Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 1, 2014.
1:21 p.m. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.
I just have two items for all of you at the top. The first is, as we put out over the weekend, but just to reiterate for all of you, the Secretary will travel to Brussels tonight, where tomorrow he will take part in the NATO foreign ministerial and associated meetings. On Wednesday, he will chair the first ministerial-level meeting of the Counter-ISIL Coalition, bringing together over 60 coalition partners to discuss the political mechanism for our joint efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL. He will also take part in the sixth U.S.-EU Energy Council meeting, the capstone of transatlantic energy cooperation. He will then travel to Basel, Switzerland to take part in the OSCE Ministerial Council and to meet with Swiss President Burkhalter to discuss the role the OSCE played this year in addressing the crisis and monitoring events in Ukraine.
And finally, on Thursday he will travel to London to deliver remarks at the London Conference on Afghanistan, a platform for the Government of Afghanistan to set out its vision for reform and for the international community to demonstrate enduring support for Afghanistan. The Secretary will also hold bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the meeting, including with President Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah of Afghanistan, as well as Prime Minister Sharif of Pakistan.
We also have some special visitors in the back. Many of you know Amy Johnston, who’s been with us since this spring, and I would lost be without her. Many of you may be lost in foreign countries without her. So thanks to her and all of her work. Her parents, Kit and Jim, are in the back, all the way from Seattle, and her husband, Drew from Portland, Oregon. So we welcome them, and hopefully they’re still awake at the end of the briefing.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: That’s – that might be a tough order. (Laughter.)
Well, I’m sure we’ll get to all that – the Secretary’s trip in a minute, but I wanted to start with the statement the Secretary put out over the weekend about the Huangs in Qatar.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: They’re still there. Are you aware – has there been any new push from people here in Washington, the Secretary or anyone else, to get – to have them – actually allowed to be able to leave, to get –
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, just to reiterate, the Secretary – and we put out a statement yesterday in his name, but for those of you who didn’t see, he referenced in there a phone call he made to Qatari Foreign Minister Atiyah, encouraging – urging Qatar to allow the Huangs to leave Qatar. Our ambassador on the ground has also spent a great deal of time with them yesterday and has been in close touch with the family and the representatives. As we understand it, there’s some paperwork that needs to be filed. That is something that would, of course, be in the hands of the lawyers. We certainly, as the Secretary’s statement said yesterday, want to see them return to the United States as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: Sorry, who did the ambassador meet with? The foreign minister?
MS. PSAKI: She was with the Huangs yesterday during the day.
QUESTION: Oh. But in terms —
MS. PSAKI: And she’s certainly been in touch with authorities since then, yes.
QUESTION: All right. Well, are you aware of any complication other than just paperwork that’s preventing them from leaving?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we were – as you may have seen and many of you reported, while the case was overturned, the travel ban was not yet overturned. And so that is, of course, the issue at play here, and one we’re certainly working with all relevant folks to resolve.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean, is there an expectation that they will, in fact, be allowed to leave?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that is certainly our hope, and we’re doing everything possible, working with all representatives to ensure that’s the case.
QUESTION: But I mean – yeah, I guess – do you have an expectation that they’ll be allowed to leave soon?
MS. PSAKI: That is our hope, Matt. But obviously, as we’ve seen through the course of this, there have been new information in terms of what’s required that’s come up. So we’re working closely with them at every step in the process. But we remain in touch, and certainly, we want to see them return home.
QUESTION: Okay. And you’re not aware of any new – since yesterday – new calls by the Secretary to the foreign minister (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Not new calls, no. But our ambassador and our team on the ground has been in close touch with authorities.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: And there’s no further legal charges pending against the Huangs as far as you’re concerned?
MS. PSAKI: Not that we have seen, no.
QUESTION: So have you any idea why the travel ban wasn’t automatically lifted once the court acquitted them?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more specific details. We obviously weren’t aware of additional paperwork that was required. Obviously, that’s something that their legal team is pursuing. But I don’t have additional details beyond that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on this issue or should we move on to a new topic?
MS. PSAKI: Said, sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Or actually – sorry.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Ali.
QUESTION: Can we just stay on the Huangs for one second? The lawyer for the family put out a statement yesterday saying that they think the United States should have done more, not only in this just recent situation regarding the travel ban, but over the past two years. I know you’ve addressed this many times in this room, but what is the State Department’s reaction to their latest statement that the United States could be doing more on their behalf?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Ali, I have to say that we’ve been closely involved in this case. The Secretary himself has raised this issue at the highest levels with Qatari authorities. Our ambassador on the ground and previous ambassador has raised this case. We’ve had a number of visits with the family. Obviously, our focus at this point in time is seeing them return home and be reunited with their boys. So beyond that, I don’t think I have a further comment.
QUESTION: Can you check with the ambassador to ask if she was present when the family spokesman says a prisoner swap deal was proposed?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not something that’s under discussion, so I’m not sure what that’s a reference to.
