Daily Press Briefing - December 19, 2014

Jen Psaki
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 19, 2014


2:55 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI:  Hello.



MS. PSAKI:  Good afternoon.  The reason we’re doing this briefing is because we have a limited number of briefings between now and the New Year, so we just wanted to provide an opportunity.  But we certainly don’t have to make this a marathon.  I leave that up to all of you.

I don’t have anything at the top.

QUESTION:  All right.  Let’s make it a sprint.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  That means I’ll talk fast.  I think that’s technically what that means.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Okay.  We have – then I’ll talk fast as well.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

QUESTION:  I just have – open with a logistical question --

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  -- and that is:  Has the date been set for the migration talks with the Cubans that --

MS. PSAKI:  It has not yet been set.  We’re still working on finalizing the date.

QUESTION:  Do you expect that it will – that date will be – have been set before the holiday – before the end of the – I don’t know, the end of the year?

MS. PSAKI:  We’re certainly working on it and it will definitely be in January.  But I can’t make a prediction on whether it will be set by the end of the year.

QUESTION:  Can I just follow up?

MS. PSAKI:  Any more on Cuba?  Just to --

QUESTION:  Yeah.  Yeah.  It’s on Cuba, all right?

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead, on Cuba.

QUESTION:  Because the President said that whatever sanctions is codified into law and so on, could you explain to us how would the --

MS. PSAKI:  Are you talking about North Korea or Cuba?

QUESTION:  Cuba.  I’m sorry.  Was that North Korea?

MS. PSAKI:  He was talking about Cuba.

QUESTION:  Cuba.  Yes.  That’s what I’m saying.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  Go ahead.  Sorry.

QUESTION:  I’m talking about the lifting of the sanctions, okay.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  So it is – my question is focused on what would be the mechanism to lift the sanctions, because it is apparently, as he said, it is codified into law --

MS. PSAKI:  Well --

QUESTION:  -- or in the law?

MS. PSAKI:  -- there are a number of different components of it, many of which are outlined in the fact sheet we put out the other day.  There are a number of new regulations that would need to be put in place that Treasury and the Commerce Department will be working on over the course of the coming weeks.  So that is in large part how a number of the restrictions that will be eased, that were referenced in the factsheet would be eased, Said.

QUESTION:  Can I ask one real quick one?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  As you’re aware, a Turkish court has issued an arrest warrant for the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers are accused of – by Erdogan of trying to overthrow his government.  Are you aware of the report?  Do you have any views on the report itself?  Has the Turkish Government asked the U.S. Government for extradition?  And if it did, would the U.S. Government extradite Mr. Gulen?

MS. PSAKI:  We have seen the reports.  As a matter of longstanding policy, the Department of State does not comment on pending extradition requests or confirm or deny that an extradition request has been made.  More specifically, for more specifics, I’d certainly refer you to the Turkish Government.

QUESTION:  And do you have any view on the broader question of whether the Turkish Government or the Turkish courts are using the legal system to suppress opposition or dissent in Turkey?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, broadly speaking there are concerns we have expressed in the past.  I don’t have any specific comment on this particular case beyond what I’ve offered.


MS. PSAKI:  Turkey?  Cuba?  Okay.  New topic.

QUESTION:  North Korea.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Can you confirm reports that the U.S. is considering putting North Korea back on the terror list as one of the options of retaliation?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, as the President outlined in his press conference, we, of course, reserve the right to use all necessary means – diplomatic, informational, military, and economic as appropriate and as consistent with domestic and international law – in order to protect and defend our nation, our allies, and our interests.  But we’re not going to outline more specifics beyond that at this point in time.

QUESTION:  Well --

MS. PSAKI:  North Korea?

QUESTION:  -- but on those same – yeah, just along those same lines.  You’ve seen letters – a letter, I would think, from Senator Menendez on this very issue to the Secretary.

MS. PSAKI:  I have not seen that letter.  No.

QUESTION:  Well, he basically --

MS. PSAKI:  To the State Department?

QUESTION:  To the Secretary, saying that North Korea should be put back on the state sponsors list because of this hack.  And I’m just curious:  When the Bush Administration delisted North Korea, it didn’t remove any sanctions.  They – the sanctions stayed in place.  And I’m wondering if putting them back on the list would have any practical punitive effect.  Can you --

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have that information in front of me.  I’m happy to talk to our team and see if, broadly speaking, there are more specifics we can offer. 

