeks.
QUESTION: Well, but the coming months is rather vague. Are you hoping to do this sooner rather than later? Like, I mean, are we talking about 2015, definitely? Are we talking – presumably we’re talking definitely before the end of the President’s second term, but I mean, what kind of time frame are we talking about?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we typically don’t say “months” if we – if it’s not something we want to do sooner rather than later. But I’m not going to give a new deadline on it today. It depends on how the discussions go.
QUESTION: All right. The Secretary in his statement said that he looked forward to being the first Secretary of State since 1945 to go to Cuba, at some point. And I’m just wondering: Is it a requirement or is it a – for there to be normalized relations in this case or an embassy – a fully-fledged embassy there before he might make such a trip?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this trip is not scheduled yet, as you know. It is something that he hopes to do in the next two years while he’s Secretary of State. I think we’ll determine, as time goes on, when an appropriate time will be and what will be required in advance for him to make a trip.
QUESTION: It’s not – it’s not – there’s no intrinsic requirement that that be the case. I mean --
QUESTION: No, I know.
QUESTION: -- Albright went to Pyongyang, so --
MS. PSAKI: Technically, legally? No.
MS. PSAKI: But we’re going to determine when it’s appropriate for him to go.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. But --
QUESTION: But the appropriateness is not necessarily based on whether relations have been normalized or whether you have an embassy up and running.
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we haven’t planned the exact timeline for this. So the first step is going to be our assistant secretary going there and we’ll have a discussion about what’s appropriate from there.
QUESTION: Can we do one more on the embassy?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: You talk about establishing an embassy. Of course, there is an interest section that is there and has been there and has been staffed by American diplomats for decades, right? So isn’t it essentially just a matter of formally changing your designation of that diplomatic facility from an interest section to an embassy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I suppose you can look at it that way, but there are also, as you know, a great deal more that happens when you have formalized diplomatic relations and you’re working together on a range of issues. And so obviously, with a full embassy up and running, that increases the range of activities you can work together on and the services you can provide to citizens.
QUESTION: Yeah. No, I mean, I get that. I just wanted to make sure that people understood that it’s not like, even though you have not had diplomatic relations since 1961, it’s not like you haven’t had a great many Foreign Service officers in Cuba representing U.S. interests as best they could.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, but obviously, there are a range of steps that have been taken today. We’re obviously beginning a process to pursue a much more formalized relationship, and that’s something that’s a big change, of course.
QUESTION: And do you know what you technically need to do to resume diplomatic relations with a country with whom you have previously severed them? Is it just an exchange of notes, or --
MS. PSAKI: I do think I have something on this, Arshad. One moment. Well, the – as you may know, but for everybody’s awareness, the Constitution grants the President the authority to receive ambassadors and other public ministers, and that – and this grant of authority has long been understood to provide the President with the authorities to establish diplomatic relations with foreign nations. So this is a decision, obviously, the President has made to pursue. There are numerous examples in history, and there are a range of steps that clearly we want to take through conversations and discussions over the course of time, and this is the beginning, as you know, of a process.
QUESTION: So – but you can’t say whether it’s actually just the President issues an executive order or you have an exchange of notes?
MS. PSAKI: I can check on the technicality or if there’s a requirement along those lines. I’m happy to.
QUESTION: Jen, do you know, there are at least two senators, and I presume there are going to be more – well, I don’t – I shouldn’t presume, but there are at least two who say that they’re going to block any funding for an embassy and block the nomination of any ambassador that the President might nominate to be ambassador to Cuba. I’m just wondering, on the embassy funding part of that, since, as Arshad notes, there is already a large office building there, is there any – what kind of additional funding would you be asking for from Congress to have an embassy? Do they – would they have – would the senator – would senators who are opposed actually have anything to oppose, any request from you to oppose?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, it’s a good question. I think we’re not quite there yet. Obviously, there hasn’t been funding requested or you would know that, or additional new funding.