QUESTION: Can we go to Iraq? I wonder if you have any comments on the ghost soldiers that apparently have been on the payroll in Iraq and whether the United States of America has raised this issue.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Said, as you know, this is an issue that, in fact, the prime minister raised in terms of his concerns about the number of ghost soldiers in the Iraqi army. We’ve seen his comments. We’re certainly encouraged that he continues to take steps to establish a more professional military force in Iraq. This follows his announcement – and there’s been a series of steps he’s taken, one on November 12th of the relief or retirement of 36 army officers, and the appointment of 18 new commanders as part of an effort towards rooting out corruption in Iraq’s defense establishment. We’re encouraged by these steps that follow other military realignments in September and the disbanding of the Office of the Commander-in-Chief. So we’ve seen him take a series of steps to create a more professional and unified military force, and that certainly is encouraging.
QUESTION: Okay. Now the United States being the primary trainer of the Iraqi military, how do they go about conducting or knowing that these units are good to train and these units are not good to train and so on? Is there – what is the criteria? How do they determine whether these are actual soldiers?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’ve seen the Department of Defense – and this is really a question more appropriately directed to them – speak to the assessment that they did over the last several months in terms of the needs of the Iraqi Security Forces and who needed more training, what different units may have been up to par and ready to move forward. But I’d point you to my colleagues over at the Defense Department.
QUESTION: Yeah. But I ask because it’s also a policy question since the United States is planning to organize or create a national or – national guard from the Sunni tribes.
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not the – let me be clear, Said. It’s not the United States. It certainly is an initiative we support, but the Government of Iraq is leading the initiative —
QUESTION: The Government of Iraq. Okay.
MS. PSAKI: — to form a tribal force that would be part of the Iraqi Security Forces structure to counter ISIL.
QUESTION: Okay. Because back in 2007 when – during the surge and one of the awakenings that were established, they were conducting themselves quite well. But then they inflated – I mean, the tribes inflated their numbers and so on to get basically a lot of money and a lot of funds which ushered in the collapse of the Iraqi army. I’m saying: How would you guard against this happening again?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, a number of steps have already been taken by the prime minister and by the central government to address this, and we certainly encourage those and will continue to have a discussion with them about what more can be done.
QUESTION: And finally, President Masum, the Iraqi president, met with the Iranian ambassador yesterday and he, of course, acknowledged the role of Iran, that Iran plays a good role in terms of aiding Iraq in its fights against ISIS and al-Qaida. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I would point you to them.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Iraq, please?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I’d like to ask about the meeting in Brussels this week. The first —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. The coalition meeting?
QUESTION: The coalition meeting, yeah. This is the first ministerial level meeting of the coalition?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Could you just give us a bit more on what you’re hoping —
MS. PSAKI: Well, there was – I think yes, it is.
QUESTION: There was —
MS. PSAKI: There was the meeting —
QUESTION: — in Kuwait.
MS. PSAKI: — in Kuwait.
MS. PSAKI: And there was also the meeting that took place – I believe it was earlier, even before Kuwait, that was sort of an early meeting —
QUESTION: Right, yes.
MS. PSAKI: — of some of these European members. Just to be totally clear.
QUESTION: New York.
MS. PSAKI: Correct. There have been a couple of meetings, but go ahead.
QUESTION: All right, okay. So it’s not the first ministerial meeting, then. It’s the —
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is the first – this is significant in that you have representatives from the 60 coalition partner countries, or many of them, who will be attending. Obviously, we’re now a couple of months in, still early into this effort to degrade and defeat ISIL. It’s an opportunity to take stock of where things stand, obviously, discuss what needs to happen from here, provide updates on where countries stand. Certainly, General Allen will be playing a prominent role in this meeting. The Secretary will also be delivering remarks and I believe kicking the meeting off. So it’s an opportunity to do that where many of the countries will be already in the region for – whether it’s NATO or other meetings happening this week.
QUESTION: Do you expect something concrete to come out of it in terms of sort of where we go, a timetable, or deliverables, as you like to say?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I certainly don’t want to get ahead of the meeting, but I think the purpose is more to take stock and to determine – continue to coordinate from here. As we all know, we – the Secretary participates in a great deal of phone diplomacy, but always doing that in person he finds to be more effective. That’s true I think of many of these countries as well, and so this is an opportunity to have them all there in person.
QUESTION: And you mentioned again about the 60 coalition countries. Have any more come on board since the last list that you —
MS. PSAKI: We regularly update on our website. I don’t have any new countries to update, but I would point you to there and we can certainly check. I expect as we get closer to the meeting we’ll have a more specific list of the participants.
QUESTION: Okay. And I wondered if you could give your reaction to a report that’s in The Wall Street Journal this morning about that the United States and Turkey are coming closer to agreement on using Incirlik and other air bases to patrol a zone which would portion off a broad area of the Syrian border, which would be off limits to, according to The Wall Street Journal, to the Assad regime aircraft. Is the tenor of this report true? Is it correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are certainly actively discussing a range of issues, including our shared concerns about border security with the Turks and reviewing a number of options. But these discussions are ongoing and we don’t have anything specific to announce at this time.
QUESTION: So you can’t confirm that you have agreed, in principle at least, to set up some kind of limited no-fly zone in —
MS. PSAKI: No. In fact, I would say that there’s been an ongoing discussion, as all of you know, for several weeks if not longer about a range of proposals that Turkey has put forward, and they’ve taken many forms, and many of you have reported on them. And so throughout this process, we have been open to hearing from them, listening to them on what their proposals are. They’ve presented a variety of ideas. Often, when senior officials return from a trip, as happened with the Vice President and with General Allen last week, they brief and provide an update to members internally in the Administration about where things stand. But we continue to have differences; we haven’t made a decision about a specific course of implementation. We’re just continuing to have a discussion with Turkey.
