Daily Press Briefing - June 8, 2015

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 8, 2015



TRANSCRIPT:

12:46 p.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Good afternoon. Hello. Welcome, everyone. Happy Monday. I have three things to mention at the top and then we’ll get started.

First, today is World Oceans Day, and I think you will have seen the Secretary’s World Oceans Day statement, also in a video which was – which has been released, which he did jointly – Secretary Kerry – with Foreign Minister Munoz of Chile, host of the next Our Ocean Conference this October.

Second item: Turkey. We congratulate the Turkish people for their participation in yesterday’s parliamentary elections. Although we understand the official election results will be announced in the coming days, early indications suggest the elections reflect the will of over 50 million Turkish citizens who exercised their right to vote, as well as the enduring vitality of Turkey’s democracy. The United States looks forward to working with the newly elected parliament and with the future government. As a friend and NATO ally, we are committed to continuing our close political, economic, and security cooperation.

And last item: The Secretary is in Boston. He is in good spirits and progressing well, remaining engaged. He is doing physical therapy in the hospital, consulting with his doctors, and he also met in Boston with his executive assistant, who briefed him on an array of department matters. He made some management-related decisions, and he’ll make some calls to foreign counterparts – to some foreign counterparts soon, perhaps as early as today. We’ll have more to say about that once those begin to happen, but just wanted to give you an update on his progress.

QUESTION: Could you clarify on that? You said he’s doing physical therapy in the hospital. Is he physically still staying at the hospital, or is he --

MR RATHKE: Yes, yes. He remains at Massachusetts General, yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: What kind of management-related decisions did he make?

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to give you a readout of all of his management-related decisions.

QUESTION: Well, why mention it?

QUESTION: How about some of them?

MR RATHKE: Well, just to point out that he remains engaged with the business of the department, in addition to --

QUESTION: But does he? I mean, if you won’t tell us what they – what the decisions are, then --

MR RATHKE: Well, we’re not in the habit of reading out every single management-related decision the Secretary makes. The point I’m making, though, is that although he is in the hospital and also concentrating on his physical therapy, he remains engaged with the work of the department.

So with that, over to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction, speaking, I guess – well, on behalf of the Administration – to the Supreme Court decision in the Jerusalem passport case?

MR RATHKE: Right. The – so the court’s decision in Zivotofsky v. Kerry today confirms the long-established authority of the President over the conduct of diplomacy and foreign policy. The decision also respects his ability to ensure that his determinations regarding recognition are accurately reflected in official documents and diplomatic communications, including in passports. So that’s our reaction to the decision announced this morning.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to complaints from some in Israel that this is somehow – that this violates its sovereignty because you’re refusing to acknowledge a city that is – that it regards as its capital?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, as I think the – in the case and our reaction to the case, it’s the President’s authority to make recognition determinations on behalf of the United States Government. That’s part of his authority and his responsibility for foreign relations and the conduct of diplomacy. So I think that was pretty clearly laid out in the Administration’s arguments in the case, and so we see it as an important decision.

QUESTION: Okay. Does --

QUESTION: Would you say you’re pleased by it, since it vindicates your perspective on the matter?

MR RATHKE: Well, it’s an important decision. Of course, the – when the Administration’s arguments are basically upheld by the decision – pleased by that, but not doing a victory dance. It’s simply --

QUESTION: You’re not doing a victory dance?

MR RATHKE: Not in the habit of doing victory dances. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, just – can you remind us all what city – or what the United States regards as the capital of Israel?

MR RATHKE: Well, since I think – to come to the – maybe the nub of the issue, since Israel’s founding, administrations of both parties have maintained a consistent policy of recognizing no state as having sovereignty over Jerusalem. So we remain committed to this longstanding policy, and this decision today helps ensure that our position on the neutrality of Jerusalem remains – it remains clear.

QUESTION: That applies to both West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem?

MR RATHKE: Again, no change to our policy to announce.

QUESTION: Well, but I mean the contested part of Jerusalem is just the east part. Not even the Palestinians claim the west part.

MR RATHKE: Again, Matt, I’ve got no change to our policy to announce.

QUESTION: Doesn’t that go to the --

MR RATHKE: Go ahead, Roz.

QUESTION: Doesn’t that go to the Administration’s view that the status of Jerusalem has to be resolved in the framework of two-party – two-state talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians?