QUESTION: Well, they’ve been funding an interest section --
MS. PSAKI: Correct, but what I mean is --
QUESTION: -- whether they realize it or not for many, many years.
MS. PSAKI: -- based on our new announcement today, it’s not as if new funding has been requested.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware that that is something that we’re at the point of discussing quite yet.
QUESTION: Okay. So you’re not sure if you would have to request new funding for this switch.
MS. PSAKI: At this point, not that I’m aware of. We – certainly, since you gave me the opportunity, we understand many in Congress and elsewhere in Washington and across the country feel very strongly about our Cuba policy, and when we hear from people across the political spectrum their main focus is on the Cuban people and how we can do more to support them. That is exactly the objective of this policy and obviously, there have been consultations leading up to today and there will continue to be in the weeks ahead.
QUESTION: Well, okay. Understanding that you think that this move and reopening an embassy with full diplomatic relations is going to be a good thing and helps support the Cuban people, I’m just going to be devil’s advocate here for a second: Over the course of the last couple years, opening embassies, U.S. embassies or restoring or resuming full diplomatic relations with countries have not – has not resulted in great benefits for people. I mean, look at South Sudan. Look at what’s happened in Burma now. There’s many human rights complaints. I’d point out that the U.S. had full diplomatic relations with Cuba when Batista was in power and human rights were pretty abysmal then. What makes you think that this move now at this point is going to be – is going to benefit the Cuban people?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say a couple of things. One, every country is different, as we like to say. Two, this policy has been outdated and hasn’t worked for quite some time. I think many people agree on that point. Three, as outlined in the fact sheet that we put out, there are a range of steps that the Treasury Department, that the Commerce Department are taking with the full support of the Secretary of State and, of course, the President, that ease certain restrictions, and those are direct potential economic benefits to the Cuban people. Four, I would say this doesn’t mean that we don’t have existing concerns that we will continue to address – on human rights, on democracy. Although we’ve seen a notable decline in long-term detentions, Cuba continues to carry out short-term arrests of thousands of its citizens. We’ve seen continued issues with freedom of speech and freedom of media, and those are all issues, with the support of many of the programs we’ll continue to run, that we will continue to work on.
QUESTION: All right. And just my last one then.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The continuation of programs: As you know, my employer has been running a series of stories about USAID and its – perhaps you would argue with the word “secret,” but let’s use “not so public” attempts to – I don’t know what you would call it, but anyway, to influence people to or to give the Cuban people a say, a voice. Are those kinds of things going to continue now since this announcement? And two, did the departure of the USAID chief this morning play into this at all?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me take the second one. There is absolutely no relationship between the departure of Raj Shah, who has served the President for, if I’m correct, six years now – five years. Thank you, Arshad. But quite a long time, I think everybody would agree, and had made the determination some time ago, separate from this announcement, that he would be leaving around this time. As you know, separate from this, there’s been a review of many of our programs, and there have been changes that USAID has announced. However, we continue to believe that access for civil society, that democracy programs are positive and something we will continue to fund and support in Cuba.
QUESTION: Okay. The same kinds of ones like this thing with the rappers, the hip-hop stuff that --
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know separate from this, from the review, there are a number of programs that may not continue to run. I’m not going to get into all the specifics of that, but that’s been a review that was done and completed some time ago.
QUESTION: So you’re going to stop some? There are some programs that may not continue, and that’s as a result of a review that had nothing to do with the 18 months of secret negotiations with the Cubans about this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, many of the programs that the Associated Press reported on ended more than two years ago, and obviously you evaluate whether you should continue funding for programs moving forward. We’ve done that on a case-by-case basis. We’ll continue to.
QUESTION: Jen --
MS. PSAKI: On Cuba? Let’s just keep going on Cuba.