QUESTION: Are you further along, though? About a month ago, we were talking about this idea of a no-fly zone and you said you were open to looking at talking about it, but you weren’t going to implement it, eliciting a comment from Matt that it was a bit like talking to the hand. Are you further along? Are you actually now considering the possibility of a no-fly zone?
MS. PSAKI: We’re continuing to discuss it, but we haven’t made a decision about implementing any form of it.
QUESTION: But you’re further along then? You’re discussing it, but you haven’t made a decision?
MS. PSAKI: Well —
QUESTION: Before you were ruling it out. You were saying, “We’re not going to implement it.”
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s natural that because there’s been discussions that have happened for several weeks now, we’d be further along in discussions, but there isn’t a proposal that we’re prepared to implement.
QUESTION: The problem – Jen, the problem is that for three years almost, the Turks have been calling for this. It’s not just last month.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: And you —
MS. PSAKI: And it wasn’t new last week either.
QUESTION: Right. But it has always been, as Jo points out, you have said, “Well, the Turks can talk about it all they want to and we’ll listen to them, but we’re not going to do it.” So the question is: Is that still the position? “You can talk about it all you want, but we’re not going to go along with it”? Or is it now, “You can talk about it and we’ll consider it”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have remaining concerns. Those haven’t changed. But we’ve long said, not just three years ago but over the course of the last several weeks, that we’re certainly open to hearing from them on their proposals, but —
QUESTION: But there’s a difference between saying, “Okay, you can talk at us or talk to us about it and it’s not going to do any good because we’re not going to change our mind,” and – there’s a difference between that and, “You can talk to us and we will actually consider it. We’re dropping our absolute 100 percent opposition to it.”
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve been saying for some time now, several weeks at least, that we’re open to hearing from them. That’s not new today.
QUESTION: I know, but —
QUESTION: So you’re open to the possibility of implementing it then?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s nothing that we’re about to implement or we’ve decided to implement, so —
QUESTION: No, but you’re open to the – the crack is there.
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s purely a hypothetical because there’s nothing that we’re prepared to implement at this point in time.
QUESTION: But there’s – Jen, don’t you – you don’t – there’s a difference between saying, “Talk, talk, talk – we’re not going to do it,” or, “Talk, talk, talk and we might do it.”
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know yet if we’re going to do it. That was true several weeks ago.
QUESTION: But that’s – we’re not saying —
MS. PSAKI: There isn’t a proposal we’re prepared to implement.
QUESTION: But we’re not asking whether you’ve made the decision or not. We’re just saying, has it progressed beyond the point of where you say, “We’re listening but we’re not going to do it,” to, “We’re listening and we’ll consider it”?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s what I said three weeks ago. That’s the point I’m making, though. I don’t think three weeks ago or four weeks ago I said, “We’re listening but we’re not going to do it.”
QUESTION: You did.
MS. PSAKI: I said, “We’re happy to hear from them and listen to their proposals,” and it remains the case today.
QUESTION: But there’s nothing – you said you were “happy to hear from them but there’s nothing we’re thinking of implementing at the moment.” It would —
MS. PSAKI: That remains the case today.
QUESTION: Does that pertain —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: — strictly to a no-fly zone or does it include a buffer zone or a safe haven? Because apparently the Turks have three things that they want: they want a safe haven; they want a buffer zone; and they want a no-fly zone.
QUESTION: Well, Said, there are a range of proposals that have different components of them, so we’re having – continuing to have a discussion with Turkey about their proposals. That’s where things stand.
QUESTION: Okay. Are these discussions, let’s say, are they more serious on the buffer zone than they would be on the no-fly zone? I’m trying to figure out —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to characterize it further.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you about the bombing. Now, a couple days ago you condemned the bombing of the Syrian air force, but today there was also a coalition bombing – or today or yesterday – a coalition bombing of the same area. Do you find that a bit contradictory?
MS. PSAKI: I think you’re familiar with what our objectives are with the coalition.
QUESTION: Of the same – bombing of the same city, Raqqa —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have anything more for you, Said.
QUESTION: — under the same parameters, and so on.
MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Syria or ISIL or Turkey?
QUESTION: Just one more —
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: I mean, just to maybe come at this slightly differently.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Instead of calling it a no-fly zone, if we call it something like a safe zone, which it wouldn’t necessarily mean that you would have to —
MS. PSAKI: This isn’t about what the name is.
QUESTION: It’s not a semantic issue.
MS. PSAKI: No.
QUESTION: Okay. So at the moment you’re discussing – you’re prepared to discuss some kind of safe zone, but you’re still not prepared to implement it.