MR RATHKE: That’s among the things that would have to be resolved in talks – direct talks between the parties, yes.

QUESTION: What you have there says that the whole city is – the U.S. has no position on the sovereignty of the entire what is now – the whole municipality of Jerusalem? That’s right? Is that correct?

MR RATHKE: Our consistent policy is we recognize no state as having sovereignty over Jerusalem.

QUESTION: All of Jerusalem?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have a – I didn’t put a modifier in front it.

QUESTION: Can we go to Egypt?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Was the U.S. ambassador to Egypt called in by the Egyptian foreign ministry today? And if so, why?

MR RATHKE: Do you want to be a little more specific? I don’t have a – I don’t have specific details about his schedule to announce.

QUESTION: You don’t know if he was --

MR RATHKE: But --

QUESTION: You don’t know if he was called in?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have his schedule details.

QUESTION: Well, it’s a little hard to ask the question if you don’t know whether or not he was summoned to the Egyptian foreign ministry or not. My understanding is the issue has to do with Muslim Brotherhood members holding meetings in the United States and the U.S. Administration pursuing its longstanding policy of meeting with members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, we’re certainly aware of media reports that a delegation from the Muslim Brotherhood is in Washington. On that, we’d refer you to the individuals in the delegation for their plans.

QUESTION: Are you going to meet with them?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any meetings to announce.

QUESTION: Do you have – are you going – I didn’t ask if you had meetings to announce. I just asked if you were going to meet with them.

MR RATHKE: Yeah, I – but I simply have no announcements about meetings to offer.

QUESTION: But I’m – well, what is the U.S. policy with regard to meeting members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood?

MR RATHKE: Well, we don’t have a policy with regard to individuals or groups that travel in a private capacity to talk about issues that are important to them.

QUESTION: I didn’t ask about that. I asked what was the U.S. Government’s policy toward meeting members of the Muslim Brotherhood wherever they may happen to be, whether they’re in the United States, Cairo, or Timbuktu.

MR RATHKE: Well, as a matter of policy, we’ve engaged with representatives from across the political spectrum in Egypt, so that --

QUESTION: “We have,” which is past tense.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: And my question is whether that is still your policy to continue to engage with --

MR RATHKE: Yeah, as a matter of policy, that has been – that has been our policy.

QUESTION: Has --

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any change to that to announce. But in the same – by the same token, I don’t have any scheduling announcements to make about meetings.

QUESTION: Are you sure that’s still the policy?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Because you keep talking about it in the past tense, and regardless of whether you have a change to announce, that doesn’t mean – you may not want to answer whether there’s been a change, but you keep talking about the policy in the past tense. Is that still the policy?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, as I said, Arshad, I’m not trying to make this more complicated. I don’t have any change that I’m trying to suggest through that answer.

Yes, Roz.

QUESTION: Can --

QUESTION: Can you – I’m sorry, one last one to finish, Roz. Forgive me.

QUESTION: Sure, sure.

QUESTION: Forgive me. Can you check on whether the ambassador or anybody else from the Embassy in Cairo was summoned to discuss this issue?

MR RATHKE: I’m – I’ll see if there’s anything more to say. We don’t get into every detail of our diplomatic exchanges.

QUESTION: No, but you often will confirm when someone has been summoned by a foreign ministry.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

Yeah, go ahead, Roz.

QUESTION: It’s actually a follow-up to Arshad’s question. When you try to find out about the ambassador’s meeting, can you find out whether he was also asked to explain the content of the memorandum that was sent to Congress last month basically saying, yes, we’re going to continue giving Egypt military aid, but we have many problems with how it treats its citizens, how it deals with human rights, how it deals with freedom of expression, political repression, on and on and on? It’s a very critical memo that was signed by the Secretary.

MR RATHKE: So are you – but are you asking – are you asking about the --

QUESTION: I’m asking --

MR RATHKE: -- the certification or are you asking about whether it was discussed somewhere?

QUESTION: I’m asking whether that certification was discussed between the ambassador and foreign ministry officials.

MR RATHKE: Okay. I don’t have anything to say about the discussion that you’re referring to. So --

QUESTION: On the certification itself --

QUESTION: Could you take the question?

MR RATHKE: If – on the certification, Matt, yes.