QUESTION:  All right.  And the other thing:  Does the State Department – does the Secretary agree with the President’s assessment that Sony made a mistake in pulling this film?

MS. PSAKI:  He does.  Certainly, he believes that freedom of speech and expression is something that we should support broadly, and certainly, he agrees with the President’s assessment.

QUESTION:  And given the fact that this happened – well, this happened here in the United States, does – is there a concern in this building about what the precedent that the move that Sony made, that that precedent might set in countries – in other countries around the world, the self-censorship?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think the way we view it is that the United States Government will continue to make every effort to set the example that we’re not going to be in the crouch or the fear position when it comes to threats from North Korea.  We believe that freedom of speech and expression should be uphold across the board.  Obviously, individual companies make their own decisions, but we believe that those values should be respected and we’ll continue to set that precedent. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  And then just to put the final dot on this to get it out – did Danny Russel, Bob King, or anyone else in the Department, to your knowledge, see this movie, screen it before – in the timeframe that the reports that say that they did have suggested?

MS. PSAKI:  To the best of our knowledge, no one from the State Department viewed the movie.

QUESTION:  Can you say specifically that the two people who were mentioned in these reports – Mr. Russel --

MS. PSAKI:  Did not view the movie?  Yes.  Neither of them viewed the movie.

QUESTION:  Neither of them viewed the movie.  Do you know why Sony, these emails that were – that this – that these stories were drawn from might have come to the conclusion that – I mean, was there some kind of misunderstanding that there --

MS. PSAKI:  Well, there seem to be two different accounts, Matt.  One was – well, given it’s two individuals, right?


MS. PSAKI:  One was that Assistant Secretary Russel had been in contact with Sony executives.  He had been.  That’s certainly part of normal process here about what’s happening in the world.  He certainly is an expert on issues related to Asia.  Secondarily, there were reports of a secondary conversation being passed on from Bob King.  That wasn’t direct contact with Sony.  I don’t have any confirmation of the details of the secondary account.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Well, then in the primary account of Assistant Secretary Russel, was there anything in the exchange that he had with the Sony executives that could have been misinterpreted by the Sony – or misinterpreted by them to say that he had seen it.  Like, did he get a copy of the script, a plot synopsis, anything about the content of the film?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to go into more details about their conversation, Matt.  But obviously, Assistant Secretary Russel talks about a range of issues as they’re related to Asia with a range of private sector officials.  He didn’t sign off on a movie, didn’t sign off on content.  We don’t do that.  So I’m not sure that piece could be misconstrued.

QUESTION:  Okay.  So he did – so in addition to not having seen the film, he did not read a synopsis or a script or get any kind of plot breakdown?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have more details, Matt, but he had a broad conversation with executives, which is part of – par for the course and something we do regularly.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Can we change topic?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, let’s finish North Korea.

QUESTION:  Can I finish North --

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  I had a – I was going to ask the same question about the re-listing, and what I want to know is, tell us a little bit about the process.  How long would it take if they were to be re-listed?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’m not going to get into a hypothetical.  Obviously, we’re going through --

QUESTION:  I mean, not commenting on whether they will be or they won’t be.  What is the process for re-listing a country?  How long does it take?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m sure that’s information that’s publicly available, Indira, and we can pull it up for you and provide it to other people in the bullpen as well.

QUESTION:  Did the Japanese Government consult U.S. Government --

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  -- with regards to the pulling the movie after the terror – after the terror threat?  Did the Japanese Government ask the U.S. Government something about that?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m sorry, can you repeat your question one more time?

QUESTION:  Did the Japanese Government consult it with the U.S. Government with regard to pulling the movie after the terror threat?  Because there is abduction issue.  So did Japanese Government ask or talk to some U.S. officials?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any details on that. 

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Well, I was going to ask a similar question.  Did you consult with them or with any, like, South Koreans, Russians or China about this issue?

MS. PSAKI:  About the movie?

QUESTION:  About the movie, right.

MS. PSAKI:  Í’m not aware of those conversations taking place.