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Jen, one more on ISIS, not on the no-fly zone in particular.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: On something unrelated to that. The FBI, I believe last night, put out a bulletin raising what they say is the threat level of ISIS to members of the military, in a way similar to lone wolf attacks that – like the ones that we saw in Montreal. So I’m just wondering, does the State Department have a position on this FBI heightened awareness and are you implementing any specific measures as a result of it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, I don’t have any measures to roll out for you here. We obviously have our own system and process of providing updates on whether it’s the worldwide caution that we update on a regular basis or country by country specifics. And obviously, in those updates we often speak to whether it’s journalists or others who we’ve seen particular threats. I don’t have anything new on that particular announcement, though.
QUESTION: So on this particular one, there have been no changes to any posture here or (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: I will check and see, Ali, but not that I’m aware of.
MS. PSAKI: Any more on Turkey? Turkey? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just one more on Turkey. When you hear from Turkey – it looks like Turkey already submitted their proposals regarding no-fly zone or safe zones, but you still are saying that you are open to hearing their proposal.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Is there any way you can shed light onto?
MS. PSAKI: It’s —
QUESTION: We just spent 20 minutes —
MS. PSAKI: It’s an ongoing discussion, which should come as no surprise given they’re an important partner. They have a range of proposals. They’ve taken different forms. We’re continuing that discussion. There’s nothing further really to shed light on for you at this point in time.
QUESTION: So you don’t have any other follow-up proposals from Turkey, or do you have follow-up proposals?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Turkey has put out and talked about a range of proposals over the course of the last several weeks. They’ve spoken about that publicly, so I would point you to that.
QUESTION: Jen, on this?
MS. PSAKI: Any more on Turkey? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. You said that the U.S. is not ready to implement this proposal, but if the Turks are ready to implement it, will you support them?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s what anybody is talking about at this point in time.
QUESTION: But in case?
MS. PSAKI: That’s a hypothetical and not relevant to what the current state of play is.
Do we have any more on ISIL or —
QUESTION: Not on ISIL?
MS. PSAKI: No? ISIL? Turkey?
QUESTION: On this.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: An organization with ties to ISIS is now claiming responsibility for the August death of an American oil worker. I’m wondering, does the State Department have any reaction to this? Or have you been in touch with the family?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, with any American citizen – and I believe if I remember correctly, his death was announced previously. Let me just see; I have something on this, I believe. So let me just reiterate that we deplore the August 6th, 2014 attack in the Western Desert that resulted in the killing of U.S. citizen William Henderson, who worked as a contractor for the Apache Corporation. We have been in contact with his family and are providing all possible consular assistance, but we have, of course, seen the media reports you referenced, but we’re not in a position to confirm those reports or the source of his death.
QUESTION: Have you been in touch with his family since these reports came out?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check. I’m happy to do that, Ali.
QUESTION: Yeah, just a question.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: To clarify, I mean, is – so you are confirming that he was killed by terrorists, but you cannot specify who was the terrorist?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are confirming he was killed. I don’t have details on the source or who was the cause – who or what was the cause of his death.
QUESTION: So that story which is like circulating today, and a while ago it was circulating in The New York Times, it was linked to ISIL or ISIS. Is this any – based on any – there is any base – any truth in this story?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have anything to confirm for you in terms of the source of his death.
Go ahead. Do we have a new topic? Are we done with ISIL, Syria, Turkey?
QUESTION: One on (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: ISIL, Syria, Turkey?
QUESTION: One question on ISIS?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Earlier this week, (Inaudible) Barzani of Kurdistan, the prime minister said that the world shouldn’t expect the Kurds to help with saving Mosul until the residents there are willing to take the fight. Do you expect the Kurds to participate in the fight against ISIS in Mosul?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what we’ve seen is that Iraqi leaders across the political spectrum continue to work together to evict ISIL from their country. Certainly, the Kurds are part of that. As it relates to Mosul, we believe this needs to be done in a methodical, coordinated, and planned way, and that’s obviously something that we’re not going to predict or outline from the podium. But we certainly expect and hope that all parties in Iraq will continue to work together in the effort to degrade and defeat ISIL.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just on Iraq, about Iraq. There is a story in the Wall Street Journal today regarding the case of the refugees – those who asked visas – and their status, which is, like, hanging now and they are not approved by – the process is not going on. Do you have anything to say from this podium or this building?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me first convey that in FY 2014, nearly 20,000 Iraqis who had worked for a U.S. entity and their families – and their families were brought into the United States through a refugee program, bringing the total number of Iraqis who have benefited from this refugee program to nearly 115,000. Obviously, as we review and as the process continues, it’s our responsibility to ensure that every person who receives a visa does not represent a threat to the United States. In some cases, screening can be extremely time intensive. If we are ever presented with a choice between greater speed and security of our nation, we will always choose the latter.
There’ve also been a couple of factors that have contributed here. One is that we determined that the current security situation in Iraq has – I’m sorry. In June 2014, refugee processing staff were relocated from Baghdad due to the security situation, and a lot was happening in neighboring countries. So we have determined that the current security situation will permit U.S. government staff to resume refugee interviews in Baghdad, but obviously, that has an impact. This is something that we – there’s no specific start date, though, just to be clear – -we remain committed to. We are – we work on this issue at the highest levels. Specifically, our Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom works very hard on this issue, and it’s something that we certainly are committed to continuing to expedite.
QUESTION: So just to make it clear – I mean, so it means that from June, this process is stopped?