QUESTION: Can you explain to me – on March 31st, the White House announced – said that the President had a phone call with President Sisi – at least I think it was, or maybe the Secretary had the phone call with him and it was the State Department that announced it. All I remember is that we were stuck in Lausanne at the time. And it was announced that the military – the hold on the – or that you were going to restore all of the 1.3 – the stuff that had been held post-coup – non-coup – you were going to – the military equipment you were going to send to them. What I don’t understand is how this thing that the Secretary signed on May 12th is any different than what was announced on March 31st. Is it?

MR RATHKE: Well, let me – I think the short answer is not significantly different. But to go back to --

QUESTION: Not significantly different?

MR RATHKE: No, I’m not aware of --

QUESTION: It’s not the same thing?

MR RATHKE: I’m not aware of any differences.

QUESTION: Okay, no difference?

MR RATHKE: Now, in March, as you said, Matt, after a careful review of our military assistance program to Egypt, President Obama decided to release withheld weapons systems to Egypt and to continue the request of an annual $1.3 billion in military assistance, and to refine our military assistance relationship to better position it to address our shared challenges. On May 14th, Secretary Kerry certified to Congress that Egypt is sustaining the strategic relationship with the United States by continuing to engage with us on shared – on these shared goals, including through critical cooperation on counterterrorism efforts in the Sinai, and through upholding its obligations under the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. So the Secretary certified that to Congress. There had been a decision by the President that preceded that by a few weeks.

QUESTION: So that certification – the May 14th certification applied to the period of time between April 1st and May – like a month and a half? I just don’t understand why the Secretary’s document, memo, memorandum to Congress – I don’t understand what impact it had on U.S. assistance to Israel. Did it have any impact?

MR RATHKE: Well, it --

QUESTION: Did it free up things that had not already been freed up on March 31st?

MR RATHKE: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Did it express any new concern about human rights that had not been expressed by the White House on March 31st?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’d have to go back and check exactly what the language was in March, but again, I’m not aware of any difference between them.

QUESTION: Are you able to say what – why this – it took six pages of basically recounting every sin that the Sisi government has committed against its citizens, against NGOs, against journalists, including a section on Islamist parties? The government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, jailed most of its leadership, and disbanded many of its social welfare institutions, and it goes on. I mean, it’s a rather detailed criticism of a government’s behavior even though the U.S. feels that there is a national security interest in continuing the relationship. Was this designed to send a message to the Sisi government that, “We’re on to you”?

MR RATHKE: Well, this was a submission to Congress, so I would not – this was a communication of the Administration to Congress, and so I don’t think you should read into it some kind of intended message to a third party. This was a reflection to Congress of our policy and the determination that had been made and all of the relevant factual basis for it. So I’m not going to analyze it further.

Samir.

QUESTION: Do you know the schedule for the next strategic dialogue with Egypt?

MR RATHKE: I don’t know that off the top of my head. I don’t have that – those details in front of me.

Yes, go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah, a very quick – just follow-up on this. So the overriding message to Egypt is that our security arrangements and – your arrangements with Israel, security arrangements with Israel overrides issues of human rights. Would that be the basic message that you are sending out?

MR RATHKE: No, that’s not the basic message. Our message is two-fold. One the one hand, we have a partnership with Egypt, a strategic partnership, and that’s extremely important to the United States. We have common interests, including counterterrorism cooperation, as well as regional stability and peace with Israel. But at the same time, we have human rights and democracy-related concerns, and those are detailed in the report to Congress. We continue to have frank discussions with our Egyptian counterparts about those concerns, and we focus on engaging to support the freedom of speech and assembly, due process, and an environment in which groups such as nongovernment organizations can operate freely.

QUESTION: If the aid keeps on going, what – so what is the disincentive for Egypt not to go on with its human rights abuses? How could you entice the Egyptians to sort of abide by international standards of human rights and so on?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we have an active dialogue with Egypt across that whole spectrum of issues. And so we raise all of them with the appropriate interlocutors.

Go ahead, Tolga.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Jeff. This statement that you shared with us at the stop regarding the elections in Turkey --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary call someone from the Ankara administration since yesterday after the election results?

MR RATHKE: No, no. He hasn’t made any phone calls to foreign counterparts in the last day or so.