QUESTION:  What about --

QUESTION:  President Obama mentioned that the Sony Pictures decision is a mistake.  Could you share his idea, his intention with us?  What does it mean, a mistake?  Then what the Sony Pictures should do in this context?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m going to let the President’s words speak for themselves.  I think I already just answered a question to Matt about our belief that freedom of speech and expression is a value that everyone should uphold.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  The President in his news conference said there was no information that – no indication that another company – country was acting along with North Korea on this threat.  Do you have information indicating whether or not that portion of the investigation has closed, or is it still open and is there a possibility that investigators are considering whether there might have been additional involvement?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would point you to the FBI for that question.  I think the President spoke to that because obviously – and it’s almost disproving a negative, which I’m not going to do from the podium.  We don’t have evidence, as the President said, of other countries’ involvements.  And if there is a question about whether there’s more to the investigation, I’d point you to the FBI.

QUESTION:  Jen, sorry, I don’t know if you already addressed this or not.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION:  But the President said that he wishes that Sony had asked him first about this.  I’m curious as to how that comports with previous Administration statements of the government not taking any role in this at all.  The President clearly wishes that the government had taken a stronger role.

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t think that’s exactly what he said, Elliot.  I think --

QUESTION:  He says he wishes that Sony had talked to him first.

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to parse the President’s words.  I think he made clear that his view is that they made a mistake in pulling the movie down.  That’s a different question than what you’re asking.  We are not involved in signing off in the content of movies.  We’re not in the business of that.  But we believe that freedom of speech and expression is something that everybody should not just have as a value, but should be acting on.  And I think that’s what he was expressing through his views.

QUESTION:  Does the President or does the Administration then believe that the Sony decision was antithetical to freedom of speech and expression?

MS. PSAKI:  I think we’ll leave it at what I’ve already said and the President’s already said.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Can we go to the Palestinian issue?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  On Wednesday, an EU court suggested that Hamas should be taken off the terror list.

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI:  I spoke to it the other day when it happened.

Do we have any more on this issue?

QUESTION:  Okay.  Can I follow up a little bit on --

MS. PSAKI:  Sure, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  -- on the Palestinian issue?  What is happening now as far as the Palestinian proposal?  Are you doing anything?  Are you talking to the Europeans?  Are you talking to the French?  Are you talking to the Palestinians?  What is going on now as far as --

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I spoke to this yesterday, Said.  I don’t have anything new to add to that.

QUESTION:  I understand.  But – okay.  So there is nothing that is ongoing between now to --

MS. PSAKI:  I spoke about how it was ongoing yesterday.  So I’d point you to what I said yesterday.

Go ahead in the back.  Or do we have any more on that question?  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi, Jen.  I wanted to change the subject here, if I may.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Jen Vasquez with NBC local.  Regarding Estefania Isaias, the daughter of the fugitive bankers from Ecuador, I wanted to know how many times has Senator Menendez – or did he reach out to the State Department on their behalf?

MS. PSAKI:  I know we provided a comment, I believe, to your station, which I’m happy to reiterate.  Let me see if I just have it here. 

Well, the State Department annually receives more than 100,000 consular inquiries from Congress alone.  It’s not uncommon for these requests to be received through the Office of the Secretary, and we give great attention to every congressional inquiry, reviewing each on its individual merits no matter where it’s received.  I can’t confirm specifics of any individual visa cases, but visas – applications are adjudicated under standards established by U.S. law and regulations, which certainly would have been the case here as well.

QUESTION:  Has the FBI contacted any State Department officials or questioned them regarding this case?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any more information on that.  I’d point you to the FBI.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  I have two questions that are human rights related --

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  -- on different countries.  The first one is Kenya.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

QUESTION:  President Kenyatta today signed an antiterrorism bill that imposes new restrictions on the media.  And the measure – under the measure, media organizations are restricted in how they can report on security issues.  Violators can face fines or jail sentences.  Has – does the State Department have any reaction to these restrictions?

And then secondly, if there is a belief that these restrictions are overbearing, has or will the U.S. make any effort to express those concerns to the Kenyan Government?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Well, we firmly – the United States is firmly committed to supporting Kenya’s efforts to defeat al-Shabaab and ensure the security of its citizens.  We note, as you mentioned, there was legislation approved today designed to increase Kenya’s ability to prevent and defeat terrorism.  However, we’re disappointed that such important legislation was not given the proper time for a necessary dialogue and informed debate, and are concerned about provisions that appear to limit freedom of assembly and media, and access to asylum for refugees.  We would urge the Kenyan Government to ensure that its counterterrorism efforts respect the rights of the Kenyan people and live up to the Kenyan constitution and rule of law, and certainly, that’s something we’re expressing to them directly as well.

QUESTION:  And on a different topic, has the State Department had any initial contact with Peter Han, the Korean American aid worker who was arrested in China and is facing embezzlement and counterfeiting charges?