MS. PSAKI: No, it wasn’t. They were processed —
QUESTION: It’s slow?
MS. PSAKI: There was processing in neighboring countries, but —
QUESTION: Which is Turkey, mainly.
MS. PSAKI: — but not in – within – in Baghdad, given the security situation. We think that that’s going to resume. We don’t have an exact date. But it was happening in neighboring countries. Also, there, of course, is a long screening process, which has been the case with many of these programs.
QUESTION: So it’s moved from Baghdad to other places and the pace is slower.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve worked – taken a number of steps to expedite it, both in Iraq and – as well as Afghanistan, where there’s also a program. And that’s something that we’ve worked very hard on over the last couple of years, so that is just one of the factors that’s contributed recently.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Iraq or – any other issues on Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead, Nick.
QUESTION: Can we move to Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: So one week after Vienna, have you set up with your P5+1 partners and with Iran a new date and location for the next round of talks?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as the Secretary mentioned and others mentioned in their remarks before we left Vienna and others left Vienna, the plan was for the teams to meet again in December. That hasn’t been set yet, but we’re working, certainly, to set that date and location. And we certainly remain in touch with our P5+1 partners in the meantime.
QUESTION: Is —
QUESTION: Please. One – yeah, one more on Iran.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: I don’t know if you like cars, but there is a motor show which —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a car, but go ahead. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: There is a motor show which opened its door yesterday in Tehran, and a lot of car makers – French car makers, Japanese, Korean, and even American car makers – expressed their willingness to come back, to return to the Iranian market. So have you something to say against these business-to-business contacts, or are you willing to tell your partner that Iran is not open yet for business?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that has long been our view, that Iran is not yet open for business. I think that’s – that’s obviously still the case. I don’t have all of the specifics of this particular show or who may or may not be participating, so let me check in on that with our team and we can see if we can get you a more comprehensive comment.
QUESTION: Can I just ask, are there any plans for the Secretary to go up to the Hill and brief on the latest round of talks in Vienna?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he’s been closely engaged with his colleagues on the Hill on the phone over the course of the last week or so, and even while he was in Vienna. In terms of plans to go up to the Hill, not at this point in time, but obviously, he remains closely engaged with members.
QUESTION: He’s been in touch with members of Congress since coming back from Vienna?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check if they talked over Thanksgiving, but he certainly had a range of calls, and I expect that will continue to pick up this week.
QUESTION: And are you aware of any particular phone call that he has had in which the person on the other end of the phone was happy with the result and willing to vote against new sanctions legislation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to speak for members. I’m sure they’ll speak for themselves. You’re familiar —
QUESTION: Well, I’m just curious, has he heard from a single member of Congress who’s prepared to take his – to heed his appeal that he made in Vienna?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going speak to his private conversations, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, okay.
MS. PSAKI: He’s making the case for why this extension is an important step.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. Well, leaving aside his phone calls, are you aware of any member of Congress who is willing to vote against sanctions legislation?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll let them speak for themselves, Matt. We’re continuing our conversations at a range of levels.
QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking you to speak of them. I’m just saying, are you aware of a single one?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not a spokesperson for any members of Congress.
QUESTION: But presumably you are – presumably your position remains that you do not want to see Congress impose any new sanctions ahead of the dates that you’ve now set.
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. And in the Secretary’s calls, when relevant, he has been clear that, just as we’ve asked Iran to uphold its commitments under the JPOA, we must do so as well. That means we can’t put in place new nuclear-related sanctions while the JPOA is in effect.
QUESTION: And the JPOA – sorry, Said – remains in place, even though it had a one-year timeline on it. I just – wanting to know how legally you justify the extension to July – June 30th.
MS. PSAKI: Well, it was mutually agreed – the extension was mutually agreed between the parties. So yes, the initial was a year, but obviously we felt it was necessary and it was useful and productive to extend, as did the P5+1 – our P5+1 partners, as did Iran.
QUESTION: Right. So until June 30th. That’s the new date now?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. But as the Secretary outlined when he spoke last week – and I believe Jeff did as well – our hope is that by March 31st we have an agreement on a comprehensive plan of action that would ensure the world of the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. Then our technical experts can finish their work of fleshing out the details and annexes. So there’s kind of a two-step as part of this effort.
QUESTION: Jen, I want to follow up on Nicolas’ question. There is apparently also a similar deal – grain for oil – grain – deal between Russia and Iran. Do you have any comment on that? Would that be considered as breaking the sanctions, the international sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are aware of the talks between Russia and Iran involving various areas of planned future economic cooperation. We’ll continue to monitor developments in these discussions about future activities. We don’t have specific details. If there are deals that are sanctionable, we will act. But we can’t determine sanctionability in the abstract.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Any more on Iran? Let’s finish Iran. Any more on Iran? Okay, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the court’s decision dropping the charges against former President Mubarak?
MS. PSAKI: Well, generally, we continue to believe that upholding impartial standards of accountability will advance the political consensus on which Egypt’s long-term stability and economic growth depends. But beyond that, I would refer you to the Egyptian Government for any further comment.
QUESTION: So you don’t criticize at all?
QUESTION: What does that mean?
MS. PSAKI: It means that in general, we believe that courts should be —
QUESTION: It sounds to me like it means nothing.