QUESTION: How do you think that – obviously, after these results, the AKP will not be able to form a government by its own. And how do you think this new political landscape will impacts the U.S.-Turkish cooperation in terms of the regional issues and bilateral relations? And one – instead of one single-party government, what will be your assessment of coalition government?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to do an assessment of Turkish domestic politics and of the election that just happened. The official results have not been announced yet. I understand they’ll be released in the coming days. So I’m not going to speculate about the results of the election. But what is clear is that the United States – Turkey is a NATO ally, the United States has a strong relationship with Turkey, and we are going to continue working with – closely with Turkey and with the next government that’s formed. The government that’s currently in place, led by Prime Minister Davutoglu, will remain in a caretaker capacity, as I understand it, until a new government is formed. So we will continue working with Turkey in this interim period, and then also with the new government once it’s formed. But we’ll let that process take its course.

QUESTION: In 2011, after the elections, the first statement that you made, it was – you were applauding the fair and free elections in Turkey, and you were applauding the Turkish people to conduct such an election. Do you have such an assessment this time?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think there was an OSCE election observation mission in Turkey, and if I understand correctly, their preliminary report reported that fundamental freedoms were generally respected. And there will be a final report released in the coming weeks. So we certainly have spoken out, as I said at the top, about over 50 million Turkish citizens who exercised their right to vote, and this is an indication of the strength of Turkey’s democracy.

Yes, go ahead, Namo.

QUESTION: Thank you. A pro-Kurdish party – HDP, as you know – which also represents other known marginalized minorities in Turkey, has for the first time in history made it to the parliament. Is this a significant event from the U.S. perspective?

MR RATHKE: Again, I’m not going to do an analysis of the election results from here. The official results have not even been certified, so I’m not going to get into an analysis. But I think what I said to Tolga about the strength of Turkey’s democracy and the high turnout stands.

QUESTION: Like, in the past there were events where, for – you had a stance about it. For example, when Erdogan was able to bring the military under civilian control, you saw that as a tribute to Turkish democracy. Why don’t you see this event also as a tribute to Turkish democracy?

MR RATHKE: I just don’t have further --

QUESTION: You have (inaudible).

MR RATHKE: -- analysis of the Turkish elections to offer at this point.

Arshad, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any concerns about whether the existing government and presidency will respect the outcome of the election?

MR RATHKE: No, I don’t have any particular concerns to offer at this stage, as again, the elections went forward successfully yesterday. And there’s a process that will proceed from them.

QUESTION: I --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- just quickly follow-up on this issue. Seeing how the Istanbul stock market lost like 6 percent; the Turkish currency, the lira, has also lost like 4 percent and so on. Do you see this election perhaps impacting negatively the Turkish economy, one of the strongest economies in that part of the world?

QUESTION: Please, so you can do your analysis of the election now after saying that you wouldn’t for the first 15 minutes of this. (Laughter.)

MR RATHKE: Yeah, I think – I think my previous answers stand.

Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MR RATHKE: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we go to Iraq --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and the President’s comments a little while ago? I don’t – I – he’s speaking for the entire Administration, obviously, and appeared to be speaking directly toward the military component of – military assistance to the Iraqi Government when he said in his press conference that this strategy is not complete. Can you, speaking for the State Department, say that – whether the State Department believes that its part of the strategy is complete?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think if you watched and if you read the transcript of what the President said, I think it should be clear that he was speaking about how to accelerate and optimize the training and equipping of Iraqi forces, including the integration of Sunni fighters, and not the overall strategy to fight ISIL nor the intended purpose of the training mission, which is --

QUESTION: Thank you for parsing the President’s words.

MR RATHKE: -- to enable the --

QUESTION: That’s a first from --

MR RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: But that’s not my question. I specifically pointed to the training and equipping as – in my question. I want to know if the State Department believes that its component – I mean, you have Ambassador McGurk who is out there working on behalf of the State Department on the whole counter-ISIL/ISIS thing. From the State Department’s point of view, is its component of the strategy complete?

MR RATHKE: Well, are you – so again, as I said, what the President was responding to was a question about the training and equipping of Iraqi forces. Of course, the policy and the strategy in fighting ISIL is broader than just the training and equipping part. And so --

QUESTION: Exactly. So you believe that your component --

MR RATHKE: And I think that --

QUESTION: -- this building’s component of the strategy is complete, unlike the train and equip part that the President talked about.