MS. PSAKI:  I think I have something on this.  Let’s see.  Peter Hahn is who you asked about, correct?  Yes?

QUESTION:  Mm-hmm.

MS. PSAKI:  We can confirm the arrest of U.S. citizen Peter Hahn in the Yanbian autonomous region of northeast China.  We take our obligation to assist U.S. citizens abroad seriously and stand ready to provide consular services.  A consular officer visited Mr. Hahn in jail on December 19th, and the U.S. consulate is providing all possible consular assistance.  Beyond that, I would refer you to Chinese authorities for any additional information.

QUESTION:  Which consulate is that?

MS. PSAKI:  Shenyang.

QUESTION:  Can I ask you about the denial of an American scholar entering into Egypt? 

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Okay, Michele Dunne was denied entry into Egypt last week.  Have you raised this issue with the Egyptian Government?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we are disappointed at the government in Egypt’s decision to deny entry to Ms. Dunne, a well-regarded scholar of Egyptian affairs.  We have raised her case with the Government of Egypt, and it is our understanding that she is not banned from entering the country.  We strongly support the freedom of movement and freedom of inquiry for researchers and scholars.  We think discouraging travel to Egypt sends exactly the wrong signal to the international community. 

QUESTION:  So you don’t believe it’s a visa issue, as the Egyptians claim?  It’s not a visa issue?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have more details than what I’ve just offered.

QUESTION:  Because she was going back and forth (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI:  She’s not banned from, as I mentioned, from entering the country.  So I don’t have more details on what’s happened over the last few days.

QUESTION:  Do you think that the Egyptians are trying to intimidate American or American Egyptian scholars?

MS. PSAKI:  I think I just expressed what I have to express on this.

QUESTION:  Jen, on Iran, Acting Deputy Secretary Sherman is back now, correct?

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Do – have you been able to – is there any kind of a readout from these – this last round of talks, the ones in Geneva?  And has there been a date set for the resumption of the – for the next round, which are supposed to be in Oman sometime in January?

MS. PSAKI:  All of the meetings in Geneva were useful, including the bilateral and P5+1 meetings.  There’s not more of a readout we’re going to offer than that.  It’s obviously set in a series of meetings.  Further meetings will take place in mid-January.  In terms of the exact dates, I think that’s still being finalized.

QUESTION:  Okay.  So the readout – is it a one-word readout?  Useful?

MS. PSAKI:  It’s a short readout.  There are many meetings that will take place between now and the deadline, Matt.

QUESTION:  Well, I understand.  But “useful,” I mean, that doesn’t mean anything, right?

MS. PSAKI:  We’re not offering more specific details.

QUESTION:  Can you at least say – is there – I mean, the fact that there’s another round planned, can you at least say that the Geneva round produced enough of something to warrant another round?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we expected there’d be another round planned, and there is one.  So this is an ongoing discussion and I don’t think we’re going to give extensive readouts after every round.

QUESTION:  Well, I’m not asking for extensive.  I’m just asking for something that actually means something.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’ll see if we have more to offer in January.

Go ahead, Elliot.

QUESTION:  Can I ask a few questions on Cuba?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  The President, during his press conference, alluded to this idea that economic opening will eventually, further down the road, translate into a kind of opening of the political space as well.  First, would you say that’s a fair characterization?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, we agree with that, I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear.

QUESTION:  No, I’m not.  But I mean, wouldn’t you say the historical record in this regard is rather mixed?  There have been a lot of countries that the U.S. engages with economically but remain very repressive in their practices domestically.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think our view on Cuba – and as we like to say, all countries are different – but our view here is that right now civil society is incredibly repressed, there isn’t economic opportunity, there isn’t internet access or connectivity.  These are all issues that are making it more difficult for people in the country to be able to express themselves, to have more freedom.  And so easing many of these economic restrictions we do think will have an impact on the ability of civil society groups to function in a better and more productive way.

QUESTION:  What is to stop a repressive regime to limit those – the freedoms once the infrastructure is up and running, just like regimes do in China or Vietnam or elsewhere?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think we don’t see this as a one-step process.  This is going to be an ongoing discussion.  As you heard Roberta Jacobson say yesterday, a human rights dialogue will certainly be a part of our important agenda moving forward with Cuba.  And we think this is the beginning of a process; far from the end.   There are many more restrictions that could be eased.  Also, as you know, the embargo is not something that we can unilaterally ease.  So there are certainly steps that they’ll need to take in order to send the message to members of Congress and others that they’ve done what’s necessary.