QUESTION: On Cuba. Cuba, yes.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you on the mechanics of exchanging diplomats and embassies and so on, but first, I want – maybe you addressed this. Bob Menendez, the Senate Foreign Relations chairman, said today that President Obama was rewarding a brutal dictatorship. Do you think that’s – is that the proper description?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I would point you to the comments of not just the President of the United States, but of the statement we put out by the Secretary of State. And I will tell you that one of the first conversations that Secretary Kerry had with President Obama about foreign policy and the second term agenda was about Cuba and this issue and the fact that the policy was no longer working, it wasn’t serving our national security interests, it wasn’t serving the interests of the Cuban people.
QUESTION: So now on establishing embassies and so on, what are the steps? What are the first steps? I mean, I know that you are talking with them on how you would do that.
MS. PSAKI: I already addressed this, and just in the interest of getting --
MS. PSAKI: -- to everybody’s questions, I would point you to what --
QUESTION: Sorry, I just want --
MS. PSAKI: -- I said in the beginning.
Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the Cuban-U.S. intelligence asset who was released today as well as part of this rapprochement.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The ODNI and also senior Administration officials have said that he was – that he helped to resolve a – well, helped to identify and lead to the prosecution of a couple of cases. I have little bit of an issue on the timing, and I just wondered if you could clarify it.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Ana Montes, I think she was indicted or convicted in 2001 --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and Walter Kendall Myers, who was the other person – and his wife, who was the other – the other people who were identified, they were in 2009.
MS. PSAKI: Yes, that’s correct.
QUESTION: Given that this gentleman had been in prison already – apparently has been in prison for 20 years, how did he help to provide information in these specific cases?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think it will surprise you, Jo, that we’re not going to get into specifics of how any individual provides us with intelligence information. I think the point that this statement makes that Department of National Intelligence put out is that – or the – I should say the director, I believe, put it out – is that this was an incredibly valuable asset, somebody who – many details of this individual’s – and to point to my earlier – or to go back to my earlier comment, a lot of what – of this individual’s cooperation provided is classified and remains classified, which I can’t, of course, get into. But he provided a range of information, as this statement clearly says, that led to the identification and conviction of a range of individuals that meant to do the United States harm. I can’t get into more specifics than that.
QUESTION: But he was already – or well, he was already filtering you information on these cases before they were indicted and subsequently convicted?
MS. PSAKI: I just can’t get into more specifics on the timing of that.
QUESTION: Can I – a couple more things.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Regarding the involvement of the Vatican in the U.S.-Cuban rapprochement, when did that begin? Was it at the behest of the Administration, or was it an initiative by the Vatican? And did – when did – or did Secretary Kerry discuss the possibility of a U.S.-Cuba rapprochement when he met with the secretary of state of the Vatican in January?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I – obviously they’ve played an important role as was evidenced by the President’s mention in his own remarks today. In terms of when they specifically got involved or how, I just need to check on that and see how much we want to provide publicly and what they’re comfortable with, frankly.
Go ahead. On Cuba?
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, it’s related to Cuba, but I want to ask a more general question about the policy of sanctions and isolation. On Russia, President Obama said he doubts that the sanctions will change President Putin’s mindset but he hopes that they will influence politics inside of Russia. Has the policy of sanctions and isolation changed the politics inside of Cuba?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say every country is hugely different. And in Russia – with Russia, I would say that these sanctions have been put in place because of the actions, the aggressive actions Russia has taken in Ukraine. They have it within their power to bring an end to these sanctions, and there’s long been an off ramp. Cuba is an entirely different country with an entirely different set of circumstances, and we look at each country and decisions we make with policy differently.
Do we have any more on Cuba before we move on? Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Is there any more you can elaborate on the technical process of determining the status as a state sponsor of terrorism?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let me give you a little bit more information on kind of how that works. Well, as noted in the factsheet, it’s a six-month review, which, obviously, the Secretary will be beginning quickly. He will oversee it, but it will certainly be probably led by our bureau – our Western Hemisphere Bureau as well as our CT Bureau.