MS. PSAKI: In general, we believe that impartial standards and the justice system should work as planned —
QUESTION: Yeah —
MS. PSAKI: — but I don’t have any specific comment —
QUESTION: But did —
QUESTION: But are you suggesting it wasn’t impartial?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more specifics on —
QUESTION: But I – wow. I don’t understand that at all. What does that mean? You believe that – of course you do. But was that – were those standards upheld in this case?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything – any specific comment on the case. I’d point you to the Egyptian Government.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) justice was served? Do you think justice was served in this case?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything specific on the case.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) not try —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: — to argue with you or ask about the comment. Are you trying to understand what is – does – this decision means?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more for you.
Do we have anything more on Egypt?
QUESTION: Do Egyptians explain to you what’s going on?
MS. PSAKI: We obviously remain in close touch with the Egyptians, but I don’t have anything more to peel back for you.
QUESTION: Jen —
MS. PSAKI: Any more on Egypt? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, but I mean, Transparency International is basically disappointed with that. And some international organizations have also expressed concern over, like, dropping all the charges against Mubarak, who’s accused of having murdered – having ordered the murder of protestors —
MS. PSAKI: I’m familiar with the case, yes.
QUESTION: — and also corruption, other things. And so you’re not willing to show your concern over that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we speak frequently, including in annual reports, about any concerns we have about – whether its rule of law or freedom of speech, freedom of media, and we do that on a regular basis. I just don’t have anything more specifically for you on this case.
QUESTION: Can you see if – can we ask for – push your people a little bit harder? Because I mean, you call for accountability and transparency all the time from any number of governments. And so if no one is held to account, if no one is being held accountable for what happened, it would seem to me that you would have a problem with that and —
MS. PSAKI: If there’s more we have to say, Matt, we will make sure you all know.
QUESTION: But I mean, what you have said, that the – what you said says nothing. I mean, it just – it’s like saying, “Well, we support the right of people to breathe.” Well, that’s great, but if they can’t breathe —
MS. PSAKI: If we have a further comment on the case, I will make sure all of you have it.
QUESTION: I mean, aren’t you a little bit annoyed that the person who was elected by the Egyptian people, Morsy, is languishing in prison while the person who is accused of murdering hundreds of people is actually out on —
MS. PSAKI: I appreciate your effort, Said. I don’t have anything further on this case.
QUESTION: No, the reason we ask isn’t because —
MS. PSAKI: Said, I’m sorry. We’re going to have to move on.
QUESTION: Okay, sure.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: A new subject?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on Taiwan’s nine-in-one elections in which the opposition party, DPP, soundly defeated the ruling KMT?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as the American Institute in Taiwan said in its November 30th statement, we congratulate the candidates, voters, and election officials for conducting a successful electoral process on November 29th. The election demonstrates the strength and vitality of Taiwan’s democratic system. We look forward to working with all the successful candidates to further deepen the U.S.-Taiwan relationship.
QUESTION: Now, even though President Ma’s party was defeated, his policy – his cross-strait policy towards mainland China was applauded by the United States. And the United States traditionally has some concerns about the cross-strait policy of the opposition DPP party. The Secretary General Joseph Wu of the DPP party is coming to town. Will the United States talk to him about the party’s cross-strait policy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our view on cross-strait relations has not changed as a result of this election. We continue to welcome the steps both sides of the Taiwan Strait have taken to reduce tensions and improve cross-strait relations. We also continue to encourage authorities in Beijing and Taipei to continue their constructive dialogue, which has led to significant improvements in the cross-strait relationship. The Taiwan elections, including the 2016 presidential elections, are for the people of Taiwan to decide. We refer you to the DPP office in Washington for details of Joseph Wu’s upcoming visit in Washington.
QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian issue?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Could we just stay in the region?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Real quickly. Sorry, Said.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Elliot.
QUESTION: Could you just give us a reaction on the most recent crackdown in Hong Kong against protestors?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we continue to call for protestors to express their views peacefully and for Hong Kong’s authorities to exercise restraint. We encourage differences between Hong Kong authorities and protestors to be addressed peacefully through dialogue, and that’s something we’re certainly communicating to the Chinese as well as authorities there.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on when the last time it was that those concerns were discussed with the Chinese?
MS. PSAKI: We express them regularly through our diplomats on the ground.
QUESTION: And then, several of the students also announced that they would be starting a hunger strike – several of the student leaders. Is that something that the U.S. supports?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, we believe that individuals should express their views peacefully. I don’t think I have any further comment. I’ll check with our team and see if there’s more we have to add.
QUESTION: Do you have any concerns about the fears that the police might now move on the main protest site in Hong Kong? I believe what they cleared today was a peripheral site, but there are fears they could move on the Admiralty where most of the tents have been set up.
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s why we’re continuing to express to all authorities that they need to address these concerns peacefully, and obviously, any increase in aggression we would be concerned about.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up to that as well, actually. Over the weekend, a British lawmaker was denied entry into Hong Kong because of his position on the protests, and I think a couple more British lawmakers will be denied if they tried to enter Hong Kong, according to the Chinese foreign ministry. Do you have any comments on that?