MR RATHKE: Again, I think we’ve had – we have a strategy; it’s agreed with our international partners, with the Iraqi Government, and we’re working hard to implement it across all the lines of effort.

QUESTION: Why isn’t the train and equip part of it ready? I mean, it is about a year now since ISIL began seizing its significant chunks of Iraqi territory, including Mosul. It’s been a year. It’s been, what, nine months since the United States began airstrikes. Why isn’t it ready?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think there are two different – there are two parts of the train and equip program to keep in mind. First of all, with our work with Iraqi Security Forces, which is – has been ongoing for quite some time through the two joint operations centers, and our train, advise, and assist mission, which has about 3,000 U.S. military personnel on the ground in Iraq working with their Iraqi counterparts. And I think the President spoke to that and to the effectiveness that it has had with the Iraqi forces we’ve been working with. And then the Syria train and equip mission is one where my colleagues, also with the Department of Defense, are in the lead, so they can give you more details about it. Of course, that has taken time to ramp up. We’ve been working closely with our partners in the region – Turkey and with others – to implement it. But that’s a different circumstances, different situation, and has taken longer to ramp up.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR RATHKE: Yeah, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. The President also said that the Iraqis must take a stand. He said that he’s confident that ultimately the – you will defeat ISIS but also that the Iraqis must do more to do this. Are you concerned that maybe the Iraqis – not so much that they are unable to fight or breaking down easily as much as they are basically having sort of other sectarian or ethnic loyalties, rather than a national loyalty?

MR RATHKE: Well, this has clearly been at the top of Prime Minister Abadi’s agenda, and I think in their bilateral meeting the President and Prime Minister Abadi also spoke to this in some detail at – in their remarks after the meeting. The – Prime Minister Abadi is committed to a unified Iraq, to governing in a way that is – goes beyond sectarian divisions and ethnic divisions, and the United States supports him in that goal. And that’s a goal that is not only Prime Minister Abadi’s goal, but it’s the goal of his government and of his council of ministers.

QUESTION: And absent the world that the Iraqis will fight as a unit, to fight back together, will there be an accelerated armament of, let’s say, the Sunni tribes or the Kurds, independent of the central government?

MR RATHKE: We haven’t changed our approach on that. We have been providing some arms and assistance. Everything is coordinated through the Iraqi central government. Some of the deliveries have been made directly but always coordinated with the central government.

Mary Alice, in the back. Go ahead.

QUESTION: What I’d like to ask is: Has the United – is the United States in touch with any Sunni leaders directly? Has the Iraqi Government asked them to contact Sunni leaders and act as a liaison force?

MR RATHKE: Has the Iraqi Government –

QUESTION: Asked Washington to –

MR RATHKE: Well, Prime Minister Abadi has done an active program of outreach to Sunni tribal leaders. We, of course, have our own contacts with Sunni leaders in Iraq, but those are – those don’t replace or compete with the prime minister’s own domestic program.

QUESTION: Could you expand on the U.S. contacts with the Sunni leaders, exactly who you’re speaking to and in what context you’re speaking to them?

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to get into that level of detail. We have a broad range of contacts with Sunni leaders in Anbar and elsewhere in Iraq. We have had for some time. And that continues, because as it’s important for Prime Minister Abadi, it’s also important for us to have contacts across the political spectrum.

Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment or reaction on the upholding by the supreme court of the blogger’s verdict and punishment by flogging?

MR RATHKE: We are deeply concerned that the Saudi supreme court has upheld the 10-year prison sentence and 1,000 lashes for human rights activist and blogger Raif Badawi for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and religion. As we had previously said back in January, the United States Government continues to call on Saudi authorities to cancel this brutal punishment and to review Badawi’s case and sentence. We strongly oppose laws, including apostasy laws, that restrict the exercise of freedom of expression, and we urge all countries to uphold these.

QUESTION: So would you like to see this – the court said the only way it could be overturned was with a royal pardon. Would you be – are you looking for the new king to grant a pardon in this case?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have anything further to say about the internal workings of how Saudi authorities may address the case, but I would go back to our call on Saudi authorities to cancel this punishment and to review the case and review the sentence.

QUESTION: Well, that sounds to me like you’re calling for the king to pardon him.