QUESTION:  Last one, just – I mean, speaking of members of Congress, Senator Rubio in his press conference after the policy was announced, raised the concern that economic opening would actually be counterproductive because U.S. interests investing in north – in Cuba, excuse me – would result in kind of a indirect lobby in the U.S. for the status quo.  And he raised the example of companies asking Congress to hold back on action against China with regard to the Hong Kong protests because they had interests in China.  How would you respond to that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think, one, we’ve had the same broken policy in Cuba for more than 50 years that isn’t working.  The economic policies we’ve had toward Cuba are not working.  And our view is that these changes are in the best interest of civil society and the best interest of the Cuban people.  That’s going to take some time, but we would simply disagree on the substance of that point.

QUESTION:  That brings up – it raises an interesting point.  Are you aware of the U.S. Government ever holding back on criticism of a country for human rights or anything else at the request of a private company?

MS. PSAKI:  No.  I wasn’t trying to validate that question.  I’m just giving an answer on Cuba.

QUESTION:  All right.  Specifically on the – Hong Kong and China, this building and the White House were pretty outspoken about the situation in Hong Kong, as least as it related to allowing – at least as it related to you guys saying that the – that Beijing should not interfere.  Did any – are you aware of any company asking you to hold back on statements in that specific instance?

MS. PSAKI:  No, I’m not, and – nor am I aware of that impacting, even if it had happened.

QUESTION:  And – right.  Would you, if there was such a request from --

MS. PSAKI:  No, we wouldn’t.

QUESTION:  All right.

QUESTION:  One more --

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  -- unrelated to this, and I apologize if you addressed this.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure, it’s okay.

QUESTION:  I’ve been in and out.  Is the U.S. Government or is the State Department considering putting North Korea back on the state sponsors --

MS. PSAKI:  We did discuss that.

QUESTION:  And are you?

MS. PSAKI:  I – as the President did during the press conference, I made clear we have a range of options at our disposal.  I’m not going to outline those more specifically from here. 


MS. PSAKI:  All right.  Oh, Abby.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  WikiLeaks posted a report about the limited value of high – military strikes on high-value targets, specifically pointing to military strikes on the Taliban and al-Qaida as not having the desired effect.  Do you have any comment on that or --

MS. PSAKI:  I haven’t seen that report.  My bet is it’s most appropriately directed to DOD, but we can check it out if you’d like.  All right.

QUESTION:  Sorry, I have one more.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION:  I just wanted to know if you have any reaction to the Russians inviting – or President Putin inviting Kim Jong-un to Russia on the day that the Administration or the FBI announced that it believes that Kim Jong-un’s government was responsible for this hack?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Matt, I think, one, obviously, Russia has been an important partner with the United States as it relates to North Korea.  That continues to be the case.  I don’t have more details on their agenda, but I don’t think we’re drawing a connection between the timing of their invitation.

QUESTION:  Are you concerned that the new sanctions may actually hinder that cooperation that you have with Russia?

MS. PSAKI:  Which new sanctions?

QUESTION:  I mean, there are sanctions that are proposed against Russia.

MS. PSAKI:  The new – which ones?  We didn’t do – announce any new ones, but --

QUESTION:  I think this last week you did, didn’t you?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not sure what your question is.  Keep going.

QUESTION:  It’s okay.

MS. PSAKI:  Are you sure?

QUESTION:  I’m saying that – are you concerned that this cooperation that you talked about with Russia regarding North Korea and so on --

MS. PSAKI:  Okay, sorry.  No, Said, as I think has been the case for several months now, there are areas where we have continued to work together on, including Iran and the nuclear negotiations, and North Korea and our concerns – shared concerns about their threats to the region and their rhetoric, and that’s continued to be the case here as well.

QUESTION:  Jen, one more just to clarify.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Has the Secretary had any calls with counterparts in China or Japan on this issue?  Has that already been addressed or --

MS. PSAKI:  I can say, broadly speaking, that we have been – the Administration has reached out to our Five Party partners:  Japan, South Korea, China, and Russia.  I’m not going to get into the level of those calls at this point.


MS. PSAKI:  About the announcement this morning.

QUESTION:  The hack?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Can you say when that was, when that reaching out to those --

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to get into the specifics for each one and the timing.

Okay.  Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:20 p.m.)

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