The – here are some just technical answers for you, which I think other people have some questions about. The President may rescind Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism if he, for example, submits to Congress a report 45 days before rescission certifying that Cuba has not supported terrorism in six months, and that it has provided assurances that it will not support terrorism in the future. Obviously, there’s a six-month review and a recommendation that would be made in advance of that.
The – and to get to your second predictable question --
QUESTION: So the recommendation has to be six months in advance of that? Surely, the recommendation would be made following the six-month review.
MS. PSAKI: Right.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I said something different.
QUESTION: Okay, then maybe I misunderstood.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. The relevant statutes also provide that for the – that within 45 days after the receipt of the report from the President, the Congress would need to enact a joint resolution on the matter prohibiting this in order for it not to happen. Does that make sense? So as – it will happen if the President makes the recommendation unless there’s a joint resolution supported that prevents it from happening.
QUESTION: And given the coming political environment in Congress, are there any concerns right now that Congress could do something like that and issue a joint resolution?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’re not going to prejudge the outcome of a review that hasn’t yet started. Obviously, we’ll let the six-month review happen, we’ll see what the recommendation is, and then we’ll see what the President decides. And clearly, at that point in time, hopefully there’ll be more progress that will have been made with our relationship.
QUESTION: I just have a kind of technical, historical question that maybe you can take, as I’m sure you won’t have it.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: There hasn’t been a Secretary of State to visit since 1945, but when was the last highest – who is the highest-ranking last official to visit Havana? Was it – it would be before Roberta. I can’t remember her name. She’s got an interesting first name. I think it was her. She led the delegation for the migration and postal talks – or was before.
MS. PSAKI: We are happy to check on that, Matt, for you. Are you asking for – about a State Department official, a senior State Department official?
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, would --
MS. PSAKI: Or any official, I suppose?
QUESTION: I don’t know if there were from other agencies --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- but that would be one.
And then another thing on this is are you – every year for the past several decades, you guys have been embarrassed by votes at the UN General Assembly condemning the embargo – not just embarrassed, but completely isolated with the exception of Israel this last round. Are you hoping that that – this will bring an end to those votes?
MS. PSAKI: To those votes?
QUESTION: To those resolutions that the General Assembly passes every year.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know that we --
QUESTION: Do you care?
MS. PSAKI: I honestly have not discussed with anyone that particular question. I will say that the President and the Secretary --
QUESTION: Bisa Williams. That was the name. Bisa Williams.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. We will check. She’s still employed here.
Let me finish this answer. The President believes and the Secretary believe that the embargo is outdated and has not accomplished its purpose. And they believe that the changes that we announced today, which build upon the changes that were announced in 2009 and 2011, will help channel more resources to the Cuban people and better position them to control their lives. So we would support, of course, Congress taking legislative steps to end the embargo, but fully recognize that it is unlikely in the immediate future.
QUESTION: Oh. So remind me again, what was the purpose of the embargo in the first place?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re aware of what the purpose of the embargo was, Matt. I mean, it was --
QUESTION: Well, was it regime change or was it to get the – was it to help the Cuban people?
MS. PSAKI: The initial goals, Matt, you know were to --
QUESTION: So does that mean that your new policy has got the same objective as the embargo?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, I would point you to the President and the Secretary being very clear that this policy hasn’t worked and we need to take a new approach. So that’s what we’re doing.
QUESTION: Can you – just one --
QUESTION: Can you just update the status of Guantanamo --
MS. PSAKI: One moment. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just a real quick one on this. It’s my understanding that it was a small NSC team that led the effort. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Yes.
QUESTION: Was there any – two things: Do you have a date on which that effort began with meetings with Cuban officials, not the date or not the timeframe when the President asked for a review, but when the two sides actually began meeting? So that’s question one.
And then question two is: Was there any State Department involvement in those negotiations, or was it run entirely by the NSC without State Department participation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as was outlined on the briefing call that I think all of you were on this morning, there were two individuals who were doing the direct negotiations. However, there were individuals, including, of course, the Secretary, who were not only read in, but closely consulting with the White House throughout the process. And as I mentioned a little bit earlier, one of the first conversations that the Secretary had with the President was about the fact that Cuba policy is outdated and we need to take a new approach.