MS. PSAKI: We are concerned by reports that Beijing intends to deny entry to a group of British members of parliament to Hong Kong. We hope the members of parliament will be able to travel freely as they wish. We refer you otherwise to the UK and Chinese Governments for further information on these – this travel.
QUESTION: Do you – I mean, they do have the right to stop people from coming into their country, don’t they, just as you do, yeah?
MS. PSAKI: We do. But we hope that members of the British Parliament will be able to travel freely.
Let’s go in the back. Go ahead, Scott.
QUESTION: Azerbaijan. Some reporters picked up over the weekend by officials there – it’s Reporters without Borders of – say they are concerned about the status of press freedoms in Azerbaijan. Has that been the subject of any conversation between the U.S. Government and Azeri officials?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say we are deeply concerned by recent restrictions on civil society activities in Azerbaijan. We are increasingly concerned that the Government of Azerbaijan is not living up to its international human rights commitments and obligations. We urge the government to respect the universal rights of its citizens and allow them to freely express their views. They will be best able to ensure their future stability and prosperity by allowing a more open society. We’ve certainly expressed this to officials there. I can check and see if there’s anything in the last couple of days on this front.
QUESTION: Just on the subject of respecting international norms or respecting international commitments, you will have seen last week there was a pretty harsh report from the UN on torture.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I assume – it was over the holiday, so I don’t know, but I assume that your people in Geneva addressed this. But if they didn’t, I’m wondering if you could take the question about what —
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I believe they did, but I can check with our team and get you those comments, or if not, we’ll get you a comment.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: The Palestinian issues?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: This past weekend, the Arab League supported the Palestinian effort to go to the UN. I was wondering whether anything has been shared with you on the draft of the proposal, or is it likely to come up before the Security Council this week?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new on this, Said.
QUESTION: Yeah —
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we have been discussing this for some time now, but nothing new to add from here.
QUESTION: But you – do you have any reaction to this particular meeting in Cairo that took place this past weekend?
MS. PSAKI: Not to this particular meeting. I think we’ve expressed our view on this issue quite a few times.
QUESTION: While we were in London, there was that attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem. The Secretary came out, he was very strong about calling for an end to incitement. And I’m wondering, one, have you seen any progress since then in terms of limiting of or ending incitement, or if this is – or if you think the Palestinians still need to do more?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we think – continue to believe that both sides need to be more – do more. Obviously, over the weekend there was the reported stabbing of an individual in the West Bank, which we would strongly condemn, as well as the burning and defacement of the Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem, a grant recipient from USAID. Ambassador Shapiro visited the school today to show our support. So we continue to urge both sides to work cooperatively together to lower tensions, reject violence, and seek a path towards peace.
Obviously, we still continue to believe that the basis of their discussions and the desire to do more expressed needs to be something that can be further implemented, but it should be the basis for moving forward, and it requires leadership from both sides to do that.
QUESTION: Okay. When the Secretary was in Amman not so long ago, he secured pledges from the two sides – apparent pledges – to ease the tension. We saw some of those steps come and then we saw the synagogue attack and the other things that you’ve just mentioned over the weekend. One party to that was the Jordanian – was Jordan. The king will be seeing the President, I believe, this week – soon. I’m wondering, in light of that, if you have any comment or concern at all about the parliament in Jordan holding prayers for the people who attacked the synagogue, and if you believe that the Jordanians also have – need to act on incitement.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s a concern that we’ve expressed from here. They’ve been an important party of moving towards a more peaceful outcome in the region. I can certainly see if that’s concern anyone has, but not one that has been expressed to me.
QUESTION: Do you know if there has been any progress made in Jordan returning its ambassador to Israel?
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen an update on that, no.
QUESTION: So it sounds as though – that this attempt to calm the situation has not succeeded, at least not yet.
MS. PSAKI: No, I don’t think we see it that way, Matt. I think this is a very difficult situation on the ground. The Secretary remains closely engaged with both parties. He believes that their discussions there are the basis for moving forward, but knows there are going to be ups and downs in this process and is committed to continuing to work with both sides to pursue them.
QUESTION: On the Jordanian monarch’s visit, he gets in today, and he’s not meeting the President until Friday and the Secretary is traveling and so on. Will he be meeting anyone in the State Department?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check, Said. Obviously – I’m sure they’ve put out their public schedule. I would really point you to them on more specifics of his travel plans while he’s here.
QUESTION: But I was wondering whether there are any plans for him here in this building.
MS. PSAKI: I will check and see if there are any plans.
QUESTION: Yeah. Did any member state of the Arab League, specifically Jordan, discuss with you the draft resolution to the Security Council concerning the Palestinian state?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve had a range of conversations with a range of parties, but I’m not going to detail those further.
QUESTION: But not about this matter?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more specific to discuss from here.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: On Pakistan. Do you have a readout —
MS. PSAKI: Pakistan?
QUESTION: — of the Secretary’s meeting —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — with Pakistan’s army chief over the weekend?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Secretary Kerry met with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif yesterday, November 30th. They discussed several items of mutual interest, including ongoing efforts toward regional peace and security. The Secretary recognized the tremendous sacrifices the Pakistani military has made in its efforts to improve the security situation in Pakistan, and acknowledged Pakistan’s commitment to counter all forms of terrorism and violent extremism.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: North Korea?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have any information on the North Korean – Kim Jong-un’s aunt, Kim Kyong-hui’s, death? I mean, death of North Korean – Kim Jong-un’s aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, she’s also Jang Song Thaek’s wife.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any information on his aunt, no.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: On North Korea, Sony Pictures is investigating whether North Korea is responsible for a hack into its computer system. Do you have any updates, and are – is the State Department investigating?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen the reports. We’d refer you to the FBI.