MR RATHKE: I don’t have –

QUESTION: Well, if you called on them –

MR RATHKE: -- more to say about –

QUESTION: -- back in January to review the case and then to cancel the punishment, they have reviewed it now, the court has at least, and upheld it. So you still want it to be reviewed and – the case to be reviewed and the punishment to be canceled, correct? That’s what I’m hearing.

MR RATHKE: Yeah, that’s our answer.

QUESTION: The only way – the court says the only way that that can happen is if a royal pardon is issued. Ergo, or does that mean that you are calling on the king to issue a pardon?

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to go beyond what I said. That’s –

QUESTION: Well, then it doesn’t sound like – I mean, if you won’t call on the king to issue a pardon, which is what the court says is the only way that the punishment or the case can be dismissed, then I don’t understand what the point of you getting up here and saying that you’re deeply concerned about it is because you’re clearly not going to do anything – do the one thing that – or call on the king to do the one thing that –

MR RATHKE: To go back to the verb you used earlier, I’m not going to parse the Saudi court’s decision. But the United States Government’s view remains that we believe that the punishment should be canceled and that the case and the sentence should be reviewed.

QUESTION: But if the only way that that can happen is by royal pardon, why wouldn’t you call on the king to issue a royal pardon?

MR RATHKE: I just don’t have anything further to say on that one.

Yes.

QUESTION: I was wondering if the Department of State has any position on Christians elected to Turkey’s parliament in yesterday’s election. Armenian and Assyrian Christians were elected first time –

MR RATHKE: I think this is similar to the other question I’ve had. I’m not going to do an election analysis for the Turkish election from here.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: At the G7 photo spray today, observers noted that it appeared that the prime minister of Iraq wanted to say hi to the President, and it seemed that the President gave him a cold shoulder. Were there any diplomatic overtures to smooth that over? Because the translator sort of threw up his hands up in the air.

MR RATHKE: Well, I’d refer you to my colleagues at the White House for any developments on the ground. I would point out that the President met with Prime Minister Badawi today. Prime Minister Badawi was just in Washington back in April for a very productive series of meetings. So I think that speaks volumes about the importance we attach to the relationship with Iraq and with Prime Minister --

QUESTION: Don’t you mean Prime Minister Abadi?

QUESTION: Abadi.

MR RATHKE: Abadi, yes. Sorry. Got my names confused.

QUESTION: Just one more question –

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- on the speaker of Iraqi parliament. He’s here in Washington. Do you have anything about that? Is he here on an official visit?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think we spoke to this maybe a week or so ago. Speaker al-Jabouri is in Washington. He arrived yesterday. He’ll be here for about a week. On Wednesday he’s meeting with Deputy Secretary Blinken here at the State Department, and on Friday he will visit the White House and will meet with Vice President Biden. We see this as an opportunity to discuss a range of issues with Speaker al-Jabouri, including our support to Iraq under the Strategic Framework Agreement and the campaign to degrade and defeat ISIL and as well as ongoing political initiatives inside Iraq.

QUESTION: You’ve praised Prime Minister Abadi for reaching out to the Sunnis. Isn’t this like the fact that this Sunni leader is in Washington indicate that the White House wants to be more engaged more directly with the Sunnis as the (inaudible)?

MR RATHKE: No, we’ve always had contact with Iraqi leaders not only with the prime minister. So I – this is just a part of that ongoing commitment to a strong relationship with all political forces and all authorities in Iraq.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just find it curious that you wouldn’t mention his name in response to the question about what Sunni leaders you’re meeting with, and you said that “I’m not going to get into that --”

MR RATHKE: Well, I took that question – I took that question to be – to be leaders in --

QUESTION: Secret meetings --

MR RATHKE: -- Sunni leaders in Anbar.

QUESTION: -- in Iraq?

MR RATHKE: So – yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Is he here on State Department’s call or he’s here by himself, like for his own meetings? Is he a guest of White House or State Department?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’d refer you back to the Iraqi Embassy for further detail on his program and the arrangements.

QUESTION: Is his --

MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: Is his meeting with Deputy Blinken on Wednesday?

MR RATHKE: That’s on Wednesday. That’s right.

Okay, go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, I just wanted to know if you had any update on the Iran situation – well, what’s going on in Vienna, things are broken, when will they start, restart, that kind of thing, if you have any logistical information.

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any logistical updates to offer. As soon as we do, we’ll certainly make those – make those available.

All right. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:19 p.m.)