So one of the ways that he has been involved in this is he’s engaged quite a few times with the –with foreign minister Parolin of the Vatican. He’s also spoken several times with the Cuban foreign minister, and certainly been engaged with his colleagues in Congress as well. He’s long supported a change in this policy, as I mentioned, and advocated for at many opportunities, of course, the release of Alan Gross but hasn’t supported that as being a trade, which, of course, is not what this is.
But our role here is really focused on what we do moving forward. And as you know from the briefings this morning, we’re responsible for quite a bit, whether it’s the role of the review or the role in moving forward on diplomatic relations. And so that’s what we’ve been preparing ourselves for.
QUESTION: When did the face-to-face talks begin?
MS. PSAKI: Let me see if that’s a detail we want to get into publicly.
QUESTION: I want to ask you a quick question whether you expect that the status of the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo to change as a result of this diplomatic exchange.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Said, as you know, that the President of the United States and the Secretary are moving forward on a policy to close Guantanamo.
MS. PSAKI: So that hasn’t changed.
Do we have any more on Cuba before we move on?
QUESTION: Maybe we can build a new major league baseball stadium there.
MS. PSAKI: Everybody loves baseball.
QUESTION: Someone else can go ahead. I want to change the subject.
MS. PSAKI: Pam? Oh, I think we’re done with Cuba. Go ahead, Pam.
QUESTION: I had another question related to the sanctions on Russia. The United States signaled earlier this week that it might increase the economic pressure with more sanctions targeting defense, energy, and banking. This – but the sanctions on Russia are having an impact on other countries too, smaller countries such as Armenia, which has good relations with the United States, and the depreciation of the Armenian dram has accelerated this week. So my question is: Is there a policy or approach to help those countries that are or may be suffering because of the U.S. actions against Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think any country should look at the decisions and the policies of Russia as it relates to that. I would also say the economic situation in Russia that may be impacting neighbors is not solely related to sanctions. It’s more complicated and it involves other issues. Oil prices and general economic mismanagement in Russia play significant roles. The lack of economic diversification and development of innovation and entrepreneurship over the past decade all play roles. And so these are all factors that have led to some of the economic challenges that Russia is experiencing.
Do we have a new topic? Go ahead, Jo.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead. We can just do a few more here, so I just – I know there’s other topics that people want to get to.
QUESTION: About the sanctions bill that President Obama is about to sign, as I understand --
MS. PSAKI: He signed it yesterday.
QUESTION: It includes the possibility of supplying arms, weapons to Ukraine. In what way could pouring more weapons into Ukraine possibly contribute to a peaceful resolution?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it provides that opportunity or that flexibility. It doesn’t mean that that policy has changed, and it hasn’t changed.
Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: But --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The Palestinians have said they’re going to go ahead and submit some kind of draft text which they say is based on the French – a French text now. Last night the Palestinians came out after the meeting between Secretary Kerry and negotiator Saeb Erekat to say that they had been told by Secretary Kerry that the United States would veto a text in front of the United Nations. Could you please clarify what the United States position is?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as the Secretary said very publicly, we haven’t made a decision, and it’s based on the context and the text that would be proposed. One hasn’t been submitted formally yet. We realize this is an ongoing process. We’ve seen the same reports that you have, but we’re not going to comment on alleged draft text. We’ll see what happens over the course of the next 24 hours.
QUESTION: But specifically, did the Secretary tell the Palestinians or tell Saeb Erekat that the United States would not support a resolution at the United Nations?
MS. PSAKI: I think the Secretary made clear, as he has publicly, that there are – we would not support unilateral actions, as I mentioned yesterday and we talked about quite a bit, that would predetermine the outcome of negotiations. There are a range of options for proposals. We haven’t – or, I should say, proposals that could be formally submitted. We – that hasn’t happened yet, so it depends on what the details are on what we’ll do.