QUESTION: Just going back to Syria for a couple questions.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Today UN World Food Program announced that it has to suspend its food program just before the winter. Do you have any reaction to that?
MS. PSAKI: We are concerned by the World Food Program’s announcement that it has suspended food vouchers for more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries due to a funding crisis. The United States has contributed more than $3 billion for the conflict in Syria, which includes 935 million for the World Food Program since the crisis began. We’re also providing over 200 million to relief efforts in Iraq and will contribute further in 2015.
Governments across the region have already provided assistance in response to the overwhelming needs of civilians affected by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and we are urging them to do more. Without additional contributions, the World Food Program could be forced to reduce rations for Syrians throughout the region, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees will be unable to provide blankets, sleeping mats, hygiene supplies, and clothes to 780,000 internally displaced Syrians. We are urging governments to make timely contributions to the forthcoming UN appeals for the Syrian humanitarian response which are scheduled to be released this month.
QUESTION: A couple months ago —
QUESTION: Just on this, the situation sounds pretty dire.
MS. PSAKI: We’ll go back to you. Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, this is specifically about the WFP.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: The situation is dire, yes? I mean, it sounds pretty bad.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: So in your urging governments of the region, are you urging other governments? And which governments are they that aren’t ponying up or contributing their – what you would consider their fair share?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think it’s productive for us to name names, but I think there’s countries in the region that can do more, should do more, and we’ll have conversations with them privately about whether they can do more.
QUESTION: You don’t believe that the naming and shaming gets people to pull out their checkbooks?
MS. PSAKI: We haven’t made a decision to do that, no, Matt. But there’s no question —
QUESTION: Well, clearly not, but —
MS. PSAKI: — there’s more – countries can do more.
QUESTION: Clearly not, but I mean, this is like the Ebola situation where you actually did call out countries – some countries – by name. And I’m just curious; we’re talking about a much larger group of people here. Why not call them – call out countries that are not pulling their weight here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly think all of you can go determine who can do more and who has the capability to do more, and we rely on all of you to do that.
QUESTION: Yes, (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Speaking of doing more —
MS. PSAKI: Let – we’ll go to you next. Can we finish – go ahead.
QUESTION: A couple months ago you were going to check about the numbers of the Syrian refugees that U.S. has admitted. It looks like it’s still about 63 people for the last year. Do you have any more —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on that. We can check with our team who handles refugees and see if there’s an update on the numbers.
QUESTION: And a final question: On Syria, the one argument is being made that the train and equip program for the Syrian rebels – first of all, is it started yet, or do you have any calendar for that program?
MS. PSAKI: DOD would be the appropriate agency to lay that out for you.
QUESTION: Okay. The question is: Once these thousands of Syrian rebels been trained and sent back to Syria, if there is no-fly zone, they will be basically barrel-bombed by the Syrian regime. How are you going to protect those Syrian rebels vetted by U.S. and the West?
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, working to ensure that they are not only trained and equipped, but they are in a position to fight against ISIL. And we fully expect they will also use their training and equipment to fight against Assad. That’s a part of the discussion that’s ongoing at a mil-to-mil level.
QUESTION: So they may have some kind of air defense against the —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get ahead of where we are. There’s a train and equip program that will commence. I would refer you to the Department of Defense for that. We’re having ongoing discussions with countries in the region.
QUESTION: Yes, please. When you mentioned the idea of the food aid – the issue of the food aid, you make – you mentioned the word “funding crisis.” And they stop – did they stop everything because of funding crisis, or minimize the size of their aid?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d refer you to the World Food Program on what specifically – what the impact will be. But they announced that they will have to suspend food vouchers. So that’s one particular step. And the concern is that if there isn’t additional funding, there are a range of equipment – a range of equipment, and you often ask about winterization and how to prepare for that, things like blankets, sleeping mats that, certainly, displaced families and individuals in Syria rely on.
QUESTION: So the other question – I mean, people can wait – I mean, not people can wait. I mean countries can wait and – but people – the winter will not wait for them. I mean it’s like, do you expect that within the coming weeks you will raise the issue, the U.S. is going to raise the issue with the partners for – coalition partners for saving the people or funding the aid, or is just now the issue it’s of ISIL is the occupied —
MS. PSAKI: We certainly expect to continue to raise this issue. I’d remind you that of the – in the umbrella of the ISIL coalition and the five lines of effort, one of them is humanitarian assistance. And certainly, this is a priority and it remains a priority, especially given this funding crisis and the onset of winter.
QUESTION: Jen, I just wanted to ask you on the issue of admitting refugees, mechanically what do they need to do? How does a person apply at the U.S. Embassy for refugee status?
MS. PSAKI: The information is available on our website. I’m sure we can make that available to you, Said, to make sure you can see all the specific steps.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:11 p.m.)