QUESTION: And has your ambassador at the United Nations received any details yet?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve, of course, been in close touch with them. I don’t have anything more to read out for you.
QUESTION: Are you saying that the text that is out there floating around right now has not been presented to you as a – it’s not been circulated to you?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are --
QUESTION: This French-Palestinian text.
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of texts that have – that text has been out there. I’m not going to speak to a text that haven’t been formally submitted.
QUESTION: Can you tell us whether you have been advised of, let’s say, whatever French points that may be integrated in the Palestinian text and whether that is acceptable to you? Are you aware of any elements that you could be agreeable to in the French resolution?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to discuss that from here, Said. We had – the Secretary had a range of discussions, as you know, earlier this week with his European partners, including the French.
MS. PSAKI: We’ve been clear that – and historically we have supported resolutions as it relates to issues surrounding Israel in the past. I’m not going to prejudge what we’re going to do in this case.
QUESTION: Let me ask you just a quick follow-up.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: The Palestinians --
MS. PSAKI: And then we’ve got to move on, because I just want to get to everything. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Right, we’ll move on. Okay. The Palestinians say that they have six votes in the Security Council that are – that they said they will vote for them. So would that give you a preference to vote on it now, and this way the United States does not have to cast a veto, so to speak, because you need nine? Or if you wait till January, then there are four others that are very pro-Palestinian, like Malaysia and other countries and so on, will be members of the Security Council. In this case, you would have to cast a veto.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I certainly understand the desire to play this out, but there hasn’t been a proposal formally submitted, so let’s wait for that to happen.
QUESTION: So Jen, there was a report this morning that cites these emails that were hacked from – Sony executive emails saying that State Department officials signed off on or gave the okay to this movie that’s caused such a kerfuffle. When did the State Department get into the business of telling movie studios what they can and cannot make as movies?
MS. PSAKI: We are not. So Department officials, just so all of you know, routinely meet and consult informally with a wide range of private groups, certainly including executives from movie studios and a range of private sector companies and individuals secret – seeking information about U.S. foreign policy and U.S. views on developments around the world. Our message in public and private is the same: We respect artists and entertainers’ rights to – right to produce content of their choosing. We have no involvement in such decisions. We’re not in the business of signing off on content of movies or things along those lines.
I know there were a range of different reports out there, so let me just see if I can address some of them and then we’ll get to your next question. While I’m not, obviously, going to speak to the specifics of the allegedly leaked emails, I can confirm for you that Assistant Secretary Russel did have a conversation with Sony executives, as he does routinely with a wide range of private groups and individuals to discuss foreign policy in Asia. Bob King, contrary to reports, did not view the movie and did not have any contact directly with Sony. As we have – as we’ve noted before, entertainers are free to make movies of their choosing, and we are not involved in that.
QUESTION: So Assistant Secretary Russel in his conversations with the Sony executives – if they got – if those executives got the impression that he was saying it’s okay to do this, they were mis – getting the wrong impression?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – I don’t think any executive would want the State Department or the United States Government to be in the business of signing off on the content of their movies or television shows or whatever it may be. But of course, there’s a lot of information that we all know about North Korea and the fact that they have one of the worst human rights records out there, that they have consistently put out threats against the United States. And certainly, we share information that is publicly available with executives as well.
QUESTION: Does the --
QUESTION: Did he not voice any opinion --
QUESTION: Hold on.
QUESTION: -- whatsoever on the idea of a movie having the head of North Korea’s head explode? I mean, regardless of signing off, did the – did Assistant Secretary Russel convey to the Sony executive, any executives, any thoughts on the utility of that kind of an image?
MS. PSAKI: I’m going to leave it at what I just described it as.
QUESTION: Well, but it raises – that question is kind of what I was going to ask. I mean, does the State Department think that something like that, whether it is an artistic endeavor or not, is something that is helpful or is something that is appropriate for any company to do? And the reason that I ask this is not to suggest that you’re involved in free speech, but remember the video of this poorly produced film involving the Prophet Muhammad, I believe, which was blamed for the protests in Cairo, the State Department came out and wanted YouTube to take it down. The State Department said that it did not represent the values of the United States. So there is a history of movie criticism or film criticism from this building, and I’m just wondering if this is at all playing into this current situation.
MS. PSAKI: I would not put them in the same category, which I’m sure does not surprise you. We don’t have – it’s a fiction movie. It’s not a documentary about our relationship with the United – with North Korea. It’s not something we backed, supported, or necessarily have an opinion on from here.
QUESTION: Okay. You haven’t seen it?
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen the movie, no. I don’t think it’s out yet.
QUESTION: Well, apparently, it is. But – (laughter) --
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Some may have seen it. I have not.
QUESTION: And just one more quick one on this?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: You said that Bob King did not have direct consultations with anybody, but there – he reportedly spoke with somebody at a think tank who relayed Bob King’s views to the Sony executive. Is that an accurate characterization as far as --
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s a bit of a long journey which I’m just not going to speak to.
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speak to it, Arshad. Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: Yeah, on North Korea?
QUESTION: A mediary.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you. I appreciate your view. Go ahead.
QUESTION: North Korea. Sung Kim, special representative for North Korea Policy, and Daniel Russel, assistant secretary for East Asia affairs, they both said that the United States willing to have bilateral talks with North Korea. Will these bilateral talks be discussing on the nuclear issue in Korean Peninsula?
MS. PSAKI: Well, nothing has changed and there are no plans for that. I think we can do maybe two more here. Go ahead, Pam.
QUESTION: A quick question on Libya. The heads of state and security ministers have been meeting in Senegal to discuss regional security, and one of their top priorities has been the unrest in Libya. They’ve indicated that the chaos in Libya has made it easier for extremist groups, such as Boko Haram, such as AQIM in Mali, to get weapons. In the meeting, the leaders said that the West helped oust Qadhafi but has left the country worse off. First, what is the State Department’s reaction? And then secondly, is there support in this building for any kind of international intervention to help restore stability in Libya?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you may know, a lot of our effort has been focused on the work of Special Representative Bernardino Leon’s talks and discussions, and we’ve been engaged very closely in this. The Secretary has had a range of meetings with officials from Europe and other countries about what more we can do.
Obviously, Libya has gone through a great deal of change over the last couple of years. We certainly have been living through that and we’re aware of it, and we support a transition that we still believe they are very much capable of. But we knew it would take some time, and what we’re doing is trying to work on a path forward that will bring the country together and help them have a more stable future. But I certainly think it’s inaccurate – completely inaccurate to suggest that we are not engaged and involved. This is a top priority of ours.
Okay. Let’s do – I think we have time for kind of two more here. Go ahead.
QUESTION: You’re well aware about the tragic incident in Pakistan, the (inaudible) Peshawar still (inaudible). The Pakistani army and the Pakistani politicians are asking Taliban – Afghan Government to hand over the TTP chief to Pakistan – Fazlullah, who is in Afghanistan. Do you support their demand?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything for you on that. I’ll see if we have more. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can we move on to North Korea for one second?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you feel that there’s any credibility to the 9/11-style threats that have been issued in regards to The Interview?
MS. PSAKI: Thank you for that question. I actually meant to address that. We, of course, take seriously all reported physical threats against the homeland, including recent threats made against movie theaters. At this time, we have no specific credible threat information that lends credence to these reports.
Ukraine? Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: You’re familiar with the kind of assistance that we have provided. It’s a range of nonlethal assistance. We’ve committed over $118 million in security assistance to help Ukraine. I’m not sure what those reports are referring to, but --
QUESTION: Is that a no? No?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. I was trying --
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: -- to give you a comprehensive answer. I hope you appreciate that.
Unfortunately, we have to conclude this, but the Secretary will be doing a press conference in about an hour. Thanks, everyone. Hour and a half.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:27 p.m.)
DPB # 212